One Dozen Ideas To Make Marriage Work
by John Dobbs
In a few weeks Maggy and I will have been married for 27 years. I’m more blessed than I deserve. Ours is not a perfect marriage because those do not exist. But I love being married to Maggy and I think I’ve learned a little about being a husband over the years.
There are a thousand books on marriage written by experts. I can’t replace those with one article, but I can offer some words of experience to those who are about to be married, those who are newly married, and those who are struggling in their marriage.
1. The first year can be really hard. The ‘in-love’ experience of dating and the romance of outings together with someone new is a beautiful experience. That’s not going to be the daily experience of married life. You thought you knew this person you married, and you’re figuring out that you didn’t. Finding out who they are in the unguarded moments of daily can be hard. Tough it out – it’s worth the struggle.
2. Rescue yourself from your own Great Expectations. Especially young people have grandiose ideals about what married life is going to be like. These usually do not involve self-improvement! They are focused on how great the other person is going to be at being your mate. We tend to extend a lot more grace to ourselves than our significant other. Turn that around. Expect great things from yourself, and give grace and room to grow to your spouse.
3. Get your money stuff straight. It took Maggy a few months to get my bank account straight after we married. I managed to skid along without balancing my account. I put money in, I took money out. Most of the time there really was money there when I thought there was. That worked for me, but not for her. Early on I relinquished financial management to her – a great decision for both of us. But whatever your arrangement is, agree to it and stick to it. Nothing can divide a marriage like money troubles.
4. You are enlisted in a new war. Everything in this culture is at war against your marriage. Nearly every image of marriage on television, movies, books, and song is about infidelity, loss of trust, and how great life could be with someone else. Divorce lawyers advertise on billboards, offering the low bids for your business. We win this battle by deciding to love our spouse through thick and thin.
5. You really did need those vows. You know those traditional vows you were barely able to say under your breath in front of all of those people? They mean something. When you said ‘for better or worse’, did you not realize there would actually be a ‘worse’? There would be times when you would have to help someone ‘in sickness’ or experience ‘for poorer’? When you said ’till death do us part’, you did realize that it is most likely one of you will pass from this life before the other? Before God you swore to keep those vows. Do it.
6. Children change everything. This can be another area where idealism overshadows reality. Having children is an awesome blessing, supercharged with every emotion under the sun. But it does change a marriage to have have kids running around. Having children is not the way to shore up a shaky marriage. So if you are starting off with children – or have one on the way pretty soon – prepare for big challenges and give big love to each other.
7. You need some mentors. Every marriage faces challenges and every married person needs mentors – people who have been on the road longer than you. When young married people are getting their marriage advice from other young inexperienced married (or even unmarried!) people, there is trouble ahead. Seek out some people who have been married a long time and watch, listen, learn from them. You are facing things they have been through. This is one place where the church can serve a grand purpose, in providing godly examples of people who are committed to one another because of Christ.
8. Don’t be afraid of professional help. There are times when you can reach an impasse, and a third person could offer some input and help. Make sure your counselor is a Christian first. Otherwise you have no idea where they are coming from – or where they are leading you. And if you see a counselor (1) go together and (2) cooperate with them. Doing things your own way has gotten you into this office.
9. Take time to communicate honestly. Especially when our feelings are hurt or our relationship has been damaged, communication disappears. Your spouse cannot read your mind, interpret your silence, nor guess what’s wrong.
10. Take divorce off the table. Divorce is the nuclear threat that can be tossed about too easily. Stop talking about divorce and start talking about getting yourself back into shape as a great husband or wife. Besides being an instrument of destruction to your marriage, divorce can lead to further pain. Research demonstrates that second and third marriages have a much shorter lifespan. If you are divorcing to marry another person, you are most likely asking for more pain. If you are currently in a second marriage, don’t become a statistic. Beat the odds! This advice does not apply when there is abuse or infidelity – in those cases you have some big decisions to make.
11. Respect each other. This is implied in much of what I’ve already written, but I wanted to be specific. The person you married is someone who had qualities you admired. They are a real person with strengths and weaknesses. They have the capability to provide a great relationship for your life. Treat them that way. Do not play out your marriage troubles in social media – that is just a way to bully your spouse and embarrass them in front of friends and family. Don’t yell or scream at one another. Talk. Don’t try to get friends or family members on “your side”. Respect your spouse as a capable and lovable person with whom there could be many wonderful years ahead.
12. Keep Christ at the center of your marriage. In our culture of religiously unconnected people, there is a loss of the anchors that keep marriage relationships together. When each of us is following some inner voice, our ‘heart’, or just our own wisdom, the result is disaster. God created us and knows us best. He places believers into communities of faith and surrounds them with support systems. When you rob yourself of that system, you lose a great deal of strength that is needed to carry you through the hard times. The strongest family is one submitted to Christ, following His ways, and committed to His truth.
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