Building A Mature Marriage
By Reed Benson
A healthy marriage that strengthens and blesses both partners is a great treasure, and in our times, an increasingly scarce one. Yet, every marriage has the potential to grow into the maturity that is necessary for a healthy relationship. The marks of a good marriage are the marks each spouse displays through mature behavior. Unfortunately, many marriages, instead of displaying mature characteristics, are locked into habits of immaturity. Like Peter Pan, one or both partners refuse to grow up. They prefer to live in Never Land, a place where their childish behavior will be endlessly tolerated.
Cheerfully shouldering your duty in an unselfish manner is the singlemost mark of maturity. While no one fulfills such a mandate perfectly at every single moment of their lives, the closer and more complete you can cheerfully fulfill your duty, the more mature you are, and the more God can do with you and your marriage. The opposite of fulfilling one’s duty is childishness. From such we are called leave: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Once one is committed to fulfilling their duties of marriage, the next step is to identify these duties and learn how to apply them to the practical stresses of daily marital life. The biblical duties of marriage have been thoroughly outlined in many good books and articles, so I will not elaborate in great detail. The following key passages of scripture will give a thumbnail sketch for those who feel they need a refresher: Genesis 2:22-25, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Peter 3:1-7. The central concept of a biblically mature marriage will involve this simple idea: unselfishness.
In marriage, unselfishness has two aspects. First, as has been already emphasized, each spouse should identify and focus their energy on fulfilling their duty. The reverse side of unselfishness involves the basic Christian virtue of forgiveness. More specifically, you need to forgive your spouse when they fail in their duty. Being what we are, humans will fail one another from time to time, marriage certainly being no exception. And when that happens, a wise and mature spouse will strive to forgive as Proverbs exhorts us: "The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression" (Proverbs 19:11).
If you wish to avoid a Peter Pan marriage and build the characteristics of a mature marriage, consider the following twelve points. Just for fun, you may wish to evaluate yourself. For each of these twelve criteria, give yourself 1 point if you rarely display the characteristic, 2 if sometimes, 3 if often, and 4 if always. Are your ready? Let’s see if your marriage is leaning toward maturity and unselfishness, or childishness and Never Land!
A willingness to bear, raise, and train a large number of children for God's service. This requires a lot of unselfish commitment! I will not fix a numerical value regarding the word large, but one, two, or three is not large—so think bigger than that! Of course, the key is willingness, for there are rare marriages where God may have reasons He chooses not to send many children. But are you willing? Are you taking steps to prevent the arrival of children? If you have two children, and are seeking to prevent further arrivals, then do not score yourself high in this area!
A willingness to subordinate my recreation and hobbies under the needs and concerns of my spouse. Not infrequently, a husband will spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and money pursuing sports and hobbies that take him away from his wife. Her resentment builds as he selfishly pursues his interests as if he was still a single man. In this, he is being selfish and unwise. This does not mean he can never get involved in such activities, but he needs to be sensitive to his wife’s views. Of course, the reverse sometimes occurs—the wife is the guilty party. But in either case, a mature marriage is able to think and talk about these issues and find the middle ground.
A pattern of following through on things you tell your spouse you will do. Of all the people to whom you should keep your word, your spouse should be at the top of the list. Many a nagging wife has been created by a husband who does not do what he said he would. This simple habit will build trust and confidence allowing marital communication to be elevated considerably. Follow through on the things you said you would do!
Giving your spouse top priority with the time under your control. A healthy mature marriage will leave the other spouse with the feeling that there is no one else with whom you would rather spend your time. This brings to mind the old leave and cleave principle. It is vital that young married couples let the old bonds with their birth family loosen as they seek to forge newer, and yes stronger, bonds with their spouse. Now, not only can the old bonds with your birth family take you away from the time you should spend with your spouse, but so can friends. Ladies, be cautious about spending too much time with your girlfriend chatting, sharing, and baring your soul. Men, you may have to turn down your fishing buddy from time to time in favor of your wife.
An attitude that holds in high regard the normal tasks of your spouse. Men, please be aware that a lot of work and energy is required to keep a household running. Ladies, many of your husbands rise early and go to jobs where they labor long and hard in unpleasant conditions. Do not take the everyday routine sacrifices of your spouse for granted! Thank them for that which is ordinary.
An attitude of "ours" with respect to money that comes into the family coffers, rather than "mine" and "yours." Most households today have more than one income, and sometimes this is out of necessity. Even stay-at-home-moms often find ways to supplement their husband’s income. What is very dangerous is when one spouse feels that the money they earn is especially earmarked for their own desires rather than for what is best for the entire family. Many husbands think, "I’ve worked very hard for this money, and my wife stays here in our comfortable home most of the time, so I am deserving of special privileges." That is Peter Pan thinking, not the mark of a mature Christian man. Many wives think, "It is my husband’s duty to meet all routine financial obligations, so if I earn a bit extra on the side, then I should be free to spend it on myself and my priorities." Again, that is Peter Pan whispering in her ear beckoning her to Never Land. Begin thinking unselfishly. Develop a team attitude. All assets of the marriage belong to the union of the husband and wife, not one or the other, no matter how those assets entered the marriage. It is within the context of the husband’s leadership, after lovingly considering his wife’s concerns, that funds should be disbursed.
A spirit of openness and honesty that makes both partners desirous to share their inmost thoughts and feelings. Secretiveness in marriage is generally a deadly habit. When communication is limited, assumptions are made by both husband and wife, and some of these assumptions will be incorrect. If you find it hard to keep a secret from your spouse because you are used to baring your soul, that is a good sign! (Although, there are occasions when a husband may need to protect his wife from sensitive information.) This ability to openly communicate is not a free ticket to be rude or cruel to your spouse—it is a habit of transparency that enhances the ability to better understand one another.
Valuing your spouse’s opinion. Are you really ready to listen to their views on a given matter? Are you prepared to discuss a matter? Plainly the Bible teaches that the husband is to be the final decision maker in virtually all matters. But men must remember that their wife is a helpmeet, not a servant. It is a foolish man indeed, and a selfish one, who rarely consults his wife’s opinions on the myriad of issues life presents. Two minds are better than one, and often a wife’s input will be valuable. Wives, remember that the Bible calls you to honor your husband in that position and yield to his leadership, even if you think he is about to blunder!
Communicating to your spouse through a filter of self-control. This means that when you talk to your spouse, you should measure your words, and not just let them flow out in a torrent. This means you do not speak in anger. You do not speak with hostility. You do not use sarcasm. You do not make snippy, snide comments. You do not make deprecating cutting remarks. It means you do speak honesty, but kindly, expressing yourself with the right words, choosing the right adjectives, avoiding generalizations and exaggerations.
Respect your in-laws. Now, most of us have heard our share of mother-in-law jokes. But the reality is that in-law relationships are not a joke, and are a common source of marital stress. Each spouse will be wise if they work hard in this area. You should treat your spouse’s parents with respect, dignity, and honor. Remember, your spouse is still their child, and was once a priceless treasure in whom they invested an immeasurable amount of energy. And while your marriage bond now supersedes their parent-child bond, you will be wise to consider issues from their perspective. You will also be wise if you go the extra mile with your spouse’s brothers and sisters. Why? Why should you be willing to bend and demonstrate flexibility to your in-laws? It is very simple—you claim to love your spouse and you do not want them to feel trapped in the middle. You may be thinking, "But my spouse ought to choose me over them!" In that you are correct. But, such a choice will not be an emotionally easy one, and can often be avoided. If you must draw lines with your in-laws, do it carefully after much thought and loving discussion with your spouse.
A determination never to use the physical act of marriage as leverage to manipulate your spouse. Sadly, it is not uncommon for this to become a weapon wielded through denial. But not only is this contrary to scripture (see 1 Corinthians 7:2-5), it is like playing with dynamite. This game can be likened to the ways of a prostitute. The harlot only performs her services if she is given what she wants—usually money. When a wife (and it is usually wives who dabble in this dangerous sport) refuses the physical act of marriage unless she first is given what she wants, she is really using the same leverage a harlot does. The consequence of this dangerous game is that she may encourage him to wander from the marriage bed. On the other hand, husbands must never presume their wife is meant to be used like a piece of meat for gratification. God intended the physical union in marriage to be the ultimate act of intimacy and communion, a source of joy and comfort. Making it a tool of manipulation is foolishness.
A determination to never consider divorce an option. The well-known story of Cortez is applicable here. When he landed his small army on the shores of Mexico with the intent of marching inland to conquer the Aztecs, he burned his ships from which they disembarked. Why? He knew his men would fight with the utmost of determination if they knew that retreat was not an option. So it is with marriage. If you and your spouse have a determination that divorce will never enter your conversation or your thinking, then you are on your way to an ultimately successful marriage. Like Cortez, you may have some sizable hurdles to leap, but you will succeed in building a mature marriage if this is your determination.
There you have it! Your quiz is over! How did you do? Score yourself in the following manner:
48-42: You are a mature marriage partner. Peter Pan is fully grown.
41-35: You are getting there. You occasionally sneak out for a short visit to Never Land.
34-28: You need to get more serious about life. You are probably racking up frequent flyer miles on your trips to Never Land.
27-21: You are making your marriage rocky. You are more faithful in paying your club dues to the Lost Boys than to your spouse.
20 and below: Your marriage may be in trouble. You are a permanent resident of Never Land.
Hopefully you did well, but more important than this quiz is the thought that you have discovered a few areas in which you can improve. Living an unselfish life with your spouse will yield a mountain of blessings! So, go for it! Be brave enough to acknowledge to yourself your weaknesses and mature enough to start conquering them today!