Marriage is about as difficult as it gets. Marriage is essentially one broken mess—you—becoming “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) with another broken mess—yes, your lovely spouse.
Sounds flammable. And as we all know from personal experience, it can be.
In my line of work, I discuss these matters regularly. What I’ve seen it come down to is this: when a couple simply admits they are capable of divorce—yes, even you—they’re on a positive trajectory. When a couple affirms the difficulty of marriage and decides despite these difficulties marriage is worthy of the work required, they have a higher chance of making it.
Those willing to put in the work, armed with a winning strategy involving God’s grace, make it. So, chin up. A thriving marriage is attainable.
But it’s not magic. So let’s get practical.
You need a higher power
At the center of a divorce-proof marriage is an intimate, personal communion with God. It means each spouse has sacrificed his or her own desires to live for what God wants instead. It means a working understanding of His gospel of grace toward you.
Essentially, it’s an increasing desire to kill your own sin … not your spouse’s! And it’s evidenced by and founded in the longing to know the Bible better. To know God more deeply. To personally reflect His glory in everything you do.
So to start, this must be true for you and your spouse at the individual level. Yet, it must be true for you as a couple, too.
Together you approach God. The well-worn paths of prayer and Bible study still lead quickest to God’s presence. But you can get creative in how you go about these disciplines together.
Try a Bible-reading plan together. Create a rhythm of reading individually in the morning, then conversing at night. This gives you the full day in between to both marinate on and apply what you read before expressing it.
Consider listening to a Christian podcast or sermon together during long commutes or travel. Make sure to hit “pause” every once in a while to just chat. Whatever it ends up being, make sure it works for you both—then stick with it!
You need other people
But you’ll never be able to accomplish this alone in the four walls of your home together. However necessary it is to go before the Lord individually and together as a couple, if your communion with God stops there, your marriage remains in imminent danger!
The only defense is a Christ-centered community. A community tethered to a local church.
Linking arms with other Christian couples and intentionally living life together is vital to the health of any marriage. The statistics agree. Weekly church attendance lowers your risk of divorce by 20-50%. And that’s just church attendance. The sort of Christ-centered community participation I’m talking about goes beyond that.
You need God and other believers speaking into your marriage for numerous reasons.
1. Because you each have blind spots.
Ashamedly, I remember a fight during our first months of marriage. Talk about a complete idiot! I actually believed I was God’s gift to my wife—and not the other way around!
Huddled around the close friends of our Christ-centered community of other married couples, it didn’t take long to see how blind I was (and am!) to so many of my flaws. It’s the same at the marriage level.
Your marriage has flaws you two simply don’t see. Living invested in a Christ-centered community allows space for these flaws to come into the light and be sorted out.
2. Because your marriage needs a safe place to air out.
You need a space to air out your marital issues in a healthy, spouse-honoring way. Listen, this comes back to the gospel. Your “mask” isn’t fooling anyone—especially not your spouse. We are all seriously broken, fragmented, and sin-ridden.
One of the most practical applications of Christianity is the freedom you have in Christ to admit you don’t have it all together. So admit it. And feel the freedom of walking in the light (1 John 1:7) with other couples that are committed to the blossoming of your marriage.
3. Because your marriage needs people committed to it.
Do you know what it’s like to have someone all-out committed to you? It transcends almost all other human experiences!
In seminary, my wife and I joined a group with six married couples in it. We made the mistake of staying surface-level. Within a year, three of the couples ended in adultery which spiraled into divorce.
That was half our group! While I don’t take full responsibility for their failing marriages, I mourn the fact our group never penetrated into what was really going on.
This is what a Christ-centered community does. Gutsy, sacrificial, unconditional commitment towards each other. And that is transformational to any marriage.
4. Because your marriage issues are real—but normal.
As you live with a commitment toward others, you realize how non-weird your struggles are. Sure, they are bad. And absolutely must be dealt with.
But hear this: confessed sin doesn’t end marriage as much as isolated sin does. Believing you’re alone. That you and your spouse are the only ones struggling. What a satanic ploy.
First Peter calls the devil a lion for a reason (5:8). He separates one from the pack … and then devours.
There’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)! The things you’re dealing with are serious, but they are not new. So having others rally around you to fight for you is marriage-saving. It cuts divorce off at the root.
5. Because you need to follow Jesus as He intends.
I mean this literally: obeying God is impossible without other people around you. You can’t do Christianity apart from community.
Dozens of “one another” commands fill the Bible. Whether it’s to welcome one another (Romans 15:7), forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32), confess sins to one another (James 5:16), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), or to love one another (Romans 12:10), the blessings of following Jesus are activated by a close-knit community.
As Andrew T. Walker writes, “‘We’ is one of the most important words in the Christian vocabulary for shaping our identity as Christians.” As a married couple who takes your faith seriously, make every effort to foster a community you care deeply for. And do it now!
6. Because you need a mission beyond the two of you.
It’s important for Christians to look inwardly to make sure they’re in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5), and to kill sin (Romans 8:13), and to make sure they’re overall healthy. But that can’t be all.
Every Christian has an outward-facing emphasis too. Because we are ambassadors for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20). In Christ, you represent Him to the watching world. As you seek to obey Him, He is working through you and impacting others.
It’s the same with marriage. However important it is to be inward-facing as a couple, you must balance that with an outward-facing emphasis, too. Your marriage has an “ambassadorial edge” to it. You are representing Him to the watching world. You have a mission as a couple, not only for inward health, but outward impact—and they work together. One helps the others.
This, again, is why Christ-centered community is integral to your marriage flourishing. It is a group of people that stand side by side—shield to shield. They offer a fanatical service to the outside world, finding all sorts of tangible ways as a group to serve your community.
Service like this momentarily pries your eyes from the flaws of your marriage. And you go home with your spouse exhausted, proud to be married to such a warrior. Sure, your spouse has insecurities, a temper, and sometimes shows up late to family functions—but suddenly these appear insignificant in comparison to the bigger mission.
7. Because your marriage shines light to a watching world.
Many have asked: “How do we win back our confused culture?” The answer might shock you: With your marriage.
Yes, it is your marriage that will win people back to Christ.
Which surfaces a profound truth: your personal marriage is incredibly public. People notice.
This can be bad news. If spouses start quitting on each other, it’s not reflective of how Jesus treats us.
Or, it can be good news. The hard work you put into your marriage behind closed doors, that nobody ever sees, bursts forth with radiant, soul-winning light as both of you take on your day. People notice, that’s crucial to remember.
This is intensified by the accountability of a Christ-centered community. The health of your marriage can breathe life into someone else’s. Which then launches them like arrows into a darkened world.
And when you are off your game, observing how another couple is relating to each other can remind you of all that’s good. It can spark a new drive to fight for your spouse, not against them. Which then launches you like a blazing arrow into a desperate world.
Your marriage needs Christ and a Christ-centered community
Friends, marriage is innately difficult. You aren’t the only crazies out there! Hopefully, by now you’ve decided your marriage is worth the battle.
I wish I could be present with you, grab you by the shoulders and look you in the eye. So much is at stake here. Anchor your life and your marriage in the hope of Christ. Huddle around others. And don’t waste time getting there.
Silence the excuses of your mind right now. Where believers gather is where Jesus himself gathers (Matthew 18:20). And He’s the divorce-preventing Savior. Enjoy Him. Enjoy your community. And then find pleasure in your thriving marriage.
Other healthy habits
Scientists agree that spiritual intimacy is just one of five habits that directly correlates to marital health. Read about the other habits too.
Copyright © 2019 Justin Talbert. All rights reserved.
Justin Talbert serves as the Student Pastor at Christ Community Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He received his MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary. Justin and his wife, May, have three Vikings-in-training: Soren, Aksel, and Isen. You can find him on Instagram: @justinltalbert. And he regularly blogs at getgroundedministries.com.