This has been quite a year for me. My oldest son got married January 6th and my oldest daughter got engaged November 8th. My in-laws celebrated their 50th anniversary this summer and my husband and I celebrated our 25th this Christmas.
This summer, my dad spent two weeks in the hospital during which we feared he would never recover and this fall my faithful prayer partner’s young adult son passed away unexpectedly. My children’s last surviving great grandparent passed away in his twilight years this spring, while their youth pastor began the hard journey of life on his own, after losing his bride of almost 30 years in a fire last Christmas.
It has certainly been a year full of intermingled joy and pain.
Earlier this week when my husband and I were out celebrating our twenty-fifth with a delicious fondue dinner, our young, blond, single waitress asked us the secret to staying married for 25 years.
My husband shared with her the advice that his recently-departed grandfather had shared at his last anniversary celebration, when he and Bill’s grandma had been married for 70 years. Are you ready for his sage advice?
“Don’t get divorced.”
Yep. That’s it. That’s the secret to a long marriage.
“Don’t get divorced.”
It reminds me of a song from my favorite movie of all time, The Fiddler on the Roof. The main character, Tevye, a dairy farmer, “Do you Love Me?”
Golde has a hard time answering, replying in song, “For twenty-five years, I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow. After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?”
Thinking through it more, and with some added prodding from her needy husband, Golde concludes that she does, in fact, love him, singing,
“For twenty-five years, I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him.
For twenty-five years, my bed is his. If that’s not love, what is?”
In our 21st century, me-first, emotion-driven, wealthy American culture, we are losing the basic understanding that staying married is largely about staying committed to the covenant we made before God to remain together through sickness and health, riches and poverty, good times and bad, to love, honor and protect until death parts us.
So, I agree with my husband and his grandpa, that the secret to staying married is, “Don’t get divorced.”
But let’s look deeper into the scriptures, to glean more wisdom from its pages, and consider 25 tips for staying married for 25 years …
- Choose your spouse wisely and refuse to be unequally yoked. (2 Corinthians 6:14) The best marriages are formed from the union of two people who are both committed to loving the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. This is the most important foundation that can be laid for a successful marriage that can go the distance. If you’re not married yet, recognize that the choice of who to marry is truly the most important decision of your life. Count the costs and choose wisely.
- Heed the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5-7, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” Don’t put your trust in your own wisdom, or articles you read on the internet. Put your trust in God.
- Pray together with your spouse. Pray for each other. Pray for yourselves. Pray for others. But, pray together. I noticed a big difference in our marriage when we began praying together after being married for almost ten years.
- Keep the marriage bed holy. (Hebrews 13:4) The greatest marriage struggles we’ve had have come from issues in this area. Wait until marriage to become intimate. Recognize that God intends for sexual relationships to be enjoyed exclusively in the context of a covenantal relationship between one man and one woman. (1 Corinthians 6:9-20, Ephesians 5:1-6, Matthew 5:27-30)
- Recognize that as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are equally important, but have unique roles, so are a husband and wife equally valuable, but have unique roles. As Jesus submits to His Father, and the church submits to Christ, so a wife is to submit to her husband. As Christ loved His bride the church, even unto death, so husbands are to sacrificially love, lead, and serve their wives. This mystery is indeed profound, but marriage displays the glory of God and the gospel in a visible way to a watching world. (Ephesians 5:22-33)
- Keep your heart humble, striving to remove the log from your own eye. (Matthew 7:5) See yourself, rather than your spouse, as the foremost of sinners. (1 Timothy 1:5) Remind yourself of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, not as a way of seeing how badly your spouse is failing, but as a way of seeing your own need for a Savior. Put your own name into these verses and see how you’re doing. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
- Confess your sins to each other. (James 5:16) Be transparent and honest with one another. Be quick to apologize and reconcile. As soon as you recognize that you have hurt your spouse, go to them immediately and seek their forgiveness. (Matthew 5:23-24)
- Forgive each other. Don’t let bitterness take root in your heart. (Hebrews 12:14-15, Matthew 18:21-35, Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13) I have often struggled here. I have to remind myself daily of how much God has forgiven me and how important it is for me to forgive likewise.
- Maintain a “gentle and quiet Spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Peter 3:4) Peter wrote this particularly for women, and particularly for women whose husbands are not following God, but it applies to men as well. In a marriage, we should both commit our lives to the Lord, to trust Him fully, so we can be free to have a meek spirit before Him and each other.
- Commandment #10: Do not covet your neighbor’s spouse. (Exodus 20:17) No spouse is perfect. They all have flaws. And so do you! Remember that the glimpses you get of other married couples on social media or at church on Sunday mornings are not full and accurate pictures of their married lives. All good marriages take work. (Ephesians 5:1-6, Colossians 3:5, James 4:2)
- In everything give thanks and give thanks in every thing. Trust that God is always, always at work, even in the very hardest of circumstances. Let the sacrifice of praise be ever found on your lips. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, Ephesians 5:20, Hebrews 13:15)>
- Do not give up meeting with other believers. No marriage can thrive without fellowship with other believers. We need our spouse, but we also need others. Get involved and stay involved with a local body of believers. (Hebrews 10:24-25, Acts 2:42)
- Find a mentor and be a mentor. Young women need an older woman to train them to love their husband and children (Titus 2:3-5) and young men need an older man to teach them. And this isn’t only for the first 5 years of marriage. Even after 25 years, I still need older women to pull me back from the ledge sometimes. And I have grown so much in my own marriage and faith as I’ve mentored other women in theirs.
- Daily remind yourself of Romans 8:28, that God is working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. In the here and how, we only see the backside of the cross-stitched work of art full of tangled, knotted threads, while God is creating a masterpiece of interwoven colors. Trust that God is the only God Almighty, a good Father who always keeps His promises. When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart. Choose to believe in the dark what you believed in the light.
- Keep a careful watch over your mouth. (Psalm 141:3) “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) Recognize the importance of bridling your tongue and what terrible fires it can set ablaze.(James 1:26, James 3:2-10) Use your words to speak the truth in love rather than disdain, to build up rather than tear down. (Ephesians 4:15)
- Keep an even more careful watch over your heart, for out of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45) “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2) “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the ￼Spirit.” (Romans 8:5)
- Recognize the spiritual battle that you are in. Have you been born again into the family of God and filled with His Holy Spirit? If not, you’re fighting a battle you can’t win. But, if so, remember that you are not battling against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil, so make sure you have on the full armor of God. (Ephesians 6:10-20) There are going to be times when your spouse hurts your feelings. He will be insensitive. He will forget to call. He will leave the toilet seat up. She will burn the dinner and forget to wash the laundry. Pray and stay alert to the enemy’s schemes and don’t jump into a fight that you’re not supposed to fight.
- Sometimes the enemy will win for the moment, but remember that Christ is the final victor. Satan may win a battle, but Jesus will win the war. Satan may be the prince of the world, but God is the Almighty King of Glory. Sometimes your spouse will sin against you. When that happens overcome evil with good rather than repaying evil for evil (Romans 12:21, 17). Take up the sword of the spirit which is the word of God.
- Remind yourself that the anger of man will never produce the righteousness of God. (See James 1:19-20 and Matthew 5:22) You cannot nag or argue or guilt your spouse into changing. You are responsible for your actions and your words, not theirs. Entrust your spouse into God’s righteous, Almighty hands.￼
- Recognize from the start that life will be hard and marriage will be hard. There’s never been a perfect marriage because there’s never been a perfect man, except Jesus (and He never married and if He had, His wife wouldn’t have been perfect either). Unmet expectations are joy stealers. Beware of having unrealistic expectations of your spouse. If you want something from your spouse, kindly appeal to them for it, but trust God for the results.
- Make God’s Word a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. (Psalm 119:105) Hide it in your heart like precious treasure. (Psalm 119:11) Let the scriptures transform you, trusting that all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness that you may be complete, equipped for every good work. (Romans 12:2, 2 Timothy 3:16-17) Here are a few good places to start: Psalm 119, 1 Peter 3, Colossians 3, Romans 12, Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 13. Read and study and memorize. Have daily drinks, weekly dates and annual days with God, the fountain of living water, the only one able to quench your thirst.
- Serve Christ individually and together. Whether at home, at church, or in your community, see yourself as a blood-bought servant of Christ. Serving alongside each other and serving together develops a common purpose and goal in life that helps you stand firm in the storms. As Paul encouraged those who were earthly bondservants, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)
- Practice the golden rule with your spouse. “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (￼Luke 6:31) Oftentimes it is easier to be kind to your neighbors and friends and even strangers than it is to be kind to your spouse. Intentionally seek opportunities to serve your spouse. Make him a cup of coffee. Rub his back. Send him a quick text expressing your love. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)
- Tell your own soul that love is an action, a decision, a choice, not just a feeling. We can put on love. We can choose to love. The more you choose to love, the more you will feel loving. Like Tevye’s wife, Golde, you can wash the clothes, cook the meals, clean the house, bear the children, and maybe even milk the cow, and end up loving your spouse in the process of serving him. (Proverbs 10:12, 1 Peter 4:8)
- Finally, remind yourself of the truth of the gospel, that we are all broken people living in a broken world in desperate need of a Savior, and that Jesus, God’s only Son, the God-man made a way to reconcile us back to a Holy God, by giving His own blood to pay the price for your sins. Trust in Jesus today. Repent of your sins and turn to Him and receive His forgiveness. He died for you that you can live for Him, both now and eternally.
Romans 5:1-8, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Ephesians 2:1-10 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
1 John 4:9-11 “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
If the Almighty, Perfect, Sovereign, Creator-God of the universe, can take on flesh, coming to earth as a humble baby and die a criminal’s death on a cross in my place to save me from my sins, then by the power of His Holy Spirit at work in my heart, I can say no to sin and yes to Jesus, forgiving and loving my spouse, like God in Christ forgives and loves me. Apart from His saving grace and power, I can do nothing good. And apart from His saving grace and power, neither can my husband. We are both nothing more than two forgiven children walking hand-in-hand down this narrow road that leads to eternal life. That’s the true secret to a joy-filled marriage.