Our fourth-born got married this month, just four days before he graduated from medical school, and is currently on his honeymoon.
Before the wedding, he and his bride went through premarital counseling with a couple from their church. One of their first assignments involved both his and her parents filling out lengthy questionnaires to be read and discussed by the happy couple.
Some of the questions were specific, such as “What do you consider your son’s (or daughter’s) greatest strength or most challenging weakness?”
But most of the questions were of a general nature. I’ve reprinted our responses to the general stuff below, in hopes that it might be a blessing to other couples (whether newlywed or not):
As we begin our new marriage, what is your best advice to me about COMMITMENT?
Dad: Marriage is for life. It is far easier and better to make adjustments in an existing relationship than to try and forge a new one.
Mom: Commitment is the glue that holds your marriage together. Without it, there’s little chance that you will make it through all the better and worse, sickness and health, want and wealth as long as you both shall live. Keep in mind that you and your spouse are on the same side. You do have an enemy, and your enemy will be working overtime to destroy your marriage, but that enemy is not the person you married.
What is your best advice to me about COMMUNICATION?
Dad: Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand.
Mom: Don’t expect your spouse to read your mind; tell her what you are thinking, both the good and the bad. If you are upset about something, choose your words carefully. Don’t spew things in anger you will regret later, for there is no taking it back afterwards.
There are certain things you should never say to one another (such as “I hate you” or “I want a divorce”). Agree in advance to ban such comments from your conversations. I’d recommend going one step further to say that you should not even entertain such thoughts in your mind (take every thought captive!) – for if you allow them in or begin to dwell on them at all, they will eventually come out in your words and actions and will damage the trust you’ve worked so hard to build.
What is your best advice to me about HUSBAND/WIFE ROLES?
Dad: Complement each other, don’t try to compete. A win for either is a win for the team.
Mom: God’s Word makes it clear that the husband is to be the head of the home and that the wife is to respectfully defer to his authority. That doesn’t mean you get to be a dictator and boss your wife around. You are to love her as Christ loves the church and follow His example of servant leadership.
When you do this, you will make it much easier for her to follow your lead. The vast majority of the time, you will be in agreement over the course of action you should take as a couple in any given circumstance. In the rare instance that you do not see eye to eye, please listen when your wife voices concern and take her point of view into consideration in your decision making. Remember that having a different opinion on something than you does not constitute rebellion against your authority, especially when she is committed to abiding by whatever final decision you make.
What is your best advice to me about PARENTING?
Dad: You won’t be perfect, so be sure to admit when you are wrong and make any necessary changes.
Mom: Definitely have children if you can. Pray for wisdom in raising them. Love them fiercely, but don’t let their needs cause you to marginalize your marriage relationship. The kids will fare much better when your marriage is happy and well-tended.
Be patient and consistent in child training, clearly define expectations, and discipline your children when they need it (for willful disobedience or intentional meanness to others) calmly and without anger. Pray with and for them. Don’t try to micromanage your kids, but give them room to grow and blossom into all God intends them to be.
What is your best advice to me about HUMOR?
Dad: Don’t take yourself too seriously. You are just a tiny person on a tiny planet spinning through space for a brief wisp of time.
What is your best advice to me about PRIORITIES IN LIFE?
Dad: There is only one priority which is to serve God, everything else is a manifestation of that service: How do I serve God through my family, my work, my church, my friendships, or even my diet and sleep?
Mom: Your top priority should be to glorify God in everything you do. I like your dad’s analogy of life being like a pie. God doesn’t just want the first piece or even the biggest piece; He wants the whole thing. So whatever you choose to do —- whether eating or drinking or working as an anesthesiologist or playing violin in the community orchestra or doing missions in Africa or coaching your daughter’s soccer team -— do it in a way that honors and exalts and magnifies the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is your best advice to me about SPIRITUAL GROWTH?
Dad: There is no magic formula. All that we have and are is a gift of God’s grace. Look for His hand in things, and you will find it.
Mom: Stay in the book. Stay on your knees. Be a doer of the word, not just a hearer who deludes himself. Live out your faith and let it inform everything else you do in life.
What is your best advice to me about FINANCES?
Dad: Have an emergency fund, it will give you peace of mind.
Mom: As much as you are able, avoid debt on depreciating items (I don’t think houses or education necessarily fall into that category) and resist making impulse purchases. Make a budget and stick to it as best you can. But also remember that money is just a tool. God expects us to be a good steward of what He gives us, yes, but He also wants us to be open channels through which He can bless others. Your dad definitely has that part down pat. I hope you will be as generous with others as he is, but maybe hang onto your cars for just a little bit longer than he does before trading them in. 🙂
What is your best advice to me about WORK?
Dad: Do something that honors God, that you enjoy, that you are good at, and that provides for your family.
Mom: Do excellent work. “Competence is the first step in compassion,” as they say. I know that you, like Dad, will likely have to carry a phone or pager at all times. You’ll need to answer quickly when you are on call, but to the degree you are able when you are not on call, do not let technology intrude on family meals, outings, or times of intimacy. And please do not try to text while you are driving. Hand the phone to your wife and let her type for you.
If you could share one piece of wisdom about marriage based on what you did right or wrong, what would it be and why?
Dad: Negative: Don’t say harsh things in anger to your wife or kids. Positive: Pray and be intimate every day you can, because life is short, and a day wasted is a day lost.
Mom: Be quick to forgive offenses and always interpret your spouse’s words and actions in the best possible light. These are things I learned by doing it wrong in the beginning – harboring secret resentments, being extremely selfish, and assuming he was doing something (like growing a beard on vacation or buying sodas at the gas station) specifically because he knew I didn’t like it. Don’t make those mistakes. If I’d persisted in that foolishness, I don’t think our marriage would have survived, much less thrived.
As for something we did right, we resolved early on to let the spouse with the strongest drive determine the frequency of sex (in our case, that was your father 🙂 ). In the grand scheme of things, this is a comparably small time investment (especially considering all the benefits we reaped with this commitment), but was absolutely the right call. I believe that setting aside time for sex every day and always praying together beforehand has served to keep our marriage stronger than anything else we could have done.