Divorce is an epidemic in the United States. According to the American Psychological Association, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. Any disease with a 40%-50% infection rate would be called an epidemic. When the unions between man and wife are dissolving in such record numbers, we need to find solutions in order to live better lives. The problem is that there is so much advice out there. Some is good, some not so much. Where do we go for help?
There sure is some bad advice out there about marriage. It comes from all manner of alleged pontificators – people in Hollywood, authors, singers – virtually anyone that decrees that they know what is best for everyone. Here are some of the most egregious offenders from past and present:
“I really don’t think it’s relevant for anyone anymore.” – Melanie Griffith. Who on Earth is Melanie Griffith to give marital advice? What’s the truth of her story? She has been married and divorced four times. She dated a 22-year-old Don Johnson while she was 14 years old, a crime in nearly every state in the United States. She has four children, and isn’t married to any of their fathers. Her confidence to find true love just shined through in this InStyle magazine article that she told them, “I think I can find someone on my own. But if you know of anybody, please tell me.”
“Men should be like Kleenex: soft, strong, disposable.” – Cher. Another advice-giver with no ability to maintain a marriage. Two divorces, the last in 1979, and never remarried. Two different children with two different fathers, neither brought up in a two-parent home for any length of time. I’ll just stay away from the “challenges” the one child has had throughout life.
“A man is only as faithful as his options.” – Chris Rock. Ah, a fellow South Carolinian pontificating on the faithfulness of the male species. You will find this shocking, I know, but after 20 years of marriage, Rock divorced in 2016. Maybe he should have said, “I am only as faithful as my options.”
“You can never be wise and be in love at the same time.” – Bob Dylan. I guess he chose to be “wise” instead, having divorced twice. He has six kids, some of which grew up without the benefit of the ideal two-parent household.
“A man’s love is incomplete until he has married, then he is finished.” – Zsa Zsa Gabor. Oh, isn’t she just so funny? That Zsa Zsa – she really knows her material. She also knows everything there is to know about how not to stay married. Divorced not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, not five times, not six times, not seven times, not eight times, but nine times! Nine! She knows nothing of what a man’s love is truly about. Pay her witty but erroneous declaration no heed at all.
“Marriage can be viewed as the waiting room for death.” – Mike Myers. Sorry, Mr. Powers, not so. Myers married and divorced twice, last in 2010, and hasn’t remarried. If one things marriage is a waiting room for death, they’ve never been to a waiting room. Or died.
“Marriage is the death of hope.” – Woody Allen. Well, for him, he made sure it was. Three divorces to his credit, along with some… controversies, let’s say. Another sage-like piece of advice from a sage.
“Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel.” – Leonardo Da Vinci. Yes, the man that painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper has this to say about marriage. Problem was, he was never married, and had no experiential reference from which to base this claim. He also wasn’t a psychologist. Enough said.
“I am a very committed wife. And I should be committed too – for being married so many times.” – Elizabeth Taylor. You knew it was coming; I just had to save this one for last. She was only married and divorced eight times, which makes her the runner-up to Zsa Zsa for overall points scored in the divorce column. This one is last for a very particular reason, though. The marriage quote is a tragedy in and of itself, but look at what else she famously said: “I don’t like my voice. I don’t like the way I look. I don’t like the way I move. I don’t like the way I act. I mean, period. So, you know, I don’t like myself.” Chances are, that had more to do with the divorce count than anything else under the sun.
So, these folks seem to know, well, nothing at all about the institution of marriage. Where else can we turn for advice? Ooh, I know! I know! Astrology! The Horoscopes! They know what time it is. Those 12 signs that are formed from the constellations in the stars: Capricorn, Aries, Libra, Scorpio, Taurus, Aquarius, Virgo, Cancer, Gemini, Leo, Sagittarius, Pisces. Oh, wait, there’s one more now, isn’t there? Ophiuchus. Stupid shifting of the Earth causing 86% of the former signs under which people were born to be wrong. What was NASA thinking, doing scientific research defensible through the world’s most recognized institution for interstellar excellence? Well, smart as they are, they can’t make the Earth tilt on its axis; they can only report the facts, something horoscopes are completely incapable of. I challenge you to read a horoscope, just to see what all the fuss is about. Here’s what you’ll find: nothing. Oh, it’s not that there aren’t words in there, they just don’t have any value. They’re generic, unspecific nonsense. And in today’s horoscopes online, they are there for one reason only: to take your money. They want you to buy the services of Tarot card readers and psychics, people that have never met you nor have you ever met, to tell you about your future. Bunk. Stay away from that stuff. It can’t help you figure out anything except how to separate you from some of your hard-earned money. Even NASA knows it, having said at the time the Earth shifted on its axis that “there was nothing wrong about the original signs, since astrology has no special predictive power anyway.”
One last thought about the worthlessness of astrology as a means of getting marital advice. Astrology was founded in Babylonia about 3,000 years ago. Do you know where that land is now? It’s called Iraq. It’s a land that has harbored terrorists against the United States and many other nations, and the United States has been in military operations against Iraq since 2001. Not exactly the place to get sound marital advice.
Now that we’ve sorted out some of the poor sources for marital advice, let’s take a look at some stellar sources for advice.
First, back we go to the American Psychological Association. They reassure us that “in Western cultures, more than 90 percent of people marry by age 50. Healthy marriages are good for couples’ mental and physical health. They are also good for children; growing up in a happy home protects children from mental, physical, educational and social problems.” No longer relevant, Melanie says? Hogwash. Good marriages are better for everyone involved, from the spouses to the children.
How do we keep a marriage in good order? Here is some great advice from the APA:
Research on what makes a marriage work shows that people in a good marriage have completed these psychological “tasks”:
- Separate emotionally from the family you grew up in; not to the point of estrangement, but enough so that your identity is separate from that of your parents and siblings.
- Build togetherness based on a shared intimacy and identity, while at the same time set boundaries to protect each partner’s autonomy.
- Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship and protect it from the intrusions of the workplace and family obligations.
- For couples with children, embrace the daunting roles of parenthood and absorb the impact of a baby’s entrance into the marriage. Learn to continue the work of protecting the privacy of you and your spouse as a couple.
- Confront and master the inevitable crises of life.
- Maintain the strength of the marital bond in the face of adversity. The marriage should be a safe haven in which partners are able to express their differences, anger and conflict.
- Use humor and laughter to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom and isolation.
- Nurture and comfort each other, satisfying each partner’s needs for dependency and offering continuing encouragement and support.
- Keep alive the early romantic, idealized images of falling in love, while facing the sober realities of the changes wrought by time.
I pause for a moment to recognize Judith S. Wallerstein, PhD, co-author of the book “The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts”, as the contributor to the APA for these great strategies.
What does the Bible say about marriage? A lot! Even a quick search of the word “marriage” turned up 75 instances of the word. It would be impossible to cover them all here. There are, however, a few that I want to share to help keep you on track. Malachi 2:14-16 tells us:
Because GOD was there as a witness when you spoke your marriage “vows to your young bride, and now you’ve broken those vows, broken the faith-bond with your vowed companion, your covenant wife. GOD, not you, made marriage. His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage. And what does he want from marriage? Children of God, that’s what. So guard the spirit of marriage within you. Don’t cheat on your spouse. ‘I hate divorce,’ says the GOD of Israel. GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies says, ‘I hate the violent dismembering of the “one flesh” of marriage.’ So watch yourselves. Don’t let your guard down.
Marriage is a promise. A promise to love your spouse from the day you wed until the day one of you dies. It is a lifelong commitment, and must be treated as such. Before making this commitment, if you have any doubt, seek pre-marital counseling. If you are having trouble in your marriage, seek marital counseling. Most importantly, seek help from God by praying to Him through his son, Jesus. There is an old adage that says, “The family that prays together stays together.” Good stuff.
In Matthew 19:4-9, Jesus talked about marriage and what His expectations are, as given to us all by God. He said:
“Haven’t you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female? And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh—no longer two bodies but one. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart.” They shot back in rebuttal, “If that’s so, why did Moses give instructions for divorce papers and divorce procedures?” Jesus said, “Moses provided for divorce as a concession to your hard heartedness, but it is not part of God’s original plan. I’m holding you to the original plan, and holding you liable for adultery if you divorce your faithful wife and then marry someone else. I make an exception in cases where the spouse has committed adultery.”
All the way back to the book of Genesis, God told us that marriage was relevant. I find it interesting that Jesus said there is an exception to the union of marriage if one of the partners commits adultery that the other can then divorce them. I’ve always said that I am an open person about my own life as it pertains to my ministry, and I’m going to share a small part of it here. My father found himself eligible for this clause when my mother slept with another man while my mother and father were married. My father, honorable a man as has ever been, tried to “stay together for the kid” (that kid being me at five years old). My mother divorced him anyway after 25 years of marriage. I bring this up not in judgment of my mother. I bring it up so that you can know that if you have been a victim of adultery that there is mercy from Christ for you if you divorced because of it. I am a mortal man; I am in no position to place judgment on anyone. I just want to share these verses, and these stories, because I believe they might help you strengthen your marriage or build a strong one if you are considering it.
Jesus also taught us that not everyone is meant to be married, and it should be considered carefully before it is entered into. In Matthew 19:11-12, Jesus remarked:
Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked—or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.
At least in the United States, getting married is a choice. There are still arranged marriages around the world, and those cultures are each unique. If you don’t get married in your life, that’s perfectly fine. Far better to never get married at all than to enter into marriage without complete commitment. My wife told me a story about one of her friends getting married out of high school, having told her, “He’ll make a great first husband.” Great first husband? How many was she planning to have? Was it all flowcharted out? Once maturity and devotion to the vows set it, they have remained married for over 25 years at this point.
So, where did this “Starter Marriage” concept come from? None other than The New York Times. In their July 7, 1994 article “’Starter’ Marriages: So Early, So Brief”, they cited research suggesting that marriages without children were only “trial marriages” and that marriages without children were easily breakable and required little thought as to future finances. The amount of lives ruined by such advice must be incalculable – and tragic.
In Ephesians 5:24-28, Paul wrote these important words for a successful marriage:
Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands. Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
When my wife first heard about this concept, she shook her head “no”. I inquired, and she said that husbands and wives should be equal partners in a marriage. I find that to be true here in Paul’s words. If a wife submits to a husband, and the husband submits to the wife, doesn’t that make them equal? When both serve one another, they become much more than equal; they become whole. I explained this to her, and she agreed that each spouse caring more about the other than themselves was indeed a path to marital success. It’s not about thumping Bible verses to try to establish “who’s in charge”, it’s about understanding scripture to enhance our lives and the lives of others, especially in marriage.
Now you know the bad advice and the good. Leave the bad advice behind. You’ll save your time, save your money, and save your marriage. Take the good advice from these reputable, trustworthy sources and apply them to your life. You will gain better marital relationships, no matter where you are in the process, and honor yourself, your spouse or future spouse, and God with your wise actions.
May God bless you, now and always.