My wife and I were 21 and 20 when we got married. Honestly, we knew very little what we were getting into. I wouldn’t change a thing, but I wouldn’t recommend getting married at such a young age either.

On June 3, 2006, we said I do.  Neither one of us had really experienced life yet, so we were bringing little experience and several pre-conceived notions into our marriage.

The first year was easy (we were young and in love). The second year was more difficult. We never had a breaking point, but I wouldn’t say we had a great marriage either. By God’s grace, we stuck with it, grew in our relationship with God and each other, and just celebrated our 10 year anniversary in June.  (Notice the picture: maybe hair loss comes with matrimonial maturation).

There is no such thing as a perfect marriage.  We have such romanticized notions of what it means to be “in love.”  What chick flicks don’t tell you is that the lovin’ feelin’ usually fades after a few years. This is why you must strive for a different foundation in marriage.  Over time, marriages either grow better or they grow bitter.  Marriage veterans know that seasoned marriages are produced through love, service, oneness, forgiveness, and holiness. There is no better way to cultivate a healthy marriage than to:

1. Love God first.  Your spouse will make a pathetic god if you choose to worship them over Him. Husbands, the best thing you can do for your spouse is to put God first. As the spiritual leader in our home, I need to be sure that I love Jesus first before I try to love Joanna.  Your spiritual life is vital because love for your spouse flows from your love for God.

2. Love your spouse as Christ loved the church. There is no better teaching on marriage than Paul’s letter to Ephesus.  In Ephesians 5:25, He challenges men: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (ESV‬‬) Christ loved sacrificially, even to the point of death for His Bride.  Convicted yet?  When you are proactive in sacrificially loving your spouse, it is amazing how good your marriage can be.  I am still learning this the hard way. I have a knack for self-preservation.

3. Oneness. You are no longer two but one. Sure you still have separate names and identities, but you are now one. A healthy marriage becomes a partnership, not a pathway to superiority.  Your achievements will become your spouse’s victories. Your spouse’s pain becomes your heartbreak.

4. Forgiveness.  Do not let the sun go down on your anger…(Eph 4:26).  There is a principle that I remember my youth pastor and his wife instilling in me when it came to marriage:  Don’t go to bed angry.  No matter what happens, you need to forgive your spouse and protect your marriage.  Often we get mad about such petty things that it is ridiculous to stay mad in the first place.  A successful marriage must be seasoned with grace.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

5. Build a marriage on holiness over happiness.  My wife and I led a study on Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Marriage last spring at our church.  The whole premise of his book is building marriages that value holiness over happiness. I believe that our bent toward happiness is why many marriages fail.  Too many people want their personal happiness over relational holiness in marriage.  In our culture, marriages are built upon personal fulfillment.  However, I believe that God wants to use our marriage to transform us to be more like Christ.

Your marriage matters.  It matters very much to your spouse, children, and as a witness to the world.  Your marriage matters to God.  What sort of legacy are you looking to leave behind?