Forever and Ever, Amen!

Matthew 19:6

November 12, 2006 | Ray Pritchard

Let’s begin with a little quiz. What well-known television actor said the following? “To me the greatest Latin lover in the world was may Dad, who married my mother and was faithful to her until the day he died 55 years later. Now, that’s a great lover–a man who’s intelligent and romantic enough to keep one woman interested all the time.” Do you know who said that? I’ll give you a hint. You see him on commercials talking about rich Corinthian leather. Still don’t know? He played Zachary Powers on “The Colbys.” If that doesn’t help, he is most famous for his starring role on “Fantasy Island.” His name is Ricardo Montalban and he has followed in his father’s footsteps. He has been married to the same woman for over 45 years.

Everything I want to say in this chapter underscores his point. The greatest lover is not the man who has loved the most women, but the man who is intelligent and romantic enough to keep one woman interested all the time.

Have you ever wondered how some couples stay happily married for fifty years? Several years ago a newspaper in Texas (The Garland Daily News, June 26, 1988, p. 10-A) sponsored a 50th Anniversary Contest. They asked couples to write down their secrets of staying married for 50 years. Here’s what the winning couple said:

During our 50 years of blissful marriage, we were loving, compassionate, understanding, considerate, forgiving, trusting and devoted, always sharing our happiness and sorrow. It meant lots of patience, fortitude, kindness, perseverance and faith in each other and God, working together for a happy, successful marriage, always deep in love.

I think that fairly well covers the waterfront. The runners-up gave this recipe for 50 years of marital happiness:

Remembering it’s a 50-50 deal. Remembering what was said when we answered, “I do.” And always remember until death do we part. It must be worked out with love and understanding. Put your trust in God and you can make it work.

We All Want the Same Thing</font size></font color>

You probably have already figured out my topic for this final chapter. After everything else is said and done, there is one last key to a healthy marriage–Commitment. Without it, your marriage will not last. With it, your marriage can survive the worst circumstances. Commitment is simply that important. If you have the other six keys and don’t have this one, your marriage will ride an emotional roller coaster. If you have this one, you can be weak in some of the other areas and still have a happy marriage.

Let’s face it. We all want the same thing. All of us who are married want to have a healthy marriage. We want to know how to be married and happy at the same time. We want to know how to keep our relationship growing as the years roll on. We want to come to the end still together, still in love, still growing individually and as a couple. Most of all, we want to know what God has to say about it.

To that end we’ve been looking at these seven keys. In case you’ve forgotten, here they are: Respect, Communication, Forgiveness, Maturity, Play and Humor, Biblical Sexuality, and Commitment. Each of the keys is important and when you put them together they form a powerful foundation for a healthy marriage. But none is more important than commitment.

Does that sound like an exaggeration? Then let me call in the secular experts. Over 40 years ago three doctors studied 6,000 marriages and 3,000 divorces. This is their conclusion:

There may be nothing more important in a marriage than the determination that it shall persist. With such a determination, individuals force themselves to adjust and accept situations which would seem sufficient grounds for a breakup, if the continuation of the marriage were not the prime objective. (Kinsey, Pomeroy and Martin, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, p. 544)

Ponder that little phrase–”nothing more important.” It implies exactly what this book is all about–that there are many important factors that produce healthy marriages. We’ve already talked about six of them. But when you add it all up and boil it all down, there is nothing more important than the determination that your marriage will not end up on the scrap heap. When two people are committed to each other–truly and deeply and intelligently committed–there is nothing they can face that must of necessity destroy their marriage. That’s a bold statement, but I have no doubt that it is true.

Incidentally, the reverse of that statement is also true. Where there is no commitment, the relationship will not last. Living together before marriage doesn’t produce a stronger marriage. Sociologist Neil Bennett of Yale University reported the results of one survey which showed that women who had lived with a man prior to marrying him were 80 percent more likely to separate or divorce than were women who had not lived with their spouses before marriage. It’s not that living together actually causes divorce. But “it appears that couples who live together premaritally are less committed to the values and interests typically associated with marriage and are more inclined to accept divorce.” (Psychology Today, July-August, 1988)

One of my friends put it this way: “Don’t get married because you love someone. That’s the dumbest reason to get married. Get married because you are committed to someone.”

“I’m Going to Stay With You Forever”</font size></font color>

Before I go any farther, let me mention the project that goes with this chapter. It is entitled “Reaffirming Your Commitment.” It is very simple. You begin by recalling the days before you were married. How did you meet? What attracted you to each other? How did you fall in love? What was your wedding like? Where did you go on your honeymoon?

That’s a story you need to dust off and tell your children from time to time. If you don’t have any children, then tell each other. And then take time to reaffirm your commitment to each other. Say it out loud. Say it right in front of your children. While they are listening, say, “Sweetheart, I want you to know that when I committed myself to you in marriage, I meant what I said. I still love you and that’s never going to change. There is nothing you can do that will cause me to divorce you. I’m going to stay with you forever.”

You’ll never know how important that is until you do it. Until you say it out loud. Right in front of the children. You need to say it, your mate needs to say it, and your children desperately need to hear it. The children of this generation fear divorce. And with good reason. Today in America nearly one in every two marriages ends in divorce. Marriage used to be a lifetime commitment. And children didn’t have to worry. But now they do. So tell them your commitment. Tell them you will never get a divorce. And keep on telling them. Nothing you can do will give them more security.

That’s why when Nick Stennett and John DeFrain wrote Secrets of Strong Families, they listed Commitment as the number one secret. It’s the key to everything else. When a husband and wife are truly committed to each other, the rest of it will fall into place. You can solve any problem when two people are truly committed for the long haul.

Love Plus Chocolate Pie</font size></font color>

I confess that it took me a long time to figure this out. In the beginning of my ministry–and in the early years of my marriage as well–I tended to have a strictly romantic view of things. When you are young and idealistic, you tend to think that love plus chocolate pie can conquer the world. It’s a nice thought, and it works pretty well as long as you stay inside and never answer the phone. The real world, unfortunately, is not as nice as that. You can’t go through life singing “Love Will Keep Us Together.”

In my earlier years, I used to pad my wedding ceremonies with lots of poetic fluff about the power of love. It wasn’t original with me. I mostly just copied it out of books. But looking back, it mostly seems like sentimental nonsense. Not that weddings shouldn’t have a certain degree of idealism. They should, and most weddings I’ve participated in have a heavy dose of hearts and flowers. That’s okay, because it reminds us that marriage begins as an affair of the heart.

But marriage is more than romance. Marriage at its heart is a public commitment by two people who have consciously chosen to spend their lives together. Romance helps, of course, and you probably won’t make if you let the romance die altogether, but if you are counting on romance to get you through the hard times, you are in a for a rude awakening. Romance comes and goes; only a deep personal commitment will carry you through all the ups and downs of marriage.

Unbreakable, Unshakeable, Unmovable

A few years ago I decided to revise my marriage ceremony to stress the commitment aspect. Although the precise wording changes from ceremony to ceremony, it basically goes like this:

Of all the words the Bible uses to describe marriage, none is more significant than the word “covenant.” It is an old word, one we don’t hear much any more, but it perfects describes what marriage is supposed to be.

Throughout the Bible, covenants were made between God and man as the most serious means of making an agreement. A covenant is not like a contract. In a contract, one person pledges to do something contingent upon the performance of the other person. If one person fails to do his part, the contract may be broken. A covenant is a holy promise, a personal commitment that cannot be broken by the winds of adversity.

And so, when God promised to send his Son into the world, he did not make a contract. It does not depend on us for he knew we would never keep our part of the bargain. Indeed, the Bible says that God demonstrates his love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That is the gospel, the good news.

A covenant means this … God is not looking for faithful people. He looks rather for people who will count upon his faithfulness.

Andy and Betty have done this. They have trusted in that most famous of all the biblical promises … “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

And so, Andy and Betty, knowing full well what this means, come today to make a holy promise to one another. It is not to be lightly entered into. It is not to be broken at all. Marriage is for life. Any other commitment is not Christian marriage. We come today to make the deepest commitment two people can make–the Marriage Covenant. A life-long partnership–Unbreakable, Unshakeable, Unmovable.

I can’t say that these words are particularly inspired, and they certainly aren’t poetic. But they do express the central that marriage is first and foremost a personal commitment that two people make to each other. It’s isn’t magic, of course. Once after I performed a wedding for an older couple, someone said, “Did you tie the knot?” To which I answered, “I tied the knot but it’s up to them to keep it tight.”

His Promise Stands Behind Ours</font size></font color>

These words I use are chosen for a particular reason. It’s only a short step from the marriage covenant to the gospel message. Both are based on holy promises; Both are made without regard to the action of the other party. Most importantly, it is the holy promise of the gospel which makes possible the holy promise of the marriage covenant. We are enabled to keep our promises to each other precisely because God has kept his promises to us. His promise stands behind ours. Without Jesus Christ, marriage becomes a endurance contest. But with him, a Christian marriage can not only endure, but finally it can triumph. And it is for that reason that Christian marriage is a mirror of divine reality. As two Christians keep their promises to each other, the world sees in reflection the greater truth that God keeps his promises to us. Thus, a truly Christian marriage proclaims the very gospel upon which it is built.

To say that is not to suggest that the marriages of non-Christians are doomed to unhappiness and eventual failure. Marriage, after all, is God’s gift to the entire human race. Where biblical principles are followed, happy marriages are possible without regard to the personal faith of the individuals involved. But in those cases–and there are many of them–the marriages are sustained by the promises of God even though the people involved don’t recognize that fact.

Factors that Make Commitment Difficult

I don’t want to sound as if I think commitment is easy or cheap. It’s not easy to stay married these days. Many contemporary pressures push us the other way. Let me mention three of the most obvious ones.

1. A Narcissistic Society</font size></font color>

Narcissism is a big word that essentially means “self-worship.” It’s the view that says my needs come first. Narcissism is the inability to commit yourself to anything outside yourself. You’re in it for what you can get out of it. The whole tenor of American society pushes us in that direction. I’m sure you’ve seen those commercials that say, “You can have it all.” When that attitude is taken into marriage, it leads husbands and wives to bail out when the going gets tough. They quit because their own needs come first.

The people who share this philosophy go by many names–Yuppies, the Me-Generation, the Baby Boomers. One recent term is Neotrads, short for Neotraditionalists. According to Insight magazine, Neotraditioanalism is the new cultural trend.

It has another name: Getting back to basics. Back to religion. Back to the land. Back to the family. Back to simplicity. Back to value. Back to gracious living. Back to home cooking. No more materialism. No more ostentation. No more me-generation. (October 14, 1991, p. 11)

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But there’s a catch. Neotraditionalism is about having the traditional forms but retaining all the values of the Yuppies. It’s all about living the simple life in your country home while maintaining a condo in the big city for the Monday through Friday rat race. It’s about big, glitzy weddings–the bigger, the better. It’s about settling down with one person, but without bothering with the formality of marriage. It’s about “reveling in the old without having to give up a single thing of the new.” (p. 12)

Where did all this nostalgia for the past come from? The answer is simple. It comes from blurred memories of the past.

The future-oriented fifties households had one feature that kept them anchored to something could truly be called traditional: rock-solid family life, with Dad winning the bread, Mom fussing in the kitchen and no likelihood of divorce. Every now and then the whole family would have to get up Sunday morning, drive over to church and listen to a sermon on the power of positive thinking. So when these young people grew up and lived through the turbulent sixties, the meditation-and-feminism seventies and the fast-track eighties–three decades of cultural deconstruction–their recollection of their childhoods consisted of simultaneous revulsion and nostalgia. (pp. 13-14)

Which means that we have a generation that wants the form of the past, but not the values of the past. They want a traditional family, but without the commitment that made the traditional family possible. They live with one foot uneasily perched in the past and one foot firmly planted in the present. No wonder their lives are unstable. No wonder they find it so hard to commit themselves to anything. No wonder lifelong marriage is a hard concept to swallow.

2. The Prevailing Moral Fog</font size></font color>

The prevailing moral fog refers to today’s changing moral standards. In times past Americans shared an unspoken moral consensus that was loosely based on biblical principles. People believed in the Ten Commandments even if they didn’t exactly obey them. Today adultery just doesn’t seem as bad as it used to seem. We call it an affair, a fling, a one-night stand. Some experts estimate that 50 percent of married women will be unfaithful at least once, and over 70 percent of married men. While the actual numbers may be smaller, everyone agrees that the percentage of unfaithful spouses has risen dramatically over the last 30 years. The point is, our culture used to tacitly support the notion of long-term commitment. All that has changed.

The young woman sat in my office and told me her story. She shouldn’t have gotten married. That much was clear to her. She didn’t love her husband, she never had, and now she needed her freedom. The whole thing had been a terrible mistake, and who wants to live with a mistake forever? Together we talked about what the Bible says about divorce. Her brother sat next to her, defiant and angry that I would question his sister’s decision. I knew the brother slightly, the sister somewhat better. She led a small group and he worked in our prison outreach

The young woman agreed that her impending divorce was clearly wrong. Did she understand that what she was about to do was a deliberate violation of Scripture? Yes, she knew that. Would she reconsider? No. When I warned her that she would surely face God’s discipline in her life, she said she knew that and was prepared to face the consequences. She wasn’t bitter or angry or particularly hostile. As I remember it, she was somber and sad, but determined to go through with the divorce even though she knew it was wrong. The only angry words came from her brother, who was incensed that we would remove his sister from a ministry position in the church. How dare we pass judgment on something as personal as his sister’s divorce?

Eventually both the mother and brother left the church. There is more to the story, but it doesn’t really have a happy ending. Many years later, the image sticks in my mind of a beautiful young woman, knowing the truth and calmly choosing to do wrong. That’s what I mean by the prevailing moral fog.

3. “Successful” Christian Divorces</font size></font color>

I hesitate to mention this for fear of being misunderstood. Most of the Christians I know who have gotten divorced speak only of pain and sadness. Most of them have said it was a mistake. All of them view divorce as the court of last resort. Even a so-called friendly divorce is filled with pain and heartache.

Is divorce more painful for Christians? Sometimes I wonder if the answer isn’t yes. After all, we know what God has said about divorce. We know what marriage was meant to be. Most Christians who get married start out fully intending to live up to the high demands of Scripture. And why shouldn’t we be optimistic? We have the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the promises of God, the life of Christ within us, and the body of Christ to support us. We have mountains of Christian literature (including books just like this one), seminars galore and gifted counselors on every hand. We have radio programs to sustain us, Christian music to encourage us, Christian Marriage Encounter to guide us, and small groups to sustain us. Our friends are praying for us, our pastors stand ready to help us, our parents are so proud of us. How can we fail? It doesn’t seem possible.

And yet, the divorce rate in the church is not much lower than the rate in society at large. The rising tide of Christian divorce has made it seem less odious and more like a reasonable option for a marriage gone sour. As a result, even in the church our commitment to lifetime marriage is not what it used to be. A generation ago divorce simply was not an option for a believer. You worked out your problems the best way you could. And you didn’t entertain the idea of divorce. Marriage was truly “for better or for worse.” There was no back door. But now the back door is wide open.

Cracking Open the Back Door</font size></font color>

I do not write these words to add to anyone’s guilt. Divorce brings enough guilt by itself without my adding anything extra to your load. If you are a Christian who has gone through the tragedy of divorce, you already know about the pain and humiliation of facing the people in your church with the awful news that your marriage is not going to make it.

If you have been divorced, these words are not directed at you personally. They are rather a commentary on what the rising tide of divorce has done to all of us. There was a time when many churches would not even consider a divorced person for any position of leadership, no matter how small or insignificant. When divorced men and women came into the church, they were stigmatized and made to feel like second-class citizens. They couldn’t teach, they couldn’t speak in public, sometimes they couldn’t sing in the choir or even serve as ushers. Sometimes it seemed as if the “Don ‘t” list was longer than the “Do” list.

I’m glad those days are gone. Sometimes we hurt people needlessly by heaping guilt upon guilt. But I think it’s fair to comment that the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme. Divorce has become so commonplace that we hardly think anything of it nowadays. It has gone from being a mortal sin to almost being no sin at all. These days who is surprised to hear that a pastor is getting a divorce, or an elder, or some other church leader? In truth, we’re still surprised, but not as much as we used to be.

As we have adjusted to the world around us, divorce has become more commonplace, and ultimately more acceptable. In the process the back door, which once was bolted shut, has been cracked open a few inches.

“What God Hath Joined Together … “</font size></font color>

It might be helpful at this point to say something about the biblical teaching on commitment. I think the most helpful passage may be the one that’s often quoted in marriage ceremonies–”What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Did you know that was a passage from the Bible? For a long time, I thought it was just a line from an old ceremony. Do you know who said it? Jesus said it in Matthew 19:6, in his well-known discussion about divorce and remarriage.

Jesus is the one who said, “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” That’s a very significant statement for two reasons: First, it is significant because it tells us that marriages really are made in heaven. That’s not just a sentimental thought; it’s also a statement about the sovereignty of God. He is the Unseen Guest at every wedding ceremony. Behind the minister stands the Lord himself. He sees the ceremony, he hears the vows, he records the sacred promises in the Book of Remembrance. This is true whether the wedding takes place in a huge cathedral or at a Las Vegas wedding chapel. Second, it tells us that man is the one who tears marriages apart. Divorce was never part of God’s plan in the beginning. There was never supposed to be a back door for an unhappy spouse to get out. Jesus himself says that divorce was added because of the hardness of the human heart. Every time a couple gets a divorce, at least one person (and usually both of them) has a hard heart. Sometimes we hear about a friendly divorce. If they were truly friendly, they would have stayed married. There’s always a hard heart in there somewhere.

With that as background, I mention briefly three key principles concerning God’s view of commitment.

Keep Your Vows! Ecclesiastes 5:4-6

This passage describes a man who comes to the Temple to make a vow to God. He brings his offering and makes his solemn promise. Here is the warning: “When you make a vow, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, ’My vow was a mistake.’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?” That ought to be clear enough. If you make a vow, keep it. Period. Case closed. Why? Because God listens to every word you say. Don’t try to say, “We were young and foolish.” It doesn’t make any difference. A deal’s a deal. God won’t be bought off by your flimsy excuses.

Consider the promises you make when you make your wedding vows:

In the presence of Almighty God

For better or for worse

For richer or for poorer

In sickness and in health

In sunshine and shadow alike

Forsaking all others

To love, honor and cherish

Till death do us part

These words are extremely strong. When you make them, you are pledging your total loyalty to one person for rest of your life. And you are doing it without regard to the circumstances you may later encounter.

If you don’t mean it, you shouldn’t say it. If you say it, you’d better mean it. God takes you seriously when you say these words.

“She’s Still My Wife”</font size></font color>

A dear friend of mind has found himself put to the test in the last two years. After many happy years of marriage, his wife suddenly and without warning developed Alzheimer’s Disease. Her descent from rationality happened so fast that even the doctors were surprised. At first my friend hired a housekeeper to take care of his wife, but that solution did not work for long. Soon he admitted her to a nursing home with a special unit for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.

When he took me to visit her, I was not prepared for what I saw. The woman I had known–vibrant and full of life–had simply disappeared. In her place had come a feeble old woman, barely able to feed herself. But when we walked in, she recognized her husband and called him by name. We walked arm-in-arm down the hall together, listening to her chatter away aimlessly, her words and sentences tumbling out unconnected as if some inner computer had been tampered with and the circuits hopelessly crossed. Toward the end of our visit, when her husband asked if she would like me to pray for her, she said, “Yes, that would be nice,” then stared blankly into space while I prayed.

As we left to go home, we got into separate cars. My friend brushed the tears from his eyes before he drove away.

But that is only part of the story. My friend is also has a very successful career that literally takes him around the world. More than that, his work repeatedly puts him in business meetings at some of the most glamorous resort areas known to man. Although he is nearly 60, he looks to be 15 years younger. He is strong, possessed of a charismatic personality, visibly successful, and one of the most respected men in his field. By the world’s standards, he has it all.

And his wife is slowly disappearing before his very eyes.

I asked him not long ago why he remained faithful. There is no chance–none whatsoever–that his wife will ever get better. She may live another 10 or 15 years in her condition, or she may die tomorrow, but the path is only downward. What keeps a man faithful when the outlook is so bleak?

“Simple. I made a promise, and I have to keep it. Years ago when I pledged to be faithful to my wife, I didn’t know she would have Alzheimer’s Disease. But she made the same promise to me. It could have happened to me instead of her. As I Christian, I simply have no choice but to be faithful no matter what happens.”

Lest that sound grim and hopeless, he added these words, “Since my wife has developed Alzheimer’s Disease, I have gone through the hardest time of my life. Yet out of that hard time, God has drawn me closer to himself than I’ve ever been before. If I were unfaithful, I would lose all I have gained in my walk with the Lord. I would be a double loser then.”

“I’m Going to Keep My Promise”</font size></font color>

“My wife,” he said, “is contributing all she can to the marriage. The fact that she’s locked up for her own safety doesn’t change that fact. Even though she barely recognizes me now, we’re still married. I’ve made a promise to her, and I’m going to keep it. As long as she is alive, I’m going to remain faithful to her.”

The only point to add is that the greatest vow you will ever make is the one you make when you say, “I do.” Nothing else in all your life is as significant as that. (I might add that single adults ought to consider Ecclesiastes 5 before getting married. Don’t take the wedding vows unless you really mean business.)

Honor the Covenant! Malachi 2:14</font size></font color>

Malachi 2 describes a terrible condition in ancient Israel. The men of Israel were divorcing their wives and marrying pagan women. It was a double sin because they were not only breaking their vows, but they were also bringing pagan influence into the land. God hated it. In fact, in verse 16 God actually says, “I hate divorce.” As a result of this compromise the land was under God’s judgment. In verse 14 God explains why he no longer accepted their offerings. “It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.” Did you get that last phrase–”your marriage covenant?”

Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. There’s a big difference. In a contract, two people make an agreement contingent on the performance of the other person, e.g., “I will pay you $100 if you will fix my carburetor.” That’s a contract. Both parties have a part to do. If you don’t do your part, I won’t do my part and the contract is broken. But a covenant is not like that. A covenant is a sacred promise. It does not rest on what you do. It rests solely on my own faithfulness. A covenant means, “I will do this no matter what you do.” When a couple stands and makes a public commitment to each other, that’s not a contract. It’s a covenant, a sacred and holy promise witnessed by God himself.

Perhaps you’ve heard Josh McDowell talk about the three kinds of love. There’s “I love you if,” “I love you because” and “I love you in spite of.” The first two are conditional–”I love you if you lose weight.” “I love you because you are so smart.” They are examples of contract love. The third one is an example of covenant love. “I love you in spite of your weaknesses. I love you in spite of your faults. I love you in spite of the fact that you don’t always love me.” That’s the only kind of love that will last for a lifetime. Conditional love won’t make it because what if she doesn’t lose weight? What if one day he can’t think straight? What then? Will you still love her then? Will you still stand by his side? God’s love is covenant love. It doesn’t depend on us. Likewise, the covenant love that holds a marriage together is love that doesn’t depend on the other person.

Remember the Warning! Hebrews 13:4</font size></font color>

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually impure.” Again we are dealing with a text that is crystal-clear. Those who choose to break God’s laws will pay a severe penalty. In the end they will discover that the God who created marriage will not overlook those who treat it lightly.

It’s interesting how all three of these texts come with a warning. God listens as we make our vows. God watches as we enter the marriage covenant. God judges those who commit adultery. Why such a solemn emphasis? Because marriage is holy and sacred in the eyes of God. As the wedding ceremony says, “It is not to be lightly entered into.”

God Will Not Be Mocked</font size></font color>

God will not be mocked. Those who break their vows will eventually pay a heavy price, either in this life or the next. Sometimes it happens rather suddenly. I know of a man who was unfaithful to his wife after nearly 40 years of marriage. He had an affair with his secretary and even fathered a child by her. All this while remaining married to his wife. Even after she found out the whole story, he still wouldn’t break off the affair. Eventually they separated and he moved in with the much-younger woman. Not too many months passed before they decided to take a trip together. While traveling together (under an assumed name, by the way), the man died of a sudden heart attack. I do not doubt that his heart attack was part of God’s judgment on his adultery.

But God doesn’t often work that way. Many times people commit adultery and appear to get away with it. They seem to live long and happy lives with never a pang of guilt or a trace of visible repentance. Why does God judge one man quickly and seem to let others off the hook? Only God knows the full answer to that question. But it’s good to remember that God’s judgment doesn’t end the moment a man dies. Oftentimes, that’s where his judgment really begins.

In any case, the truth stands for all to ponder. Those who break God’s laws are broken by the very laws they set out to break. No one gets away with adultery. The truth comes out in the end. “The arm of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

How to Have a Happy 50th Anniversary

But the negative is not the whole story. Several years ago a friend gave me this quote–”Marriage can either be like prison or like Disneyland. It has a wall of boundaries. To some people those boundaries are like a wall of prison bars. But to others they hold all that is dear.” There in a nutshell is the whole case for lifetime commitment. For those who are married, within the walls of a lifetime commitment is everything that is dear. God designed it to be that way.

Let’s wrap up this chapter–and the whole book–with some practical advice for couples who want to have a happy 50th Anniversary.

1. Make it a priority to spend lots of time together.

Here is one point on which the researchers are almost unanimously agreed: Time Together is a crucial factor in building a healthy marriage. It’s not just so-called “quality time” either. It’s time spent laughing and talking and working around the house. It’s time spent going to church together, praying together, serving the Lord side by side. It’s time spent at the bedside of sick child. It’s time spent camping together in Glacier National Park. It’s time spent at 600 different sporting events, watching your children play baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey, softball, volleyball, and ping pong. It’s time spent together trying not to laugh when your oldest son plays the Tin Woodman in the 6th grade production of “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s time spent together refinishing the stairs on the back porch. It’s time spent together trying to figure out what to do when your youngest daughter locks herself in the bathroom. It’s time spent together dreading a family reunion, and then it’s time spent together laughing afterward because it wasn’t as bad as you feared. It’s time spent together struggling to pay the bills, give to your church, and still put some money into the kids’ college fund. It’s time spent together sharing a silly joke. It’s time spent together praying for your children–especially for the oldest one who seems to be having such a hard time.

Time together pays big dividends when you get to the end of life. Hubert Humphrey was interviewed in 1977, toward the end of his losing battle with cancer. As he reflected on his marriage to Muriel, his wife of 39 years, he made these telling comments:

Muriel and I were saying the other day, “Wouldn’t it be terrible if we really didn’t love each other because in a sense we’re compelled to be together.” I just can’t imagine how miserable you would be if you had somebody you wish you weren’t near, and that happens to people, in life. But she’s been very tolerant of me and my ambitions, and now we have a sense of softness with each other, a tenderness that maybe we didn’t have when we were youngsters first in love. Frankly, life is somewhat different for us because of my illness, and it’s so good, so good just to have someone you can enjoy and touch. (The Dallas Morning News, January 23, 1977)

I’ve never heard a man say on his deathbed, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” But many men have said, “I wish I had spent more time with my wife and with my children.” In the end, most of what we have done will fade into nothingness, and we will find that we filled our days with the froth of a thousand trivial details. Much that we value now will seem pointless to us then.

But we will never forget–or regret–time spent with those we love the most.

2. Don’t let things build up between you. </font size></font color>

Have you heard of Peter Jenkins? He’s the man who walked across America. When he had finished his trip, someone asked him if he ever felt like quitting. He said, Yes, he felt that way many times. What was it that made him feel like quitting? The high mountains? The searing sun? The lonely nights? The possibility of danger? No, none of that. It was the sand in his shoes. That made him want to quit. The application to marriage is obvious. It’s not the big things that kill a relationship. It’s the little things–the sand in the shoes–that we neglect to take care of.

The Bible has an important word to say on this subject. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are angry.” That means there is a divine time limit on your anger. Remember, what you think about as you are going to sleep becomes a part of your subconscious. Little things become big, irritations become annoyances, and annoyances become sore spots. Over time, sore spots become open wounds of bitterness. The infection spreads until it controls your whole life. By that time, your marriage is in real trouble. All because you let little things buid up between you.

What happened? Read the next verse. “And do not give the devil a foothold.” The word “foothold” means “a place of authority.” By not dealing with your grievances biblically, you allow Satan an opportunity to gain a place of authority in your life. He gains a place in your spirit from which to attack you emotionally. He causes you to feel bitter and angry even when you want to be set free from those destructive emotions. Or he causes you to give in to fear instead of confidently trusting in God. Or he causes you to turn to lustful thoughts instead of walking in purity.

These things happen because we let the sand get in our shoes. Little molehills of irritation not dealt with soon become big mountains of bitterness. So make it a priority to deal with the little things, before those little things become big.

3. Thank God for what he has given you.</font size></font color>

Commitment is possible when we believe in the goodness of God. And it is almost impossible when you doubt his goodness.

Most of our personal problems are ultimately theological in nature. Oftentimes when we are angry with our spouses, our real problem is with God. We doubt his wisdom in bringing us together, we doubt his love in allowing us to make so many foolish choices, we doubt his power to help us out of the fix we are in. In short, we doubt that God knows what he is doing when it comes to our marriage.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the Four Spiritual Laws. Do you remember the First Spiritual Law? It goes like this–”God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” What a great statement that is. What a positive way of looking at life. If God loves you (and he does), than whatever plan he has for your life must be wonderful indeed. But I daresay that the First Law is the one we have the most trouble believing. Especially if we feel trapped in a bad marriage.

But the goodness of God does not depend on our feelings or circumstances. God is good, whether we recognize it or not. He is good, whether we see it or not. He is good, whether we believe it or not.

What does this have to do with lifelong commitment? Everything. Precisely as you believe in the goodness of God, to that extent you will find reasons to be thankful for what you already have. And to the extent that you doubt the goodness of God, to that same extent you will find reasons to be discouraged about your marriage.

There is a direct theological link between what you believe about God and having a happy 50th anniversary. If you doubt this, check it out for yourself. The next time you go to a 50th anniversary party, listen to the couple talk about their years together. Was it an endurance contest or do they look back on their half-century together with joy? Mark it down. The couples that come to their 50th anniversary filled with joy do so because all through the years they believed deeply in the goodness of God. They saw his fingerprints everywhere, even in the darkest moments. They felt that God had brought them together and that he would keep them together no matter what happened. No matter how difficult the path, they never gave up believing that God truly did have a wonderful plan for their life together.

If you wonder where to begin, why not start keeping a journal of the goodness of God in your life. Start with simple things–”I could hear the birds singing when I woke up this morning,” “There was still hot water left after my husband took his shower,” “I’ve got five dollars in my billfold and a handful of change in my pocket”–and just jot them down one by one. Do that for 10 days and see if it doesn’t make a change in the way you look at your own circumstances. God is good, and the evidence is all around, if only we will open our eyes to see it.

4. Do reaffirm your commitment in front of your children.</font size></font color>

I mention it again because it is so crucial. You need to say it and they need to hear it.

We’ve done this several times in front of our boys. They usually look slightly embarrassed, and then Joshua or Mark will crack a joke. Nicholas usually starts laughing. Mushy romance is hard for them to take. But always, and this is without exception, whenever we reaffirm our commitment to each other, I will look over to my sons and see a smile there. They hide it, they turn red, but there is a smile there that tells me the message has gotten through.

Sometimes my boys come home and talk about their friends whose parents have divorced. On rare occasions they will ask me if we would ever get a divorce. Even though I answer in the negative, I see in their eyes the distant fear that it may someday happen to us, that our family may someday be split up. How can they be sure? What guarantee can I give them? If it happens to so many others, how do I know it won’t happen to us? The fear is there, and it is real. When I listen to my sons, I believe the people who say that the number one fear of American children is that their parents will get divorced.

So tell your children, and tell them again. Tell them that you intend to stay together no matter what happens.

5. Men, tell your wife when you are being tempted.

It’s not easy to do this, and I don’t think you should do it lightly, but telling your wife what you are going through is one of the ways of escape God has given you when you are being tempted (See I Corinthians 10:13).

On two or three occasions across the years, I have done this with Marlene. To be perfectly honest, we talk about the subject of temptation often, but there have been a few times when I have been very specific, to the point of naming names. If you want to try something that will take the excitement out of temptation, try telling your wife about it. Temptation is fun when it is done in the darkness. It’s no fun at all when you drag it out into the light of day.

Do I recommend that every husband be that frank about his thought life? No, because not every wife would be strong enough to hear the truth. In that case I think a man needs to find a good Christian friend (preferably a man he deeply trusts and respects) with whom he can pour out his heart, even to the point of naming names, if necessary. Find a friend who will not A. Condemn you or B. Go easy on you but C. Hold you accountable to be fully faithful to your wife.

There is a small point here, and a larger point for the men to consider. The small point is that you need to open up the lines of the communication so that the two of you can talk together in this very sensitive area, always with the understanding that the purpose is to strengthen your commitment, not to stir up trouble in the marriage. Men, the larger point is that you must not bear this burden alone. Find a buddy with whom you can be brutally honest. It may save you from making a terrible mistake.

Incidentally, I should say that Marlene has been both understanding and very tough with me in this area. She is understanding in that she knows that as a man temptation can flare up in my life without any warning. She knows that, and she’s not afraid to talk with me about it. On the other hand, she is tough in that she will not baby me, coddle me, or let me off the hook easily. Because she loves me, she expects me to be faithful to her. That in itself helps keep me on the straight and narrow.

6. Wives, be committed to the husband you have, not to the husband you wish you had. </font size></font color>

Too many wives live in a fantasy world hoping their husbands will change. That leads only to frustration and despair. I’m not suggesting that you give up hope that he will ever change. True acceptance means you take him just as he is–warts and all–and you go into the future trusting God to make whatever changes are necessary. In the meantime, be 100% committed to the husband you married, not the husband you wish you had married.

The correct balance is something like this: “Sweetheart, I want you to know that I love you just the way you are. I am fully committed to being your wife for many years to come. I am also fully committed to helping you become all you can be in the sight of God.”

This is a crucial principle because no one stays the same forever. The man you married at the age of 18 is not the same man you are married to today. He doesn’t look the same (some of us look a lot different), he doesn’t act the same, he doesn’t think the same, even though in many other ways he has not changed a bit. The core person is still there, but the passage of time has brought out many elements that were hidden or only barely revealed.

To make matter worse (or at least more challenging), you’re not the same person you were all those years ago. If you doubt that, just take a look in the mirror. Some things have changed, some things have shifted, some things have expanded. If only we could hold a mirror up to your soul, you would see how much you’ve changed on the inside.

Marriage is the voluntary union of two constantly changing people. That change is not only inevitable, it’s also very healthy. Who wants to stay 18 forever? The very thought is exhausting. Happy are those couples who love each other though all the seasons of life, who expect change, who nurture growth, and who love each other while they are still “in process.”

7. Do take 10 minutes each day for uninterrupted talk. </font size></font color>

If you don’t have the time, change your schedule. If you are too busy, shoot the TV and then shoot the VCR. Whatever it takes, make time to talk to each other.

This hasn’t been easy for us. Let me correct that. It used to be much easier than it is now. In the early days of our marriage, before the kids came, before I was a pastor, before our calendars filled up six weeks in advance, before we had got a remote control for the television, before we had a computer at home, before we had a car and a minivan, before Marlene started her thriving drapery-making business, before choir practice, and football practice, and T-Ball games, and neighborhood birthday parties, and Wednesday night Awana, and Thursday night Awana, and before we had so many out-of-town visitors, before homework was piled on the dining room table, the house was filled with unidentified kids who claim to be friends of my three sons, and before the phone rang fifty times a day, before all of that, we had plenty of time to talk to each other.

But life has gotten very busy at the Pritchard household. And, frankly, I see no end in sight for the next 15 years or so. If anything, the pace of life is increasing. We’re accelerating toward Non-Communication Warp Speed.

What do you do? Well, there are lots of possibilities, even with a very busy schedule. Perhaps you get up early, make a cup of coffee, and talk together before the kids get up. Perhaps you steal 10 minutes out of your day to talk to each other on the phone. Perhaps you set up a weekly time for a date together. Perhaps you can wait until the kids have gone to the bed (if you can stay up that late) and have your coffee together. I know some couples like to take overnght getaways that start with a meal at a nice restaurant and proceed to a nearby hotel. That’s a good idea, if it fits your budget and if you can somehow fit it into your schedule (which always seems to be our problem).

Lately Marlene and I haven’t had much time to talk. I know, because she told me so several times. This morning we went out for breakfast together (her very favorite treat in the whole world). We talked a little bit during the meal–mostly aimless chatter–but it relaxed me so that I felt better afterward. When we came home, I sat down in my La-Z-Boy recliner, cranked it back, and before I knew it, Marlene had crawled up in my arms. We ended up talking (and cuddling) for over an hour. It was our best conversation in weeks.

The bottom line is simple: Take time or make time to talk to each other. It’s the lifeblood of a healthy marriage.

8. Don’t expect to be happy more than half the time.</font size></font color>

Most marriages go through a normal cycle of ebb and flow. Sometimes things go great; other times you wonder why you got married in the first place. It’s perfectly normal to feel like that from time to time. It’s not possible–or even healthy–to be on a mountaintop all the time. If you are happy–truly happy–half the time, your marriage is in pretty good shape. Think of it this way. If you expect to be happy 50% of the time, then anything over that will be a fringe benefit. Many marriages suffer because one (or both) of the partners has unreasonably high expectations. If you lower your expectations, you may end up being happily surprised most of the time.

Not long ago a friend heard me mention this principle. He objected vigorously because it seemed to be a negative approach to marriage. Now I happen to know his wife very well, and I think I know something about their marriage. This couple is truly happy together, and in all probability they are happier more than half the time.

The issue is really one of expectations. Some people get divorced because they have never accepted the humiliation of living in a fallen world. Because they want their marriage to be perfect (sometimes to compensate for an earlier failed marriage or because they were raised in a dysfunctional family), they are emotionally unable to accept anything less than perfection. Unfortunately, perfection is in short supply these days. Theological niceties aside, sin seems to be part of the human condition as long as we live on planet earth. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised if our mates disappoint us from time to time. Surely we have failed them in many ways as well.

Romans 3:23 still applies to Christians. All of us have sinned and fallen far short of the glory of God. If we can set aside our embarrassment and simply accept that fact, we’ll go a long way toward building a marriage that will stand the test of time.

9. Do take time to praise each other. </font size></font color>

This is the third time I have mentioned this point. To me, it is absolutely crucial. The presence or absence of public praise is one of the clearest signs of martial happiness or marital discord.

Here are 30 phrases of praise to get you thinking in the right direction:

You look great tonight.

That was a great meal.

You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.

Thank you for not getting mad at me.

You’re a super listener.

I really appreciate the way you spend time with my parents.

Thanks for being honest with me.

That’s a great idea.

I enjoy spending time with you.

Congratulations! I’m taking you out to dinner to celebrate.

Before I met you, my life was boring.

You deserve a kiss.

Thanks for thinking of me.

So what if they didn’t like your idea? I think it was great.

You’re a big help around the house.

I love you.

I bought this just for you. I hope you like it.

You’re the best husband in the whole world.

I’m looking forward to growing old with you.

I hope my boys marry a girl just like their mother.

When I count my blessings, you’re at the top of the list.

I’m so proud of you.

You’ve got a great sense of humor.

You are the reason I’m excited about the future.

I’m the luckiest man in the whole world.

That’s a great idea. How did you think of it?

You’re more beautiful today than you were the day we got married.

Somebody ought to make a movie of our marriage. It would make a great romantic comedy.

I’m so glad God brought us together.

Have I told you lately how much I love you?

10. Do remember that marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. </font size></font color>

If you’ve ever done any running, you know there’s a big difference between the hundred yard dash and the marathon. The difference is about 26 miles. For the hundred yard dash you get out of the blocks and run as fast as you can. The race is over in 10 seconds. But you can’t do that in a marathon. If you start out sprinting, you’ll never finish. You have to pace yourself.

That’s what marriage is like. It’s a marathon that lasts a lifetime. If you’re going to make it, you’ve got to pace yourself. Too many couples expect too much too soon.

There are times in every good marriage when a husband and wife don’t like each other very much. There will be times when you wonder if you wouldn’t be better off if you weren’t married. There will be times when your emotions are flat, when you don’t feel love toward each other. In those moments, you may say something you later come to deeply regret. You may yell and scream, you may take off your wedding ring and throw it across the room. You may want a divorce.

Those things happen, even in marriages that are basically good and strong.

Do not despair if you are going through one of those difficult periods right now. It doesn’t mean your marriage is going to end. You don’t have to get a divorce. You will need patience to work things out. You may need to talk to someone who can give you some guidance with your problems. But that’s nothing to be ashamed about. If you need help, get it. Don’t let your embarrassment stop you from saving your marriage. There are hundreds–no, thousands or even tens of thousands–of Christian couples whose marriages have survived periods of real difficulty. Many of them have emerged stronger than ever.

Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. Just because you stumble, it doesn’t mean you are out of the race.

The Closest Thing to Heaven

For many couples, the first few years of marriage are quite difficult. It’s one adjustment after another. He hogs the blankets; she hogs the bathroom. He leaves his underwear hanging on the chair; she leaves her stockings hanging in the shower.

And all those quirks that used to seem so cute, in the grind of daily life just seem like … quirks. But it does get better. But you have to wait a few years. And you have to work at it. It will never be perfect. But marriage can be wonderful. It’s the closest thing to heaven most of us will ever experience until we finally get there ourselves.

That’s why I wrote this book. Marriage is a gift from God. When you follow God’s instructions it gets better and better as the years go by. Despite what some would have us believe, it is possible to be married and happy for a lifetime.

Still Crazy After All These Years

(Written in 1992)

It is late now, and turning cold. Fall has come and winter is not far away. The boys have just picked up their room (under protest) and Marlene is cleaning up the kitchen. She just finished making a Robin Hood costume for Nicholas and she just about to make a Nimrod costume for Mark. Then she’s going to turn Joshua into a Turkish sultan.

The boys are sitting around stalling for time so they won’t have to go to bed. Mark just showed us how he could crack his knuckles, which made Marlene decide to show Joshua what a dead man’s finger feels like. Another typical day comes at an end.

Meanwhile I sit at my computer pondering what our marriage is all about, not marriage in general, but our marriage, this union of two very independent and very different people, this voluntary association that has survived nearly years together. It was a hot night when we got married, and it is a cold night tonight. And still we are together, one man married to one woman.

I cannot think of any particularly profound lessons to draw from our relationship. I was born in Tennessee and raised in Alabama. Marlene was born in Montana and raised in Arizona. We met while going to college in Tennessee, got married in Arizona, promptly moved to Texas. In 18 years we have had five different addresses in three different states. Two of our boys were born in California, the other was born in Texas. And we now live in Illinois. That’s pretty much the whole story as far as geography and demographics go.

We have had our share of problems, but they are not unusual or unique. I meet couples every week who face problems far beyond anything we have encountered.

But we are still married. That much is true. Not only that, but we are happily married. There is joy here, and fulfillment, and oddly enough, freedom. There is commitment here, and contentment, and a sense of crazy unpredictability that keeps us all on our toes. There is warmth and tenderness, the sharing of deep dreams and unspoken fears. There is growth here, and excitement, and great possibilities for the future.

Mostly she is here. Because she is here, I am here. I am amazed that she is still here, and when I say it, a beautiful smile breaks across her face, then a serious look, then “I’m amazed I’m still here, too.” Then a grin and a hug.

It isn’t perfect, but it is wonderful. And to my great delight, it gets better as we go along.

Give that Man a Crown

Here are two people. A man married to a woman. He is a Christian. He struggles in many ways. He faces many temptations. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. He is not perfect. Sometimes he is unkind and says things he regrets. Sometimes he wishes he was not married. Sometimes he ignores his wife, sometimes he loses his temper. But down deep in his heart–so deep he can hardly speak of it–he has a goal. To be faithful to his wife to the very end. His wife has no idea how hard it is … or how much he means it.

In a thousand ways he fails but he never gives up. He lives with her for 50 years. And when his life is over, he can truly say, “By God’s grace I did it. I was faithful to the end.”

Give that man a crown. Put him on a throne. Everybody on their feet, let the throngs clap and cheer. Give him a scepter and a robe. Let the band play. Let the people shout his name. He failed in so many ways. But he was faithful to his wife until the end. He fought the good fight, he kept the faith, he finished his course. Stand back and give that man room. He is a genuine hero.

Give that Woman a Thousand Roses

Over here is a woman married to a man. She is a Christian. She struggles in so many ways. Often she feels forgotten and neglected. She rarely gets the attention she deserves. Sometimes she thinks nobody cares. In desperate moments she wishes she had never gotten married. She is sometimes angry, sometimes depressed, and sometimes she just wants to give up. She is not a Total Woman. But in her heart there is a goal. It is the bottom line of her life. She wants to live with one man and only one. She wants to be faithful to him to the end.

In a thousand ways, she fails. But she never gives up. She lives with her husband for over 50 years. Through good times and bad, through laughter and tears, through poverty and riches, through great victories and bitter defeats, she stands by her man. And when her life is over she can say, “By God’s grace I did it. I stuck with him all the way.”

Give that woman a thousand roses. Put a crown on her head. All rise as Her Majesty enters the room. Gaze at her beauty. Let the choir sing, let the band play. See her husband smiling by her side. She failed so many times … but in the end she was a winner. She was faithful to her husband. A one-man woman. In a world where anything goes, she stood against the tide. She is more beautiful in the end than in the beginning.

And from the distance a mighty voice rolls like thunder, the sound fills the sky … “Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter into the joy of the Lord!”

That’s what I want to hear someday. That’s what’s ahead for you and me if we will stay faithful.

The Heroes Among Us

Who are the heroes of today? They are the men and women who have made a lifetime commitment to one another. Look around you. There are heroes in our midst, carefully disguised as ordinary people. All around us are husbands and wives–in every size and shape and color, young and old, from every walk of life–who have made a commitment and have decided to stick with it.

All that I have been trying to say in this book boils down to this. It is possible to be married and happy for a lifetime. And it is not only possible, it is worth the effort that a good marriage requires. No one ever said being married was easy, but the good things in life never are.

We may win no medals for staying married in an age of divorce, but that doesn’t matter. Staying married to someone you love is its own reward. And lest we forget, a special reward is promised to those who are faithful to the end. Since marriage was God’s idea, those who live by his rules will never be disappointed. That may not answer every question, but it ought to be enough to keep us happy and married for many years to come.

Questions for Thought and Discussion

1. Read again the statement by Ricardo Montalban at the beginning of this chapter. How does his statement compare with other contemporary points of view?

2. Why is it important that our children hear us reaffirm our commitment to each other?

3. How do you feel about the section on “successful” Christian divorces? In what sense do such divorces lead us away from long-term commitment? Is a divorce “successful” because there are biblical grounds for it?

4. What is narcissism and why is it a negative influence on long-term commitment? Give examples of modern trends that follow the forms of the past while rejecting the values of the past.

5. What is the significance of the fact that “divorce was never part of God’s plan in the beginning?”

6. Under what circumstances (if any) should Christians consider getting a divorce? Under what circumstances (if any) would you consider getting a divorce?

7. What is the significance of saying that marriage is a covenant, not a contract?

8. T ? F The quality of the time spent together is more important than the quantity of time.

9. If God promises to judge adulterers, why do so many people seem to “get away with it?” Is it that they only “seem” to get away with it? Is it that their judgment is delayed for some reason?

10. What are some of the “little things” that can build up between a husband and wife? What happens to a marriage if they aren’t dealt with?

11. How would explain the theological link between believing in the goodness of God and having a happy marriage? What practical steps can you take that will build up your appreciation of the good things God has already given you?

12. Do you agree that men should tell their wives when they are being tempted? What guidelines would you use for such a conversation? If a husband doesn’t feel comfortable talking to his wife this way, what steps can he take to handle temptation?

13. “Don’t expect to be happy more than half the time.” Does this seem to be unreasonably low to you? Or does it seem unreasonably high? What’s the real point behind this particular suggestion?

14. How do you plan to celebrate your 50th Anniversary? Describe the event in some detail. Who will be there? Where will you be? Does your 50th Anniversary seem too far off to think about? Go ahead and make some plans now and with God’s help, someday they may all come true!

Reaffirming Your Commitment</font size></font color>

This project encourages you to verbalize your commitment to each other. Very often we fail to say the things we feel most deeply. Sometimes that unintended silence leads our spouses to conclude that if we don’ say it, then we don’t mean it. Although this project may only take a few minutes, it could be the most meaningful one of them all.

A. For couples with no children living at home

1. Set aside time to review the story of how you met and fell in love.

2. Take time to remind each other of what what attracted you to each other in the first place.

3. Husbands, tell your wife that there is nothing she can ever do that will cause you to divorce her. Tell her that you will never leave her.

4. Wives, tell your husbands that there is nothing he can do that will ever cause you to divorce him. Tell him that you will never leave him.

5. Take a few minutes to discuss what this kind of commitment really means.

B. For couples with children living at home

1. Set aside a special family time and tell the kids you have a fun story you want them to hear.

2. Tell them the story–in mushy detail–of how you met and fell in love.

3. In the presence of your children, reaffirm your commitment to each other.

4. Husbands, tell your wife that there is nothing she can ever do that will cause you to divorce her. Tell you that you will never leave her.

5. Wives, tell your husband that there is nothing he can ever do that will cause you to divorce him. Tell him that you will never leave him.

6. Take a few minutes to explain to the children what this kind of commitment really means.

C. For Extra Credit

1. Write out your commitment to each other. The simple act of putting the words on paper strengthens your resolve.

2. Call it your Personal Marriage Covenant.

3. List the Scriptures that are central to your marriage relationship.

4. Specify that you believe God has brought you together for his purposes and that you covenant together to glorify God by staying married no matter what may happen in the future.

5. Sign the document in the presence of your children or in the presence of trusted friends.

6. Have a party to celebrate your marriage!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?