Where have marriages gone wrong? What is at the root of the breakdown in marriage? There are a myriad of studies and articles, as well as books and blog spots on this topic. The basic rudimentary problem is that couples have gotten away from marriage as a particular Christian institution. Marriage can be blissful. But marriage is also a minefield of potential problems. Marriage will test a person’s resolve and reveal a person’s character. Marriage is not easy, without Jesus, without a deep, living, growing, abiding personal saving relationship with Jesus, marriage is near impossible. Why is that?
Not every successful or enduring marriage is Christian. But the qualities of Christ I will mention here are characteristic of successful marriages. I speak from the personal experience of 32 years of blissful marriage and 26 years as a pastor who has counseled many couples. Marriage is a creation of God (Gen. 2:24-25). A marriage fails to fulfill one of its greatest purposes if it is void of Christ. True marriage is Christian marriage. A marriage is one of God’s greatest tools to form Christ in people. God designed marriage to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:21-33). Marriage is the means to form families. Families are living epistles of how Christ works in and through people. Families are the factories to generate new generations of disciples of Christ. Christ-centered marriages hold the fabric of society together. Because of this marriage is under attack; to destroy the God ordained purposes for marriage.
So just what is the mindset that leads to marital bliss? The mindset that leads to marital bliss is scriptural and Christlike. There are three premises or principles that a married couple needs for their marriage to function properly and be a blessing. And then a clear understanding of the role of the husband and wife is needed.
First, the mindset for marital bliss is mutually submissive. Ephesians 5:21 introduces the great marriage passage of the Bible and speaks of a couple submitting to one another. It states, "submitting to one another in the fear of God." The term "submitting" means, "to subject to, to make subject, and to be under obedience, to subordinate, to subdue, to submit, or be in subjection.” The grammar of the term implies an ongoing action of being submitted. The first attitude for a blissful marriage is subordinating your desires to that of your spouse. If you want a joyful marriage, put Jesus first, your other second, and yourself last. A husband and a wife can learn from each other. They strengthen each other. They are a team not competing adversaries.
What drives or motivates us to submit us to one another? "The fear of God" or our mutual respect and reverence for God. Our view of God is motivation for being mutually submitted to one another. Our attitude is to be looking to submit to one another. This should be our objective and aim. Marriages breakdown because partners have bought into the cockeyed carnal notion that they have to look out for number one, me. Instead we need to submit to God and then to each other. Do you believe God enough to submit to and trust Him? Do you trust Him enough to give up your “rights”? Pray about that and answer honestly. And then consider what the Bible says about your “rights.”
Second, the mindset for marital bliss knows it has no rights. 1 Corinthians 6:20 states, "For you were bought at a price therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." If we have been bought by God, then we have no rights! This verse eliminates all defenses, all excuses, and all alternatives to God's will. If we have been bought, and bought by the precious blood of Jesus (1 Pet 1:18-19), then nothing, nothing God asks us to do is too much to ask. It is with this in mind that we should approach God's roles for husbands and wives.
Akin to this are Paul's inspired words, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). This is our objective for life and that would include marriage. If you are going to approach your marriage from a Christian perspective, from a spiritual perspective, these two verses should describe your attitude as husband and wife. So pause a moment and maybe write out those verses and prayerfully meditate on them. Do you really take them to heart? Do you take them seriously? Pray about it.
Third, the mindset for marital bliss is loving. 1 Corinthians 13:8a states, "Love never fails." This is not any kind of love. It is not secular self-centered, self-serving love. It is selfless, sacrificial Christlike agape love. This is God’s brand of love (cf. Rom. 5:8). The love that never fails comes from the Holy Spirit who indwells the genuinely saved (Rom. 5:5; 8:9-11; Gal. 5:22-24). This love is defined in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 where it is described as willing to suffer long, kind, wants the best for others, is humble, polite and discreet, selfless, patient and easy going, pure thinking, truthful, faithful, hopeful and enduring. This love is exemplified in Christ who gave Himself for us on the cross (2 Cor. 5:14ff.). This love is the identifying mark of disciples (John 13:35). This is love that counts the cost and pays up. This is love that sacrifices. This is love that gives up self for the sake of glorifying God by doing what is right and in accord with His word. This is love that is demonstrated and validated in obedience (John 14:15, 21). It's easy to claim we are loving. The proof of the reality of such love is obedience to the Lord and His word. Obedience even when it requires we subordinate our “needs.” That's the challenge that reveals the truth.
The wife's submission - "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22). The wife is to submit or subordinate herself to her own husband (not men in general). This submission is illustrated in the subjection of the church to Jesus (Eph. 5:23-24). This is further defined as, "let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Eph. 5:33b). This is the greatest need for husbands. It is why Paul singles it out to wives. The heart cry of every husband is for the support and respect of his wife. When a wife removes her support and respect, or when a husband feels that she has, he becomes like a ship at sea with windless sails, dead in the water. Respect and support is the life giving air for the husband-body. It is the lifeblood of a healthy husband.
You as a wife may have numerous reasons to withhold your support and respect from your husband. You may claim to support and respect him in various ways (past and present). But the proof is in whether or not your husband actually feels that support. If he doesn't, then you need to find a way to rectify that. You need to support and respect him in an effective way, a way he feels that support. You need to go before the Lord and ask Him to show you how to do this. Ask Him for wisdom. This is your calling, your challenge. You can take incremental steps; maybe crawling that leads to baby steps and then longer strides. But this is your role in the marriage. As with the husband, this is a product of God's love in you. Love is a fruit of the Spirit. To the extent you love, you are filled with the Spirit. That love compels us (2 Cor. 5:14). It compels us and directs us in faith. Faith always involves risk. That can be scary. But God will guide you. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
The Husband's submission - "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Ephesians 5:25). As a husband you are directly and clearly called to love you wife. That love entails a giving yourself for her quality. When we accept Jesus as Savior we relinquish all rights. We have been bought at a price, we are no longer our own. If we are no longer our own, and we belong to God, and He commands us as husbands to give our lives for our wives in love, then we have no defense, no excuse, no rational or scriptural reason to act in a way that is less than selflessly loving. If we package this call to selfless loving in subordinating ourselves to our wives then we come to them asking, "Honey, how do you want me to love you?" Her wish (except for something that is sinful) then becomes our command. Isn't this what Jesus said to His followers? "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13). That is loving like Christ.
Husband, what is your bride asking you for? As a husband, as a servant leader in the home following in the footsteps of Jesus (Mark 10:45; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6) listen to what she says. Then do everything in your power to meet those needs. That is our calling as husbands. Everything else in our lives will be affected by our answer to that call. Look at Jesus. What did He hold back? "He loved them to the end" (John 13:1).
If God entrusts a precious bride to us, and we fail or refuse to treat that bride as He instructs us to, no matter the cost, then how can He entrust anything else to us? Love your wife as Christ loved the church. Love her with your words. Love her with your work. Love her in serving her. Love her. Pray and ask the Lord to show you how to love your wife. But love her. Your marriage begins or ends dependent on your love.
While marriage vows are not found in the Bible, they do express a scripturally sound commitment. Those experiencing marital difficulties should review their vows made in the sight of God. They should prayerfully ask the Lord to minister to them in their situation in light of those vows. Do you remember your wedding day vows? Maybe they went something like this:
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I, ______, take you _______to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
It only takes a moment to utter such words. It takes a lifetime to fully understand their profound significance. Only a fool makes empty vows before God (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). The pathway to marital bliss is to take God’s word to heart and in the power the Spirit provides, pay your vow to God and to each other. That is the mindset for marital bliss.