God created the institution of marriage to be like a strong, beautiful cathedral that brings Him glory on earth. But in our society today, many marriages that should be great cathedrals instead lie in ruins. Sometimes sin damages them; sometimes divorce demolishes them altogether.
If your marriage has fallen into disrepair, however, you can renovate it. Here’s how you can rebuild your marriage according to God’s design:
Take stock of the damage. Realize just how much pain a broken marriage can cause: for the spouses involved, their children, their friends and extended family, their church, and their society. Soberly consider the harm to emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical health, as well as the financial fallout. Take such damage seriously and decide to do all you can to prevent that from occurring through your own marriage’s failure.
Respect the Creator’s design. Understand that marriage is not a human invention; it’s God’s creation, and as such, it shouldn’t be abandoned or reinvented. Acknowledge that you should discover what God intended marriage to be when He first created it. Realize that marriage is rooted in deep and significant needs God has placed within all people and that it exists to help meet those needs: companionship, sexual expression, the procreation and nurture of children, and advancement of the social good.
Understand key building blocks to use. Know that you must use the right type of materials to build a strong marriage. Start by developing a solid character that will help you: maintain realistic expectations of the marriage, live with integrity, communicate wisely, resolve conflicts well, manage finances according to biblical principles, negotiate division of household tasks fairly, serve your spouse out of love, and enjoy a healthy sex life. Recognize that your spouse should be your soul mate not just in the sense that he or she shares your beliefs, but also that you both are equally passionate about Christ and the extent to which you let Him lead your lives.
Structure your marriage around a covenant. Make sure your marriage is supported by a covenant attitude in which both you and your spouse take your vows seriously. Decide that you’ll do all you can to stay married for life. Reject divorce as a valid option, even when the going gets tough, except in extreme cases such as adultery, violence, or desertion. Remember that the promises you made at your wedding weren’t just to each other; they were also to God, your future children, your friends and extended family, your church, and your community. Ask God to empower you to remain faithful, to heal your relationship, to help you forgive, and to renew your love for each other as you continue to share your lives.
Expect that the construction process will bring some suffering. Realize that it’s unreasonable to expect marriage to be completely blissful. Expect suffering as an inevitable part of marriage; and in fact, know that marriage will sometimes actually increase the level of suffering in your life. Understand that suffering is inescapable in a sinful world, but that God will be with you as you endure it – and He will redeem it to accomplish good purposes in your life if you trust Him.
Ask God what He wants you to learn from suffering you experience in your marriage relationship, and realize that those lessons are valuable to help you grow. Don’t consider divorce simply to try to remedy unhappiness in your marriage; understand that if you divorce, you’ll bring even more unhappiness upon yourself.
Don’t expect your spouse to meet all your needs. Seek to get some of your needs met outside of marriage by developing friendships with others and pursuing meaningful work and hobbies. Remember that only God has the power to ultimately meet all your needs. Ask God to give you the grace to endure times of suffering and to celebrate and be thankful for joyful times.
Make your marriage a place God can use. Invite God to use your marriage to advance His kingdom on earth. As God’s love flows between you and your spouse, let it enlarge your hearts so you can share it with others. Let your love for each other overflow toward your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and other people you encounter. Think and pray about how God might want you to serve together. View your marriage as a mission base from which you mobilize to share God’s love with the world.
Gain support from your church. Take full advantage of the resources your church has to offer to support your marriage, such as classes, counseling, Bible studies, small groups, recovery programs, mentoring programs, and retreats.
Respect civil protections that can bolster your marriage. Get to know the laws governing marriage in your state. If they recommend counseling for engaged couples or couples in danger of divorce, heed those recommendations. If they mandate a waiting period before obtaining a marriage license or a divorce degree, use that time well to pray about God’s will in the situation before taking action.
Adapted from Getting Marriage Right: Realistic Counsel for Saving and Strengthening Relationships, copyright 2004 by David P. Gushee. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., www.bakerbooks.com.
David P. Gushee is Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy and senior fellow of the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Christian Leadership at Union University. He has also served on the staff of Evangelicals for Social Action and the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author or editor of seven books, and his articles have appeared in many publications. He and his wife, Jeanie, live in Jackson, Tennessee, with their children.