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Marriage Preparation & Improvement: Bible Principles

Marriage Preparation and Improvement

How important are love and affection in marriage? What is love and how is it expressed? How can a couple put love into their marriage? How important are giving and self-sacrifice?

How important are love and affection in marriage? What is love and how is it expressed? How can a couple put love into their marriage? Why practice giving and self-sacrifice, instead of selfishness?


V. Loving One Another


This is part of a ten-part series about marriage preparation and improvement. This article should be studied in context of the whole series of articles. To start at the beginning of the series, please click here: Marriage_Improvement.php

Ephesians 5:25,28,29 - Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church.

Titus 2:4 - Wives should love their husbands.

A. Love Is Concern for the Wellbeing of Others.

Bible Principles

Ephesians 5:25,28,29 - Jesus' love for the church illustrates the love husbands should have for their wives. He loved us so much He gave His life so we could be saved. So, the husband should be concerned for the wellbeing of the wife. He should nourish and cherish her as he does his own body. He must use his authority, not to please himself, but to do what is best for her and the family.

1 Corinthians 13:5 - Love is not selfish. [Romans 13:10]

Philippians 2:1-4 - Love requires us to not act from selfish ambition or conceit. We look out, not just for our own interests, but for the interests of those we love.

To have a good marriage, both spouses must seek the wellbeing of the other person. When one or both companions selfishly insist on their own way, problems are inevitable in the family.

Applications

Instead of love, couples often express self-will and lack of concern for their spouse.

Sometimes selfishness and lack of love shows in major ways.

The husband is lazy and won't work to provide for the family.

The wife is lazy and won't care for the house and children.

The husband spends money on toys he wants, but the wife and children lack clothes or food.

The wife prefers to socialize with her friends, leaving the house in a mess.

Sometimes lack of love shows in less obvious ways.

The husband treats his wife like a slave, but he won't lift a finger to get something for her. He sits in front of the TV saying, "I need a sandwich. Get me a Coke. How about some pretzels." But he would be furious if she made similar demands of him.

Or the wife has a list of work for the husband to do around the house, but gets mad when he watches TV. But while he goes to work, she watches TV, reads for pleasure, or visits with her friends for hours at a time, neglecting her own work.

Throughout our marriage, I have had all kinds of opinions about how Karen should dress to please me, but I used to get upset when she wanted me to dress to please her.

Love is a matter of degree and a matter of growth. But always, love seeks the wellbeing and pleasure of the other person, instead of just pleasing oneself.

B. Love Is a Choice of the Will.

Bible principles

Ephesians 5:25,28 - Love can be commanded, because it is a matter of the will. We can choose whether or not to love, just like we choose whether or not to obey any other command.

Romans 5:6-8 - Christ is the example to husbands. He loved us while we were yet sinners, not because we were so loveable He couldn't help Himself. He chose to do what we needed.

Titus 2:4 - Older women should admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children. Ladies can learn to love their husbands and children. Bible love is not primarily an emotion. It will result in emotions, but it itself results from the will.

Luke 6:27,28 - We are commanded to love our enemies. Loving ones enemy is about what it would take to put love into some marriages! But what does it mean to love an enemy? We do not uncontrollably "fall" in love. Rather, we choose to do what is best for them.

Love involves a commitment. It is not an accident. Love requires choosing to do what is best for one another. This takes deliberate effort. You do not just get married and automatically "live happily ever after." Such ideas make nice fairy tales - Cinderella and Snow White. But that's all they are: fairy tales!

Applications

Couples can learn to love one another.

Some think love just happens and cannot be controlled - you "fall in love" or out of love.

Sometimes one says, "I just don't love her/him any more." They may think nothing can be done except to get a divorce. But an appropriate response would be, "Have you repented? Have you confessed that sin to God and asked forgiveness?"

Lack of love does not excuse one from responsibility of marriage. It is a sin! What is the Bible solution to sin? Repent, confess it to God and to the one you sinned against. Then do right!

When a marriage lacks love, we choose whether or not to put it in!

When we realize we can choose to love, then we realize we can put love into a marriage. And if we fail to put it in, we sin.

Christ initiated love toward the church when we were sinners not acting lovingly toward Him. This is the example the husband should follow. Likewise, young women should be taught to love their husbands. You learn to love. If your marriage lacks it, you put it in.

This responsibility to initiate love rests on both spouses, specifically on the husband. Most people think the wife is responsible to put love in the marriage. She is responsible, but the husband is as much or more so. The command is emphasized to the man. He is to love the wife first and put love into the relationship, as Christ first loved the church.

C. Love Must Be Expressed in Both Word and Action.

The way to choose to love is to choose to say and do what is best for ones spouse.

Bible principles

Love should be expressed by what we say.

Ephesians 5:25 - Husbands should love as Christ loved the church. But Christ states His love for the church (Ephesians 5:2; John 3:16). So husbands and wives should express love for one another in words.

This does not require an overwhelming romantic "feeling" that wells up and can't help but be expressed. Remember, love is a choice of the will.

We choose to state: "I love you. I am committed to this marriage and to your welfare."

Love should be expressed by what we do.

1 John 5:2,3 - Love for others requires us to love God and keep His commands. Keeping God's commands is loving God.

1 John 3:18 - We must love, not just in words, but in deed and in truth. This is a vital principle in every home. We ought to say loving things, but that is not enough. We must act in love.

[Luke 10:25-37; 6:27,28]

Applications

Couples should show love in how they treat one another.

Other topics will emphasize the duty of husbands and wives in the home. The husband provides for the family and uses his authority for the good of the group. The wife keeps the home and submits in love to the husband. That is Biblical love.

Love is also shown in treating one another with respect. We speak respectfully. We show common politeness and decency. We consider one another's views.

Love for God and for our spouse must motivate obedience to all God's teachings about marriage. This is the basis of obedience to all Divine commands (Matthew 22:37-39).

Couples need to show love by being affectionate.

1 Corinthians 7:3 - You owe your spouse "affection" (NKJV). The emphasis is on sexual expression. But couples need to learn that sexual affection is just the culmination of other forms of affection. Without other forms of affection, sexual union is hollow, lacking beauty and meaning. When a couple is affectionate throughout the day, sexual affection has true beauty.

You say, "I'm just not an affectionate person. My parents were never affectionate, either." Then choose to change! It may be harder for you, but love is a choice not a mood. You can change and become affectionate, just like you can change anything else necessary to please God.

This affection is "due" one another. It is not just an emotion or mood that overwhelms us, so we involuntarily start saying and doing sweet things. We should do and say kind things and express affection by choice. Make a point to remember to say, "I love you" and to be intimate.

Don't' wait till some mood or force compels us. We can and should choose to act these ways.

D. Love Requires Giving & Self-sacrifice.

Giving of self is the essence of love.

Bible principles

John 3:16 - God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.

Ephesians 5:25 - Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for it.

1 John 3:14-18 - If you see your brother in need and don't give what is needed, you don't have love.

Romans 12:20 - Loving you enemy requires giving food and drink when needed.

A fundamental requirement of a good marriage is a willingness to give of ourselves for the good of others.

The decision to act properly and lovingly toward our spouse should not depend on how our spouse acts, let alone how a mood hits us. We must choose to give of ourselves, because it is good for others and pleasing to God.

This is fundamental to being unselfish. The selfish person doesn't want to give in or sacrifice. They want to please themselves.

Giving and self-sacrifice is especially essential in solving conflict.

The fundamental lesson of Christ's love is to give up our own desires for the good of others, even when they are not acting the way we think they should.

In time of conflict, we say, "I'll do right or improve if he/she will too." If an act is beneficial for others, love requires us to do it regardless of what they are doing. If we have been wrong, love requires us to admit it, regardless of whether or not they have admitted their errors.

Even if we are convinced our spouse has caused a problem, we should ask ourselves honestly what we can do to help improve it.

This does not mean ignoring sin. Jesus did not cause our sin problem, and He did not compromise with sin. What He did was sacrifice Himself to provide a solution to the problem we caused. He did not just criticize our sin; He became involved to provide a solution. He did not do everything for us, but He made sure we had a way whereby we could overcome the problem.

A spouse may think, "He/she caused this problem, so let him/her solve it." Even if that is true, is it helpful? Instead think, "What can I offer to do - how can I become involved - so as to help resolve this problem?" Instead of saying, "Why don't you do this?" say, "Why don't you and I work on this together? What can I do to help?"

As long as neither spouse will take the first step toward a good marriage, the marriage can never be good. Each one must be committed to a good marriage. This requires us to give in at times where we wish we did not have to (assuming we do not sin). Each must be willing to sacrifice and give of themselves for the good of the marriage.

[1 John 4:9,19; Acts 20:35; Luke 10:25-37]

To improve your marriage, start with improving yourself.

If you are not married:

Make up your mind to marry only a person who will follow the Bible teaching about marriage. And then work to become the kind of person who will attract the kind of person you want to marry!

If you are a half-hearted Christian, halfheartedly involved in the church, practicing personal habits that are immoral or doubtful, do not expect to attract a faithful, dedicated Christian to marry! A dedicated Christian does not seek to marry a half-hearted Christian. To attract a faithful, dedicated Christian, you must be a faithful, dedicated Christian.

Likewise, if you have attitudes and habits that would hinder a good marriage, start now to change to become the kind of person who can work for a good marriage.

Likewise, if you are married:

If you are having problems in your marriage, do not expect your spouse to solve the problem. Begin by examining yourself! Most marriage problems result from faults on the part of both parties. Rarely is one person alone the whole cause of the problem.

1 Peter 3:1,2 - You cannot control what your spouse does. You can only control what you do. If you become what you should be, you will set the example to help your spouse become what he/she should be. Do not wait for them to change. Start doing all God says for you to do and you will have the best chance you can have for a good marriage.

Begin now to study the Bible teaching about the home, then conform your thoughts, words, and deed to that teaching. Become a faithful Christian and become the kind of person you need to be to have a Biblical marriage.

Differences we think we cannot tolerate should be resolved before marriage.

Some differences we may be able to live with. But if we know a person has a habit or characteristic that we find intolerable, especially if it is sinful, either resolve it before marriage or don't marry the person.

Do not marry a person thinking you will change them

Often girls meet guys with immoral habits or disgusting characteristics and decide to reform them. People say women can twist men around their little finger. And women believe it.

Or men think, since they are the head of the family, the wife will have to change to please them. But even without being head of the family, women can make your life miserable a thousand different ways.

If you are convinced your partner must change in order to have a happy marriage, then the time to make this known and resolve it is before you marry them - better yet, before you even become seriously emotionally attached. Once you are married, you are committed for life, and no amount of wishful thinking can change that (Romans 7:2,3).

If a person has serious moral problems, don't try to change them by dating them.

Explain what it is that troubles you, and encourage them to work with stronger, older Christians of their own gender. Then distance yourself from the relationship, till they prove they will change by their own choice. They must change, not because you want them to change, but because God requires it and changing is the right thing to do. Otherwise, they may go through the motions of change just to please you, then revert after marriage. Or, you may become so emotionally attached that you marry them despite the problem, and then live to regret it.

E. Learn to Love by Thinking, Speaking, and Acting for the Wellbeing of the Other Person.

How do you put love into a marriage where it is lacking? Instead of thinking first and foremost about what you want, act for their good and the good of your relationship. You choose to do what is best for the other person! That is Biblical love.

The key to putting love into marriage and keeping it in marriage is to do and keep doing the things that led you to love one another to begin with!

The reason couples stop loving one another is that they stop doing the things that led them to love one another! This is one of the most profound things I learned in 35 years of marriage. The incredible thing is that most of us are so foolish that we can't see that. This discussion involves a measure of judgment and wisdom, but it surely harmonizes with Bible principles.

How do couples learn to love in the first place?

Consider: What did you do that led you to decide that you loved one another and wanted to get married? We know how to put love into a relationship. We did it before we were married. We act a certain way to nourish love before marriage, then we get married and quit doing those things! If you want more love in your marriage now, go back and do the same things again!

Couples learn to love by saying and doing things to please the other person.

Before marriage, the young man sends the girl gifts, flowers, cards. After marriage, he stops.

Before marriage, the young lady chooses her clothes, her perfume, her hair style deliberately to please him. After marriage, she says, "All my lady friends think this looks good on me. If he doesn't like it, something's wrong with him." Is that the way you thought before marriage?

Before marriage, you took the time to listen to her/him. After marriage, you don't have time.

Before marriage, did you show politeness and respect: hold the door for her, let her go first, say "please" and "thank you"? Do you do those things now?

Before marriage, did you compliment her hair, her dress? Did you use expressions of affection? Why not now?

Before marriage, you remembered her birthday and other special days. What about now?

Before marriage, you went places and did things together. What about after marriage?

We know what cultivates love in a relationship. Why, after marriage, do we become brain dead? Go back and act the way you acted that led you into love. Don't wait for feelings or a special mood to strike you. Make a deliberate choice to do these things - love is a commitment.

Couples learn to love by taking time to be together.

Many times I have heard older couples say, "To keep love in a marriage you need to keep dating one another." For years that made little sense to me. Finally, I realized the point was that you make appointments to spend time visiting together and doing things to please the other person. That's how you learned to love, and that is how you stay in love!

Make an appointment once a week (at least once a month) to spend time primarily visiting with your spouse. And then once a year or so, take a few days to get away doing things together, talking, visiting, and just focusing on one another.

All of us live by some kind of schedule. We budget out time. Discuss your schedule with your spouse once a week (or at least once a month) and arrange an appointment for an evening or a couple of hours together. Do the things you did that led you into love.

We lose love, because we stop doing the things that produced love to begin with!

Many couples have excuses why they don't do these things.

* "We don't have time."

Did you have time before marriage? Why did you have time then, but not now? The answer is: You made the time, because it was important to you to be with her/him.

You have time to watch TV or visit on the phone with friends or read a book, etc. for 2-3 hours a week. But you can't spend that time with your spouse instead? What does that say?

Find someone to take the kids for an evening, trade babysitting with friends.

Make an appointment and don't break it except for absolute emergencies. If someone wants you to do something else say, "We have an appointment that evening."

* "We can't afford it."

You can't afford not to. Your marriage needs love. You must pay the price.

You don't have to spend a lot of money. Go for a walk in the park or the mall.

What did you do and where did you go before you got married. Go there and do it again!

The point is to spend time together.

* "We don't enjoy the same things."

She likes to shop, he can't stand to shop. He likes ball games, she can't stand ball games. Etc.

What did you do before you got married? You found things to do then! Do them again.

Then, you did not insist that your spouse do what you want. You did things she/he wants. Did you go shopping with her then? Do you go to ballgames with him then? Why not now?

Karen and I like to dress up and go out to eat, to a clean movie, or shopping. I don't much care to eat out. But I know she likes it. And I like being with her. We shop for something we both want to get; or we shop where she wants and then where I want.

The point is: If the object is to please the other person, to strengthen your relationship, and to show the other person you care, you find something to do and a way to do it, just like you did before you got married. Forget the excuses. You've already proved you can do it. Do it again.

What is missing in all these excuses? What is the fundamental problem?

When we make these excuses, we are saying we don't spend time together because the other person and our relationship with that person are not important enough!

If you don't have time or money for one another and don't' enjoy doing things together, how did you end up getting married? Before you got married, you found the time and the money and you found things to do. If you don't do it now, it's because your marriage relationship is not important enough. You don't care like you used to. We may not say it or think it, but our actions show it. And at least subconsciously, our spouse feels it. And that's why our marriages lack love!

Before marriage, you took time and money and you found things to do together, because you cared enough about one another. So the way to come to love one another again and to continue to love one another is to go back and do the things that led you to love one another to begin with.

Your marriage needs love. You have a command of God to put it in. Do what you did that led you to love to begin with.

This is part of a ten-part series of articles about marriage preparation and improvement. To continue with the next article in the series, please go to www.gospelway.com/family/marriage-responsibility.php  To start at the beginning of the series, please click here: Marriage_Improvement.php

(C) Copyright 2007, David E. Pratte
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