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Seven steps to a good marriage

   By Steve Martin Page 1 Matthew 24:14 19??

President Carter said, prior to his inauguration, that the strength of a nation lies in its family unit; I agree with him.

It may surprise some to learn that God is also very much concerned and involved with the family concept. He instructed Adam and Eve to begin the first human family. This is patterned after the heavenly family which God is developing and it will involve us.

Did you ever notice that when God draws analogies to show His relationship to us, He uses terms that illustrate a family? Jesus Christ, we are told, loves the Church like a husband is supposed to love his wife (Eph. 5:23-32). God reveals Himself as fulfilling both the roles of father and mother. We can see God's love illustrated through the mother's role in Isaiah 49:15. "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." So God compares Himself to a mother who literally brings a child forth, nourishes and dearly loves it.

You can see this analogy of God as a mother in Isaiah 66:9 as well. "Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the Lord: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb?"

In Malachi 1:6 and 2:10, Revelation 21:7, and many other scriptures, God appears as a Father to Israel and to the saints.

So we have Christ as a husband to the Church (Rev. 19:7, 9; Eph. 5:25-32). We have God likening Himself to a father and mother. We have Jesus Christ as our elder brother (Heb. 2:11). God and Christ explain eternity and what it's like to live forever, and continually draw analogies to the family unit!

The family is vitally important to God. In the family unit people reach their full potential. It's inside the family unit that people can be happy and educated to contemplate God's purpose in their lives. Stripped of the family unit, most people are miserable and uncomfortable. They do not come up to the potential which God has in mind for eternity. There are exceptions, of course, but this is generally the way things work out. The family unit is important to the nation, the church, and to the fulfillment of God's plan for the entire universe.

With this in mind, I'd like to talk about one aspect of the family unit — the marriage relationship. I'd like to talk about it from my point of view since I am a minister of Jesus Christ who has talked with many young people prior to their marriage and afterward as a counselor. I've also talked with many people who have marital problems, troubles, and breakdowns in their marriages.

I would like to point out several observations from my experiences in dealing with people that should help us all improve, strengthen and build our marriages.


Step one

I would say "marital rule one" is the most important rule of human relationships. It is found in Matthew 7:12. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." In other words, treat others — especially your mate — as you want to be treated.

Now the husband who is "macho" or the "big wheel," puffed with lordly ego and authority and orders his wife around like a slave, should ask if that is really the way he wants to be treated.

For wives who like to punish their husbands by picking away at them and tearing them down by rehearsing their faults should ask if that is really the way they want to be treated.

The best way to learn to give is by analyzing your own needs. We are all human. We all have needs. We all desire recognition, love, affection, attention, encouragement, inspiration, companionship, understanding, patience and a whole host of other needs. Seeing what you need and what satisfies and makes you feel good, teaches you to "turn on" and satisfy other people too. It's as simple as that. But it takes constant effort to do what you know you should!


Step Two

I would like to comment on women submitting to their husbands. In Ephesians 5:22-23, we read: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church."

This is part of God's inspired Word and is a law of marital happiness. However, I believe there is a tendency to overemphasize this one facet of a marriage relationship to the point that some husbands "beat" their wives "over the head" with it. It seems to me that in some cases, rather than having a husband/wife relationship, they have a master/slave relationship, or at best, a father/ daughter relationship.

The master goes around and tells his slave what to do, when to do it, and exactly how to do it. That's not a marital relationship, that's a master/slave relationship. And the father/daughter relationship is one where there is a vast disparity in experience, wisdom, stature. A daughter honors her father. But a wife is to be "one flesh" with her husband. Husbands and wives are partners who ought to be sharing life in a unique relationship.

The concept of wives being submissive is not the only biblical instruction to consider. I Peter 3:7 tells us just as authoritatively: "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life."

I believe that the term "weaker vessel" means physically, not mentally, not emotionally, and certainly not spiritually. I believe if the husband and wife emphasize that they are heirs together of the grace of life, that this is closer to what God wants than the master/slave concept which some have had in mind.

In the marital relationship, husbands and wives walk down the path of life together. There is a poster you can buy in bookstores which says: "Don't walk in front of me, I don't want to follow you. Don't walk behind me, I don't want to be your leader. Walk beside me, and we'll share life together." That's what marriage is all about. The husband isn't out in front nor is he behind, nor is the wife behind. Both should be walking down life's path together, hand-in-hand.


Step Three

I've noticed a tendency of some husbands to punish their wives by criticizing them, putting them down in public. When there are guests over, a husband will make some very complimentary remarks about some other woman and say, "Why can't you be like that?" Or, when you're at somebody else's home, maybe your husband will say, "Honey, why can't you cook like this? How come your pies are always burned?" That just tears away at confidence and is certainly very dangerous and destructive to the marriage.

I think we have to recognize when we do those things and quit being a bully.

Another way that mates punish each other is by withholding what the Bible calls "due benevolence." This shouldn't be done (I Cor. 7:3-5). It will only tear down your marriage. But it's a common form of punishment, used mainly by wives, although there are also some husbands who use it.

Wives sometimes punish their husbands by tearing down their confidence. The husband is the one who has to deal with the public more than the wife. While many wives stay at home, almost all husbands have to go out and get a job and provide the income. It's very easy to sit in the background and complain about what he's doing. It's very easy to tear down his confidence. Unfortunately some women play this game.

We need to find ways to compliment, encourage, and support each other. We should realize that our mate is part of our flesh and when we criticize, tear down and wound, we are actually injuring our own bodies (Eph. 5:28-29), and that is stupid.


Step Four

People tend to become what you make them. A friend of mine once said if you trust your children, they will rise to that trust. Then again, if you are always suspicious of them, they will often sink to the level of conduct reflected in your suspicion.

You treat them with respect and dignity, and they'll rise up to that level.

It usually works the same in marriage. You treat your wife with respect and dignity, and she'll rise up to that level also. But you treat her as somebody who's common, unimportant, and unloved and she'll just sink down into despair. The same is true for the husband. If the wife treats him as someone special and looks to him as someone special, honors, respects him and places him on that pedestal, he'll rise to it. We ought to be concerned with helping each other rise toward perfection!


Step Five

We need to teach ourselves how to respond inside of marriage. Today, we have a mistaken idea, because of the freedom we have in our western society, that we have the privilege to say anything we want to anyone. But the Bible does not give us that freedom. If we harm others by our words we are accountable to God (Matt. 12:36).

Proverbs 12:18 tells us: "There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health." Proverbs 18:21 says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof." You might think you have the right to respond in any way you want to your mate, but God hasn't given you that right. The wise and righteous person teaches himself how to respond.

"The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness" (Prov. 10:32). There is an acceptable response and there is an unacceptable response; and God praises the individual that uses the acceptable response. "He that is void of wisdom desiseth his neighbor: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace" (Prov. 11:12). A wise man learns how to respond and he realizes there are many times when you should say nothing.

"He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction" (Prov. 13:3). There's a time to keep quiet; there's a time not to respond in a negative way. "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Prov. 15:1). We as Christians have to train ourselves how to respond. We have to train ourselves how to answer.

For example, suppose you're late for a dinner party, and you both are scurrying around trying to get ready. The husband may say to his wife, "Honey, where are my shoes?" The wife may be a little bit upset by this time — there's been a buildup of tension. So she says, "Well, if you'd clean up your closet, you'd know where your shoes are."

Now we have antagonism. How you respond is very important. Now you can continue the antagonism. You as a husband can say, "Hey, I'm not taking that from anybody. I didn't ask you for a smart comment, woman, I asked you where the shoes were. Now get 'em!" And what have you got? Well, you've got deeper antagonism — that's all you've got.

But there's a different response. You can say, "You know, you're right. But I still can't find my shoes." That comment takes the sting out. Hopefully then, if the wife realizes her wrong position too, she will say, "Oh, I shouldn't have responded that way. I'm sorry," and helps you find the shoes. No more antagonism.

In Psalm 141:3 in a prayer to God, David says, "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips." What he's saying is to put a little governor between brain and mouth, a little check, a little balance, something to make us say, "Hey, wait a minute. Is this a positive thing I'm going to say? Is it going to hurt? Is it wrong?" If it's wrong, you send it back to the brain with a little word "repent" next to it. If it's all right, it goes on out.

So one observation of marriage is, teach yourself how to respond to your mate. Train yourself so that you aren't always rendering evil for evil. Turn the situation around. Somebody has to break the negative vibes that come up in marriage.


Step Six

Every relationship is based on mutual need. Where there is no mutual need, relationships break down. In marriage if one person is always getting and taking but giving nothing, you have a breakdown. It's only when two people need and help each other that they really grow and develop throughout life. When you recognize your need for one another, you grow together. We need kind and thoughtful things said to us; we need to be cared for. Both husband and wife need it, so you must give it to each other.

Mutual need is a biblical principle. I Corinthians 12, talking about the body, the Church, says, "God has set the members every one as it pleased Him." Then it says in verse 21, "And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary." The point Paul is making is that we all need one another. When we recognize that need, we respect one another, we love one another, we grow together. It's through that concept of mutual need that the relationship grows.

In Ephesians 5:28, we read, "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself." When you give love to your mate, you get it all back. It's like putting money in the bank; you even get interest back with it!


Step Seven

I think that a lot of the problems that I've observed inside many marriages are that two people who start out together begin to grow apart. And this brings on problems.

You have to strive to grow together and discuss your goals, plans, hopes, dreams. Communicate.

Hopefully you talk about important subjects like, "Where are we going to be ten years from now? What are our goals for the children? What do we hope to do? Where do we view ourselves religiously? What do we want from each other? Are we fulfilling each other's needs?"

Really, two happily married people will be sitting down and talking about these things quite often and communicating. It's a very, very important thing to do. And that will prevent the common problem of growing so far apart that one day you wake up and say, "Hey, I'm over here and my mate's over there," and then you scramble to try to get close together again. It's a very, very difficult thing to do. Don't let that problem ever get started. Communicate. Talk about everything.

In conclusion, let's remind ourselves again, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That He might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). Christ wants a perfect marriage, and He knows that in order to get a perfect marriage He has to work at it.

Christians should have the goal that Jesus Christ has with His marriage. Hopefully they're always asking "How can my marriage improve? What can I do to help? How can I uplift? How can I build? How can I create? How can we go forward? How can we grow?" In a good marriage two people want to make it better and better and better.

This is an essential part of Christianity.