As I shared in Part 1, for a marriage to be strong, the expectation that is that a marriage is meant to last a lifetime. Along with this, a second truth we need to know in order to have a healthy marriage is this: Marriage is about a husband and wife not just staying together but also growing together.
In order for this to happen though, we need to grasp and follow two realities. The first is that marriage is not about what we get from it. What we receive from marriage is a part but that is not meant to be the main part. Instead, marriage is to be about what we give to it, and one key aspect is that marriage is to be about putting the needs of your spouse before your own. We know this because, in the book of Ephesians, chapter 5, we are given clear instructions on how husbands and wives are to relate to one another. It’s all summed up by the introductory statement, which says:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:21
In other words, place yourself as a lesser priority than your spouse. Make sure that you place your spouse’s needs before your own. Live sacrificially and not selfishly towards the one you married. This is how God says husbands and wives are to relate to one another.
Right now, if you’re married, I want you to say something. Say, “My marriage is not primarily about me.” Our marriages are not to be primarily about us. It’s to be more about the other person, and what’s amazing is that when both the husband and wife live this way, their needs are met in an even greater way than if they demanded or expected it. God knows what is best, and so, we need to follow His plan and put our spouses before ourselves.
I have to tell you, though, that this is not easy, and one reason is because men and women are different. Did you know, for example, that studies have shown that it takes men longer to process complex emotional data? According to one marriage authority, a study discovered that, on average, women process emotional data 7x faster than men.
In short, communication is an issue in marriages. In fact, this is the number one area I have seen that causes conflicts in marriages. Yet, there is good news. With today’s technological advances, devices are coming out to help men and women communicate. Take a look at this device that came out a few years ago.
Ok, so there really isn’t a “manslater.” I wish there was, but there isn’t. It is true, though, that we communicate differently, and the truth be told, we all make mistakes. Look at what it says in the book of James:
We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. – James 3:2
What we say and how we say it matters. So this is probably the best place to start as we seek to put the needs of our spouses before our own.
Yet, if we truly want our marriages to be healthy and go the distance, we also need to grasp another truth, and it’s this: marriage is to be about our seeking to become holy more than it is to be happy. On this point, I am indebted to a man named Gary Thomas, a pastor who is an expert on marriage. He created a resource called, “Sacred Marriage” and in his book, Gary gives excellent insights on marriage. His underlying premise is that God’s design for marriage is to make us holy more than it is to make us happy and what he points out is that marriage falls under what we are taught in 1 Corinthians 10, verse 31, which says:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31
All that we do is meant to be for the glory of God, even our marriages. So, really, our primary motivation in marriage is not to find our own fulfillment or even seek to fulfill the needs of our spouse. As Gary says, “Most people get married to be loved and not learn how to love.” Because of this, many people end up thinking they need a new marriage but the truth of the matter is that most people don’t need a new marriage. They just need a new perspective on marriage. They need a new motivation for marriage and it needs to be living more holy lives out of reverence for God.
To support this, Gary shares the reality that, even when our primary motivation is to meet the needs of our spouse, this can fall short, and here’s why. He says; “The problem with a needs based marriage is that legitimate needs can conflict. Needs end up becoming demands and accusations and spouses end up thinking, or even saying, “You’re not meeting my needs. Therefore, I’m not meeting yours.”
Therefore, we are to make sure that our primary motivation has to be respect for God. Or as it says in 2 Corinthians 7, verse 1:
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1
We need to purify ourselves from all that contaminates us and do everything out of reverence for God. Our primary motivation in life, and in marriage, is to live out of a deep respect for God.
To help couples grasp this, Gary asks an interesting question: Are you a “God centered spouse” or a “spouse centered spouse?” He says, a “spouse centered” spouse acts based upon how their spouse acts but a God centered spouse acts as God says we are to act regardless of how our spouse acts.
If we want our marriage to be healthy and strong, we need to be God centered. The other reasons why we get married (physical attraction, common interests, etc.) can be blessings but they can’t be motivators. We need to view our spouses as children of God. We need to remember how loving parents feel about their children and we are to treat our spouses as God would want his child to be treated.
So much more can be said about how to have a healthy marriage. In fact, there are many great resources available from people like Gary Thomas, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, and organizations like Family Life and Focus on the Family and I want to encourage you to check them out. For now, if we hold to the standard that marriage is meant to last a lifetime, understand that it is to be more about our spouse than us, and realize that our primary motivation is to become more holy out of reverence for God, where we seek to love our spouse as Christ loves us, we will be well on our way to having healthy marriages that do in fact last a lifetime.