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Keys to a  Healthy Marriage

Part 1: Understanding What Marriage is

It is quite evident in our society that many marriages are sick, suffering, and falling apart.  Those in the church are not exempt from unhealthy marriage relationships.  God is the designer of this union, but it is not His fault that things don’t work out as He planned. Since marriage takes two imperfect people and unites them as one, there is no couple who does not experience difficulties and challenges.  As a pastor I have performed the marriage ceremonies of a number of couples, and not one of them went into the marriage thinking that it will begin to fall apart and eventually crash. All couples on their wedding day think it is a life long journey together. But what happens when two people who think they can’t live without one another become so bitter toward one another that they can’t stand each other? Or, what causes one of the partners to be unfaithful after they committed their faithfulness to each other in sacred vows? The answer is they did not understand what they were getting into and they did not know how to implement the keys of a healthy marriage.

Marriage Defined

Marriage is a union between a man and a woman. A biblical marriage is when the man and woman by mutual consent agree to cease being two individuals and become one union. God set up the foundation of marriage immediately after the creation of the first couple. (Genesis 2:24) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Becoming one flesh is not something that happens all at once at the marriage altar, but it is a process of becoming less self-centered over time.  This is not an easy, come-naturally thing to accomplish.  Most of us like self more than anyone else, and pleasing self is our number-one priority. When a couple is not willing to give up self, normally problems will begin quickly and will escalate into bigger problems along the way.

Marriage is a Covenant, Not a Contract

Most people think marriage is a contract they signed.  When you sign a contract, you expect to get something in the deal.  The focus is on receiving. To say that a marriage is a covenant it is to say, “I am giving myself to you unconditionally.” The focus is on giving.

Contracts are enforced by courts

  1. Covenants are enforced by character
  2. Contracts calls for signing names
  3. Covenants call for the binding of hearts.
  4. Covenants demand the death of two wills and the birth of one

Characteristics of a covenant marriage

A covenant marriage is a serious union.

(Malachi 2:13-16) “And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, With weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, Nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the LORD has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. “For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”

A covenant marriage is sacred.

 The vows we make are witnessed by God. So it takes three for two to become one.

A covenant marriage is sacrificial.

 It takes a lot of dying for a marriage to live. The “me-ness” must become “we-ness.”


If you understand that a marriage is a covenant and not a contract, and that it is about two people who are willing to give and enhance the life of the other, it will certainly put the marriage on the right track for being successful. Many people enter marriage because they have “fallen in love”, but the emotions of that feeling will not always be there. The commitment you have in a covenant relationship will keep you going in the times when you don’t feel in love.  It is not to say that feelings are not important, for they are.  If feeling were taken out of the picture, then you would probably stay single or just have a roommate to share expenses with.  That is not a marriage union, although some marriages end up that way.  I want to share some things in the following articles that will help us have healthy marriages. A healthy marriage will have unconditional love, commitment, respect, and a spiritual foundation.  With these as a foundation you can have a healthy marriage that won’t crumble, and still have that wonderful feeling toward your spouse as on that day you made the vows of your covenant.

Part 2: The Key of Love and Respect

(Ephesians 5:33) “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Most couples probably enter into marriage thinking that love is a feeling and it is rewarded by being pleased and served by the other.  This will take you through the honeymoon, but not very far down the road.  The Bible teaches that a marriage relationship should mirror the image of Christ and His Church. Christ is pictured as the Groom who unselfishly gave Himself for the Church. He loves the Church by sacrificing for it, nourishing it, and being its care giver. The church is the Bride. The church honors the Groom by submitting to His leadership and respecting Him by serving Him with joy.

How is the husband to love his wife?

Love is action.  The object of love should be others, not ourselves. Because of our fallen nature, most people like to place their needs and desires above others.  It is important to understand what love is and begin learning how this is implemented in our marriages.

In Ephesians 5, Paul gave some characteristics of Christ-like love in marriage:

  1. It is sacrificial
  2. It nourishes – This means the husband seeks to bring the marriage to maturity by loving, unselfish leadership.
  3. It cherishes – To cherish is to foster or warm another. This is illustrated by a mother hen caring for and warming her young under her wings.
  4. It joins itself to another – The word joins means to glue to something. It is the husband’s responsibility to establish the oneness of marriage by abandoning all other relationships that hinder the unity of the marriage.

As you can see, a marriage will not be what God intends if a husband is unwilling to love his wife in this Christ-like way.  How can the husband begin to display this type of love? The answer is in the filling of God’s Spirit. When God’s Spirit is in control of our lives, then we respond to others as Christ would.  The entrance of sin marred God’s perfect plan for marriage, and so marriage God’s way can only be achieved through the power of God’s Spirit, not by our natural tendencies.  Husbands can begin to love their wives when they open themselves up to an ongoing relationship with Christ through His Word and by submitting to His Spirit in being obedient to His ways. Christ-like love will then begin to flow out of him.

How does the wife respect her husband?

A wife can show respect to her husband by:

  1. Following his leadership
  2. Abandoning all relationships that hinder the unity of the marriage.
  3. Joyfully seeking to meet his needs – Being a servant is empowered when we understand as a believer that by serving others, we are really serving Christ.
  4. Refusing to belittle her husband
  5. Loving him unconditionally

Just like the husband needs the power of the Spirit to love his wife in the proper way, the wife is also in need of God’s Spirit’s help to respect and reverence her husband, just as the church shows reverence and respect to Christ.  It is much easier for a wife to respect her husband if he if giving Christ-like love to her, but at times this is not the case. So what do you do? Even if a husband is not Christ-like,  a believer  still needs to be Christ-like in her responses.  It also works the other way. If a wife does not respect her husband, the husband as a believer is to be Christ-like to his wife anyway. The disobedience of one does not nullify the rquirement for the obedience of the other.

Love and respect goes both ways

When a husband loves his wife in the right manner, he is also respecting her;  When a wife is respecting her husband, she also loves him in a Christ-like manner.  If love and respect is not achieved in marriage, then all of the other problems in marriage will not be resolved.  You cannot fix other problems if this root is not established. All the other conflicts are just the fruit of not having proper love and respect. Believers cannot have proper love and respect without a proper relationship with God. If you foster that spiritual  relationship, then the marriage relationship will begin to reflect Christ.

Scripture on unconditional love

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

Part 3: Understanding the power of communication

One big complaint in most marriages is, “we just don’t communicate”.  Wives feel ignored and husbands seem to be too preoccupied with things to worry about talking. There are communication killers that should be avoided:

  1. Always arguing over details
  2. Using the words “you always …”
  3. Bringing up the past
  4. Always having to be right and having to win the argument
  5. Talking at the same time the other is trying to talk
  6. Tuning your spouse out by being tuned into something else
  7. Name calling

All of these things will hinder good communication skills in your relationship, so I want to focus on two Biblical skills of communication that will fix these problems plus many more!

The skill of listening

(James 1:19) So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;

The Bible says we are to be swift to hear. That means we need to be good listeners.  We have a tendency to speak a lot more than we listen. To listen means we tune out other things and hear what is being spoken. One hindrance to men listening is thinking that if we listen then we will have to have a solution to fix a problem, is there is one. Our wives are not necessarily looking for a solution when they are trying to tell us something, but just wanting to share with us what concerns them. When a spouse does not want to listen with respect,  they are saying, ”What you have to say is not important.”  We think communication starts with talking, but really it starts with listening.  Listening is a skill so it has to be honed and developed to be perfected. Try this in your marriage and see if it helps with communication:

The skill of edifying speech

(Ephesians 4:29) Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

Edification is building up. Our words should be ones that build up one another, not tear down and belittle.  Sometimes we Christians forget that this principle applies in our families, not just in the world around us.  Edifying speech is a skill that must be learned.  Our sin nature that we inherited comes with a lot of unedifying features, so through God’s word and the filling of His Spirit we learn to become people that edify others rather than people who tear down.  No matter how many communication skill you try to master, if your speech is not one of edification, it will not improve the communication in your home.

Confrontational communication

Does edifying speech mean we never confront our spouse when there are differences?  No, when we have to talk about issues that are differing we confront but not in a negative and belittling way. Our verse that said no corrupt communication should come out of our mouth, so when we confront in differences we do it in a Spirit-filled and Christ-like manner.  There is no marriage where both will always be on the same page on every issue, but disrespectful and unedifying speech will not settle what is right.

Taming the tongue

(James 3:5-11) Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?

The Bible tells us that the tongue is a powerful member of our body, and unless God gets a hold of our hearts, the tongue can be destructive.  If we are going to get communication in our marriages going in a positive direction, we must allow God to get control of our tongues so that the words that proceed from our mouth are ones of edification, not marked by ridicule, vulgarity, and bitterness.

The two skills of communication

In summary, the two skills needed to proper communication in marriage are the skill of listening and the skill of edifying speech. This may sound simple and it is but that doesn’t mean it is easy.  It takes the work of God in our hearts to learn to listen with respect and talk with edification. Ask God to help you with these two things and see if your marriage communication improves.

Scripture to meditate on

(Colossians 4:6) Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

(Proverbs 15:4) A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, But perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

(Proverbs 16:21-24) The wise in heart will be called prudent, And sweetness of the lips increases learning. Understanding is a wellspring of life to him who has it. But the correction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, And adds learning to his lips. Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.

Part 4: Understanding the call of servant hood

(John 13:4,5) rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

(John 13:14,15) If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.

The example of Jesus

You may be asking how verses on foot washing apply to a healthy marriage.  Foot washing in Jesus’s day was normally done by a servant, not the master. Jesus as the master got down and did this to illustrate the power and call we have to one another to serve one another instead of seeking to be served. I have noticed that the marriages where the husband and wife serve each other joyfully are happy homes with less criticism.  A home where both mates assume the other has the responsibility to serve them is home with a lot of discontent and unhappiness.  When we read passages like John 13, many times we assume that applies to others in the church family, but not to partners in a marriage. It applies to all situations. Since, foot washing is not something we practice today, because of the availability of bathing and because of close-toed shoes, we practice what Jesus was doing to the disciples in other practical ways around our home. Jesus was teaching us to be a servant, not a master. The problem in many homes is that there is a struggle over who is going to be the master.  Many marriages can begin a turn around by simply seeing servant hood as a calling and not something  demeaning.

Illustration of the Joy of being a servant

One time a man had a dream in which the angels were carrying him off to eternity. They got to a certain place and there were two doors. The angel opened up the first door and there was a huge banquet table filled with food, but the scene was horrible. The people around the table were angry and yelling and food was everywhere. He noticed that the problem was that everyone had attached to their hands a long spoon which made it impossible to feed themselves. The result was anger, frustration, and total unfullfillment. The man asked what was that place and the angel answered that it was Hell.  The angel opened up the next door and that room also had a large banquet table filled with food and the people there also had long spoons attached to their hands. But in this room there was laughter, peace, and overall joyful atmosphere. He noticed that they could not feed themselves but it was quiet easy to feed the person across from them and so they fed each other and there needs were met. The angel said that was the door of Heaven.

It is doubtful that our marriages will always be Heaven on earth, but it sure can be more heavenly when we see ourselves as the servants of one another.

What does a servant’s attitude demonstrate?

  1. It demonstrates the willingness to mimic Christ
  2. It demonstrates an unselfish attitude
  3. It demonstrates that you esteem others more highly than your self
  4. It demonstrates that you appreciate your spouse
  5. It demonstrates that you are honoring the dignity of your spouse

A change of philosophy

How does a couple change from the perspective of the right to be served to the call of serving their spouse? First of all, let me tell how most probably view each other. It seems that most focus on the needs of their spouse’s character and its shortcomings while they only look out for their own needs. We have to reverse that if the home is going to have a healthy marriage. Each person must focus on the development of his own character,  which means seeking to develop Christlikeness and focusing on meeting the needs of the spouse. It is always easier to focus on our spouse’s character flaws than to recognize our own and pursuing correcting them.  With this attitude, it makes it easy to blame our spouse when our marriage is having problems.  But when we change that philosophy to working on our own character, then when we begin experiencing problems we can look within ourselves to fix the problem instead of blaming our spouse. 

We all need God’s word to help us create this atmosphere of servant hood because many did not grow up in homes where this was modeled. We cannot blame all of our marital problems on the past, however. If you are a believer, you have the Word of God and the Spirit of God to guide you into a proper home.  If you want to revolutionize your home, begin today focused on your spiritual character and meeting the needs of your spouse, and your marriage will have a solid foundation for maintaining a healthy marriage.

Scripture to meditate on

(Philippians 2:2-5) fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.

(1 Peter 3:8,9) Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

(Romans 15:5-7) Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.

Part 5: Understanding the spiritual connection

If you have noticed I have been saying, “keys to a healthy marriage,” not “a perfect marriage”.  When you have two sinners coming together in oneness, it is unlikely that our old sin natures will keep out of the way all the time. But just as our physical bodies are far from perfect, yet with the right disciplines and care we can have healthy bodies,  it also takes work to have healthy marriages.  As a believer in Christ I am convinced that you cannot have a healthy marriage without both people in the marriage having a healthy relationship with God. The spiritual growth and maturity as a believer will have a powerful positive effect on the marriage union. Our union with Christ will affect our union with our spouse. Many try to fix problems in their marriage without working on their relationship with God. That is like being on a sinking ship and being worried about furniture being out of place.  You need to fix the hole in the boat or everything else is futile.  Respect, communication, servant hood and other key parts in a marriage won’t be fixed until each realizes they need to grow in a relationship with their Savior, Jesus Christ.  Let’s look at what the Apostle Peter had to say about marriage.

(1 Peter 3:3-7) Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husband, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

Peter says a successful marriage relationship is when the two is transformed from the inside out. Many are quite concerned about their outward appearance, but are not working at all on the inside. When we are seeing transformation take place on the inside,  then you will see respect, understanding of each other, honor, and a prayer life that has power. How many people spend time praying for their spouses?  The result of transformation is not just praying for our own needs, but for the needs of others.

How to grow spiritually

  1. Develop a regular time in God’s word
  2. Spend time with God in prayer daily
  3. Worship God with your spouse in church systematically
  4. Confess sins in your life; unconfessed sins will become strongholds of destruction
  5. See your spouse as someone to minister to

Serve the Lord together

If you and your spouse are both believers, it will be great joy for you to serve the Lord in some capacity in your church as a team.  As a pastor, it is always a great joy to see husbands and wives serving God together in some type of ministry. I’ve noticed over the years that couples who are doing this have far fewer marital problems and their marriage are much healthier. My wife and I have been serving God in the church together since we were married thirty  years ago.  I believe this has probably kept us on track for these many years of marriage.  Let me just emphasize once again that there is a connection between a healthy marriage and a healthy and growing relationship with God. The best way you can work on your marriage is to work on your relationship with God.

When one is not a believer

You may be in a marriage where you are a believer and your spouse is not and so you are thinking, “What about my marriage?”  If one is not a believer, you will not be able to enjoy serving the Lord together, but you must still understand the spiritual connection. It is still of utmost importance for a believer in the marriage to develop their relationship with God. In fact the passage above in 1 Peter 3 is in the context of how a wife can win their unbelieving husband to the Lord.  If you are a believer and your spouse is not, I believe that your home will be a better place when you are seeking to grow and mature as a believer.  God can bless your home because of you. If your spouse is not a believer, here as some directives that will help:

  1. Pray for their salvation continually
  2. Love them with the love of Christ
  3. Live Godly before them
  4. Serve them as Christ served his disciples
  5. Enjoy activities together
  6. Share the gospel with them, but don’t “preach at them”
  7. Invite them to see the joy of church fellowship – they may have the wrong idea about what a church family is all about.
  8. Be filled with the joy of the Lord so that it flows over into their lives as well.

Scriptures for meditation

(Colossians 3:16-19) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.

(1 Corinthians 7:13,14) And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.

(Galatians 5:22-26) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.