Marriage offers the closest possible relationship of intimacy and companionship we can enjoy.
Yet while marriage can be a relationship of mutual encouragement, acceptance and love, such marriages are increasingly rare. Fewer people are willing to apply the kind of intentional commitment and hard work necessary for good relationships.
We can be certain that that there is no misery so miserable as the misery of a miserable marriage. This is one reason why many marriages don’t go the distance.
A growing number of people whom I care deeply about are in failing marriages. Most of them never imagined being where they are today. They went into marriage determined to go the distance but now face the devastating prospect of an impending divorce. Although they know that they have not been perfect mates, they sincerely desire to work on their marriages. Yet many of them are dealing with unwilling partners who are too selfish to care. After trying everything they could think of to save their marriages, they fear there is no hope.
Life has become much harder for these people. Beyond their personal pain, their hearts are broken for their children.
Divorce is painful and complicated. Those who go through it endure emotional, physical and social exhaustion. Even when divorce is an escape from a deeply troubled relationship, it’s difficult and painful. The discouragements, distractions and disorienting complications can make life feel unbearable. And the effects of divorce are usually life-long.
Bad marriages share some common characteristics. Poor communication and problems with conflict resolution are always part of relationships in decline. Neglect of intimacy, loss of good will and frequent escalating arguments are equally common to marital breakdown.
First-time married people face disturbing statistical probability of divorce. Some say 50 percent end in divorce; others think 40 percent is more accurate. Either number is too high. And statistics increase for second, third and fourth marriages. Evidently, we don’t learn from our mistakes as well as we think. 68 percent of those who remarry within two years of their divorce experience another divorce.
This is partly why I am in my 23rd year of teaching a class on how to choose a mate. I am confident that preventive measures can be taken to decrease the threat of divorce. But preventative work is often overlooked. It’s far too easy for pastors to become so consumed with interventional and restorative marriage counseling that they have little time for preventative effort. We simply must make time for pre-engagement and premarital classes and counseling.
The decision to marry is one of the most important ones we make. Making a wise decision requires knowing what to look for and what to avoid; asking the right questions and exploring the right issues. Studies indicate that the likelihood of divorce decreases for those from intact families – especially religious ones. Higher levels of education, stable income, premarital counseling and marrying after age 25 also make measurable differences.
In other important decisions of life, we study our options, seek counsel and proceed with caution. We use our heads and let our heads guide our hearts. Why don’t we approach marriage with the same caution? Perhaps when it comes to love, we trust our hearts too much.
Changing the way we view marriage
I am convinced that many people need to change the way they think about marriage. To do well in marriage, we must share the correct vision of it. Idealized images of marriage or romanticized notions of the one we plan to marry quickly shatter in married life.
Many people simply want too much from marriage. They have unrealistic ideas of uninterrupted marital bliss. They are in love with the idea of being in love but soon learn that loving another person requires effort. I remind couples that it’s one thing to be in love; another to love someone in a marriage relationship.
Those who want a good marriage without the effort required to experience one set themselves up for the cycle of fantasy, disillusionment and divorce. A wise counselor once suggested that, “the secret to lifelong love and companionship is an iron-willed determination to make it work.” Those who understand this usually experience better marriages based on more realistic expectations.
God’s design for marriage
God designed marriage for our good as an exclusive, permanent, one-fleshed relationship based on a covenant of commitment between one man and one woman. Although not His original plan, God made allowances for divorce and remarriage in some cases (see: Matthew 19:9). Yet whenever we violate God’s plan, painful consequences follow. Thankfully, God is willing to meet us in the messes we make of our lives and help us through them. He also uses wise counselors to help us if we are willing to receive them.
Refusal to seek help is one of the saddest reasons why some marriages don’t survive. Those who find themselves in extended or often repeated marital trouble tend to need the assistance of a wise counselor to navigate toward healthy marriages. Wives are generally more willing to accept counseling than husbands. The male ego has bound far too many couples to marital misery.
If you could benefit from help, don’t be like the fool depicted in the Proverbs who was doomed to his foolishness because he refused to accept correction and counsel. There are many seasoned counselors who can help you understand and work through the obstacles keeping you from meaningful companionship.
If your marriage is in trouble and your mate is unwilling to recognize it, seek help for yourself. Ask God to use your marital difficulties to refine your character and strengthen you (see: James 1:2-5). Lean deeply into the truth of Psalm 62:8.
The third cord
Remember that “Two are better off than one, because they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up… Two people can resist an attack that defeats one person alone. A rope made up of three cords is hard to break” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12).
The “third cord” of a meaningful and lasting marriage is God. As husbands and wives cultivate their relationship with God individually, they tend to grow closer to each other. We were made to live in a personal relationship with our Creator and He has graciously opened the way through the forgiveness we receive in Christ (see: I Timothy 2:3-6).
Visualize a triangle with husband and wife at the lower corners and God at the top. The closer each one moves toward God, the closer they move toward each other.
* For further help, go to the pages above titled Marriage and Pre-marriage.