How To Save A Marriage

[Note: the following was offered on a public discussion list. One person had requested some advise on how to handle a situation where a couple had separated and were considering divorce. Here is one response to what was offered. cs]

I think if you can get both the husband and wife into the attitude that they will serve each other, then the marriage can be saved. I believe that if you can get either the husband or wife to buy into the Biblical idea of Christian service, the marriage can be saved and only "can be" because it takes the agreement of both for the marriage to continue. But if neither the husband nor wife will serve the other, or if one is determined to end the marriage no matter what happens, then the marriage is doomed.

I agree with another brothers' suggestion that the older men should go to the husband and gently and lovingly counsel him and that the older women should go to the wife and counsel her. I think Gert's advice also fits in well in relation to the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche at the church in Philippi. Paul writes, "Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel." (Phil. 4:3)

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Phil. 4:8) We need to practice positive thinking/meditation on many things, but particularly with the person we are married to. When we have negative thoughts about that person, thoughts that if unchecked can grow and put a wedge between us and our spouse, we need to quickly replace them with positive thoughts. And while there are times that we can lovingly suggest ways that our spouse can do things better to our pleasure (and we need to be ready to actively listen -- which means that we need to carefully consider making the change suggested -- when our spouses suggest ways that we can do things better to their pleasure), we need to remember that we didn't marry ourselves and that different people sometimes do things differently from the way we would do them. And so a number of things that have the potential to annoy us about our spouses need to be quickly forgotten and we need to dwell on the things that please us about our spouse, not on the things that annoy us. I know this is sometimes difficult to do, especially when she does something that REALLY annoys me, but I need to dwell on the positive things. And, I believe the older men and older women can counsel the couple on dwelling on the positive about their spouse instead of allowing the negative to destroy the marriage.

There was a reason that he married his bride and he needs to find that reason again. Likewise, the wife married her husband because she saw good things in him. Currently, I am sure that the husband is thinking a number of negative thoughts relative to his bride and she is thinking negative thoughts about him. Otherwise it is difficult to see why the marriage has failed. These thoughts need to be overcome by remembering the reasons they married each other, the good things they've had in marriage and the good qualities they still see in their spouse. I might even have the husband draw up a list of things he loves about his wife and his wife draw up a list of things she loves about her husband.

In addition, I would counsel the couple to consider Paul's words in Philippians 2 when he perhaps was tactfully intervening in the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche. This dispute may have been one of the reasons that Paul wrote the letter as he sprinkles the letter with a number of examples of humility. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Phil. 2:3-8)

I believe this passage speaks loudly to disputes within the church, even within families. I find most disputes are because one party demands to be served and the other party refuses to serve them. If both the husband and wife are Christians, this passage clearly says they are to treat the other as more important than they are, if not as husband and wife, then as brother and sister in Christ. Every Christian is to be humble, not to be served by others, but to serve others. Christians are to put the interests of others first. So if the husband does not want to do this for his wife, he should be willing to do it for his sister in Jesus. And if the wife does not want to put her husband first, she should be willing to do it for her brother in Jesus.

And, I love that Paul uses Jesus as his example, for it takes away the primary "What if" question: What if he/she doesn't respond to my putting him/her first and continues to do the things that annoy me? Jesus, knowing that He would be rejected by the Jews and turned over to the Gentiles, knowing that He would be crucified by the Gentiles/Romans, submitted Himself to God's plan, a plan made before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20), before Adam and Eve's sin, and left the glories of heaven for the travails of, at very best, a middle-class first-century existence on earth (Joseph was a "tekton" which is better translated as a skilled craftsman than a manual-labor carpenter). So when the husband says, "You expect me to serve this woman knowing she will do this thing that annoys me?" we answer, "We expect you to follow the example of Jesus who came to earth to minister to Jews knowing they would reject Him, even to the point of ascribin g His works to demons." And when the wife says, "So you expect me to serve this man knowing he will hurt me emotionally?" We say, "We expect you to follow the example of Jesus, who loved Gentiles so much that He came to earth knowing that they would scourge Him in the Roman half-death and then crucify Him."

Because I believe that the husband has the greater responsibility to provide spiritual leadership within the family and, therefore, a greater responsibility to do what is necessary to keep the family together, I would take him first to Eph. 5:25-30, 33a and ask him what he thought the passage meant for him: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. ... Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself.&qu ot;

I would then take the husband to John 13, where Jesus washes the disciples' feet. This is, at least for me, the most powerful example of humble service in the Bible. Jesus, through Whom all things were made, gathers up His clothing, puts a towel on His shoulder, and gets on His knees before each of His apostles and carefully washes off the mud, animal droppings and who knows what else was on those Jerusalem streets from their feet. It is impossible to wash someone's feet without being put in a position of supreme humility. And, while I don't believe that Jesus calls us to physically wash the feet of others, it is the principle of leadership humility, servant leadership, that was behind His washing the disciples' feet, I might even have the husband wash his wife's feet. Sometimes the act of physically doing something impresses the lesson in our hearts more than just hearing or talking about it. Further the good thing about having the husband wash his wife's feet is that she ha s to submit to him washing her feet, just as Peter had to submit to Jesus washing his feet. There is humility, many times, in our submitting to the service others do for us.

After I've taken the husband to Eph. 5, I would ask him to meditate on the words of Jesus in John 13:13-17, "You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." If the One through Whom the entirety of the universe was created, even down to the husband and wife, can wash the feet of the disciples who He created, what does His example mean in regards to my relationship with my wife? If Jesus, my Master and Lord, can take a knee, bend down, exposing His back, and serve others, what implications does that have for the husband, who is the head of the family?

And so my brother, my belief is that the husband may be the key. If you can get the husband to be the true spiritual leader of his wife, humbly leading her through service to her, truly treating her, and by this I mean in deeds, not words, as more important than he is, there is a very good chance that the wife will respond and the marriage will be saved. I strongly believe that if the husband treats his wife the way Jesus treated the church -- washing the feet of the disciples, humbling Himself in service, event to death on the cross -- the woman responds by seeking to serve her husband. I believe this is the general rule in a mixed marriage, even in a marriage where both are nonbelievers, but the husband can somehow grasp the concept of spiritual leadership, and is the tautological rule in Christian marriages. It is extremely difficult to be a servant leader, but it is the model that Jesus calls us to, both in the church and in the family. And when we have true servant leaders, both in t he family at home and the family at church, harmony always results.

By Veto F. Roley via a discussion list.

Return to the General Articles page

Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /