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The Three Stages of Growth in Marriage

The Bible tells us, "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established" (Prov. 24:3). In other words, God wants you to be wise and understand how to build your marriage and family.

The wise couple will understand that there are common stages in a marriage. Many marriages fail because of ignorance. People enter marriage but do not know how to succeed in it for life. Many believe that the emotion of romantic love will carry them through life. They do not realize that difficult times come to any marriage. After only a few weeks of marriage, some people say, "He (or she) has changed; this is not the person I married. I have no idea what went wrong!" Most of the time this occurs because people who were marrying did not really know each other. They did not want to see faults in each other, or they did not count the cost. Before marriage, people learn to please themselves or their families. But when two people marry, they must learn to please each other. The Bible tells us to "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:21). Many times, married people refuse to learn to submit to each other. But a husband and wife should become closer through the three stages of growth in marriage.

Stage One:  Get to know your spouse.

Often a new marriage is full of energy, innocence, and surprises. The early months of marriage are a time to learn about each other. Five sentences describe a couple during this first stage of marriage:

  • They are attracted to each other. Their attention is focused on each other. The couple spends much time thinking about each other. They forget other things and walk around smiling about the one they have married.
  • They see only the best in each other. In the first stage of marriage, people tend to think of their partner on a high level. Solomon wrote: "How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves" (Song of Songs 4:1). During these early days, married partners praise and admire each other. Each is perfect in the other's eyes.
  • They submit to each other. At first, new couples give in to each other and give up their rights. They submit to each other to have harmony. They are tender with each other and like to be together. They care about each other's needs.
  • They enjoy each other. Early in marriage the partners are very happy. They have a feeling of well-being. Everything seems great and they are encouraged.  Solomon writes from this point of view throughout the Song of Songs. He feels all the emotion of Stage One: joy, happiness, and excitement. But there is one more sentence that describes this stage.
  • They ignore the faults of each other. The fact is, at the beginning of a marriage, you really do not know the other person. You are in love with an ideal of him or her. You do not know what your spouse is really like, and you do not know your future. In those early months, couples tend to ignore differences and overlook faults. They put odd things aside. Often, zthey ignore major problems.

This first stage of marriage does not last, because it cannot last. Sooner or later, couples become aware of differences and faults. They have different personalities, different *temperaments, and different responsibilities. The *honeymoon (first period of enthusiasm) will end, and they must go back to work. When this stage passes, we come to Stage Two.

Stage Two:  Understanding and growing through differences.

The man who wrote Song of Songs also wrote Proverbs 27. In Song of Songs, Solomon was saying, "You are perfect! You are flawless. There is nothing wrong with you. Marriage is great! I am in love!" After a time, Solomon says this about his wife: "A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand" (Prov. 27:15-16).

What happened? It sounds like his joy in marriage and his joy about his wife disappeared. During this stage, delight can turn to confusion, bitterness, and tension. Here are five descriptions about what can happen to the husband and wife in Stage Two.

  • They become dull. Routine and boredom become part of the couple's life. Most excitement is gone. There is some loss of interest and some change in feelings.  People do not care much about the way they look, because they cannot look perfect all the time. The honeymoon (first stage) is over, and now the partners begin to realize that marriage is like life; some days are wonderful, but many are slow, dull, routine, or even boring.
  • They argue. The couple begins to quarrel over their differences. They no longer give up and give in. Strife enters the marriage.
  • They defend themselves. The partners start protecting themselves. They are not as open and trusting as they were. They do not want the other to accuse them of their faults. They start protecting themselves. They excuse themselves and accuse their mate. Resentment and bitterness can build up. They can become defensive and unwilling to admit faults or to mature.
  • They criticize each other. In the first stage, husbands, like Solomon, say, "Everything she does is right!" And "She is perfect!" Now, very little seems right. What a change in attitude. The wife says, "I do not respect him anymore." Respect moves out and criticism moves in.
  • They become disappointed. The couple's dreams are not coming true. Sometimes people have said, "I feel trapped," or "I would rather be single again than be married to this selfish person." Others have said, "I am not happy, and I know God wants me happy, so I should get a divorce." They are disappointed. Many couples give up at this stage and seek divorce. Some make the mistake of trying to find feelings of love with another person. This unfaithfulness often destroys their marriage. Others become stuck in this stage of discouragement. They do not make the effort to work through this stage and understand their spouse. Because of these five reactions, many never know how wonderful marriage can be. They do not cross over the valley of disappointment to the mountain of mature love.

Stage Three:  Mature love.

Stage Three is described in 1 Corinthians 13, the "Love Chapter."  "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8).

In Stage Three, we see mature love. This is not just romantic feelings. Mature love is a decision to do the right thing, say the right thing, and be the right person. Let us look at seven characteristics of mature love.

1. Mature love is tender. Every marriage needs tenderness. We must be gentle and not judge each other. We must be careful with each other's feelings. We must be tender and avoid embarrassing our spouse. We realize that we are on the same team and we refuse to criticize or destroy each other.

2. Mature love is responsible. We each fulfill our duty to build a good marriage.  We are responsible to love, provide, protect, and nurture our spouse and our children.  We must love and act responsibly to God first, then our spouse, and our children.  We meet the needs of our loved ones even when it means personal sacrifice.

3. Mature love is accepting. We will never be alike and that is good. God created every husband and wife unique. We know we have different personalities and temperaments, different faults, and we still find a way to accept the one we married.

As a wise man said, "Before marriage, keep both eyes open, but after marriage, close one."  This means that we learn to see our spouse as he or she truly is but, we choose then to overlook certain faults.  Not every fault is worth a fight!  Instead, we must "Accept one another,then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God" (Rom. 15:7).

4. Mature love is secure. Mature love offers security that says, "No matter what happens, we will make it together." Both spouses must feel that they will remain faithful if they lose a job, lose health, or fail to reach their goals. This commitment brings security to both husband and wife. It also brings a deep sense of security to the children. The children need to know that during difficult times their parents will do whatever it takes to make the marriage succeed.

5. Mature love is truthful. Mature love is truthful. "Love … rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor. 13:6). As couples, we must be honest with each other and able to say what we feel. We must be truthful and tender to one another. The Bible calls this "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15).

The Bible instructs believers to "confess your sins to each other and pray for eachother so that you may be healed" (James 5:16). There are many couples that need their relationship to be healed because their relationship is weak. Many husbands and wives need to confess their sins (faults) to each other and pray for each other.  Their relationship be healed through confession and prayer.

Married couples must be willing to reveal their thoughts by honest communication. Mature love says, "This is where I am hurting." Or, "This is what I do not like." "This is what I need. What do you need?" "What is hurting you?" We need to stop hiding our feelings and opinions and be honest with each other.

6. Mature love is humble. Some people want the marriage relationship to focus only on their needs and feelings.  Some people sulk, pout, and brood. If a husband or wife refuses to talk, then their relationship will be weak. Some people threaten to walk out. Others use sarcasm and ridicule to attack loved ones. Some people like to blame their spouse. If we waste time and energy trying to find out who is at fault, we cannot fix the problem. Some people are always trying to change their partner. These actions are a form of pride and judgment and they will hurt a marriage.

In contrast, mature love is humble. Mature love puts the needs and feelings of others about everything else.  Mature love learns to walk away from actions that reveal the pride of the flesh.  It refuses to return negative thoughts and actions but instead chooses to act in a manner that honors Jesus Christ.

7. Mature love is willing to grow. If our marriage is mature, we have made the decision to act like adults instead of children. Mature love does not act selfishly or childish but instead chooses to act like Jesus Christ at all times.  Mature love will seek to grow the marriage relationship as each spouse seeks to become a better follow of Christ, a better spouse, and a better parent.

The content of this article is used by permission of "Faith & Action Series" and Dr. Wayde Goodall.  Please learn more about them at www.faithandactionseries.org and www.worldwidefamily.org.