Last weekend, my husband and I attended Family Life’s Weekend to Remember and we’re so glad we did! (Side note: this marriage retreat is free for military couples. Take advantage of this if you can!) It probably goes without saying that I completely recommend this retreat to every married couple. Yes, every married couple. Whether you just got married yesterday (or even if you’re planning to soon—there were several engaged couples at the session we attended) or you’re going on your 70th anniversary, this retreat is meant for all couples in all stages of life and I’m willing to bet a fat penny that even the most experienced married couples could learn a thing or two from this getaway. Even if you don’t learn anything, it’s always good to have those little reminders about what makes a marriage work, and I can tell you from experience that it will probably bring you and your spouse a lot closer.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “what the heck does this girl know about making a marriage last? She just got married a few months ago!” Well, you know what? You are absolutely right. I have no idea what kind of hardships lie ahead for me & my husband, and I also have no idea what hardships you’ve been through in your own marriage. So let’s clear this up before we get started: this list is composed of things I learned at A Weekend to Remember. They are not my ideas—I simply want to share some of the knowledge I’ve gained recently.
This is only a small fraction of what I took home from the getaway and I really, really, ridiculously recommend that you attend one of these yourself (anyone catch that reference?). Before I get started, I want to share one of my favorite quotes mentioned by one of the speakers, Bob Horner, after he asked the audience why marriages fail. His response was:
Marriages fail because there are people in them.
Well put, Bob! Okay, so here it is. The 7 things you need to realize to make your marriage last:
1. Your vows are serious, and you’re in this until death do you part.
Not until you don’t feel the same anymore, not until it gets hard, not until all you do is argue, not until you don’t think you love your spouse anymore. Until death. Love is a commitment, not a feeling, and you’ve committed to love this person until death separates you—no matter what you feel (or don’t feel), no matter what’s changed, and no matter how hard it gets. This seems to be incredibly difficult for people in today’s world and that’s mostly due to the throw-away culture we live in. If your marriage is broken, it’s up to you and your spouse to fix it—just like you promised you would.
2. Difficulties are inevitable.
You probably already know that it’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows, but if you don’t, I hope you realize it very soon. While you can’t avoid or even anticipate these difficulties sometimes, your response to these issues have the potential to either make or break your marriage. It’s so important to learn to move through the hard times without rejecting or withdrawing from your spouse. The way you handle things when problems arise will either bind you together or drive you apart (notice I said “the way you handle things”—you can’t change your spouse, but you can change yourself).
3. The purpose of marriage is not to make you happy.
If more people realized this, maybe the divorce rate in America could be less than 50%. You see, when you enter into a marriage for the sake of your happiness, you’re going in with selfish motivations and setting your marriage up for failure. If you don’t believe me, then scroll up a little and reread number 2. Happiness won’t always be there, and there are going to be hard times. If your motivation for marrying your spouse is to be happy, then it’s not very likely that your marriage will withstand the hard times. But don’t worry, there’s good news:
4. To complete each other and mirror God’s image are the purpose of marriage.
Okay, recap: your own happiness is not a good reason to get married, but to experience companionship and reflect the character and unity of God are good reasons to tie the knot. Marriage was created so that we could fill each other’s empty places and meet our desires for a close, intimate relationship. It was also created so that we could reflect the oneness of God (see John 17:22-23). Again, our own happiness has nothing to do with it.
5. Extramarital “affairs” take many different forms.
According to the Weekend to Remember manual, “an extramarital affair is an escape from reality or a search for fulfillment outside of marriage.” This is not limited to sexual love affairs. In fact, extramarital affairs can include activities, materialism, fantasy, career, or even family affairs. Anything you go to for fulfillment outside of your relationship with your spouse is an affair, and it will ultimately lead to isolation.
6. Your relationship with God needs to come first, and your relationship with your spouse needs to come second.
Of course your relationship with God always needs to come first, but your relationship with your spouse needs to be the primary relationship of your family. This means your spouse always comes before your kids, before your pets, before your career, and before your hobbies (reread number 5 for more details). Have you ever thought about how God designed marriage as the first social institution? Before there were governments or cities or businesses or even children, marriage existed. This is something that was brought up at the Weekend to Remember and I think it really puts the importance of this relationship into perspective. So spoil your spouse, not your kids!
7. Learn to give lots of encouragement, forgiveness, and most importantly—love.
That is how marriages thrive: encouragement, forgiveness, and love. Your spouse needs just as much affirmation and encouragement as you do, especially in hard times. They need generous forgiveness just like you and I do, because us humans tend to make quite a few mistakes. Most importantly, your spouse needs exclusive, expressed, extraordinary love. This kind of love is a choice, not a feeling. You have to choose to give your all if you want your marriage to last.
Remember, you can’t change your spouse. You can only change you.
Marriage is not 50/50. Divorce is 50/50—marriage is 100/100.
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:22-23