"Marriage," said the Greek poet Menander, "if one will face the truth, is an evil, but a necessary one. " Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, said simply, "Marriage is a noose." To many in today's troubled society these statements would merit a hearty "Amen!" But marriage was not meant to be a "noose" or an "evil"! It was intended by the Creator God Himself to be the epitome of human relationships. In fact, marriage is a reflection of a much higher relationship. If your marriage is not quite up to par, this article will provide some helpful therapy.
OVER the years, the institution of marriage has acquired a rather bad image in some circles — and not without good reason. The marriage relationship has been blamed for a great deal of human misery and suffering. To many in a society where the "new morality" is rapidly endangering the conventional family unit, marriage has indeed become a noose, an unnecessary evil. More and more the institution is falling into disfavor. Futurists are looking around for alternatives to the traditional "nuclear" family. Divorces take place with alarming frequency in the Western world. Marital breakdown is one of the most serious social problems confronting the United States, Great Britain, Canada and the democracies of Northwestern Europe. There are reasons why this is so. The problem is not with the institution of marriage itself — it is with the people involved in it. It is because certain laws — written lind unwritten — are being violated.
Symptoms of an Ailing Marriage
When they counsel troubled couples, experienced marriage counselors encounter certain common denominators over and over again. These symptoms include money troubles, sex problems (including impotence and frigidity), lack of communication, arguments over children, simple incompatibility, and misunderstanding of how the family structure should operate, including how decisions are made and who has the final say-so. Some of these problems may seem well-nigh insoluble, but each of them can be resolved. The reason they exist is that the partners involved are often (ailing to practice basic Christianity within their marriage. Most of them can be worked out by applying some simple New Testament principles governing human relationships. But before going into those principles, let's take a look at one of the big marital difficulties — a lack of understanding of how the family structure should operate.
Who's in Charge Here?
There's no way of escaping the fact that God designated the husband as head of the wife (Eph. 5:22-23; I Cor. 11:3). But the key to understanding the husband's position lies in verse 23 of Ephesians 5 — "as Christ is the head of the church." Let's ask some blunt questions about how Christ exercises His authority over the Church. When Jesus walked the dusty roads of Palestine over 1900 years ago, was He perpetually reminding His disciples who was in charge? Was He preoccupied with His own authority? No! He led primarily by calm, rational teaching and a perfect example. He did not browbeat, nag and threaten His disciples. He considered them His friends. He admitted that He was their Lord and Master when they stated it — but He didn't go around shouting, "I'm the head of the Church and what I say goes!" The reason for authority in anything is not to "lord it over" someone else — it's merely to maintain order and to aid in the decision making process. Christ taught His disciples not to tyrannize people this way (Mark 10:42-45). The apostle Paul stated that all things during a church service were to be done decently and in order (I Cor. 14:40). Authority is for the purpose of getting things done in an orderly manner — nothing more.
Taking all of the above into account, it's good to remember that both partners are commanded to "Submit... [them]selves one to another in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21). Even though God placed a husband at the head of the family (Gen. 3:16; Eph. 5:23; I Pet. 3:1, 6), there is a mutuality of respect involved in a good marriage relationship. According to Jean and Martin Adams in The Emerging Couple: "... Mutual respect between husband and wife [is] the single most important element in maintaining their compatible relationship" (p. 170). If a husband encourages dialogue and input from his wife, they can arrive at decisions together and there will usually be no need for any "authority" to be wielded.
A husband should be careful to never rob his wife of her self-respect by treating her like a second-class inferior being. He should treat her as an equal — a co-heir with Christ on the same plane as himself.
One erroneous idea unfortunately attributed to Scripture is that a husband's authority automatically gives him license to order his wife about like a domestic robot. In some homes a man will interrupt his wife in whatever she's doing to ask her to bring him something only a few feet out of his reach. That's the way he's been trained, and he thinks it's his "male prerogative." But if a man is a loving, mature human being, and has real respect for his wife and her activities, he won't use his authority to demand demeaning servitude. Peter said husbands should have a considerate relationship with their wives and honor them for their equal calling. I Peter 3:7 shows we are all heirs together of the grace of life. Women are not second-class citizens. They are not in any way inferior to men. They are "heirs together" on the same plane with their husbands. Women in general may be somewhat weaker physically — but they are not inferior! God is every bit as interested in having women in the Kingdom as He is men — He is not a respecter ·of persons (Acts 10:34). II Corinthians 6:16-18 shows that God is also interested in having daughters! So a husband should be careful to never rob his wife of her self-respect by treating her like a second-class, inferior being. He should treat her as an equal — a co-heir with Christ on the same plane as himself — remembering that she is one of God's daughters. He should never wield his authority unless it is absolutely necessary — and then only as much as is needed to solve the problem. Now let's look at another aspect of marriage and apply some Christianity in another direction.
A Little Bit of Empathy Goes a Long Way
If you have got something on your mind and you need to talk it out, what kind of person do you go to? Don't you seek out someone you know will understand, someone you know you can "bleed all over" and never have to worry about getting a put down? You go to someone who is willing to hear you out — someone who will understand your point of view, and not think less of you because you are upset or angry, or in a rotten frame of mind, or just plain wrong. You aren't going to go to someone who is distant, aloof, unsympathetic, too preoccupied or too busy! The same applies in a marriage. A husband who is having job problems, or is beset by worries about bills or layoffs, needs a wife who is a real friend. He needs someone who can vicariously experience what he is going through (Rom. 12:15) and offer a little moral support. In I Corinthians 12:26 we read: "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (RSV). This applies not only to the Church but also to a marriage. If one member of a family is going through a trial, then the whole family should rally around that individual — whether it is the husband, the wife, or one of the children. If mates could learn to do this — to be understanding, to be empathetic, to put themselves in the other person's shoes — it would solve a lot of marital communication problems, and make a lot of supposedly incompatible people compatible.
Forgiveness and Tolerance
Although mates may try the best they can to overcome their difficulties, sometimes change may not come easily. Because of deeply ingrained habits or childhood background, it may take years of gradual progress before anyone notices a difference in their behavior. In cases like this, patience, forgiveness and tolerance playa big role in making a marriage livable. Colossians 3:12 says it this way: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive" (RSV), And Romans 14:10 adds: "Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother [or your mate]? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God... " (RSV). Many husbands and wives have a nasty habit of bringing up the past and throwing it in each other's faces periodically. But when you forgive, you are also supposed to "forget ... what lies behind, and strain... forward to what lies ahead, [and] press on toward the goal..." (Phil. 3:13-14, RSV). And remember this — your mate will probably turn into the person you expect them to be. If you want your wife to take more of an interest in her appearance, compliment her honestly on whatever you can and treat her as if she is beautiful. (This does not include insincere flattery, of course — just positive encouragement.) If you continually treat your mate as the person you would like them to become, believing the best (I Cor. 13:7, Moffatt), eventually they will tend to live up to these expectations.
Don't Practice a Double Standard
A lot of us play the game of Jekyll and Hyde with our families. We act one way on the job, but the minute we walk in the door we become a totally different person. Many husbands wouldn't dream of treating their secretaries or their friends the way they treat their wives! Many wives would never talk to their girl friends in the same tone voice they use on their husbands. And both husbands and wives may speak to (or scream at) their children in a way they would never think of addressing another adult! God says: "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). We should have one standard of behavior toward everybody (James 2:9) — including our mates and children.
Give Each Other Freedom To Be an Individual
If two people chose each other as partners for life, it's probably because they had a lot in common. But no man and woman are identical. Although some couples do resemble Siamese twins — go everywhere together, do everything in tandem — this may not be the healthiest thing for their marriage. If a couple is overly possessive, they can stifle each other's development in the areas where their interests don't overlap. You need to allow your mate the freedom to indulge his or her own individual interests, and even help make it possible in some instances. For example, child rearing is an import ant and time-consuming part of a younger wife's job (Titus 2:4-5). But a woman isolated at home with small children may find herself falling into the "Darling, please-come-home-and-make-my-life-begin" syndrome. If her husband is her only contact with the outside world, she may turn into a clinging vine who irritates her man with constant demands for conversation or entertainment which she could rightly find elsewhere. It will take effort, ingenuity and cooperation from her husband to get out and take a class or do some volunteer work. But the effect it will have on her marriage will probably be well worth it. Even a once-a-week escape from dirty diapers can turn a mental basket case into a decent conversationalist. There is nothing like an occasional escape into the "real world" to sharpen up a woman's mind and morale. So let your wife go out with the girls — and let your husband go out with the boys. Don't try to make each other into duplicates of yourself. You can't really change each other! Do things together and do them separately. But don't smother each other! God says, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"! (John 8:32.) God's way of life was never intended to be a grinding, constrictive, smothering existence in which every desire, every thrill, every pleasure is to be squelched. Marriage was meant to be the very greatest of human relationships. The family — the home — is really the best building block for a successful society. So let's keep them together and keep them growing by practicing the principles of basic Christianity within our marriage relationships.
Misery In Multiples
The tragedy of divorce struck more American homes than ever before this past year, and the divorce rate itself is skyrocketing, Last year 913,000 couples (one for every four marriages) split up, and sometime during the next 24 months the number is expected to pass one million, The divorce rate has nearly doubled since 1960, and in the past four years it has already increased as much as it did during the entire decade of the Sixties, The number of divorced persons per 1000 people living together has climbed from 35 in 1960 to 47 in 1970, and last year to 63 per 1000, Why the spiraling increase in family breakdown? Experts cite liberalized state laws as one big reason, Only six states cling to the traditional fault system of divorce that was once the norm, California's pioneer "no-fault" divorce law recognizes only two grounds for dissolution of marriage: 1) irreconcilable differences leading to irrevocable breakdown of the union; and 2) incurable insanity, In 1973, 117,677 divorces were granted to Californians, far more than any other state, Other experts note the fact that young people, especially, are unwilling to stick with unrewarding relationships, and older folks are no longer deterred by the social stigma once attached to getting a divorce, With these restraints of morality gone, the rate is projected to climb even higher during the second half of this decade.