Marriage, Some Challenges
Every pursuit has its attendant challenges and having knowledge of these challenges can help one assure the intended and desired success of the pursuit. Marriage is no exception! I realize that I have already incurred disagreement and the condition of being ill-at-ease regarding some of my readers. That is because marriage is not by many viewed as a "pursuit" or a matter to be intelligently examined. Rather, marriage to many Americans is a state that is the result of wild, uncontrollable sexual desire and a preoccupation with subjective, and, usually, selfish interests. It is no wonder that so many marriages fail and even a high percentage of marriages that stay together are minimally successful (there are a number of articles pertaining to various aspects of biblical marriage accessed from the Archives page, click "back" at the end of this article and then scroll down to the Subject Index Box on the Archives page).
It is probably wise to also mention at the onset of this article that "challenge" is not a bad word, replete with negative connotation. Contained in most English definitions of "challenge" is the matter of extra thought and effort. Indeed, there are matters associated with marriage that call for extra thought and effort. I want to share with you some of these marital challenges and suggest biblical answers for them. After all, God is the author of marriage and He knows what is needed and requisite for a good marriage (Gen. 2: 21 ff.).
The first challenge, finding a suitable mate. Under the Mosaic Economy, parents had a serious and important role in the selection of a mate for their child (cp. Judges 14). While I am not binding the Mosaic protocol, there is certainly much wisdom to allowing the parents to play an important part in mate selection. Too many are like Samson, they see a woman, only observing the physical, superficial considerations and ignoring red flags and say, "…get her for me to wife" (Judges 14: 1). Speaking of Samson, his marriage based simply on physical desire and looks was a disaster and negatively affected many people (Ibid.). From a biblical perspective, a suitable mate would be one who is not a "put away person" (Matt. 5: 32, see addendum 1).
Instead of exclusively focusing on the physical, attention should be given to the character of the prospective mate. If a male, it should be established that he is spiritually minded, kind and considerate, reliable, possessing leadership abilities, hard worker, honest, and has a sense of responsibility. I have counseled many abused women only to learn that the then boyfriend physically abused them prior to their marriage. If a female, what kind of person is she? Traits such as honesty, trustworthiness, consideration, and tenderness and love that would render her a good wife and mother should be determined. As a rule, one cannot expect to find a suitable mate in a bar or strip club.
Since God is the author and regulator of marriage, it stands to reason that the ideal suitable mate would be a Christian, having the values that maximize the chances of a successful marriage (cp. I Pet. 3: 7). The mentality that "opposites attract" and that one should actually seek a mate with opposite traits is a recipe for destruction. The more in common a couple has, the greater the chances are of marriage success. Such is simple and indisputable fact and common sense.
Instead of totally focusing on the physical (color of eyes, hair, complexion, figure), one should be observing the prospective mate as to how they respond to life’s situations. By projection, it can be generally determined beforehand how one will be as a life long mate.
The matter of headship ability. Contrary to modern thinking, there must be order in the family structure. Liberal thinking today results in chaos and many problems. The Bible presents the husband and wife as in places of authority and the children in a position of submissiveness (Eph. 5: 22-6: 4). The same scriptures also present the man as the head of the family unit. Such headship involves leadership and the ability to make good decisions and judgments that advantageously affect the family. Conviction and commitment are key elements to successful headship.
Alas, many men today seem to be devoid of conviction and commitment. Years of brainwashing by the philosophy that there is no right and wrong, only shades of gray and the belief that gender roles are to all be the same has done great harm and stand diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Bible. Such influence has produced many wimps.
While there are exceptions, observe the father of the husband and the mother of the wife and see how they deport themselves in the family sphere. Many times, the son and daughter will act out in their own marriage what they have seen.
Maturation, both spiritual and physical. Regardless of the chronological age, growth should be forthcoming in the years to come. The ideal situation is for both mates to want to grow and together grow. Alas, too much of the time one mate matures more than the other and there is a consequent imbalance. This imbalance creates conflicts in values, beliefs, and goals.
I have counseled troubled married couples to discover instances of one mate growing and maturing while the other remains immature. As a rule, I have found, it is the male who remains the same, while the female develops. As a matter of fact, it has been my observation that many husbands are simply overgrown children. In Christ, the perfect climate for marriage, all are commanded to spiritually progress (Col. 1: 10). When a couple matures together, they enjoy the various growth plateaus of life and are able to handle the varied challenges that level of growth may present.
Views toward the monetary. Professional marriage counselors know that most marital problems stem from sex and financial differences and related problems. Having frank discussions about money and where they as a couple want to be in the future can be good and productive. "I intend to be rich and this is all that matters," I recall one wife saying in a failing marriage. Less I be misunderstood, having financial goals is good and financial prosperity is not inherently evil (cp. Prov. 31: 10 ff.).
Early in our courtship, my wife to be and I had serious discussions as to what we wanted in life. I was twenty-three and she was twenty-one, I had just started full time preaching and she was teaching school. As we review our life (we will, Lord willing, be experiencing our fiftieth wedding anniversary in a few years), our plans have been realized, in the main. Due to saving and hard work, we have been financially independent for several years and I have been able to preach without financial considerations (preachers also have bills to pay, I Tim. 5: 8). However, we both agreed that financial matters take second place to spiritual values (Matt. 6: 33).
Relative to finances, it is important to establish work ethics and aspirations. Does the prospective wife plan on a career and, if so, what will it be? Will her career preclude her from being a good mother and wife, her primary responsibility (Tit. 2: 5)? How about the husband to be? Will his work be such that will lend itself to being a good provider and able to have reasonable home time?
Views about children and child rearing. As important as children are, a high percentage of people enter marriage without any serious regard or discussions about children. Some marriages seem to prosper only until children enter the scene. Cultural, intellectual, and religious differences really surface when children are considered and new stresses are added to the marriage. "I do not believe in disciplining children," said one wife to her husband, after they had children. "I intend for my children to be subjected to Catechism," said one husband to a non-Catholic wife.
Having mutual goals and thoughts about child rearing is so important. Paul wrote:
" 4: And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6).
Finding one with whom you share the same values regarding children, ideally, the teaching of the scriptures, is paramountly important and constitutes a major challenge to the success or failure of a marriage.
While not totally new, another challenge regarding children today is the blended family. I have observed many additional marital strains due to one or both mates having children in a previous marriage. A step mother or father is not the same as the biological parent. Discipline issues, respect challenges, and even "incest" are increasing due to the blended family circumstance. Even if there are no minor children, adult children from a previous marriage also often pose some potential instances where special and extra effort are necessary, do not be convinced otherwise.
Forgiveness is a must in a marriage. All sin and fall short, compared to the ideal standard of righteousness (Rom. 3: 23, Matt. 5: 48). Relationships where both are flawless do not exist. On occasion, these flaws are such that very much affect the relationship. All relationships must be nurtured and this is especially true regarding marriage (Eph. 5: 22-33).
Taking note of how one acts prior to marriage can be very helpful (see addendum 2). Such matters as how do they respond to constructive criticism and how to they deal with disagreement can provide great insight. Some people seem incapable of saying, "I was wrong." Others are willing to compromise important matters when they should not. These people do not make good marriage material. Also notice how one acts when they do say they have been wrong and ask for forgiveness. Do they do this in such a way as to use "forgiveness" as blackmail (see addendum 3)?
Growing old together. God intends that marriage consist of one man and one woman for life (Gen. 2: 22 ff., Matt. 19: 4-9). Being at the same stage in life has definite advantages. Such affords the sharing of memories, a rich part of life. It is a lovely matter to behold a couple who have been married for many years reflect on their life together.
After many years together, a couple should know and understand each other and provide great comfort to one another. Again, it is understood that the challenge of mutually maturing is present (addendum 4).
Selfishness is a challenge to any relationship. I would say that selfishness is the reason for all marriage failures. One might disagree by saying, "Infidelity is the major cause for marriage disruption." Is not infidelity selfishness personified? Peter addressed husbands thus:
"7: Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered" (I Pet. 3).
I have been told by both husbands and wives, "I must have my way!" My reply has been, "If you do not really love your mate and care about your marriage, continue with the selfish attitude of, ‘I must have my way.’" Some have and continued and they ended up in the divorce court.
Marriage is not about, "what I want." Marriage is about what is best for one’s mate. I have heard many times, "My mate is not fulfilling my needs." Such could be the case, due to the selfishness of the mate. However, my experience in working with couples is that the complaint originates from a selfish mate who has no regard for the other. Teaching that is almost forgotten in a country where selfishness has become a god is:
"2: Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 3: Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4: The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife" (I Cor. 7).
In closing, as mentioned at the beginning, marriage should be intelligently and soberly approached with the understanding that special effort will be necessary on the part of both mates to assure the success of the marriage. It is the main relationship in life that can either provide great joy and companionship or result in some of the worst possible misery and unhappiness. God instituted marriage for the happiness and fulfillment of both the man and the woman (Gen. 2: 18-25). Marriage also so greatly affects others, the children of the union, all relatives of the husband and wife, employment, the local church, the community, the economy etc. Failed marriages are destroying our once great country (see addendum 5). It is wise to listen to God concerning the challenges of marriage and teaching that will assure a happy and shared life between two people.
Addendum 1: In part B of Matthew 5: 32, the King James reads, "…and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." The thus "divorced" woman is the innocent mate of part A, the wife who is the victim of a ruthless husband. The Greek apoluo ("divorced") is not used as we sometimes use "divorced." The innocent mate who put away their guilty mate in view of their adultery can be in English said to be divorced. However, in Matthew 5: 32, part B, the divorced is the put away or the object of a divorce implemented without cause by their mate (any put away person, whether guilty of adultery, part A with the exception phrase activated, or not guilty, part B, would not be a suitable candidate for marriage, biblically speaking). While such teaching might be viewed as unfair to the innocent "put away" person, such teaching precludes many other possible abuses and lope holes. Another matter, an unsuccessful marriage history increases the likelihood that failure will again occur with a subsequent marriage.
Addendum 2: What you see during courtship is often the best of what there is. During this time, most try extra hard to present a desirable persona. Also keep in mind that you will not likely, according to the statistics, seriously change the person. So figure that the courtship image is probably better than it will be after marriage (there are exceptions).
Addendum 3: Fidelity during courtship is revealing. If one "cheats" during courtship, one will likely be unfaithful when married. The ideal is for both to be virgins, but such is becoming more and more uncommon in sexually obsessed America today. A high percentage of males will be sexually unfaithful during marriage. Speaking of attempting to use "forgiveness" as leverage, some of these men think that all they have to say to the wronged wife is, "forgive me" and she must resume the marriage. While repentance and requesting forgiveness does necessitate forgiveness, all equal and understood, the wronged mate does have the right to put away a fornicating mate (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). There are too many instances of repeated infidelity and the husband thinking that the wife is unable to put him away just as long as he says, "forgive me."
Addendum 4: There seems to be an almost epidemic of older men leaving their wife for a younger woman. While the initial experience may be exciting, there is a vacuum. They have no mutual history and as the man continues to age, he usually ends up very lonely and incomplete. Many of the younger women tire of the father image that usually prompts such relationships and seek companionship elsewhere.
Addendum 5: Divorce and marriage to another is a major issue among God’s people today. Many unscripturally divorced people remarry and desire membership in a local church. Due to number fixation, family ties, etc. pressure is exerted to have these people and the adulterous marriage accepted into the fellowship of the local church. I knew of one local church consisting of about seventy members that had eleven divorced couples, a serious percentage being unscripturally married. Too many churches and preachers have decided to ignore teaching on marriage, divorce, and marriage to another saying, "Preaching on this subject only causes problems." Some preachers who do preach the "whole counsel" are labeled as "trouble makers," "dividers of churches," and "home breakers" (cp. Acts 20: 27).