--By Selwyn Hughes

         In the Book of Ephesians, Chapter 5, Paul interprets God's mind on the issue of family roles & relationships. The husband is described as "the head of the wife" (v.23), implying authority & headship. This does not mean, however, that a man is to be a dictator who bullies his wife into submission by such commands as, "Get me my bedroom slippers", "Make sure my dinner is on the table when I get home" or "Obey me in everything I say." He is to wield this authority by love: "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church." (v.25) And how does Christ love the Church?--Not by bullying it into submission or by issuing stern commands, but by gently, compassionately & tenderly wooing the Church to His standards & principles.
         Whenever I counsel a couple who say that their marriage lacks love, I look for the deficiency first in the husband. God has designed a man to be a love-initiator & a woman a love-receiver. This is a generalisation, of course, because a woman is required to love too, but basically the main ministry of a man in marriage is to love his wife so that she experiences the inner glow of being loved. When a man functions in this way he is fulfilling his Scriptural role of being a leader.
         The wife, on the other hand, is required to be joyfully submissive: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord." I have included the word "joyfully" here because some women see "submission" as threatening. One woman once said to me, as she gritted her teeth, "Well, if God wants me to be submissive to my husband, then I will be submissive." But she missed the point of the Scripture's exhortation!
         If a woman has difficulty in submitting to her husband, her main problem is not between her & her husband but between her & the Lord. She fails to see that this requirement is not a device of husbands to get their wives to submit to them but a commandment of the Lord.
         A woman is designed to
lean & not to lead in a marriage, & if she finds herself leading then she ought to stand back & look at herself in the light of the Scripture's commands. Many men are quite content to let their wives lead, & in this case a woman must gently pull back from a leadership role, letting the responsibility fall gradually upon her husband so that he begins to function in the way God designed him.
         After talking to hundreds of men & women in marriage guidance sessions, I have come to the conclusion that a man's greatest fear is that he might be dominated by his wife, & a woman's greatest fear is that she will be treated as an object & not as a person. When a man & woman follow God's roles for their marriage, those fears will never arise.

         Love in a marriage sometimes fades, not so much from angry battles, sexual frustration, financial problems or in-law difficulties, but because it exhausts itself trying to scale the wall of a communication failure. Those who take the time to learn the principles of effective communication will discover, as a result, a new dimension in their marriage. Communication difficulties are a major cause of marital difficulty, but it is not a difficulty in itself--it often shows up as a symptom of wider, more disturbing problems.
         A recent study among marriage guidance counsellors where several hundred happily married couples were compared with the same number of unhappily married couples came up with the following conclusions. The happily married couples (1) talked more to each other (2) conveyed the feeling that they understood what was being said to them (3) had a wider range of conversational subjects (4) showed sensitivity to the feelings of the other partner, & (5) sought to keep communication channels open.
         As a counsellor I'm tired of hearing people say they want to get a divorce because they can't work out their problems. In most cases the reason their marriage is in difficulty is because they are either too proud or too lazy to work on their problems. Divorce is not the only way out, as many people think.
         Communication in marriage consists of three components: Talking, listening & understanding. Let's take them one by one.
Talking: No marriage can grow or develop unless the partners take time to talk to each other. If they are extremely busy with a growing family, or business demands, they should allocate certain times of the day for the purpose of just talking together, for it is only in the sharing of thoughts & feelings that mutual respect, trust & love can flourish.
         Talking involves the use of words, & words, the Scriptures tell us, are immensely powerful: "Death & life are in the power of the tongue"--Pro.18:21. They can blister or they can bless, they can wound or they can heal. So pay attention to the words you speak, choosing your words carefully. Remember that harsh words hurt, gentle words heal.
         The second component of communication is
listening. Many marriage partners concentrate so much on getting their point across in a conversation that they fail to pay attention to cultivating the art of listening. An invaluable device in building good communication techniques, especially when you are discussing a relationship problem, is to practice listening to your mate without interrupting. Then rephrase your partner's statement & repeat it in your own words. Your partner then has the opportunity to confirm that what you have heard is exactly what he intended to say, or if not, a correction can then be made. Try it sometime. It takes discipline, but it can be a valuable tool in keeping together a marriage.
         If you focus on what you are going to say rather than on what the other person is saying, you might miss the real import of the conversation. Listening is concentrating so much on what the other person is saying that you become more conscious of them than you are of yourself.
         The third component of communication is
understanding. Try to understand not just what your mate is saying but why he or she is saying it. This doesn't mean that you have to play the role of a psychologist, but seek to understand the way in which your mate makes decisions or arrives at conclusions.--The motives behind their moves!

         A Christian psychologist, after studying marriage for many years, says that a husband's most basic need is "significance" (respect & admiration) while a wife's most central need appears to be that of "security" (love, acceptance, sensitive & thoughtful caring). God's plan is for each mate to supply the needs of the other.
         While this is God's plan for marriage, the truth is that in practice most marriages fail to function this way. Husbands view marriage as an opportunity to be made happy by their wives. And wives, in turn, think of their husbands not as someone to whom they can minister, but rather as a source of their own security. Instead of focussing on being a
giver, each partner focusses on being a getter; each partner looks to the other to meet his or her needs. We try to manipulate our mate to give us what we feel we need, & the energy we use to accomplish this proves to be counter-productive, as it breaks the laws of relationships & works against the design of our loving Creator. Someone has said that "love begins when it expects nothing in return". Ask yourself now: "Is this the kind of love I have in my heart for my partner? Can I be content to give without wanting something in return?"

         Some years ago I met a man who said he & his wife had been married 30 years & in all their years of marriage they had only had one argument. "It started the day we were married," he said, "and to this moment it has not stopped!" Well, joking aside, every marriage has periods of argument, friction & conflict. Even the greatest saints in the Bible hit some difficult times in their marriages.
         Conflicts are inevitable but they can, if you know how to handle them, improve your marriage rather than tear it apart. So decide right now, if you haven't already, that you will establish some clear guidelines for dealing with conflicts.
First of all, determine to resolve every conflict rather than just settling for peace at any price. A study conducted in the U.S. several years ago came up with the interesting information that there are five common styles of responding to conflict. We can withdraw from conflict by adopting the attitude, "Well, I can't win so what's the use?" We can set out to win a conflict & say to ourselves, "If I don't win, then I can't live with myself." We can yield to conflict--give in in order to get along. We can compromise in a conflict, but the danger is that we might compromise important principles. Finally, we can resolve a conflict by facing the root problem & getting to the bottom of the matter. This is the best way because the other ways don't make for a growing relationship. Growth & maturity develop when we face issues, not dodge them.
Secondly, deal with conflicts as soon as possible after they occur. It is here that the man, being the leader of the home, must take the initiative for resolving the conflict, even if the wife "has started the whole thing". I realise that a man's feelings may be so deeply hurt by his wife's attitudes or actions that he may not feel inclined to do anything, but at such times he should remind himself of Jesus' command in Ephesians 5, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church." It may take a while for the truth of this Scripture to sink through one's hurt & damaged emotions, but it must be faced.
         The man should say, "Let's talk". But be careful not to follow the example of one young husband who, when trying to implement this principle, said to his wife, "You've been acting like a two-year-old for the past few hours. Come here & let's talk." He couldn't figure out why this made his wife angrier than before!
Thirdly, specifically define the problem or conflict. Here again the man taking the initiative should say, "As I understand it, the problem seems to be..." then indicate the problem. Be careful, though, to simply state the problem & not to be defensive. It would be inappropriate, for example, to say, "As I understand the problem, you are getting needlessly upset with me over the fact that I came home a little late from work".
Fourth, focus on the problem & not on each other. If a problem arises because a husband arrives home late, upsetting the domestic routine, then this should be the subject of discussion. It is impossible, of course, in the heat of an argument for a subject to be discussed academically, as feelings have been aroused, but as much as possible each mate should try to focus on the problem & not on the person.
Fifth, make up your mind to end every conflict by seeking forgiveness or being the one to forgive. This is the most important part of resolving a conflict. It determines whether you are merely lowering the heat or turning it off completely. It takes two of you to tango, as the saying goes, & if you've just had a shouting match, then you're both part of the problem, no matter who started it. Even if you were just 1% wrong & your mate was 99% wrong, you still need to ask their forgiveness for your 1%. Remember, time does not heal wounds--only forgiveness can do that. For without forgiveness, time will just give the hurt more time to grow roots.
         Be quick to apologise & ask for forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 is a favourite verse of mine & I use it in my own marriage as well as when I am counselling couples: "Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you." Focussing on how much God has forgiven you produces the grace to forgive one another. You do it for Christ's sake.

         Be alert to the differences between the male & female personality. I have found that one of the major problems between married couples in relation to the matter of sex is because they fail to recognise the important differences between a man & a woman. A man, for example, is aroused sexually by what he
sees; a woman is stimulated more by what she hears. When a man watches his wife undress in preparation for going to bed he often becomes ready to make love. He sometimes forgets though that his wife does not respond as readily to the idea of sex as he does & then fails to be as understanding & tender as he ought to be in bringing her to sexual readiness. To a woman, sex begins not in the bedroom but in the living room. She sees sex as beginning in a tender touch, continuing with affectionate words, & then some time later climaxing in the act of intercourse. One woman I know told her husband in a counselling session, "If you'd act more lovingly to me as soon as you come home at night, then I'd be more ready for passion & intimacy at bedtime."
         Neither should withhold from the other mate what is their sexual due, of course, as Paul counselled in 1Cor.7:3-5. In marriage the wife's body does not belong to her, but to her husband--& he rules over it. In like manner the husband's body does not belong to him but to his wife, & she rules over it. This concept needs to be in the forefront of every married couple's thinking, for then it breaks the vicious circle of self-centeredness & motivates a man & a woman to be givers & not takers in the relationship.

         Courtesy & manners are a grace that should be a part of every Christian's life, but in this modern generation they seem to be a dying art. A minister tells how he announced one evening to the men of his church that the next week he would speak on the subject, "How to get your wife to treat you like a king." When the night came on which he was to address the men's group, he discovered that long before the service was to start every seat was filled. He had a packed church! Some were quite startled by the simplicity of his formula for "getting your wife to treat you like a king." It was this: "Treat her like a queen."
         A similar formula could be adopted for wives who would like their husbands to treat them like a queen--treat him like a king. Be thoughtful to each other, for it is the little things that build a good & lasting relationship. Husbands, open the door for your wives. Wives, say respectful & encouraging things to your husbands. Both of you should be as polite to one another inside the home as you are when you are out.
         Never air your mate's shortcomings, weaknesses or deficiencies in front of other people or criticise him to others. You should never criticise your partner to others for two special reasons. One, the more you rehearse your grudges or gripes, the more indelibly impressed they will become in your mind. Two, nothing causes a person to feel let down more than knowing that their mate has been criticising them behind their back, or more embarrassed & humiliated than when criticised in
front of others.
         Common courtesy & minding your manners refer to such simple things also as cleanliness of body, speech & clothing. It means respect & thoughtfulness, the many little things you do throughout the day that say "I love you!" to your mate.
         Another important thing is to discover the sensitive area in your partner's life. Husbands, find out what it is about you that most irritates your wife. Wives, find out what it is about you that most irritates your husband. It's more than likely that you have no idea what is most offensive to your partner. Several years ago, after this was suggested to me, I asked my wife what habit or behaviour pattern in my life offended her. I thought I knew what her answer would be. In fact, there were several things I expected her to pinpoint, but the one thing she mentioned was something I thought did not bother her at all. So much for my sensitivity!
         We then turned the situation around & a similar thing happened. I mentioned something about her that I found irritating which she was completely unaware of. We both began to work on these irritations immediately & within a few months they had disappeared.
         Another courtesy married couples should employ is that of keeping no secrets from each other. Honestly share your fears, your hopes & your dreams.

         A dictionary definition of maturity is "full development of mind, body & spirit." Most of us, I am sure, fail to qualify on that count. We all have immature spots in our make-up.
         Many people go into marriage hoping that in some way it will help them overcome their emotional immaturity. But marriage in itself doesn't solve our emotional problems. It merely gives them a new arena in which to work. An emotionally immature person is not suddenly made mature upon entering marriage. Magic words spoken at the altar do not suddenly make you grow up emotionally. Some people grow up physically & reach the age when they can be legally married, but never grow up in their emotions. Such a person is still a child whose life is characterised by childishness, selfishness, temper tantrums, or "I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it" attitudes. This is why it is often said that you are not really ready to be happily married to another person until you are happily married to yourself.
         Unless we learn to do as the Apostle Paul tells us, "put away childish things", then these childish attitudes will intrude into our adult behaviour & produce serious disturbances in our relations with others.

         We go to our doctor or dentist for check-ups, so that we can ensure good physical health. An occasional marriage check-up, taken seriously, prayerfully & intelligently, will help to maintain good health in our marriage! Here are some questions which a husband & wife might discuss together. If there is a problem, discussion can help to clarify it & change the whole atmosphere of a marriage!

         a. Do we have enough time for quiet talks together?
                  b. How much do we listen to each other, & hear exactly what is being said?
                  c. How often do we make the mistake of attacking each other's personality rather than the problem?
                  a. In what ways do we honestly try to please each other?
                  b. Have we reached that "sacrificial love" of which the Scripture speaks, in which we delight more to be a giver than a receiver?
                  c. In what ways are we truly concerned for each other?
                  d. How can we develop an even greater love for each other?
                  a. Are we happy with the way we're managing our finances?
                  b. Do we tithe monthly?
                  c. Are we living in a workable budget?
                  d. What can we do to improve the handling of our finances?
                  a. Does making love bring us pleasure & a feeling of unity & fulfillment?
                  b. In love-making, are we concerned merely in getting something for ourselves rather than giving to the other?
                  c. Are we aware of each other's variations & differences regarding sexual needs?
                  a. Do we spend enough time together in prayer & reading the Word?
                  b. Are we open & honest with each other, keeping a clear conscience in all matters?
                  c. What can we do to improve our spiritual relationship with the Lord & each other?
                  a. Are we being a good parental sample to our children?
                  b. Do we discipline them properly, or are we guilty of under-discipline, over-discipline or not disciplining at all?
                  c. Do we make sure we have time for them & make them feel loved?
                  d. In what way can we be better parents?

         Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the Word be won by the conversation of the wives.
         While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
         Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, & of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel.
         But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek & quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
         For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands.
         Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters are ye, as long as ye do well, & are not afraid with any amazement.
         Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, & as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
         Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.
         Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
         For he that will love life, & see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, & his lips that they speak no guile.
         --1Peter 3:1-10.