You’ve found that special someone and can hear the wedding bells chiming off in the distance, but as you dream of your happily ever after, it is imperative to begin considering what a marriage relationship is really all about, what was God’s intention for this union according to the Bible, and how do you and your beloved manifest this perfect plan in your own relationship?
Regardless of whether a couple is looking to begin a new marriage on the right, biblical tract or whether you are already some time into a marriage relationship that has taken some lumps, there are biblical principles and a basic understanding of God’s plan for every marriage that can build a foundation strong enough to stand the test of time.
That is no easy task in a society where statistically, marriages do not last. According to the U.S. census board, roughly 2,077,000 marriages are reported annually and about half of those marriages are ended by divorce. This recent assault on the marriage relationship has also reported higher numbers of couples cohabiting in sexual relationships outside of marriage; with only 3% of the population reporting this type of arrangement in the U.S. during 1982 and 11% of the population reporting this same type of relationship by 2011. Those who have chosen to take the more biblical path of marriage are reported as doing so at later ages than ever before, with the median age for a female to engage in the first time marriage covenant at 25.8years of age and males at 28.3 years. So, how can a marriage relationship be set up for success with such grim statistics chomping at its heals?
In order to build a strong marital foundation, a couple must first start by gaining a greater understanding of the biblical plan for the marriage relationship. Some people might be surprised to find out that nowhere is it biblically written that marriage relationships will resemble that fairy tale persona most have grown up dreaming of; where the white knight rides in and sweeps the maiden off her feet and they live happily ever after. Quite to the contrary, the Bible more accurately depicts a marriage relationship requiring consistent effort on the part of both spouses.
1Peter 3:1 clearly states that wives are to work at being submissive to their husbands and Genesis 3:16 tells women to desire their husbands while Esther sets the example for women to honor their husbands. In the same way husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church, sacrificially, so that she can bloom as God has intended her to. This can sound like a pretty tall order to fill, especially when placed in the context of Hebrews 13:4 which tells us that “marriage is held in honor,” there for, it is sacred and set apart for the glory of God. With all the work involved in the reality of a healthy, biblical marriage, how does a couple know where to start?
For some time now the expression “men are from Mars and women are from Venus” has been used to permeate the basic concept that men have a hard time understanding women and women have a hard time understanding men. There is no doubt that one of the chief complaints inside of a troubled marriage is lack of understanding by a spouse. This process of understanding begins by accepting that while God may have chosen to create us all in his own image, he did not choose to create men and women to be exactly the same. These fundamental differences are not just physical but resonate into the mental, emotional and spiritual fiber of our beings.
We are initially attracted to someone who is different from ourselves because we enjoy the new and different personality style and seek the balance that our opposite counterpart brings.While those opposite characteristics can attract a couple together initially, they can also tear at the fiber of their relationship if not properly understood and accepted as normal.
We all have the inherent need to be loved, valued, respected and useful in some way to this world, but how the male and female are divinely programmed to seek, receive and meet these basic needs in themselves and each other is where the differences begin to come into play. This is a big revelation, since the key to motivating another person is to meet their deepest needs. For a wife to begin understanding her husband so she can then learn to meet his deepest needs she needs to accept that God has created him as a somewhat less emotionally driven individual and much more primal in his intentions.
For a man, the deepest needs seeded in his being begin with his desire to achieve, to protect, to provide, to serve and to analyze. Which is quite a bit different from the more emotionally driven basic desires for a woman to be close and openly connect to the people she values around her, to know that her spouse is committed to her, and to be shown that she has value and is desired deeply by her loved ones.
Both males and females require human connection through friendship and sexual intimacy, but which holds a higher value in the needs to be met category is typically different for males and females. Understanding these needs in our spouses and how to meet them properly is a significant component for not only a healthy marriage relationship, but to create a union that follows the biblical standard for marriage. After all, how can a husband “love his wife as Christ loved the church,” as said earlier, if he is not focused on meeting her deepest needs? In the same way how is a wife to “honor her husband,” if his needs are left unfulfilled somewhere along the line? That is where the biblical model for marriage really begins to be lived out in your own relationships.
Whether male or female your spouse will always have physical needs, emotional needs and spiritual needs. The biblical model for a marriage relationship seeks to not only understand those needs in your spouse, but to strive at fulfilling them every day. The biblical model for a marriage relationship also never puts the needs of one spouse or the kind of need to be met as more important over any of the others. The man’s need for respect from his wife is no less important to him than the woman’s need for open communication with her husband. The couples need for a sturdy home, mortgage bill paid, is no more important than their need to pray for each other and to engage in healthy Christian fellowship with each other. Any need left unmet, by a spouse, serves to do nothing more for the marriage relationship than to foster an environment of discontent.
Although each spouse comes into the marriage relationship, fully equipped with their own set of unique needs, there is a point when you must remember that your spouse is human and will likely let you down somewhere along the way. While it is healthy for the marriage relationship to have both spouses striving to meet the needs of the other, the greatest blessing to the biblical model for marriage is the acceptance that God is the ultimate need fulfiller. 2 Corinthians 9:8 reminds us that “ God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel.” This verse does not say your spouse is able to in every way, always provide everything you need. Realistic and healthy expectations of our spouse’s abilities in the marriage relationship can make a significant difference between a happy and unhappy marriage experience. God does not at any point biblically call our spouses to take on his divine role in meeting our needs. There will always be needs that your spouse will simply not be able to fill because there will always be some needs that are meant to be filled by God alone.
Getting the needs met by your spouse that can and should be fulfilled by your partner takes a good bit of healthy communication skills at times. This can also be an area of conflict for some married couples since men and women tend to communicate in widely different ways as well. Understanding that communication is not just verbal but non-verbal as well can help bridge this gap in a relationship. Nonverbal communication plays as important a role in communicating effectively as verbal communication does. Being aware of the nonverbal communication you are sending to your spouse can help create a much more open and safe environment for healthy communication to occur. The less vulnerable a person feels in the midst of the communication, the more open they are likely to be. Simply put, if you are trying to communicate your needs to your spouse, it is imperative that this is done in a non-threatening way both verbally and nonverbally, to ensure the communication is received well.
Communication is a marriage relationship goes much beyond the expression of needs. Meeting your spouse’s need for love, respect and value requires you to communicate those things as well. Since we all tend to view love, honor, respect and value somewhat differently, this is another area that can create conflict in a marriage relationship.
Although the Bible clearly states that we are to offer our spouse the love, honor and respect they need and deserve, it is not particularly clear on how we are to go about doing this. For many of us, the way that we send and receive these signals is particularly personal and is often times expressed in a different form than how our spouse expresses them.
While some people will express and receive expressions of love in the form of gifts, words of affirmation, quality time and physical touch ; others will communicate their affections through acts of service. When we are in the dating phase or early in a relationship, we tend to be more in tune with or watchful for these signals from the other person; much in the same way that we tend to put a stronger emphasis on sending love signals that the other person will fully receive and find valuable. Often times, however, what we do for each other before marriage is no indication of what we will do after marriage. I you are not primed to understand and receive your spouse’s form of communication, it will make no difference how sincere their delivery is, because effective love communication requires you to learn and accept your spouse’s form of these signals.
Conflict in this area can be complicated by criticism. People tend to criticize their spouse most in the area where they themselves have the deepest emotional needs. For many people, their ability to feel significant is a direct reflection of someone else expressing love to them, particularly if they are unsaved or doubtful of God’s unconditional love. Although a married couple does not always have to agree on everything nor do they always have to do things in the exact same way as their spouse to make the marriage work well, they must find a way to handle their differences so that they do not become divisive.
The erosion of the intimacy in the marriage relationship causes a parting of the marital tides; much like Moses did with the Red Sea. One spouse goes one way and the other retreats to their corner as well. Thus, even in the midst of those times of clear disagreement when it may seem you are nowhere near being on the same page as your spouse it is imperative to remember that love is a choice and marriage is a commitment. Poor choices in the past don’t mean we have to make them in the future. When we know we have hurt our spouse, misread their love signals or left their primary needs unmet, the biblical model of marriage reminds us that repentance has the power to lead the way to forgiveness and the overcoming of those past missteps. Meeting your spouse’s need for love in your marriage relationship is a choice you will need to make each and every day. Everyone wants to be happy, but successful couples learn how to intentionally bring the happiness back when life has ripped it away.
As important as it is to the bonds of your marriage relationship that you practice healthy communication with your spouse directly, the biblical model for marriage also calls us to communicate directly with God, the creator of our union, when it comes to our relationships and our spouse. The power of prayer within the confines of a marriage is massive, not just in theory but in practice. If you knew your spouse was praying for you daily would that not signal to you how significant you are to your spouse? Of course it would. But even if you are the spouse who chooses to pray quietly without your partner being aware of your work, the results of a healthy prayer life on your marriage will undoubtedly be seen for years to come. The power in your prayer is God’s because when you pray for your spouse you are inviting God to exercise his almighty power in your marriage relationship. Proverbs 18:22 reminds us that there are certain blessings that God has preordained just for those who are married, because God has declared the two of you to be one in his sight. Thus, what happens to or for one essentially happens to the other so that when God blesses you for praying on your marriage, he is equally blessing your spouse as well. That is why a healthy prayer life is so critical to a marriage, it will directly impact you both.
As you continue to consider the path to a successful marriage relationship the biggest principle to keep in mind is you can change your marriage or start your marriage off on the right foot simply by changing yourself. Trying to change your spouse is likely to be next to impossible, any true change in a person comes from personal revelation and the work of the Lord, and those are the hands it should be left in. Even when there are clearly thing about your spouse that need to change to keep them in accordance with God’s word and his will, it is always best to pray for them but to leave the results up to God. Successful couples have learned to resist holding grudges or bringing up the past troubles because they recognize that they have married an imperfect person and so has their spouse.
The biblical model for a marriage relationship is so powerful in keeping couples together for life because these unions are not only preordained by God, but they continue to follow his will for their covenant. These couples are available to each other, choosing to live in their marriages instead of fitting their marriages into the rest of their life, as suggested in Luke 12:34 “for where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” Couples who are aware and attentive in their marriage relationships are “devoted to one another and honor one another above themselves,” as commanded in Romans 12:10. They look their spouse in the eye, pay attention to their needs and communications and listen for their spouse’s heart; essentially they study their spouse for a life time. Above all of these things the couples that are most successful in their execution of the biblical model for their marriage relationship are grateful. They not only appreciate their spouse and the contributions that their spouse makes in their life, but they know that they are divinely blessed to share their lives so intimately with another person. 1Thesalonians 5:18 commands us all to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”