What We've Learned About Marriage

What We’ve Learned About Marriage

What We've Learned About Marriage
Photo by Lauren Rushing

What We've Learned About Marriage

We've all heard that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, but now we're hearing that divorce rates have never actually been that high. From the information I gathered, the actual divorce rate in the United States is closer to 25%. But the number of people who marry has decreased since the 1960s. According to a Pew Research poll, only 51% of adults age 18 and older are currently married compared to 72% reported in 1960.

Sources also say that about 80% of marriages overall are happy, and that more than one-third are overflowing to the "very happy" category. But whatever the percentage is and whatever the factors are, we're still seeing a lot of unhappy couples.

Are we really getting what we want from our marriage? Do we really have a healthy marriage? Do we even know what a healthy marriage looks like or are we just winging it?

Since Harold and I started going to a Christian church in Colorado, and especially after we joined small groups of married couples, our marriage has improved a hundredfold. It was clear that prior to those events, we didn't know what a healthy marriage looked like and how to resolve conflict because we kept having conflicts. We kept having issues that tried to pull us apart. We loved each other and both of us believed in staying married, but that didn't mean we liked each other the whole time. It even meant that we were on the verge of divorce about five years ago.

It wasn't until we grasped the concept of a godly marriage that we started enjoying being married. Instead of a chore that it once was, it's a natural way of life for us now.

So, what does the Bible say about a godly marriage?

Ephesians 5:21 says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

Notice how this verse says "submit to one another." That means mutual submission. It's not one person submitting and the other person not submitting. Both sides of the marriage are responsible for submitting in a special way.

Let's move on to the next few verses.

"Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." (Ephesians 5:22-24)

We all have ideas of what this looks like.

Does this picture come to mind: a husband comes home after a hard day at work, grabs a beer from the fridge, plops himself down in a chair in front of the TV while his wife cooks dinner, and then tells his wife to get him another beer when the first one runs out.

That is a common perception of what marriage looks like, isn't it?

But what is wrong with this image? I have the perfect little song lyric for this: "Did I shave my legs for this?" (Thanks, Deanna Carter!) Ok, let's move on to the next few verses.

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." (Ephesians 5:25-28)

The marriage verses in the bible have been taken grossly out of context. "Wives, submit to your husbands"… that's where a lot of men stop reading, isn't it?

But if you keep reading, you find out that the verses say a lot more than that. You discover that that single verse does not mean that husbands can get their wives to do anything and everything because they have control over them. It doesn't mean that women were put here on this earth to do their husband's bidding. It specifically says, "husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word."

How does a husband accomplish this through the image of marriage we talked about earlier?

He doesn't. That image is entirely about him and how he can be served.

But let's move on. The Book of Ephesians has more to share with us.

"After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church–for we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." (Ephesians 5:29-33)

Another perception of marriage that we have today is this (or a similar situation): a woman is standing at the coffee maker at work talking with a colleague. She's talking about her husband, telling her colleague about his shortcomings, that he never takes out the trash, he never cleans up after himself, he never… you get the idea.

In this image, how is she showing her husband respect?

She isn't. She's complaining about everything he does wrong, which usually escalates to everything he does.

I see these perceptions of marriage as a never-ending cycle. But it can also be one-sided. Despite all of one's efforts to operate in a godly way (or at least to attempt to), the other half mistreats the other, either by being disrespectful or by being unloving. I'm sure you've seen this, too. The wife complains about her husband even when he's trying to do the best he can. Or the husband thinks he can control his wife even when she's trying to care for him.

So, what does a godly marriage look like?

Marriage wasn't designed for self-serving purposes. It was designed to be a union of a man and a woman that demonstrates a love for God. Each side helps the other further a relationship with God.

This means that we need to be people who are worthy of the other's role. A man who loves his wife like himself is worthy of respect from his wife. And a woman who respects her husband is worthy of love from her husband. Wouldn't you agree? Without one, it's difficult to offer the other.

Ladies, if we want to be loved by our husbands, we need to show them respect. We need to encourage them and stand by them. We need to stop complaining about things they do and start appreciating them.

Gentlemen, if you want to be respected by your wives, you need to love us and care for us. And protect us. And do things that can be respected.

Let me flip this a bit:

Ladies, stop worshiping other men. Men, stop worshiping other women. What is the hurt in appreciating the good looks of someone other than your spouse? Is it really hurting anyone to stare or ogle at someone else?

When you really stop to think about this, does it make you feel good when you know your spouse is checking out other people because they're hotter than you? Is it ok to justify your own ogling because your spouse does it, too? What is the long-term effect of never feeling good enough for your spouse or for yourself? And put another way, what's the long-term effect of never feeling that your spouse is good enough for you?

We need to be the people we were designed to be. Wives need to be women who can be loved. Husbands need to be men who can be respected. If we're striving to be those things for our spouse, marriage becomes a team effort. It isn't about what we can get from our spouse, but what we can offer them to gain the emotional support we need. This way, we can start to see marriage as a blessing, not as a compromise.

Jody Calkins
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