“Marriage isn’t about finding the right person. It’s about becoming the right person.”
If you ask anyone who is married for advice on marriage you’ll get a multitude of answers and responses, because everyone is unique and their experience and practice of marriage is so different and personal.
So this is my list and helps me shape the marriage I am in.
1. Marriage is God’s tool to refine us
Real love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person. We are all sinners, forgiven by grace and growing to be more like Christ. God intentionally and on purposes refines and sanctifies us through difficult situations and circumstances, like gold in a fire.
Marriage problems are first heart problems, before they show themselves as behaviour problems or communication problems; therefore we must focus on our hearts to bring change, growth and reconciliation within marriage.
I once read a book that alluded to the idea that marriage is the fire of life—that some- how it’s designed to refine all our dysfunction and spur us into progressive wholeness. In this light, contrary to popular opinion, the goal of marriage is not happiness. And although happiness is often a very real by-product of a healthy relationship, marriage has a far more significant purpose in sight. It is designed to pull dysfunction to the surface of our lives, set it on fire and help us grow.
When we’re willing to see it from this angle, then the points of friction within our marriages quickly become opportunties that consistently invite us into a more whole and fulfilling experience of life.
It is God’s purpose to use marriage in his process of sanctification.
- Happiness is not to be the end result of marriage; rather marriage is the process by which we grow to be more like Christ.
- Our spouses are present to influence us toward godliness. Each marriage partner is an agent of God for the other person’s growth.
- Marriage reveals flaws and selfishness so that we can grow and be made whole by grace.
If we overlook this very important factor we will have unrealistic expectations for our marriage and for our husband/wife and will invariably be disappointed and find the process unnatural and uncomfortable. However if you are aware of this purpose of marriage you are more likely to embrace it and understand that the challenges of marriage are designed by God to shape and transform you BOTH.
Many of us enter marriage expecting perpetual bliss, nonstop sex, and Happily Ever After. We don’t expect marriage to relentlessly expose our selfishness and insecurities, nor do we anticipate the weaknesses and faults we’ll encounter in our spouses, not ot mention ourselves! Marriage will reveal heart issues.
2. Forever is one day at a time.
Our lives are made up of small mundane moments and acts. Every day. THIS is what your marriage is made in. Not the date nights. Not the romantic anniversary get away. Not the candlelight dinner. But everyday. How you act, love and serve in the every day will be what builds your marriage. Small mundane moments. Then add children to it and it gets more small and mundane!
Serving is about both action and attitude. Every time you have occasion to serve your spouse, you can choose one of three responses: to refuse and opt for selfishness, to serve with a begrudging sense of obligation, or to joyfully lay down your life because you delight in supporting your husband/wife.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God…he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave…. (Philippians 2:5-7 NLT)
When you marry someone, you in essence sign up to serve them for the rest of your life. Your “I do” was actually another way of saying, “I am devoting my life to your best interests. I choose to rejoice in laying down my life on your behalf. Your dreams, desires, and goals are now of utmost interest to me. I want to learn how to display the love of God with you.” (The Story of Marriage – J&L Bevere)
3. Choose Love
You can only choose to love if your emotional and spiritual fulfilment come from relationship with God. When we rely on the wrong source— that of our own strength, or the strength of someone else—our love will fail. But when we are grounded in the love of God, our actions of love can keep us in unity and growth when our feelings falter.
Make no mistake. Marriage is not meant to be void of feeling and romantic passionate love and joy is meant to be experienced in marriage. But you can continue to show love to your spouse even when you do not experience the feelings of love. You can choose to serve, celebrate, and support. When your life aligns with love, your emotions will eventually affirm what your actions and intentional choices display.
When I was about 19 I went driving with a friend around the Dunedin Peninsula. She had been married about 7 years and in my eyes, they were a great couple. They were great individuals and great together. However as we drove she began to confide in me that she didn’t love her husband any more. She had fallen out of love. As a perhaps naive 19 year old I was shocked. Her husband was lovely. She was lovely. But she didn’t love him anymore and could no longer see the good of the relationship. As we drove and she talked I became aware of a resolve that I attribute to God speaking to me, that love is a choice. You choose every day to love the one you are married to. This choosing to love affects how you see them and how you relate to them. Love is a choice. Choose every day to love and be in love.
When it comes to thinking about your husband/wife, what are you focused on? If you fix your thoughts on your spouse’s faults and failures, the problems in your marriage will be magnified. On the other hand, if you fix your thoughts on things you can be thankful for, you’ll see your relationship in a whole new light! Your marriage, like all of life, is all about perspective.
Let me ask you this:
what is 2 + 2? 3 + 1? 10 – 6?
Yep. The answer to all of the above is four.
In a marriage there are 2 people. They had different upbringings, different families. It’s not that they’re not on different pages, it’s that they’re in different chapters, in different books, in different libraries, in different cities, on different planets. You get the picture. Recognise that the only person that thinks the way you is you. Your spouse will think differently than you do. Embrace the differences. Choose to enjoy them. Work to communicate. Your perception of your differences will have a vast affect on the health of your marriage. Again, what are you focusing on?
5. Practice makes perfect
Like learning to play the guitar or run a marathon, an awesome marriage is the result of practice. You can have a mediocre relationship without a lot of effort, but the dream marriage you envisioned during your engagement is going to require some good old fashioned hard work. As your relationship matures, and especially when children enter the picture, it’s frighteningly easy to lose your connection as a couple. Your roles as a parent, caregiver, bread-winner, housekeeper, etc. can be so overwhelming that you never give the time or energy needed to be a great spouse. Invest in your marriage by carving out time for each other. Ensure you have a date night at least every fortnight – some quality time carved out for you and your spouse. Tony and I watch Fringe together. It’s “our thing.” Invest in your marriage by resourcing yourself and growing in the areas you are naturally weaker in. Read great marriage books. Have friends you can talk to about marriage and who iron sharpens iron.
6. Marriage is not one day
Marriage is an ongoing realtionship with your husband/wife. It isn’t something you accomplished the day you said “I Do”. A wedding does not make a marriage. A wedding is only the beginning of an entirely new being; the “one new flesh” so often referenced during the Bible, born that day and it must continue growing. The day of marriage is not the end of the story, but the beginning. It brings into creation a brand new infant couple, pledging to learn the art of marrying their individual lives into one combined, married, maturing life together.
So many people plan for the big day but forget the lifetime that comes afterwards.
“The moment you say “I Do”, you set out on your promise to bend not break, give not take, turn toward not away, hold on not stray. You will find that through every change and challenge, this love will test your vows. “I do” will lead you through it all if you’re willing to learn how. For the wedding cake is rich and fresh, but the taste of true love lives in the leftovers.” Christine Carter
What would you add to the list? What do you intentionally do to build your marriage?