After trying to conduct my dating relationship according to biblical dating principles, I have gotten engaged to a wonderful Christian woman. Once married, we are planning to attend my church, which is solid, but I have just moved to this church and city because of work, so we'll be "new people."
My sister has been married for five years, and it hasn't gone well. I want to have a godly marriage, but there is no good example within my family. I would love to get some practical advice about how to build a strong foundation for a new marriage. I feel comfortable with Ephesians 5 principles, but I need practical advice. Do you have any tips?
This is a great question, and it shows real wisdom that you're asking it. There's no single right answer, of course, and any Christian married person you ask will probably have different tips to offer. Having said that, there are a few common practical themes I almost always talk about in premarital counseling that I believe reflect biblical wisdom and that can be really helpful as a couple adjusts to marriage. So here are some things to think about in no particular order (made up of biblical wisdom, experience drawn from my own mistakes, and the wisdom and experience of other Christians I trust), along with some resources to help you think through these ideas more fully:
Proactively seek counsel in the context of a biblically solid church. This is a big one that affects a lot of other issues. A lot of young Christian married couples have great biblical aspirations for marriage, but they seek to practice them on their own and discount the role of church and Christian community in helping to build strong godly marriages.
I'll take you at your word when you say your church is "solid," but if you want to check under the hood, read Mark Dever's Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and see how your church approaches each of those nine measures. If your church is solid, then get involved. Get to know people and allow them to get to know you. Join a small group (together as a couple) if your church has them. Find ways to serve. Build relationships with people who have been married for a while, and don't be shy about seeking counsel and even asking another couple to mentor you in marriage.
If you are both growing as Christians, your marriage will be more Christ-centered and more solid generally. When conflict or communication problems come up early in a marriage, isolation is the enemy. It can be incredibly discouraging to feel like you are the only couple going through this or that struggle. If you can seek counsel from others in the context of ongoing, transparent relationships with other Christians, you'll find out pretty quickly that you are not alone, that many other couples have gone through (and survived) the issues you are struggling with, and that with the Lord's help, things will be OK. Seek counsel from other husbands yourself. Encourage your wife to seek counsel from other wives. Did I mention you should seek counsel? Learn from and take comfort from the experience of others.
Make it your conscious practice to forbear and forgive. James 4:1 asks, "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions [NIV renders it "desires"] are at war within you?" So much marital conflict grows out of what a husband or wife thinks he or she "deserves" from the other, or out of an effort to defend his or her own position or "rights." Ephesians 5:27 shows that Christ's love for the church is patient and forgiving and sacrificial. God's Word tells us that when Christ returns we will be perfected, but in the meantime God has set His love on imperfect, sinful, selfish human beings, and He calls husbands and wives to do the same.
Strong and godly is the marriage where husband and wife have both banished their acute sense of justice and petty slights, and replaced them with patience and grace. Remember that the way you speak to and treat one another in the frustrations of life says a lot about the Savior you belong to and whose name you bear. Keep that larger perspective in mind, and forbear with your spouse when she (or he, for all you female readers) hurts you or "does that thing again" — whatever "that thing" turns out to be in your marriage. Remember that you will never be asked to forgive your spouse more than God has already forgiven you in Christ.
Marriage is ministry, and each spouse's role is to lovingly serve the other. Especially as a husband, you should banish the very notion of "fair." Part of what it means to "give [ourselves] up" for our wives (Ephesians 5:25) is not just to make occasional grand gestures, but to bite our tongues even when our wives speak sharply to us and to take what could be very negative interactions in a more godly direction for our wives' good and for God's glory — even if that means our position is not vindicated in the moment.
Make a budget and stick to it. This one kind of speaks for itself. Establish good choices and habits early. Lots of marital conflict grows out of money issues, particularly spending choices and stress over debt. A great resource on the biblical purposes and use of money is Randy Alcorn's Money, Possessions, and Eternity.
Establish spiritual disciplines early. Family devotions — before and after kids come along — look different for every family, so there's no perfect model here. What does not change is that all husbands are to help "sanctify" our wives by washing them with the Word (Ephesians 5:26). We are partially responsible for our wives' spiritual growth and well being, and seeing to it takes consistent effort (and God's help!). The earlier we establish in marriage that we and our wives are consistently in the Word and in prayer, the easier it will be to keep up and expand those good disciplines when kids come along and jobs get more demanding.
I could go on, but these are a few practical things that should help establish your marriage and home in godliness. I will pray for you and your fiancée that God will grow your marriage in godliness for as many years as He gives you together — and you can pray the same for me and my wife, Rachel!
Copyright 2013 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.