Love can be defined in myriad ways, but in marriage “I love you” really means “I promise to be there for you all of my days.” It is a promise that says, “I’ll be there when you lose your job, your health, your parents, your looks, your confidence, your friends.” It’s a promise that tells your partner, “I’ll build you up; I’ll overlook your weaknesses; I’ll forgive your mistakes; I’ll put your needs above my own; I’ll stick by you even when the going gets tough.”
This kind of assurance will hold you steady through all of life’s ups and downs, through all the “better or worse” conditions.
Many couples assume that the excitement of their courtship will continue for the rest of their lives. That virtually never occurs! It is naive to expect two unique individuals to mesh together and to remain exhilarated throughout life.
Gears have rough edges that must be honed before they will work in concert. That honing process usually occurs in the first year or two of marriage. The foundation for all that is to follow is laid in those critical months. What often occurs at this time is a dramatic struggle for power in the relationship. Who will lead? Who will follow? Who will determine how the money is spent? Who will get his or her way in times of disagreement? Everything is up for grabs in the beginning, and the way these early decisions are made will set the stage for the future. If both partners come into the relationship prepared for battle, the foundation will begin to crumble.
The apostle Paul gave us the divine perspective on human relationships--not only in marriage, but in every dimension of life. He wrote, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).
That one verse contains more wisdom than most marriage manuals combined. If heeded, it could virtually eliminate divorce from the catalog of human experience—no small achievement, considering that more than one million marriages break apart in the United States every year. If you want yours to be different, I urge you to commit now to “sticking in there” during the newlywed phase, the middle years, and your golden age together.
Will your commitment hold you steady? If you want your marriage to last a lifetime, you must set your jaw and clench your fists. Make up your mind that nothing short of death will ever be permitted to come between the two of you. Nothing!
Premarital counseling is a must and can literally be a marriage saver. These sessions can help young men and women overcome the cultural tendency to marry virtual strangers. Let me explain.
The typical couple spends much time talking. Still, they don't know each other as well as they think they do. That is because a dating relationship is designed to conceal information, not reveal it. Each partner puts his or her best foot forward, hiding embarrassing facts, habits, flaws, and temperaments.
Consequently, the bride and groom often enter into marriage with an array of private assumptions. Then major conflict occurs a few weeks later when they discover they have radically different views on nonnegotiable issues. The stage is then set for arguments and hurt feelings that were never anticipated during the courtship period.
That's why I strongly believe in the value of solid, biblical premarital counseling. Each engaged couple, even those who seem perfectly suited for one another, should participate in at least six to ten meetings with someone who is trained to help them prepare for marriage. The primary purpose of these encounters is to identify the assumptions each partner holds and to work through the areas of potential conflict.
The following questions are typical of the issues that a competent counselor will help the couple address together:
•Where will you live after getting married?
•Are children planned? How many? How soon?
•Will the wife return to work after babies arrive? How quickly?
•How will the kids be disciplined?
•Are there theological differences to be reckoned with?
•Where will you spend Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays?
•How will financial decisions be made?
This is only a partial list of questions to be discussed and considered. Then a battery of compatibility tests is administered to identify patterns of temperament and personality. Some couples decide to postpone or call off the wedding after discovering areas of likely conflict down the road. Others work through their differences and proceed toward marriage with increased confidence. In either case, men and women benefit from knowing each other better.
Someone has said: The key to healthy marriage is to keep your eyes wide open before you wed and half-closed thereafter. I agree. Premarital counseling is designed to help couples accomplish that.
From Dr. Dobson’s book, The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide
For over 30 years, Dr. James Dobson has been America’s trusted source for psychologically sound, biblically based advice to help strengthen marriages, parents and families.