Investing in your Marriage

Prevention Better Than Healing

By H. van Groningen

Isn’t getting married a risky venture? A shot in the dark? Shouldn’t you just wait and see how it goes? You would almost think so, when you hear how many marriages end in divorce, or when you see how many couples seek help through counselling. What is the cause of this? More importantly, can marriage problems be prevented?

Indeed, according to couples in counselling, many problems could have been prevented. "If only we had talked more. If only we hadn’t assumed that everything would work itself out. Why didn’t we talk to each other before it was too late’?"

Happily, in many cases it is not too late. God does not only change people, but also marriages. With God’s help, and a firm resolution on both sides, much can change for the better. Thanks be to God! However, much pain and difficulty has usually preceded this already. And sometimes it remains a struggle. Prevention is much better than healing, especially in a marriage relationship. But, how do you prevent problems?

The wrong motives

Many problems in marriages begin in the dating period or even earlier. Why do you want to date? Why do you want a boy friend or girlfriend? Because of outward beauty or physical contact? These aspects do play a part, but may not be the basis. In today’s society, this does seem to be the norm. Whether it’s newspapers, magazines, music, soap, deodorant, cars, or mineral water, everything is sold through sex. It is presented as the highest good. This is a lie that will sooner or later lead to disappointment and frustration. Another wrong motive is the fear of being the only one left out, because slowly all of your friends begin to date. Or, you may be looking to leave the parental home as soon as possible, because there are so many problems at home. Or you have so many problems yourself which need attention, and you desire to be loved, thinking it will solve all your problem s. Having sympathy for the other person will also not lead to a good relationship. Do not remain in a relationship when you know it is not going well, when you have less and less interest in each other, or when your characters clash and all you do is hurt each other. Sooner or later, sympathy will turn to irritation. Do not, therefore, keep hoping that things will become better!

A good beginning

What is a good basis? Loving each other? But when do

you love each other enough? In answering this question, try to be honest and clear headed. Love can be seriously tested when characters do nothing but clash. This may also occur when there is a big difference in education and cultural background. And what do each of you think of religion? In the dating period you can grow towards each other in some things, but you have to agree on this most essential issue. Only then can you promise to be faithful to each other. And for the rest? When do you really love each other enough? It is easier to say what is not true love, than what is. In the end only you know why you love just that person. It is more than just falling in love. There also has to be the following: you want to deal honestly and openly with the other, you want to make the other person happy and the other makes you happy, you trust each other, and you want to share everything with each other. You want to share your whole life. Not just for a time, but "till death do us part." Then you can earnestly say "yes" on your wedding day, being dependent on and kneeling before the "Father of all mercies" for His blessing: "His gracious blessing rest on all, from Zion doth His favor show..." (Psalm 134).

Talking together

While you are dating, do as many things together as possible. This will enrich your relationship and cause you to grow together. Have friends together, talk about a book that both of you read, go to youth group together, do recreational activities together. Whatever you do, at least do one thing: talk together! It often becomes apparent that marriage problems began when communication ceased. When everything was going well, they weren’t aware of it. But those relationships derail in times of sickness and mourning, in times of adversity and setbacks. Therefore, talk! Share as much as possible. Do not only become one in outward possessions, but also one in feelings, experiences, and opinions. Correct, stimulate, help, comfort, and encourage each other. Show your interest in each other. Talk about your joys and your cares, about secret and intimate things. About your character, your weaknesses, your feelings, your daily pursuits, your fears, your desires, and above all: about the Kingdom of God. In this way help and assist each other in all things pertaining to this life and the one hereafter.

Time or priority

Often, problems in a marriage can be associated with business and stress. When there finally is time to talk, there is no energy. It becomes a downward spiral: because of all the stress, one stops talking, and because they don’t talk, the stress increases. Handle this wisely from the start, while you are dating, and realize that it is not a question of having time, but of the right priorities. It will always be busy, but remember to keep things in the right order. First: church, marriage and family. Second: your daily work. Third: Everything else. How much time is left for ’everything else’ must be agreed upon together. There will, of course, be times when circumstances require a different order, but don’t let that become the norm. When time is set aside to talk together, you will come out ahead. However, when you don’t take the time to talk, the relationship turns sour, and then extra time is needed to work things out.

You or the paper

However, just talking together will not get you there. It has to done in the right way. Many problems can be blamed on poor communication. You probably understand the concept of proper communication. It is an ongoing process in which you interact with each other and make each other understand something in one way or another. It can be done with or without words, because if, for example, she wants to talk, but you pick up the paper instead, you are telling her: "Not now... first the paper, then you." The quality of communication is largely determined by how well you listen to each other. Unfortunately, it is the listening part that often is lacking. Why? You interrupt each other, you give a superficial answer, you come with your own stories, ideas, advice, etc. However, it is only when you really listen, that you hear more than the words and come to understand the feelings that gave rise to the words, gestures, expressions, or silence.

Male and female talk

Men communicate differently than women. It is important to remember this. Many women say they would like to talk more with their husband. Do men really talk less than women? I don’t believe so. I think it appears this way because men are oriented towards exchanging information, while women focus on how the mutual contact is experienced. Men talk about facts, while women deal with the feelings underlying the facts. Men want a solution to the problem, while women want attention and concern for their problem. The wife laments: "He helps me in everything, but he seldom shows me a little affection," while the husband says: "I love her, therefore I help her," The woman does not understand why a man first asks for the mail and the paper when he comes home, while he does not understand why she would think that the paper is more important than her. This difference can also be seen in sexual life. Many women have the impression that with men a lot is about sex, while men think their wives have little need of it. Neither one is true. Each one needs it in a different way. The feelings of safety, intimacy, security, and togetherness play a much larger role with women than with men.

I love you

Examine these mutual differences, and view them as a welcome complement, or a necessary correction. It was meant to be this way from the very beginning. Discuss these differences together, and absorb yourself in discovering the other person. Do not focus on what you find missing in the other person. You do not marry an ideal, but a human being like everyone else, with nice and desirable characteristics, but also with some things you would like to change. Do not constantly work on improving the other person, since this can be very destructive. When you accept the other as he or she is, that is when you actually receive that which you desire. Everyone is agreeable to hearing about his favorable traits, and not his drawbacks. Try to bring the best out in each other, and highlight the positive qualities. Do not hesitate to warmly and freely tell the other of your appreciation. We are often too reserved in this, as if it would be exaggerated. Do not assume the other knows you love them, but tell them. Especially men seem to have a problem doing this. It is good to look in each other’s eye and say, "I love you!"

No blaming

In every relationship there can be arguments, even in the best marriages. Yet it is a negative experience. However, do not let that be a reason for not telling each other the truth, but be clear and straightforward with each other. Don’t smile when you are angry, don’t laugh when you are sad, don’t say "yes" when you mean "no." Don’t shut all your frustrations inside, and definitely do not just keep silent and not talk about it. Avoid blaming each other in arguments. A soft answer turneth away wrath, but blaming almost always leads to blaming in return, and you won’t get anywhere that way. Try to be positive, not only talking about what you don’t like, but also about how you would like it. If there is discord, don’t bring other things into it, especially not family and in-laws. That can be quite destructive. If there is a difference of opinion, you might not always come to agreement, and you must try to compromise. That is acceptable, and does not necessarily separate you further. Different people can have different needs. If deep down you continue to feel your spouse should adjust to your way, it will not bring you closer together.

I am sorry...

Make it a habit to confess when you are wrong. Who is never bitter, not tactful, unfair, or irritated’? No one is blameless. If you can honestly admit your mistakes, it clears the air in a relationship. However, do not come up with excuses, but be truthful and forthcoming. "I am sorry, will you forgive me?" If the other asks your forgiveness, respond to it, and let it show that you have forgiven him or her. The biblical command "not to let the sun go down upon your anger" is very important in a dating relationship and in a marriage. Do not go to sleep before resolving the conflict.

Motivation

Many problems while dating and later in marriage have their roots in the question of who ultimately is in charge. This is at odds with the biblical call to self-denial. Paul writes: "...but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Philippians 2:3b). Already while dating this must be practised. In reality this isn’t always easy, but it is not impossible. It will require all your effort and continuous prayer, especially in difficult times, when that feeling of love is maybe not so strong. That effort will lead to a blossoming of that love for each other again. Paul writes in Ephesians 5 that a man must love his wife "as Christ loves His Church."

Let that sink in. Christ loved His Church fully, even on the cross and unto death. What an unspeakable love! Seeing this love should be an earnest motivation to self-denial. How necessary it is to pray, alone and together, to be filled with this love.

Editor’s Note- It is certainly not at odds with the Bible to ask the question, "Who is ultimately in charge?" However, Philippians 2:3b is not written specifically concerning husbands and wives, but refers to all of us in general. We need to remember what the Lord says about the place of the wife in regard to her husband in Eph. 5:22,32; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:4 and 1 Peter 3:1. If a women is not willing to place herself in subjection to the man she wishes to marry, they should not proceed with the marriage, for this is what is promised in the marriage ceremony.