You know how all the fairy tales end? The last line is always, “And they lived happily ever after.” You follow this story about two people meeting and falling in love, but then, when they get married, it all ends.
“They lived happily ever after.”
I have to warn you, “happily ever after,” isn’t 100% realistic. I’m just saying.
Life after the wedding is not paradise. It isn’t the garden of Eden. It isn’t Heaven. Taking marriage vows doesn’t instantly transport you to heaven. However, you will have a lot of great times together. You will share many joys, much laughter, and multiple adventures.
In fact, “adventure” is a very good way to think about marriage. At the end of your wedding, you won’t have reached the end of the story, the “happily ever after.” Your wedding is the beginning, the starting line of a new era. You will be beginning a new life, married life, and you will proceed to experience things you’ve never experienced before. It is very much an adventure. It will test your limits in ways you never imagined possible, but it will also give you opportunities you never imagined... opportunities to learn about love and grace and the power of God.
My husband and I have been married for nearly 27 years now. That’s longer than the average couple stays married these days, although not nearly so long my parents or my grandparents. Nevertheless, now and then somebody will ask us, “How do you do it? How have you been able to stay married so long?”
The short answer is that we can do it because of Jesus.
The longer answer explains a little bit about how this works, and I think of it in four parts. (I’ll give you the four parts, and then we’ll look at each one for a minute.)
- Treasure your husband and speak beautifully to him.
- Cut him at least as much slack as you would want him to cut for you. Give him grace. Forgive.
- Keep your promises.
- Let your husband be your husband. Let Jesus be Jesus.
(1) The first key to staying married is this:
Treasure your husband and speak beautifully to him.
I recently read that all of our marriages would be in better shape if we would make a habit of imagining that our husbands had the words: “fragile, handle with care,” written on their foreheads.
Men are bigger than we are, stronger, and they often work longer hours outside the house than we do. We think of them as robust and indestructible and sometimes unemotional. But inside every man is a little baby boy with feelings that can be hurt, confidence that can be shattered, and a heart that can be broken. Speak kindly and encouragingly to your husband every day. Tell him that you love him. Don’t take him for granted. Thank him for the way he provides and protects, and when he puts gas in the car. Let him know that you are his Number One Fan on the earth.
Give the gift of kind words to your husband. This is an investment you can’t afford not to make. Choose your words to him carefully, and pray that God will help him understand you in the best possible way.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11, ESV) When you are away from your husband, think about this verse as you plan what you might say to him when you first see one another again. Offer your words as a gift, and use your speech to bless. You may be surprised to find out what power there is in language of blessing.
(2) The second key to staying married is:
Cut your husband at least as much slack as you want him to cut you.
It was hugely significant for me when I finally figured this out, and I wish I had learned it much sooner. We are so prone to be selfish. We are intimately aware of our own experience of life, and it is always a stretch for us to imagine what life is like in somebody else’s shoes. We become engrossed in our own, personal experience, and we want people to cut us slack because of all the difficult things we are going through. But we fail to stop and realize that everybody is going through difficulties every day, not just me, but all the other people too. Including my husband. If I feel like I need somebody to cut me slack, how much does he feel that he needs somebody to cut him slack?
“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31 ESV) Sometimes we call this The Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule is especially important when it come to forgiving each other. Being married will give you lots and lots of opportunities to practice forgiving.
The Bible doesn’t give us a choice about forgiving. God doesn’t say, “It’s a nice idea to forgive, so you should try to do it most of the time.” No. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us that we must forgive seventy-seven times. He doesn’t mean that we literally keep a checklist and forgive until the 78th time. You can’t say, “This is the 78th time I have picked up your boxers off the bathroom floor and put them in the hamper, and I’m done. I forgave you the first 77 times like the Bible said, but I’m not forgiving you a 78th time.” That is not what God means. He means that we keep forgiving over and over, indefinitely, just as God forgives us. Later in Matthew 18:35, Jesus even says that God will not forgive us if we refuse to forgive one another. In all of life, and especially in marriage, you must forgive.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 ESV) Forgive as God in Christ forgave you. How did God forgive us in Christ? He paid the price for our sins with the blood of Jesus that He shed for us when He suffered and died on the cross. We are called to do the same for one another, and especially for our spouses. I was thinking about grace the other day, and I realized that grace is never free. It is always very costly for the person who gives it. Grace means that the person who should have paid for something is not the person who actually paid. Somebody else paid the price. Jesus did this for us, and we are called to do it for each other. It is costly. It is valuable. It is beautiful.
We need to cut our husbands at least as much slack as we would want them to cut for us. We need to be gracious and forgiving.
(3) My third key for staying married -- don’t worry, this is a very short, simple one --
Keep your promises.
When people get married, they make vows to one another, before God and witnesses, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as they both shall live. They have no idea what the future will hold, but they stand in front of God and a room full of witnesses, and they promise to be faithful to one another no matter what comes. They are making a promise, a vow.
People who keep their vows stay married. It’s as simple as that.
To make a vow before God is a very serious thing indeed. Ecclesiastes 5 tells us that it is better not to make any vow at all, than to make a vow and then break it. So always remember your wedding day, and the solemn vow that you swore to each other before God. Be true to your vow and keep your promises. Then you will have a very long marriage.
(Many people may be offended by this bit of advice. I realize that there are situations where one person's breaking of a vow can make it impossible for the other person to keep his or her vow. However, if we all took our vows before God as seriously as we ought, it would clear up a host of problems.)
(4) My fourth and final key to staying married is this:
Let your husband be your husband, but let Jesus be Jesus.
So many of us go into marriage expecting that we are embarking on a trip to heaven. We aren’t. We still live in a fallen world. We are sinners who are slowly being conformed to the image of Christ as we try to grow in our faith and learn more about Him. But at the end of the day, we are sinners in a fallen world. You are a sinner and your spouse a sinner. If you are believers, you have the Holy Spirit at work in you, sanctifying you day by day. But you have not arrived. You are not in heaven yet. Your wedding day is not a portal to heaven. You will not be in heaven until you die, or until Jesus returns to usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Until that happens, we are all sinners living in a fallen world, and we will all struggle with sin and its effects.
I do not say this to be discouraging. I say this because it is true. Realism and realistic expectations are the secret to avoiding disappointment. You will let your husband down, and your husband will let you down. When this happens, you do not need to run to divorce court. You need to run to Jesus.
I don’t know if something similar happens in the secular world, but among Christians, many times wives become terribly disappointed with their husbands because they thought they were marrying Jesus. You may be marrying a truly outstanding guy. But you are not marrying Jesus.
- Only Jesus can always be there for you.
- Only Jesus knows your every weakness.
- Only Jesus knows your words before you speak them and your thoughts before you think them.
- Only Jesus knows what you meant to say rather than what you actually said.
- Only Jesus knows all the things that happened to you a particular day, before you lost it and fell apart.
- Only Jesus can promise never to leave you nor forsake you, and also have the almighty power to keep His promise unconditionally.
- Only Jesus knows exactly what you need, and only Jesus has all the resources to give you exactly what you need.
- Only Jesus can fill your heart with joy, your soul with peace and your life with meaning.
You may have a very good husband. But don’t expect him to be to you all the things that only Jesus can ever be to you. He will not be able to do that.
The best insurance for a successful marriage is for you to love Jesus first. Love Jesus most. When Jesus is your source of strength and joy, when you find your identity and your fulfillment in Him, then you will be empowered to love your husband in the best possible way. Quench yourself on Jesus' love so that you will be able to turn around and share love freely with your husband.
"On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."'" (John 7:37-38 ESV)
Cling to Jesus. Remember everything you have learned since you were a little child.
- Jesus loves me.
- The Lord is my shepherd.
- Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
- For unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
- And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.
- He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.
Let Jesus fill your heart with His Spirit, and then, as He promised, rivers of living water will flow from you.
First love Jesus, so you can best love your husband.