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 (Manna 62: The Miracles of Jesus)
Important Steps in Building My Marriage
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Important Steps in Building My Marriage

Patricia Chen—Irvine, California, USA

My husband and I just celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary. For those who are just thinking about getting married, that is a huge milestone. Compared with couples of my parents’ generation, we still have a ways to go before we celebrate our fiftieth.

Even though sixteen years sounds like a long time, it doesn’t seem that long ago when my husband and I were engaged. We were engaged in January and married in July of the same year. The six months of engagement were very important because that was a precious time of not just planning for the day of the wedding but also preparing ourselves to spend the rest of our lives with one another.

Looking back at my personal journey, I notice that there were significant steps that we took both during engagement and marriage that were meaningful and helpful in building our marriage. These steps came about from understanding what marriage really involves.

Yet, knowing important principles and teachings in the Bible related to marriage didn’t automatically translate into us becoming the perfect husband and wife. There were many lessons we had to learn—and are still learning—in reality.

A LIFELONG COMMITMENT

            “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Mt 19:6)

God planned from the beginning that marriage should last a lifetime. If a lifelong commitment is not the foundation on which we build our marriage, then it won’t be long until cracks appear in our relationship. Marriage needs to be based on a covenant of commitment and love.

After my husband and I were introduced, even before we got engaged, we talked about this commitment. We both understood that married couples must confront adversity and crises that can knock both husband and wife off their feet. It could be an illness, financial trouble, an accident, or a failure that leads to losing respect for one another. How would we handle such problems?

We decided that we had to enter marriage with the conviction that we would never consider, even for a moment, divorce or do anything that would jeopardize our hope of entering heaven. We knew that marriage was a commitment that called us to continually put the other’s needs above our own, to forgive the other’s mistakes, and to always pray for God’s strength to go through tough times together.

In a marriage, we all need to have this determination. Maintaining the relationship is not based on whether the wife or the husband remains a certain way or looks a certain way. It is not conditional on the couple’s joy or sex life. A Christian marriage is founded on commitment to one another.

There are times when a husband and wife don’t enjoy each other. Maybe your spouse has let you down, or you get into a fight and the relationship stalls.

What is important, however, is whether or not you still accept your spouse despite his or her flaws. These daily or weekly irritants, if not dealt with, can bring tremendous damage to the marriage.

Remember, even minor irritations often cause pain in a marriage. Therefore, we should humbly ask God to help us, asking the Holy Spirit to anoint us with grace and wisdom. If we stay committed to God’s teaching, our marriage will hold steady through all circumstances. Commitment becomes more powerful than our circumstances or moods.

This is why Jesus Christ has to be part of the marriage. God has to be the foundation, for the unshakable truth of God’s word holds a marriage together. Even though we may face hardships or heavy pressures in life, the marriage will grow stronger because committing to one another and to God nurtures lasting love.

Just as God has made an unconditional covenant with us, He calls us to make such a commitment in our marriage:

            “I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me
In righteousness and justice,
In loving kindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the LORD.” (Hos 2:19, 20)

When we say our vows before the Lord, we take on the covenant of marriage. This promise of lifelong commitment is made before the congregation and God. Those who have been married for many years still need to consciously commit to each other on a regular basis. When we focus on our commitment to each other, it broadens our life.

A lifelong love story is deliberate. It is intentional. It is a choice to look ahead and not back. A healthy marriage doesn’t happen by accident—it is a result of the daily choice to obey God’s teachings about marriage.

GROWING TOGETHER SPIRITUALLY

As I got to know my husband better before marriage, I discovered he had qualities that I adored, which were also qualities that I frankly didn’t have. I found him more attractive and more intelligent as our relationship developed and we got to know each other better. When I was around him, I felt more complete, and we simply couldn’t wait to see each other.

We set aside a time to pray each day and read the Bible, and I looked up to him as a spiritual leader, even without him knowing it. One day, when we were talking over the phone, my husband started sharing his shortcomings, fears, and doubts about certain matters. As I listened, I validated his feelings and actually felt closer to him.

Although I had not expressed my concerns to him, I also had worries about embracing a life together and dealing with problems that could arise in the future. I really liked my husband’s initiation in establishing an “us” approach, where both of us contributed to the relationship and were willing to share everything.

Since he was so willing to open up about his feelings, we started talking about how to handle tough times together. This conversation made me feel connected to him on a more intimate level.

Intimacy often refers to the physical relationship, but it actually means communication and closeness at the deepest level. When a couple experiences mental, spiritual, and emotional intimacy, not only does it reduce loneliness and self-centeredness, it really strengthens their lives. Such closeness needs to be cultivated moment by moment, day by day, month by month, year by year.

We naturally assume that if we let our future spouse see our weaknesses, they won’t like us anymore. The fact is that we are all imperfect and emotional human beings. But it is our imperfections and our willingness to share our deepest feelings that draw us closer to each other.

When we share our weaknesses with each other and how we need each other’s prayer, when we confess our faults to each other, when we share a part of ourselves that we are confused about or are ashamed of, we take intimacy to a new depth. Reaching this stage requires that we be humble and accepting of one another.

Some couples talk, but they sugarcoat or camouflage their true selves so that they present someone completely different. This is not healthy. No one can keep the act going forever. It is important to be yourself, instead of trying to hide behind a mask.

We should not try to impress our future spouse by concealing who we are. It says in Romans 12:9, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” If we want a lasting and deep marriage, we must remove any disguises as fully as possible.

In marriage, honesty about who we are makes our connection real. It makes our need for God real, and it forces us to draw more spiritual strength from our heavenly Father. He will equip us with His strength. When we pray for each other’s spiritual growth, we are demonstrating God’s love in a powerful way.

WORKING THROUGH ISSUES TOGETHER

There is no doubt that marriage is full of challenges. There are issues at predictable developmental stages, and there are issues that result from the unpredictabilities of life.

On top of that, there are values that need to be re-evaluated. There are struggles that need to be overcome. There are conflicts that need to be resolved. Many adjustments must be made. Marriage is indeed a people-maturing machine.

We have to be prepared to take on these difficulties together even before getting married. In the course of engagement, you may be asked to face something you didn’t expect. When you hear your fiancé’s honesty, you may have conflicting emotions—you care for him but are overwhelmed by what he’s saying. It can be unsettling.

At this point, you really only have one choice—to kneel down in front of God and ask Him to give you the wisdom to discover solutions, find godly guidance, and decide as a couple how to resolve this issue.

It is important to work together. Sometimes, when a couple has a disagreement, one person will try to force the other to accept his or her views. This attitude is not about true love but about having power and control.

Other couples will prefer to withdraw and not deal with the issues. As a result, the relationship will die as they become emotionally divorced.

Many couples find it hard to love and respect their spouse because they have checked out of the marriage mentally and emotionally. When encountering difficulties, it’s important not to lose yourself. Instead of pressuring each other or avoiding the problem, work things out by communicating and listening to each other, putting the issue in prayer, and coming up with a solution together.

I have learned that it is seldom God’s will for me to run from a difficult situation. If I don’t learn in one area, God just gives me another chance to learn somewhere else. Ignoring a problem won’t make it disappear. It only gets worse.

I remember my husband and I had moments when we faced difficult patches in our relationship. As we surrendered to God’s guidance and brought everything to Him, it really forced us to grow even more spiritually. Even though some issues took time to resolve, we kept our faith and trusted in God.

God has much to teach us when we work through issues. Instead of being torn apart as a couple, we need to come together as a team to face whatever life sends us. We can’t have moments claiming “This is your problem, not mine,” but must find the best solution together.

My husband and I came out of crises and issues stronger both individually and as a team. We also discovered that both of us respected and valued each other so much more after overcoming these difficulties.

A relationship gains deeper strength when it is stretched to the breaking point and doesn’t break. Indeed, many couples who have come to a mutually agreeable solution not only glorify God but also benefit each other.

UNDERSTANDING OUR ROLES

            Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:33)

A Husband’s Role

The Bible says that the husband is the head of the wife (Eph 5:23). Here, and in the verses following, the apostle Paul charges all husbands with a loving leadership of their wives. But being the head does not mean being bossy and throwing around authority.

A husband’s love for his wife has to be so strong that he is willing to die to save her, just as Christ loved the church! It means that the wife is looking to the husband to sacrifice his own comfort and convenience and make decisions on what is best for the family.

My husband knows that I constantly depend on him to lead me with his character and strength. Because he is the head, I look to him to back me up in all areas of married life. I am going to look to him for leadership when hard decisions about career, having kids, parenting, or other issues arise. Most of all, I am going to look to him to set the pace spiritually.

I never once met a wife who had a problem with her husband being a spiritual leader of their home, where the husband was really laying down his life for her, looking out for her needs, and meeting those needs. But I have met many wives who struggled with husbands who weren’t spiritually leading their homes, who weren’t laying down their lives and loving their wives like how Christ loves the church.

It’s important to remember that God charges husbands to be the spiritual leader, to love and die for their wives. This is the kind of leader wives want and need. This is the divine plan from God.

            “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD.” (Gen 18:19)

It is essential to the spiritual health of the children and wife to have the husband set up the family’s devotion time. In my family, even though my husband may sometimes be tired from work, he still continues the routine he established of reading the Bible and praying together as a family. It is a blessing for our child to see his father setting a good example in a family’s spiritual life.

A Wife’s Role

While the husband’s role is to love his wife unconditionally and die for her, the wife’s role is to submit and respect her husband in all circumstances. Many sisters cringe when they hear “submit.” They ask, “Why should women be inferior to men? Why should I follow his preferences? Does that mean if I questioned anything, I would be viewed as not submissive? Is submission the only way to ensure a blessed marriage?”

Being submissive does not mean wives are not allowed to speak up or give their perspective. It does not mean being the lesser of the two. Husbands are not called to treat their wives like a child, and wives are not called to be their husbands’ clone. Husbands are not the only decision maker in the family.

Being submissive means respecting the husband and taking his lead. When difficulties arise, it may mean yielding to and being understanding of the husband’s decisions, despite having a different view. A wife needs to fully believe in her husband and be confident in his leadership.

I feel that as a wife, I should take on the role of an encourager. I tell myself that each day, I need to be ready to comfort, not criticize, my husband. I need to speak words of encouragement and give him emotional nourishment. It’s one of the reasons why a husband needs his wife’s respect and support.

As I strive to make God the center of my life, I also pray daily, “Please be the head of my husband. I usher him to You on a daily basis so that You will lead him and speak to him today.”

Imagine a wife who speaks words of wisdom and encouragement to her husband. It will be like pouring sunshine, water, and nutrients on a plant. When the husband feels encouraged and respected, he will continue to bloom and grow. This is because the wife is not trying to change her husband, but she loves and respects her husband through God.

Likewise, husbands also need to do the same for their wives. We have the power to bring life by giving encouragement to each other.

God’s love flows to the husband as the wife offers words that encourage, affirm, and build him up as he grows closer in his relationship with God and with her. This is very precious in a marriage. When a wife truly respects and loves her husband, this is when they can be “heirs of the gracious gifts of life—so that nothing may hinder [their] prayers” (1 Pet 3:7). 

SHARING REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

Having unreasonable and unrealistic expectations will cause a lot of harm in a marriage. So what can we do to avoid this? First, we must list our expectations and examine them at the beginning of marriage. Be completely honest with your spouse. Share and clarify what they are.

Marriage is a real eye-opener. Once you get specific with your spouse about your expectations, you will discover that both of you have different opinions, thoughts, and habits. Remember, your wife or your husband is human, which makes that person unique and imperfect. Therefore, we need to give up unrealistic expectations. If not, they will only lead us to frustration and more disappointment.

Here are some examples of unrealistic expectations:

·         We will never have disagreements because we love one another.

·         If you truly love me, you will never criticize me.

·         My needs are always the most important. I will not need to verbally share my needs with you if you truly love me. You should know my needs.

We cannot demand or force love from others. In a healthy marriage, there is constant communication and accommodation of one another. We need to respond to each other’s needs even if they are not the same as ours.

Sharing our expectations, whether unrealistic or not, brings us to reflect, “Am I placing demands on my spouse? How are my expectations affecting my spouse? What can I do in order to improve our marriage?”

Marriage requires maturity, and that means both spouses need to face reality, abandon unrealistic expectations, and work on being transformed by God’s teaching and His love. This requires character, maturity, self-restraint, and humility.

We shouldn’t drive our spouse away from us, but draw our lover close to our heart. We must be willing to adjust and re-adjust our position to accommodate our spouse.

Once we surrender to God, His love will flow through our marriage. Fears, demands, and differences will diminish.

There is no doubt that marriage takes enormous amounts of love, energy, courage, and determination. As long as we keep our love story intentional, we can feel we are the apple of our spouse’s eye. After all, who doesn’t love being loved? We can definitely experience that in a marriage.

After sixteen years of marriage, I can honestly say that my husband and I have a much deeper, more mature love than on our wedding day. We have worked through difficult moments, and I truly feel that he loves me, believes in me, fights for me, and encourages me to see myself through the word of God. He opens me up to grow, to learn, and even to change. I feel loved every day.

To be able to share the rest of your life with the one you love and to seek after God with an ever-deepening understanding is the crowning glory of marriage. To be able to intentionally nurture the inner spiritual life in a marriage will give you a greater sense of purpose and meaning.

Husbands and wives are not meant to depend solely on each other—God must be the head of the family. As we invite God into our marriage, we can definitely experience all the promises in the Bible—love, joy, peace, protection, provisions, deliverance and many more!

All glory to our Lord Jesus Christ!

 

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