The other day I was having a conversation with a woman about her family. She was explaining about her recent family reunion. In talking about the people there she mentioned in-laws, ex-in-laws, children, step children. Then all of a sudden, with an expression like the light bulb had just come on; she said, “People go through husbands and wives like they do cars.”
A couple of decades back I was talking to a sixteen-year-old girl, and she explained to me she could not wait to meet her second husband.
“What do you mean, your second husband?”
“My parents are divorced, all my friend’s parents are divorced, but everyone seems happy with husband number two.”
I walked away feeling sorry for the first guy she would marry. There wasn’t much of a chance of marriage success if she thinks he is only the practice round. By the way, just over twenty years later and she is currently on husband number four.
Julie and I married young. I was 18; she was 19. By the end of August, we will celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary. It seems the younger a person is, the more amazed they are at the longevity of our relationship. Just a couple of weeks ago, an eighteen-year-old talking about our upcoming anniversary commented, “Wow! I do not know if I could stay married for thirty-eight years.”
From the conversations above, it sounds to me that people seem to think marriage is doomed to failure.
So how has it worked? How did a young boy right out of high school and a young woman a year removed from high school make it all these years?
First of all, we are not the most important person in each other’s lives – God is. God tells me I am to leave my parents and cleave unto my wife (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7). By telling me to cleave, God is telling me to stick to her like glue; just as God will never leave nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). God also tells me to love her (Ephesians 5:25,28; Colossians 3:19), and true love never fails and is never selfish (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
God tells me never to let her go, never to be selfish, to never put my needs above hers, to love her with a true love that never ends. To show God I love Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15), I must follow the commands He gives me concerning my relationship with my wife.
This is how we both see marriage, to obey God, we must love one another enough to make it work. Just as everyone needs to work on his or her relationship with God, we must work on our relationship with each other – the two are intertwined.
Second, we talked a lot about life before we were married. Many an argument has been averted over the years because we made decisions before we walked down the aisle. How and when to discipline the children, the handling of finances, the priorities of life, just to name a few. Many a marriage will break down because of a lack of communication. Most often, however, unbeknown to the couple is that the lack of communication did not start after marriage, but long before the wedding. The couple did not talk about the important things in life, the everyday stuff – God, kids, finances, the in-laws, goals, priorities and the like.
I have never met a couple that did not have a physical attraction to one another (at least at the beginning), but I have met hundreds that were never friends. Friends will enjoy doing things together even if they do not like the activity. Friends will also talk. A conversation between friends is different from a conversation between acquaintances; friends have no problem telling each other their feelings and the innermost thoughts of their hearts.
In summary, the two most important ingredients to a happy marriage are — First, A meaningful relationship with God that melds into a real relationship with your spouse. Second, meaningful communication before and throughout the marriage, making decisions together long before the situation arrives. By talking about things early, there are fewer surprises and any disagreements are known and settled before something unforeseen drives a wedge between the happy couple.
The above only works at its best when both husband and wife are in tune with God and communicate with each other.
To describe the best marriages in three words – God, love, communication.
Editor’s note: This Column was originally written Aug. 22, 2016.