I still remember the first divorce that really shocked me. A Christian couple that had invited me into their home, fed me, encouraged me, given me furniture, let me play with their kids, suddenly and permanently split. I grieved that uncoupling more than any before it. God had used these people in my life — as a couple — but their marriage hadn’t survived.
Since then, I have witnessed the ending of many marriages — sadly, many of them in my Christian circles. As I’ve watched these relationships fall apart, I have observed something: Trouble will come to marriage, just as it comes to every area of life (John 16:33). And how the individuals respond to the trouble is what makes or breaks the relationship.
When strife and conflict arise, we tend to resort to our foundational coping mechanisms. And if our foundation isn’t strong, the whole structure can collapse.
The Firm Foundation
In his article “6 Deadly Enemies of Marriage” Tim Challies examines this exact thing:
The enemy of marriage that deserves to be at the very top of the list is this one: neglecting the foundation — neglecting the biblical foundation. The Bible makes it clear that marriage is an institution decreed by God and an institution meant to glorify God by displaying something about him […]. It is only when the biblical foundation is in place that we are able to rightly understand how a husband and wife are to relate, how they are to take up their separate roles, and how they are to seek to bring glory to God both individually and as a couple. To build marriage on any other foundation is to neglect the rock in favor of building upon the sand.
A shared foundation of not only belief in Christ, but commitment to Him and His ways, is vital to a strong marriage. And much can be done to “set” your foundation before you ever even meet the person you are going to marry.
I’m thankful that my husband, Kevin, and I were pursuing Christ individually before we even met. In fact, our love of the Lord was something that drew us together. We were reading God’s Word, attending a church, serving at that church and receiving input from mature Christians. That scenario may sound idealistic, but each of those components is a basic function of being a Christian. And each will contribute to a strong foundation for the marriage relationship.
In addition to living for Jesus, here are three other things you can do now that may save your future marriage.
1. Learn to commit.
Our generation is notorious for having commitment issues. A recent article titled “Why Can’t Millennials Commit?“ explores the factors that have influenced this generation to want to leave its options open. Summarizing the thoughts of author and TED Talks phenom Simon Sinek, it says:
“The truth is millennials have grown up being told that we are special, and that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want. This effectively obliterates the concept of commitment, or the need to stick with something long enough to actually earn the rewards.”
Some people don’t know how to have committed friendships, let alone committed marriages. We live in a culture where relationships are viewed as largely disposable. Marriage provides many deep and satisfying rewards, but many of them are accumulated over time. Gary Thomas, author of “Sacred Marriage,” describes a fulfilling marriage as a “long game.” Faithfulness and commitment over time brings unmatched rewards as the relationship matures.
Take a minute to consider your commitment quotient. Are you a loyal friend? How do you respond when a friendship flounders? Do you discard the relationship and move on? If so, you may be forming some bad habits that could follow you into marriage.
If you want to have a strong marriage in the future, practice commitment in your relationships now. Love your friends and family when they are unlovable. Work through conflict. Seek to listen and understand. Talk about hurt feelings rather than letting them fester, producing bitterness.
Marriage was designed by God to be a reflection of Christ’s commitment to the church (Ephesians 5:25). Obviously, that sets the bar pretty high. While some millennials may wish for lower-commitment beta-test marriages, that concept is far from what God intends. The best marriages happen when husband and wife commit to one another in a way that reflects Christ.
2. Learn to sacrifice.
When I was single, I didn’t have to sacrifice all that often. I could more or less use my time and money however I chose. It wasn’t a bad thing. I just didn’t have many chances to give up what I wanted for the benefit of another.
I did, however, find many opportunities to show deference to others. Whether it was at work, on a ministry team or standing in line at the DMV, I could lay aside my own preferences for others. Getting married took that up a notch. Day in and day out, I had this other person I had to consider. I had to learn to lay down my life and agenda in new ways.
Just before diving into his famous marriage advice in Ephesians 5, Paul offers a list of things believers should and should not be doing, ending with these words: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (vs. 21). As already mentioned, our ultimate authority as believers is Christ. And when two people are submitting to Him, their relationship is already in a healthier place. But notice how Paul’s exhortation is dropped in without qualifications. We ALL are supposed to submit to one another — men, women, married, unmarried, young, old. Before submission in marriage happens, it begins with the individual submitting first to God and second to others.
3. Learn to love wisdom.
Throughout Scripture, wisdom is presented as the solution to many problems. We are told to seek wisdom like a precious treasure (Proverbs 8:11) and attain it by fearing the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).
Proverbs 4:6 says this about wisdom: “Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.” Wisdom that comes from the Lord is a safeguard. It protects you.
We live in a world that offers many different brands of wisdom. Among these is the philosophy that you should do what makes you happy. I’m sure this philosophy has taken down many marriages, but it is not true wisdom. As we already established, real wisdom comes from making God happy and doing what is right.
Developing a love of wisdom now will not only help you navigate any current problems, but it will also increase your chances of success in future relationships.
Reaping a Healthy Marriage
Many of us have witnessed the devastation that comes from divorce. While the reasons people split can be complicated and multi-layered, I’m sure we can agree that for a marriage to survive, both people must have deep commitment, be willing to sacrifice and exercise wisdom.
Galatians 6:7 says: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
What are you sowing in your life right now that will benefit your future marriage? Putting in the work to develop character and integrity now can only enhance your relationships. Who knows? It may even save your marriage.
Copyright 2019 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.