Here are four goals which can add meaning, riches and abounding joy to your marriage.
WHERE did we go wrong?" the woman sobbed as she sat in my office. Her face was etched with anxiety and despair. She had come to me for help with her marriage. It was breaking up, and there seemed to be precious little she could do about it. But she had tried. She had bent over backwards, she said, to try to save her marriage. She had cooked his favorite meals, worn the dress he liked the best. "Will he open up and talk to you from the heart?" I asked. "No. I think we passed that stage several years ago. He just says there is nothing to talk about now." Again: "Does he ever get mad and slap or beat you?" "Not really. Oh, he sometimes pushes at me in frustration. He's just angry that we're married and says we have nothing in common anymore." I exclaimed: "Former high school classmates and sweethearts, 17 years of marriage with four kids — and nothing in common?" "That's right."
Does Your Marriage Have Goals?
The above scenario — a composite of literally scores of similar marriage problems I have encountered over the past 30 years of marriage counseling — came about because the people involved had no deeply held goals they were mutually committed to in their marriage. Oh, yes, they wanted to be happy. They wanted to succeed. But happy doing what? Succeed in what way? In past generations, it was the custom in virtually all nations of the earth for a young woman to marry a man in order to help him in his career, with the chores on the farm, or whatever. In those days a young man often genuinely needed a wife to be his partner-receptionist-secretary in his small shop or store — besides the deep emotional need of love and a caring companion with whom to share life. Even beside sexual love, each supplied a deep and profound need for the other. So they clung together. However, with the advent of our modern, alienated, computerized society — our singles bars and live-in boyfriends — young people often feel they don't need marriage anymore. They just get married for convenience, for either half-hearted or full-hearted romantic love, or because it's the thing to do and they don't want to appear odd or homosexual. Ask yourself: "What are the goals my mate and I hope to accomplish in marriage?" "Goals?" you ask. Absolutely. A successful person nearly always sets himself specific goals in life. Goals in his growing-up years — class officer, band member, star athlete and, finally, graduation in the top third or fourth of his class. Then career goals — supervisor, manager, then vice president, or whatever. Why not marriage goals? Why not think about and talk over with your partner specific goals that you can achieve, together, in a rich and meaningful marriage?
Be Practical and Realistic
The founder and editor of The Plain Truth has said for many years that, broadly speaking, there are two basic ways of life — the "give" way, and the "get" way. The vast majority of human beings tend to follow the get way — and often end up frustrated and unhappy in marriages and most other human relationships. So realize and understand deeply that you will not be radiantly happy in your marriage unless you give happiness to the other person and not just try to get happiness for yourself. This basic approach and attitude is absolutely essential for ANY marriage to be a deeply happy and fulfilling one. The very essence of true Christianity is contained in Jesus' statement: "It is more blessed to GIVE than to receive" (Acts 20:35). There is no situation or relationship in all of life where this teaching applies more than in marriage. For a happy marriage involves constant giving, sharing, serving, forgiving, encouraging and building up the other person. So all of your goals and your approach to these goals, must be based on the principle and attitude of giving to and building up and contributing to your chosen partner in marriage. With that in mind, let me now outline four basic goals that most couples may find they can use as building blocks to a more fulfilling marriage. 1) foster a happy home atmosphere as the springboard for career development All of us need a "nest" — a warm and nurturing place to which we can retreat from the storms of life. It doesn't have to be a made-in-Hollywood love nest, but it should be an atmosphere where we can genuinely relax and still be accepted, encouraged, warmed and inspired. Are you prepared to give this kind of warm encouragement to your mate? God in effect said of Adam: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18). In earlier times, it was the man who went out to work and was the provider. But in present circumstances it is often advisable, even necessary, for a wife to work at least for the first few years of marriage. And again sometimes later on — after the children are on their own. This situation calls for each partner to encourage the other, and bear with the other on days when things have gone badly at the job. It calls for the need to give the love, the encouragement, the support, the help in facing the storms of life and thinking through the best solutions to the very real problems that confront your mate in the sometimes cold and hostile world outside the home. If each partner tries hard to give this help — and if each one is willing to open up to his or her mate and receive this kind of support — the marriage has a lot going for it. It is a joyous necessity — a means to the GOAL of career success and fulfillment — and not just an end in itself. 2) build a deeply satisfying personal romantic relationship and find personal fulfillment The old-fashioned love stories used to end with the sweethearts getting married and living happily ever after. And why not? If they have other goals in their marriage in addition to this one, then, strangely, this one may be even easier to achieve. Because two people who have no other goals in marriage — nothing else besides love and romance to think or talk about with each other — may find that getting love and romance out of their marriage is hard unless there is more to it than that. They'll do better if they need each other as genuine partners on a farm, in a shop or in the business of building a fine and growing family — or satisfying social and spiritual life. In this context, however, romantic love can greatly enrich one's life. It can warm, encourage and inspire people to feel that life is definitely worth living — that someone really cares. The total out-flowing affection engendered by a truly tender romantic bond between a man and a woman is a beautiful and precious thing. It typifies the greatest bond of all — the relationship between Christ and the Church. Mindful of that, the apostle Paul wrote: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.... So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself" (Eph. 5:25, 28). Learn to be sensitive and perceptive of the needs of your mate. Deliberately think on and cherish the good and fine things you see in your life partner. Ask God to help you appreciate them, love them, encourage them. Try to understand their hopes and dreams and feelings. Then give of your time, your talents, your emotions and your strength to make their dreams come true! Physically and emotionally, take your mate in your arms. Kiss and caress him or her again and again. Often, especially you husbands! And tell your wife you love her and deeply appreciate her. Honor her in the way you talk and act. Let her absolutely understand that, to you, she is the most important person or thing in this physical life. All of you, try to physically, mentally and emotionally give of yourselves to your mates. Enrich their lives. Make sure they are encouraged and shielded by your unfailing loyalty and love from the callous, competitive strife and the cold storms of criticism and even danger they may face in the world outside. This is married love. It can and should be beautiful and rewarding. It is a goal worth working and praying for. Well worth it. 3) have and rear children in a stable and loving atmosphere and establish a complete family unit In many ways, it is ideal for a newly married couple to wait a year or two to get used to each other, save money, and otherwise prepare before having children. Good idea, this ideal. However, I remember that not more than six or eight months after I married the wife or my youth, she looked at me wistfully one day and said: "Honey, can't we start to have children pretty soon? I'm basically happy, but it just doesn't seem like we have a home without any children. Besides, wouldn't a baby be so cute and darling and lovable...." — And, as you can see, that was the end of that! So we had four beautiful children for which I will be eternally grateful! She had come from a large and happy family of eight children. Visiting their farm home, hearing their animated conversation of the delightful times they had, together, sharing the chores, the family meals, the trials, the joys, I could see why my wife longed to have a complete family. Of course, it's not as easy in today's urban societies as it used to be. But I can't begin to describe the deep joys and satisfactions of a large family to those of you who have not experienced it. You have your own built-in entertainment — live and right there in the home. You can sing together, play games together. And — if it is approached with love and zest — the responsibilities of providing for, teaching, training, disciplining, encouraging and just plain loving your children builds within you and your mate a deep, deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. As the children mature into young adulthood, they and their friends will keep your home filled with laughter and enthusiasm. Through each other, your children and their friends — and finally your grandchildren — you build a circle of friends, of warmth, of love and of joy. If you have loved and taught and trained your children as you should, they will provide a deep sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and even security as you get older. For they will want to help you — as you have helped them. All of this makes the idea of having a complete family another wonderful and worthy goal toward which your marriage can point. 4) build together the home and learn the give way as a family unit Does all this sound old-fashioned? Like something from the distant past? It is! Yet it is also the wave of the future and an ideal the entire world will be learning about in a few years! For as all longtime Plain Truth readers know, there is a new world coming. There is a new society ahead that will be founded upon a way of life based on the Ten Commandments. The "in" thing will be serving, helping and building your family, your neighbors, your community. A happy home provides a place for character building that is hard to beat. In it each mate has to give of himself or herself constantly to the mate, children and for the common good of the family. In sickness and in health, in good times and hard times, each member of a properly founded family learns commitment to the common cause. Each must learn to sacrifice and serve for the common good. My own mother came from such a family — seven daughters and one son. As a boy, I visited the big frame house where my mother and her brother and sisters had grown up. Over the years, it became obvious to me that they had gone through a lot of joys and trials together that had built a deep and wonderful bond of commitment. Ruby, the eldest, had sacrificed in order to help the younger ones complete college. Each, in turn, then joined in helping the younger ones in whatever way they could to acquire a full college education. They had a family goal — that all would attain a college degree and make something of themselves in the big world outside. Loving, serving and encouraging one another became part of this family way of life. This was a great source of strength to them — individually as well as collectively. When considering who, when and what kind of marriage you want, be sure that you carefully talk these goals over with your betrothed or with your mate. Goal-setting in your marriage and working together to reach those goals can add a depth and meaning to your marriage that many do not have. It can help you look beyond the immediate trials and problems inherent in any marriage involving two normal, imperfect human beings. And it can help you keep your eyes on the big picture — why the Creator made us male and female, why he instituted marriage and why the building of a strong and stable marriage is excellent preparation for your ultimate goal — the kingdom of God.