In this chapter, I'd like to offer four things that couples are required to work on in the day to day task of building a happy marriage that lasts a lifetime. In order to build happiness, couples need to work on four basic things. I call them the four A's of a successful marriage.
A - #1 - Agape (The Bible Word for Love)
Not just feelings or emotions (like soap operas) but the kind of love necessary to produce successful marriages. What the Bible calls "agape" love that is adapted to the marriage relationship. Agape is the Greek word for love used in the New Testament. It is a word used to describe the type of sacrificial love that God has for us and asks us to have for one another in Christ.
Definition: agape love is a disciplined commitment towards the well-being of another (in this case, our marriage partner). Let us analyze this kind of love from this definition.
A conscious choice to commit ourselves to another permanently. When each partner knows that this is the basis of the relationship, they are free to be themselves, to show their weaknesses, to be completely truthful without the fear that the other will run off at the first sign of trouble. What constitutes marriage (in every society) is the commitment, not the sex act. What makes you married is the fact that you have committed yourselves to live as husband and wife, not just the idea that you have moved in together.
Discipline/self-control is necessary if we are to realize the goals of our commitment; necessary to overcome sexual temptation that occurs in every marriage; necessary to be kind, patient and forgiving when doing so is not easy or appreciated. Love needs discipline in order to stay focused.
Well-Being of Partner
The main objective of marriage is not to acquire a house, or car, to raise children, or to please our parents. The main objective for each in marriage is maintaining the well-being of our partners. When this is the objective, these other activities fall into their right order.
So, a disciplined commitment towards the well-being of our partners equals love in marriage. Without this kind of love, marriages cannot succeed (they may last but they do not succeed). The objective is to succeed and be happy in marriage, not simply make it last for fifty years. With agape/love, marriage is never long enough, and there is never enough time to be with your beloved partner.
Crafting, improving, becoming more skilled at and having this agape type love for our partner is the actual "work" in creating happiness in marriage. The more each partner improves in the art of agape type love for their spouse, the greater happiness is actually created. We work at improving our ability to love in this way and the direct result is growing happiness in the relationship. It is not more money, freedom, mobility or success that has the power to create lasting marital happiness, it is more agape type love for one another that is directly connected to the increase and maintenance of marital happiness.
A - #2 - Attraction
By attraction, I mean sexual attraction. A good sex life (when health and circumstances permit) is a sign and a necessity for happiness and success in marriage. God created sex for the pleasure and comfort of the married couple as well as for the purpose of procreation. This means that even after we have had our children, there remains a divine reason for sex (Genesis 1-2).
Sex is a powerful force and when it is expressed within marriage it becomes an act of love, faith and deeper commitment between the partners. From this act children are born, a sign that sex is good because human life comes as a result of it. Something that is basically a physical drive on its own becomes a precious and creative force within the confines of marriage. When unleashed outside of marriage, however, it often produces outcomes that cause sorrow and shame. The objective, of course, is how to maintain the activity and desire for sex within marriage over a long period of time. Here are a few suggestions:
- Believe God when He tells you that the pleasure that comes from sex is good. (Genesis 2:25 - "Naked and not ashamed.") So many people have poor sex because they feel guilty and unspiritual when experiencing the many facets of sex with their spouses. This is often the result of improper teaching about the freedom married people have to express their sexual personalities within the intimate bounds of marriage. If one is taught that sex is basically dirty and only tolerated by God within marriage, this person will not likely be able to overcome their basic discomfort with sex even when they are married. I often tell young couples that just being married does not make them experts in the area of sexual relations. Couples should seek to improve not only their understanding of human sexuality but also their ability to experience the great potential for pleasure and satisfaction possible from this gift of God to married couples.
- Make the other's well-being your major objective within your marriage, especially in your sex life. Sexual feelings are stimulated by kindness, faithfulness, tenderness, generosity, humility and other giving virtues. When we work on these things first, then physical contact is desirable. Who wants physical contact with a selfish, rude, impatient person, even if they have a nice body? Jesus says that impure sex and adultery begins in the heart; that is also true for legitimate sex within marriage, it also begins in one's heart.
- Be available. There is nothing more encouraging or desirable than a willing partner. Not just willing to have sex, but willing to please. Psychologists have discovered that a man's sex drive goes down when he feels assured that his wife is willing to please him. Women are always afraid that there will be no end to a husband's sexual demands if they always give in. However, it has been found that when a man is less anxious about this, his needs balance out at a lower level. When this happens, women are less nervous, can relax more and usually end up desiring sexual intimacy more often. God knew this principle from the start and Paul's teaching reflects this idea in I Corinthians 7:3-4. We cannot always be equally disposed to have sex (couples do not always feel like it at the same time), that is what causes the tension, but that tension can be used for good if we are always disposed to please our partner ("I do not always feel like having sex, but I always want to please you"). When we say no, we are saying that you cannot have what is yours, which contradicts what Paul teaches concerning this issue in I Corinthians 7:4.
3The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
- I Corinthians 7:3-4
We maintain sexual attraction in marriage by realizing that God is pleased when we give ourselves to our partner without restrictions or negotiations. Maintaining sexual attraction helps build a successful marriage.
A - #3 - Appreciation
The greatest weakness in men is their lack of appreciation for what being a woman, wife and mother is all about. Of course, I believe women suffer from the same lack of appreciation about men. The difference is that women think they know men because they know what they want. But most women fail to understand the difference between what men are and what men want. These two are not the same.
By appreciation I do not mean thank-you cards, gifts or flowers on Mother's Day. I do not mean actually saying, "Thank-you" to each other. By appreciation I mean understanding what each other's roles and responsibilities are and how these things affect you as a person. For example, in Christian homes the Bible teaches us that men and women have different roles. Ephesians 5:22-24 tells us that men are to be the head of their wives and women are to be in submission to their husbands (submission is a military term meaning, "to place oneself under"). A marriage succeeds when the husband works at being the head of the woman with her cooperation, and the wife works at submitting to her husband with the same understanding and cooperation.
A woman needs to understand the responsibility and pressure that a man is under to fulfill his role (or the anxiety at the thought that he is not). She also needs to help him fulfill his role as leader because not all men are natural leaders. Women's big mistake is that they take over instead of helping him develop and grow into the family leadership role that has been assigned to him by God. Men's mistake is that they cop-out and let women do it. The reverse is true for women. Men need to understand how hard it is to assume the submissive position because it is not a natural one and society ridicules women who do so. When we appreciate (understand) the challenges faced by our partner in fulfilling his or her God given role in marriage, we develop the respect for one another that builds the admiration, loyalty and empathy so necessary to create a successful marriage and the happiness that comes from this success.
A - #4 - Aid
If no one ever sinned, every marriage would be successful. However, because we are weak and subject to failure we need to seek God's help often. We need His divine help to understand each other, help raise the children, help to manage our money, help to strengthen us through sickness, sin, and all of the trials that we must undergo in marriage. In I Corinthians 7:10 Paul encourages couples to back away from each other for a short time so that they can focus exclusively on prayer concerning their relationship!
Many people would rather live in misery than ask for help. This is called pride. Sometimes we need to ask our partner for help, real help in dealing with physical, emotional or spiritual problems. Sometimes the couple needs outside help to get through a tough moment. There is Farm-aid, Flood-aid, etc. sometimes we need marriage-aid. We should never be ashamed or afraid to reach out to a brother or sister in Christ, family member, minister, counsellor or other person we trust with our need. Christian couples need to care enough about their relationships that they will seek help when they are in trouble. You know that you may need outside help for your marriage when you are no longer able to cope or resolve the situation by yourselves.
The successful marriage is not too proud to ask for help, and you know you need help when you cannot make each other happy anymore.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but when couples work at the four things just mentioned, they are directly building the happiness that all married people desire in their relationships. Once again the four "A's" of a happy marriage:
- Agape: Our purpose is the well-being of the other. This is the number one priority in marriage.
- Attraction: Giving our bodies to each other willingly.
- Appreciation: Understanding what our partner's role is in our marriage and helping them fulfill it.
- Aid: Not too proud to ask for help when we can no longer help ourselves. Next to salvation in Jesus Christ, the most precious favor God gives to man is a loving partner (Proverbs 18:22).