In light of just celebrating my ninth year of marriage with Bethany, here is a list of nine Christian marriage principles we’ve learned together.
1. Marriage Won’t Make You Happy, Your Happiness in Christ Makes Your Marriage
Marriage can be a great source of joy, it can produce feelings of belongingness, and it can fulfill many God-given desires within the human heart.
So without diminishing the gift of marriage, I believe this Christian marriage principle is also true: Marriage won’t make you happy; the happiness you bring to your marriage, or don’t bring, will be the deciding factor on the health of your union with your spouse.
Marriage is less like a well where you gather water and more like a garden that needs water. After nine years of marriage, I’ve experienced what the Bible plainly teaches: Marriage is more about service than it is about taking. To thrive in marriage, we must find happiness and love from the ultimate well of life (Jesus) and bring that life to our marriage. One dry well can’t fill another.
Perhaps the most biblical Christian marriage principle is that the union between a husband and wife is ultimately meant to be a picture of Christ and his church. Christ came to serve his church (Mark 10:45), and in return the church is supposed to freely serve and love him back (Ephesians 5:22-33). The principle of serving one another is key for a healthy Christian marriage.
Yes, a marriage will not work if your spouse does not serve and love you in return. We must enjoy the love our spouse gives to us. But a much deeper happiness is found when you seek to serve rather than be served in your marriage (Acts 20:35).
2. Disagreements Have to Happen, Fights Do Not
One of the greatest benefits of marriage is that it challenges your individualized perspective. I never knew how selfish I was until I got married. It’s great when two people see something the same way, but that is not realistic over the long haul.
In an ideal world, we could just stop at celebrating the differences two people have in marriage. Differences are usually good. Diversity is usually good. Men and women are different, and together they produce a fuller picture of God’s glory and image. What’s not to celebrate here?
Sin, however, causes us to turn disagreements into fights. One huge Christian marriage principle that has helped us is that it’s okay for the two of us to disagree. It doesn’t need to be a problem. It only becomes a problem when we need the other person to see a certain issue the exact same way.
A mature marriage will learn to see issues through the other spouse’s perspective while still being comfortable to see it a different way yourself. Most times arguments are squashed by simply understanding each other’s perspective even if you don’t necessarily see it that way yourself. I think it is a true principle that simply letting your spouse know that you understand their perspective usually solves most problems.
Compromising is one of the most important Christian marriage principles ever. But you can’t compromise if you always need to agree on everything. Disagreements need to happen. Fights do not.
3. Kids Complicate Marriage, But They Complement It More
Marriage was easier before my wife and I had kids. It took us thirty seconds to decide to leave the house and go out to dinner before we had kids. It takes about a week now to plan such a rare event.
All parents could go on and on for days about the ways kids complicate marriage, but I doubt any of them who are sane would ever say life would be better without their children. Marriage is about serving and loving another person for the glory of God. Parenting has the same goal. Parenting is accomplished differently, but the mission to sacrificially love someone else is the same as marriage.
Therefore it just makes sense that marriage and parenting go together. So while it is a marriage principle that kids complicate things, it is also a Christian marriage principle that kids complement marriage much more than they complicate it.
Here’s a church principle that relates: An inward focused church always dies. The same is true in marriage. Having children helps your marriage stay service focused and outward focused. Parenting gives you a job that needs to be accomplished together for the glory of God. Keeping your marriage moving forward towards accomplishing a mission that is bigger than the marriage itself is a principle that keeps your marriage alive.
Parenting should not be your primary mission, otherwise your marriage will fall apart when your kids move out. Glorifying God is your ultimate mission as a couple, and while you are raising your children, it is very glorifying to God to serve your children together, as a team.
4. “Communication” Is a Cliché Christian Marriage Principle, But It Really Is Crucial
If you’ve ever read a book about healthy Christian marriage principles, if you’ve ever gotten advice from an older Christian couple, or if you’ve ever been to marriage counseling, you’ve certainly heard about the importance of communication. Any list of Christian marriage principles will have communication near the top, and for good reason.
As cliché as this Christian marriage principle has become, communication really is crucial for a healthy marriage. I can’t tell you how many arguments Bethany and I have had simply because we never communicated what time we were thinking of leaving the house to go somewhere. We both knew we were going out, we just never actually clarified the time to actually leave. We are now usually painfully obvious about our plans, and while it seems so simple, we have saved ourselves a lot of pain in the process.
For whatever reason humans think that other humans can read their minds. Well we can’t, and never is this clearer than in marriage. God didn’t make humans as mind readers, but he did give us mouths and ears. He expects us to love one another through speaking and listening. So as cliché as the advice may sound, “communication” really is a very important Christian marriage principle.
5. Loyalty and Love Always Go Together in a Healthy Christian Marriage
Through our nine years of marriage, I’ve made a lot of really stupid decisions. I’ve sinned in really unexpected ways. I’m sure it was a shock to my wife to realize she had married such a sinner.
But through it all, through all my failures, she has been utterly faithful and forgiving. I remember specific incidences where we both knew I had really messed up. When she chose to forgive me and I felt her love was still totally undiminished, I’ve never felt more loved by another human in my life. She’s definitely been the greatest example of Christ to me.
Of course we have hurt each other. Of course it takes time to heal when we do things that wound one another. But one of the most important principles Bethany and I have learned is that loyalty and love always go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. As I explain in the blog titled, “Love and Loyalty”:
Loyalty, this is the essence of love. For a good friend can weep with you in the waiting room as some great loss begins to settle on you like a heavy morning dew. They may tell you, and genuinely mean it, that they will be with you through all the trials ahead, until this dew of mourning dries with the rising sun.
But if that sun stays set for longer than they thought, most will move on and prove themselves only a good friend, not a best friend. The one who remains until the eclipse of the heart has fully passed, loyal through the bitter end, and then through the joy of the new day that has finally come – this is the friend that loves you most.”
6. Your Marriage Is Healthiest in the Context of a Community
Marriage is between two people, but a healthy marriage will choose to involve more people. Having a Christian community is a core marriage principle.
Just as an individual Christian is meant to live life within the context of a healthy local church, the same principle applies for marriage. It’s not about going to a good church every Sunday morning with the family. Socializing with other Christians in a building and hearing a great sermon once week is a healthy practice. But a marriage needs more than this.
A husband and wife both need friends for themselves. You need people of the same gender to walk with you and your spouse. You need older people who can pour into you and younger people you can pour into. Your kids need other adults who love them.
All in all, having a healthy Christian network is a very important marriage principle.
7. “I Think” Is Better for Problem Solving, “I Feel” Is Better for Connecting Emotionally
One principle that has really helped our marriage is making an effort to define what the issue is. Sometime you just feel like something is off between the two of you. At these times a marriage is very vulnerable. It’s so easy to spiral into a marital fight even though neither of you really know what you are actually fighting about.
I’ve found there are usually two categories marital problems fall into: 1. Issues that need to be solved or 2. Hearts that need to be reconnected.
If you felt disrespected by your spouse’s tone, I would put that in category one. This is an issue to be solved. If you’re spouse keeps working late and you’re ticked about it, this probably falls into both categories.
When there is a practical, almost mechanical issue within the marriage, I believe it helps to use phrases like “I think.” This helps you focus on the practical adjustments that need to be made to improve the concrete issue that you have both identified, “I think we should not raise our voices when we are tired and annoyed,” “I think I would be a lot more refreshed if you could give me an hour break every day from the kids,” or “I think we need to make a trip to visit my family” are all clear statements that are directed towards solving a specific issue.
Problems arise when you dance around an issue, make personal accusation, or jump from issue to issue just so you can win the argument.
When it comes to a lack of emotional connection, I have found it more helpful to use phrases like “I feel.” “I feel really disconnected from you,” “I feel like you don’t care that I am having a hard time with this,” or “I feel like something is missing in our marriage right now,” are all statements that focus on your need for emotional reconnection with your spouse.
In either case, it is far more effective to start your sentences with “I” rather than “you.” When you blame your spouse and put your spouse as the central issue, you are becoming a victim and giving away your power. If all your happiness depends on someone else, you are a very powerless person. One marriage principle you will hear in almost every counseling session is that you are only in control of you. You can’t control what others do. You can hope they help you, but you must be responsible for your own emotions and choices.
In the heat of the moment, it is less important that you use certain words and phrases. Semantics rarely solve anything. But it is a good Christian marriage principle to focus on specific issues and deal with it directly rather than to dance around and fight for days without even knowing what the real problem is because you never defined it.
Define the problem and then deal with the problem. And then move on and enjoy each other.
8. Financial Restraint Leads to More Freedom in Life
One general Christian principle that especially applies to marriage is “financial restraint.” Every Christian is called to be wise with their resources. But in marriage you directly feel the consequences even more when you are irresponsible.
I remember when Bethany and I decided we had to leave a church I was on staff at. It was not a difficult decision spiritually because it was very obvious God no longer wanted us to be a part of that church. Things changed for the worse and there was no way we could continue on there.
The difficult part was the financial ramifications of resigning. I was the primary bread winner and it’s not easy for a pastor to find a new job very quickly. Thankfully God had taught both my wife and I how to save. We had been living well below or means for years, and because of that we had plenty of savings to keep us going.
It took me five months to find another job. God certainly blessed us through many generous people in our lives during that time. But the principle remains, financial restraint always leads to more freedom in general. Because we were not enslaved by debt, it made the decision to quit my job much easier when God asked us to make that decision.
Money will not make your marriage healthy, but a healthy marriage values biblical principles for finances.
9. You Get Out What You Put In
To conclude this list of Christian marriage principles, it’s safe to say that like most things in life, you will get out of your marriage what you put into your marriage.
All relationships are living and breathing organisms. If you don’t feed your marriage, care for it, and put in the work to protect it, it’s safe to say no principle will matter much.
No marriage principle is worth a dime if you do not put in the work to actually apply that principle. I’ve learned that even if you don’t know what to do, it is better to try rather than do nothing at all. Even if you do the wrong thing, doing nothing but let your marriage waste away is foolishness. Passivity is a principle of the devil, not of a healthy marriage.
So in summary, “you get out what you put in” is an underlying Christian marriage principle to all the other principles. It’s not ultimately about what you know in your marriage, it’s about love in action.
A list of Christian marriage principles will do you no good if you don’t put in the work.
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