Written by Cynthia Thomas
Edited by Amy Young
Genesis 2:22-24 (NIV)
22 “Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’ 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
God made us. He made the beautiful union between a man and woman that we call marriage. But in our culture, we are bombarded with temptations and evil messages to stray from our spouses, leave our families, or not marry at all. How do we stay the course with the “wife of our youth” (Malachi 2:15)?
When I got married in 2004, I came into it with the mindset that I would stay married as long as we were happy, as long as it was working. I would put my hands up in the air and say, “But I don’t know what will happen in the future!” I had no idea what it took to have a joy-filled, long-lasting marriage.
My husband came from a Christian home and his parents were still married. He was committed from the start and made it known that he would always stay with me.
Even when I got saved early in our marriage, I was still not committed. This didn’t happen until I started maturing as a believer in Jesus Christ. It was not until around 2007 or 2008 when I was regularly attending Sunday school and services at a Christian church in Arizona. I finally started reading my Bible regularly and growing in my faith. It became clear to me that I must do my part to make the marriage work. I must do what it takes—the opposite of waiting to see if the marriage would magically work on its own.
We have been married for over 15 years and have had our share of bumps in the road. The first 3 years of our marriage were probably the hardest. We were not regularly attending church. I was not growing in my faith at all—stuck as a baby Christian. My husband was not taking the role as our spiritual leader. I was very self-centered and focused on college, internships, etc. Once school was finished in 2006, we moved to Arizona to be near my mom. I got a job at a CPA firm in Phoenix and Sam was able to work remotely. We only had one car and I took it with me to work. I sometimes worked 7 days a week during busy seasons and had no work-life balance. Add on long commutes and trying to run errands after work—we didn’t see each other much. We were both miserable. We would try to fill our late evenings with food and drink and movies, but of course that never fills you. It just makes you gain weight. My workplace was secular and was mostly focused on money and the things money buys. I was not content with anything. I either wanted more or a better version.
1 Corinthians 7:28 (NIV)
28 “…But those who marry will face many troubles in this life…”
I remember about 3 months into our lives in Arizona (probably late 2006), I was sitting on our couch with my laptop open. I was crying and ashamedly typing into the search engine “God on Divorce”. I immediately found some articles that told me that God hates divorce. God joined us as one. It didn’t take long for me to realize that divorce would not be as easy a solution as I thought it would be. Divorce, even without kids, would be awful. I knew that I needed to take the harder road and make it work. But how?
Matthew 19:4-6 (NIV)
4 “‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” 5 and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? 6 ‘So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’”
Put God first. With marriage, you build physical and emotional bonds. But what about spiritual bonds? This was sorely missing in our marriage. And once we started regularly attending a Bible teaching church, we both started growing spiritually on an individual level as well as together. We now had this whole new connection that we never had before. As we both were reading the Bible, we now started finding guidance on how to live life and how to do it WELL! With God at the center of our marriage, the impossible became possible!
Put your spouse second. This is hard to do because we are selfish beings who naturally want to put our own desires first. This becomes even harder once you become parents. It becomes super easy to put the kids first. But your marriage needs to be more important than your kids. Some of the best advice I ever got was from the book Preparation for Parenting by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo. The advice was, “The best years of your marriage will be your best years as parents.” This was a sobering thought. If my marriage was not good, my parenting would suffer. So I had to make the marriage work!
But how do I put the marriage first? What are some practical applications? Weekly Date Nights! It can be easy to not see each other much so you need to intentionally sit down, regroup, and communicate what is going on with each other and the kids to get on the same page. Make sure you have shared interests outside of the kids! One day the kids will all grow up and leave! Beware—many divorces occur with empty nesters. For more information regarding date nights, check out my previous post, “Why Date Nights?“.
In addition to weekly date nights, be sure to find time to reconnect daily and annually. Every day, try to find at least 10-15 minutes together when you can talk to each about your day, the kids, things that are bothering you, the good things that happened, etc. Some people call this daily chat “couch time.” Anytime both of you are home, make it a priority! Let your children know this is an important time for mom and dad; it’s even better if you can do this daily chat in view of your kids. This is great modeling to your children on how they can make a marriage work.
Annually, find a week or weekend where you can reconnect, get refreshed, and have fun! Rediscover why you married your spouse. Do fun and romantic things together. Try not to plan too much for this trip; use this time to get rest and decompress. Evaluate how your family is doing: Are we going in the direction God wants for us? What is going well? What is not going well? What changes do we need to make?
Remember to still do things for your spouse. Once the kids arrive, it is easy to put your spouse on the back burner. But when we neglect our spouse, it erodes the marriage and each other. When my kids were very young, I realized that it wouldn’t be much harder to prepare breakfast for my husband too. It wasn’t much popping a couple frozen waffles in the toaster and maybe making him a cup of coffee. But to my husband (who is easy to please!), this made him feel taken care of! Just those simple steps in the morning made him feel loved and cared for. As my husband and I get older, I still see a young boy in my husband at times. The need for love and care never goes away.
Romans 12:10 (NIV)
10 “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
Communication is key. I would get so annoyed in the morning if my husband was the last to rise and he left a messy bed. I finally communicated to him that this was bothering me and that whoever is the last to get up should have to make the bed. This eventually took root in him and now when I come into our bedroom in the morning, instead of annoyance, I have a smile on my face and heart! It is important to address these annoyances or else they can grow to sources of anger and resentment. Our spouses cannot read our minds. Ever. So we need to communicate what we like, what we don’t like, etc. Be sure to praise your spouse for his efforts!
Take care of your body and make the effort to keep the romance in your marriage. Neither of these things are easy to do but they truly help to keep the physical bond in your marriage. These also impact your spiritual and emotional bonds as well. I’ll just be honest here and share that I struggled with this area for several years of our marriage. I eventually lost the weight but only after many years of obesity. Check out my post “Honoring God With Our Bodies” for how God helped me with this struggle.
Make the effort to regularly work out. Find exercises you enjoy and are easy to fit into your schedule. Watch your food and portion control. Food is the biggest key to losing and maintaining weight—more so than exercise. Make the effort to look nice for your spouse. Keep yourself clean and groomed. Occasionally go the extra mile with your hair, make up, etc. This can be really difficult when young kids are in the picture or if money is tight. So just try to be intentional with what you can when you can. Your spouse will notice and appreciate it!
Some great resources on how to have a successful marriage are the daily broadcasts and resources from the Focus on the Family ministry. Dr. Greg Smalley, a vice president at Focus on the Family, recently wrote a helpful article called, “Lifetime Love: Advice From Couples Who Made Marriage Last.” He cited information from a Cornell study called “The Legacy Project” and shared their findings on long, happy marriages from 700 senior American adults. The couples shared that all marriages will have challenges, but, with good communication, commitment, humor, friendship, and conflict resolution, marriages can weather the storms and thrive.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)
9 “Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves…”
Two helpful books for marriage are The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman and His Needs, Her Needs by Dr. Willard F. Harley, Jr. If you are nearing divorce, check out The Love Dare by brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick (or the related movie Fireproof). The Focus on the Family ministry also has many resources for couples considering divorce, such as podcasts, articles, books, retreats, conferences, and more.
Marriage is tough! But with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)! Keep God number one and He will help you and your spouse have the committed, loving marriage that He intended. Make your spouse and your marriage a priority. Communicate. Have fun! Laugh! Work through struggles before hard hearts are formed. Enjoy these years with your best friend. It may not always seem like it, but every day, every month, every year, is a gift from God. Lord, may we always cherish the spouse of our youth!
Proverbs 3:3-4 (NIV)
3 “Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.”