A Mutually Affirming Marriage: Built from Scratch
The wedding ceremony exhibits commitment, excitement, joy, hope. It is the first step into the marriage where two become one. No couple enters marriage with the expectation of failure; the newly minted bride and groom anticipate the future with the expectation of expanding love and intimacy.
Often the onlookers view the smiling couple as they say their vows and declare that “This is a marriage made in heaven.” While we will not deny that heaven plays a part in giving blessing and meaning to the coming together of the couple; no marriage is “made in heaven.” Successful marriages are made here on earth as the partners work through the mundane of every day, building on the shared commitment of the wedding ceremony.
It is as if at the wedding, the couple is given a Lego kit with many pieces. Their marriage becomes the process of putting those pieces together to form the structure of a joyful, enduring marriage. There are many pieces to fit together. Some are easy to figure out, some are confusing and hard. Certainly, for the partners to succeed they must put steady energy, real effort, into constructing their true house and home.
Here are a few key components to the marriage kit. Putting in play these simple actions and attitudes will lay a firm foundation and strengthen the structure of any marriage:
- Make time to be together. Relationships do not grow and strengthen without conscious effort. It is important for both husband and wife to intentionally set aside time to talk about life, to share hopes and dreams, to solve little problems before they become big, to simply be with each other. Many couples start drifting apart when they forget the excitement they shared during courtship. The partners need to feed the flame of intimacy daily—have a date night; go hiking together, play a game at home, simply sit and talk. The best way to have a friend is to be a friend. Over and over scripture says,
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, become united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24 and repeated many times through Scripture.)
- Celebrate your differences. If you both were the same life would be boring. But one of the earliest stresses on a marriage is when one or both partners consciously or unconsciously try to remake their mate into some preconceived idea of what a husband or wife should be. Indeed, such efforts are doomed to failure while stressing the relationship. It is ok to be different—he may be a hugger, she is not; she may like music, he likes football; she likes the room cool, he likes it hot, she is a morning person, he is not. The list may be long. But rather than negate and nag each other, celebrate the differences. Certainly talk about them openly; even laugh about them. When necessary, compromise.
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor for we are all members of one body.” (Ephesians 4:25)
- Monitor your own behavior. Step outside yourself from time to time and think about your own attitudes and actions are affecting the intimacy with your partner. It is easy to slip into negative, neglectful habits which can easily undermine the marriage ties. Adopt intentional actions that are encouraging and affirming.
“Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
- Avoid destructive criticism. As we focus on the challenge to love unconditionally in our marriage, we need to find healthy ways of expressing negative feelings and emotions. Yes, talk out frustrations and differences and hurts, but do so in such a way that your words do not cause hurt that can lead to a vicious cycle of negative interaction.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building other sup according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29-32) and “Speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15)
- Forgive and forget. In marriage, nothing is more important than to be willing to forgive. No one is perfect. We will all fail at one time or another: we will sooner or later do or say something that will hurt our spouse—and our spouse will do the same to us. We can get hung up in a spiral of anger and hurt or we can forgive and forget and move on. We can learn from our mistakes and become better people, be a better couple, grow into a better marriage through the process of acknowledging our failures, forgiving, and then growing.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
So dump the Legos out of the box and start building! You will have the time of your life.