Keep the Home Fires Burning
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
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SEVEN HINTS FOR PRESERVING AN EXCITING, WARM MARRIAGE
There are some wonderful things you just don't forget about your childhood. One of those pleasant memories was hurrying down to the kitchen on cold winter mornings and feeling the warm floor under my cold feet. The century old home that we lived in was well kept and roomy but not very well insulated. I had an upstairs bedroom and in the winter it got plenty cool by the time morning came. The worst part was getting out from under the pile of blankets and putting my bare feet on the cold floor. I did not waste any time getting to the kitchen because we knew the Round Oak wood stove in the basement would be fired up and the floors would be warm.
I sure enjoyed the warmth. It was wonderful. But it did not come about without effort. My dad cut and split wood regularly throughout the year. It was my job to carry the wood to the basement. Dad would start the fire before he went to work and mom would put wood on the fire to keep it going. As I think back, it took a lot of effort to keep that fire going, but it was worth it considering the alternative...cold feet! We all enjoyed the warmth and so we did our part to keep the home fires burning.
Keeping the fire going in the wood stove is much like keeping the love alive in your marriage, it does not "just happen." You have to work at it. You must add fuel to the "love fires" to keep them burning. Unfortunately, married folks are forgetting that and it is evident. One survey says "6 of every 12 marriages become loveless, utilitarian relationships sustained to protect children, property, shared careers and other business interests." In other words, COLD!
A cold, utilitarian relationship does not appeal to me! A WARM, LOVING RELATIONSHIP ranks high on my list of priorities. How about you? If you want to kindle the coals of love in your marriage relationship, the following suggestions will add fuel to the fire. It will take effort, but when you consider the alternative it is worth it!
Psychologist Norman Wright said, "...within each of us is the hunger for contact, acceptance, belonging, intimate exchange, responsiveness, support, love and the touch of tenderness." A caring partner can fill that need so we do not have to feel lonely. God planned it that way when he created Adam. Genesis 2:18 says, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." Simply stated, God made Adam a companion suited for him. Neither a beautiful environment nor a variety of animals would fill the bill.
Marriage, right from the start, was to be a relationship based on mutual, caring companionship. It is not a dictator- doormat relationship. Paul makes this clear when he begins talking about husband and wife relationships by saying "submitting yourselves one to another..." in Ephesians 5:21.
Couples who want to keep the home fires burning will make time for each other and that time will be quality time. Be sure to talk together, work together on projects of mutual interest, play together, dream together.
When I was dating my wife to be, we saw each other every chance we could. We worked opposite shifts which made things difficult but NOT impossible. The key was we made time for each other.
Too often, after the knot has been tied, the wife is left isolated. The husband is off at work or with the boys while the wife is working, keeping up with the kids, and minding "the castle."
Wise couples will carve out time to be with each other. They will make nurturing their relationship a prime priority despite the job obligations, children, community and church commitments. WHY? Caring for each other and being with each other is the fuel that keeps the relationship warm.
There is a second suggestion I want to share with you that will keep your marriage warm...
Commitment is the cornerstone of strong marriages. God's blueprint for marriage is clearly drawn in the Bible. It is, One Man plus One Woman for One Lifetime. Matthew 19:6 points out the importance of complete commitment when it says, "What God has joined together, let not man put asunder."
So many couples come to the marriage altar with selfish, unrealistic expectations. Each person is focusing on what they can get out of marriage instead of considering what they must give. A successful marriage is an exercise in give and take.
There are no "story book" marriages. If you hear of a marriage that is "perpetual bliss" it is a fairy tale. Why? Because there are no perfect husbands and no perfect wives. All marriages have their strengths and weaknesses, their good times and their difficult times, their highs and their lows.
So what keeps a marriage going? The secret fuel that keeps the love fires burning is the total commitment of one partner to the other. By total commitment I mean, the willingness to hang in there and work things out, in spite of weaknesses, disappointments and failures.
One author explained commitment like this... "A successful marriage is not one in which two people, beautifully matched find each other and get along happily ever after because of the initial matching. It is, instead, a system by means of which persons who are sinful and contentious are so caught by a dream bigger than themselves that they work throughout the years, in spite of repeated disappointment, to make the dream come true." (From The Recovery Of The Family by Elton Trueblood). Make it obvious to your mate that you are committed to making your marriage work.
There is another aspect of commitment that needs to be considered. Be committed to being satisfied with your partner. Our society has a morbid preoccupation with what I call The Septic Tank Syndrome. Movies, TV, videos, romance novels, etc. promote the philosophy -- The Grass Is Greener On The Other Side Of The Fence! When was the last time you saw a TV movie where married people were enjoying a fulfilling relationship with each other? It is an unusual show that does not promote the "grass is greener..." philosophy. But that philosophy is a MYTH! Do you know where the grass is greener? I have found that the grass is always greener over the septic tank. The entertainment media has disguised the hurt, the broken lives and the tragedy of marriages shattered by unfaithfulness. They make adultery look attractive but it is devastating American families.
The wisest man who ever lived wrote in Proverbs 5:15-23 of the importance of being satisfied with your marriage partner. He said, "Drink water out of thine own cistern... rejoice with the wife of thy youth... let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love." He goes on to say how foolish it is to look outside of the marriage relationship for satisfaction. I suggest you get out you Bible and carefully read this passage in its entirety.
Commitment means that your mate holds a position of honor in your life. That means there is a bond of sexual exclusiveness between you.
Complete commitment is the fuel that keeps the marriage warm.
A lady stopped in her pastor's office one day and as soon as she sat down she was in tears. She said "my husband can't say a kind word to me! I don't know what to do." The problem was tearing her and their marriage apart.
Ephesians 4:15 tells us the importance of "speaking the truth in love." That's what I call charitable communication. Words can be used like weapons. Job of old experienced this first hand and tells of the hurt misused words caused him. He said in Job 19:2, "How long will you...break me in pieces with words."
There is an old proverb that says, The road to the heart is the ear. I believe it. That explains why many marriages are growing cold when out of the 10,000 plus minutes in every week, the average couple spends only 17 minutes in close communication. That's the chilling fact.
Peter told husbands that they are to "dwell with them (their wives) according to knowledge..." in I Peter 3:7. By that he meant, a man needs to get to know his wife. That will not happen by accident. It will take time, time spent in quality communication, time talking and listening.
If you want to keep the home fires burning, you will sharpen your communication skills. Charitable (kind) communication and lots of it adds necessary fuel that keeps the love fires burning in a marriage.
I came across a card from American Greetings that illustrates my point beautifully. It was set up like a Want Ad in the newspaper, it said, and I quote...
Inside the card said, THANKS for taking the job, Mom!
The card could well have applied to a wife or a husband. The point is this. No one wants to be used. A husband wants to be more than a pay check and a wife more than a domestic servant. Everyone needs to know they are sincerely appreciated. Just knowing that your spouse cares will go a long way in getting you through tough situations. And it's right, too. Men, appreciation is a part of what it means to "cherish" your wife in Ephesians 5:29. Ladies, appreciation is a part of what it means to "reverence" your husband in Ephesians 5:33.
Refuse to take your mate for granted. Kind words of appreciation, lending a helping hand and creative, unexpected actions that show you value and esteem your mate will go a long way in keeping your relationship warm.
There is a fifth suggestion that is perhaps the most important suggestion of all when it comes to keeping the marriage relationship warm.
RESPONSIBILITY AND FORGIVENESS
All of us bring "excess baggage" into marriage. That includes personality weaknesses, personal problems, opinions, ideals, etc. When something goes wrong it is our natural inclination to "pass the buck." That is wrong. We must take responsibility for our own shortcomings and errors. Though it may be difficult to admit that "I am wrong" or that "I am a part of the problem" it is a part of our obligation to our mate. It is a necessity and not an option. When you are wrong, you need to be mature enough to own up to it. Both husbands and wives need to put away their pride and learn to say, "I'm sorry." A sincere, heartfelt apology will go a long way in keeping the warmth in a marriage relationship.
There is the other side of the coin that must be looked at also. That is forgiveness. Forgiveness is also fuel that keeps the home fires burning and the relationship warm. Now, I know some will protest at this point. Their attitude is similar to what one bitter woman said to her counselor... "It will be a cold day in hell before I ever forgive my husband. He does not deserve to be forgiven!" Few will be as crass as that woman, but many hold the same malignant attitude. Perhaps she was right. But I must point out Ephesians 3:13 which says that we are not to hold grudges, but be tolerant and ready to forgive. Note the specific words, "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." None of us deserve the forgiveness of our sins. But when you receive Christ as your Savior it is freely given. Because Christ has forgiven us, we are to forgive others.
When you forgive someone, what does that mean? Dr. Jay Adams says (I am paraphrasing) First, it means you are promising and choosing not to use it against the person in the future. Second, you are promising and choosing not to talk to others about it. Lastly, you are promising and choosing not to dwell on it yourself.
Dispense forgiveness in generous amounts. It pays off.
The sixth suggestion I offer you is, keep romance alive in your relationship. Some will say, "Oh come on now, you don't ever find romance mentioned in the Bible."
To be sure, the word "romance" does not appear in the Bible, but illustrations of it do. Read The Song Of Solomon or the story of Ruth and Boaz as recorded in the Old Testament Book of Ruth. There you will find romance in all of its purity and excitement.
Did you know that the absence of romantic love is on the top of the heap as a source of depression among married women? Dr. James Dobson says, "A man can be contented with a kind of business partnership in marriage, provided sexual privileges are a part of the arrangement. As long as the wife prepares dinner each evening, is reasonably amiable, and doesn't nag him during football season, he can be satisfied." But that is not the case with the wife! She yearns to be her husband's Special Sweetheart. She would likely trade the new TV, her dishwasher or just about anything for a single expression of genuine tenderness and attention that does not have to be "paid for" with sex.
A wise husband will take his wife on dates, remember anniversaries and special days. He will write her love notes or get her a small gift for no special reason.
A word of wisdom to the wives. Don't neglect your husbands. Husbands appreciate love notes too. He wants you to be "sexy" for him just as much as you want him to be romantic with you.
If you want to keep the home fires burning men, you will stimulate romance in your relationship. Ladies, if you want to have a warm marital relationship you will not treat your physical obligation to your husband as a "necessary evil."
There is one final suggestion I want to share with you. It focuses on the spiritual aspect of your relationship.
ACTIVE SPIRITUAL INVOLVEMENT
The kind of self-giving love needed to sustain a marriage relationship cannot be generated merely by personal desire, but it is available. The logical question is, "What is the source?" The answer is, "It is available from God, through his Son, Jesus Christ."
The Bible says in I John 4:8, "God is love." In order to tap into the reservoir of God's love a person must believe on Jesus Christ. The moment you put your faith in Christ, Romans 5:5 tells us, "...the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." At that moment God gives you the desire and the power to initiate the self-giving love needed to sustain your marriage.
Simply stated, spiritual involvement begins with personal faith in the risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Have you ever prayed, admitting to God that you are a sinner? Have you ever asked the Lord to forgive your sins? Have you ever told Christ you believe he died for your sins and arose from the dead? Have you ever personally invited Christ to come into your life and be your Savior from the guilt, penalty and power of sin? If not, why not do it right now. You could pray something like this...
Dear Lord Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner. Please forgive me for all my sins. I believe the Bible which says you died to pay for my sins. I believe you arose from the dead and are alive today. Please come into my life this very moment and be my personal Savior. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Amen.
If you just prayed that prayer and believe what you prayed, Christ is now your Savior. That's where spiritual involvement begins. The next step is to get involved in a good, solid, Bible preaching church. That is important to your marriage and a study done by a University of Virginia sociologist supports that fact. The study found that couples who attend church regularly are 42% more likely to still be married for the first time than those couples who don't attend church. In addition, reading the Bible and praying together regularly is important if you are going to keep the home fires burning.
Wouldn't you agree that the warmth of being in love beats the coldness of a utilitarian relationship? If so, get busy and start stoking the fire with the fuel... Caring Companionship, Complete Commitment, Charitable Communication, Expressing Appreciation, Responsibility and Forgiveness, Romance, and Active Spiritual Involvement.
David L. Brown is the Pastor of a Baptist Church in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. He and his wife Linda have enjoyed 20 years of marriage. They have three children.