"Always give more than you get" was what my mother told me over 25 years ago at my bridal shower. My mother had been married a long time and that advice has served me well. Sadly, I can't say that I always followed it. But by the grace of God and an amazing husband, our marriage has survived all these years.
My thoughts lately have been a lot about marriage and what really does make it work. We have seen way too many marriages end in divorce in the last year or so, while others are barely hanging on by a thread even as I write this.
Then I got an email this week from a friend who wanted me to call another woman about the difficulties that woman was experiencing in her marriage. I knew a bit about the situation they were going through and wasn't sure what advice I could give her that would truly help if she wasn't willing to do some hard work and see it through.
Here is the one thing I have learned over the last 25+ years, you really do have to be willing to give more than you get - or at least more than you think you are getting. If there was such a thing as 'elbow-grease' in marriage, you need that! Hard work and sacrifice and patience and prayer and love that goes beyond words.
Over the last several years, my husband and I have met with and talked to numerous people who are going through difficult times in their marriage. Sadly, the one thing we saw repeatedly was people who wanted their marriage to work, no matter how bad it had gotten, but they weren't willing to do the hard work to see it through. If just wanting your marriage to work was all it took, there wouldn't be a need for divorce attorneys.
There hasn't been a fix-all answer that I could ever give to anyone whose marriage was struggling. But this much I know, you have to be willing to sacrifice and put your spouse first, and in even greater amounts during difficult seasons.
Our marriage has seen a wide-range of trials, testings and blessings. We have survived difficult times when we weren't followers of Jesus Christ. We have survived difficult times when we were following Jesus with all of our hearts. We have seen lean seasons and seasons of plenty. We have walked through busy years of children and adjusted to the empty nest years. We have had difficult times that we share publicly and we have private trials that aren't always meant to be shared.
I say these things, because I want you to understand that it wasn't just because of one particular thing or lack of something that made it work. My husband and I have learned to press on and hold on and to give and bend and fight fair. We pray for each. We try to put each other first and yet I fail too often at this. We have learned to close our mouths and keep our negative words to ourselves when our flesh wanted to just say what it was thinking. We have forgiven 7 x 7 and then a thousand more on top of that.
Although God graciously sustained our marriage even when we weren't living for Him, I can't help but direct troubled marriages back to the Bible to be your guide. Are you personally living as the husband or wife that God called you to be? When you look in the mirror do you see the husband/wife that God intended you to be or something that looks more like a version that has been modified by the world's standards?
Sadly there are times when you can do all the right things and the hard work and pray and sacrifice and a spouse will still choose to leave or will continue an abusive or addictive lifestyle that is unhealthy for you to remain in. The fallen world in which we live is still a reality today as much as it was in biblical times.
But there is hope if you are still married, even if the problems seem too much. As my mother said "always give more than you get". You might just be surprised at what you get in return.