For the past 26 years during my journey with my wife Cornelia I’ve come to understand two very important elements of a strong marriage.
Just before I was married I was given a piece of wisdom from a long-married couple in their seventies. The counsel was based on Genesis 2:24, where we are told, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (NIV).
How true it is that those who have strong marriages have a oneness about them. As an old aunt said, remember that “we” comes before “I” in wedding. Where two are entwined together as one, their strength is multiplied. Acting and thinking in concert is not easy and takes a lot of commitment. Having a mindset of putting the other first is Christlike and the basis on which this oneness grows.
The second lesson I’ve learnt can only occur after the first—marriage has seasons. Let me warn you first that this does not mean that you only experience one of each of the seasons of marriage. In fact the climate of marriage is characterized by moving from one season to another and back again. A strong marriage learns from each season and prepares the couple for the next.
Summer is the hot season in your marriage. It’s the time of great emotion; physically it’s exhausting and wonderfully passionate. That’s the way God intended it to be. Just read the book Song of Solomon and you will see that passion is a key part of your relationship. It’s during your summer marriage that you explore new things together, learning and stretching yourselves. It’s a time to release your passions, to focus on a vision for the future and begin laying the foundations for a life of God’s purposes.
Autumn heralds a new time when your relationship is buffeted by children and changed circumstances. Work pressures build up and finding time together is more difficult. And while many homes become afflicted with the swinging door syndrome, it is in these times that your family’s relationship with Christ should be strongly nurtured. As you experience the kaleidoscope of colours in your relationship, it is the extent to which Christ is given centre stage that will provide you with the resilience you need when times are tough.
Winter is inevitable. In marriage there are times when you sense a loss of intimacy, when you seem to do nothing more than chase your tail, or your world becomes an isolated island in a social landscape. Although this is the most difficult of seasons it’s also the season that gives us the greatest opportunities to use the gift of oneness that God gave us.
Strong marriages are characterized by one person helping the other during these times. Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs for this very reason. When one is down, the other supports. It’s a simple concept and very effective, but requires a joint commitment.
For a moment think of the rings of growth on a tree. The dense rings that grow during winter will define the strength of the tree. With guidance from the Word, and willingness from both of you, your winter periods will define your marriage.
Spring is the time of new beginnings. When we start to feel the warmth of summer approaching, we are revitalised and refreshed. And while the memories of tough times might linger, it is the promise of a new day and new opportunities that causes us to come out of our cocoons, shedding the dreary and becoming all that the Lord has predetermined us to be. For many marriages the rut of winter has become the grave. For those who have welcomed spring together, their love will flourish and the impact of their relationship will pollinate others.
Marriage is the most important union on earth, given by God for His glory. But being human we know that relationships don’t always work this simply.
In the couples I’ve spent time with over the years I’ve found that the oneness with which they started in marriage has been broken. The combined commitment to work through the seasons of marriage has been eroded for a range of reasons.
Be strong. Encourage and support one another. Remember the “we” in wedding, and have fun on the journey. Your enjoyment is His pleasure.