“I thought my parents would always be together. Now it makes me wonder if my wife and I will make it.” John, who is 24, had been mar­ried only two years when he heard that his parents were divorcing. His 20-year-old wife, Jill, came from divorced parents too. “I don’t want this to happen to us, but I’m scared,” John said. “When we argue, I wonder if our marriage will last.”

No marriage can be made absolutely divorce-proof. Honest mari­tal partners recognize that strong relationships result from real tests in living. Intimacy may be built on surviving crises, pain, suffering and trials as much as it is built on happiness, romance and sexual ecstasy. The following seven steps could be called seven stones in the altar of marriage and may be helpful in avoiding divorce:

1. Build each other up–others will do the tearing down.

Practice complimenting your spouse. Nobody ever gets too much genuine praise. Some marital partners seem to feel obligated to keep their mates “humble.” To do this, they refrain from praise but pour on criticism. One wife said, “Everybody else tells him how wonderful he is. Somebody needs to keep his head small.”

Unfortunately her criticism and antagonism helped drive her hus­band toward another woman. In a confidential session he said to me, “I want to be important only to her, but it seems that nothing I do pleases her.” He didn’t love the woman with whom he was having an affair, but he felt like a failure at home.

A wife tends to be as beautiful as she is told she is. A husband will do almost anything to live up to the compliments and pride of his wife.

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Prov. 25:11).

Never make your mate the object of jokes. Sarcasm is the cancer of marital communication. Everyone may laugh, but the tears fall on the inside. Behind most jokes which are humorous at the expense of your partner is the spirit of malice and bitterness. Don’t put each other down; build each other up. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21)

2. Share honestly with each other–the world is a lonely place.

When God created woman, he said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” What makes marriage unique is the special intimacy involved. How tragic then to be shut out by the one you love. Yet so many hus­bands and wives brutally hurt each other by shutting the other out when they face conflict. Keep your heart’s door open to the one you love.

Admittedly, sharing is risky business. There are no guarantees that the other will accept us, but in marriage we commit ourselves to seek each other’s welfare. Practice listening to each other, observing behav­ior, clarifying what you hear and responding with your own feelings. Avoid walking out or “clamming up” as a way of controlling argu­ments. That behavior strikes a deep blow: “A wounded spirit who can bear?” (Prov. 18:14).

Privacy remains important. One may well negotiate for a more ap­propriate time to discuss his own feelings. Certainly I need to disci­pline my own thoughts toward understanding before trying to share them. “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is bro­ken down and without walls.” (Prov. 25:28) If, however, that be­comes the style of avoidance toward my mate, I defraud him or her just as though I refuse to give myself sexually. The Apostle Paul clearly in­structs the Christian couples in Corinth not to refuse each other sex­ually. (I Cor. 7:1-5).

Recognize the meaning of intimacy. We need each other.

3. Use conflict realistically–disagreement is not a sign of weakness in marriage.

Marriage mixed two lives which are different. Becoming as one does not mean total dominance by either partner, but instead involves a series of compromises. Here are six steps to managing conflict:

  • Handle the conflict as it arises.
  • Confront each other courteously.
  • Stick to the issue.
  • Listen as much as you talk.
  • Seek compromise.
  • Look forward to reconciliation.

Life involves conflict. The mature couple learns to manage it and respond in appropriate ways. In Proverbs we read, “It is an honor for a man to cease from strife; but every fool will be meddling.” (Prov. 20:3). Husbands and wives need time for settling differences and to work together to diminish the negative effects of conflict. Intimacy can be created by sharing the same goal — we together can handle our prob­lems.

There is a particular caution. No argument should be severe enough to threaten each other with the word “divorce.” Too many cou­ples wind up in divorce court because of their pride. Having chal­lenged each other, they are too proud to back down. The book of Proverbs is clear: “Pride ends in a fall, while humility brings honor” (Prov. 29:23). Having made the commitment to be married, never use the word “divorce” as a threat. Once the seed is planted, it grows as te­naciously as weeds in a garden. Promise yourselves you will plant the crop you want to harvest in the garden of your relationship.

4. Learn how to say, “Forgive me.”

The fourth principle in making your marriage strong against the threat of divorce is learning how to say that you need forgiveness. In lecturing on human relations I often say that the five most important words one can learn are: “I am sorry, forgive me.” The thought, “Love is never having to say you’re sorry,” has been widely disseminated. Nothing could be farther from marital truth. Love is being able to con­fess and forgive as well as to hear and be forgiving. The Scripture is clear: “When you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive you your sins, too.” “If ye do not forgive, neither will your Father. . . forgive your trespasses.”

Forgiving means accepting what has happened, accepting the apol­ogy and pledging yourself to live in the present and the future, not the past. To forgive means to forget. The husband or wife who recalls an incident and exacts “a pound of flesh” has not forgiven the spouse. The difficulty really lies with the offending party. The wise man said, “It is harder to win back the friendship of an offended brother than to capture a fortified city. His anger shuts you out like iron bars.” (Prov. 18:19) However, the ability to forgive is an appealing trait: “Kindness makes a man attractive” (Prov. 19:22) Only God’s grace gives us the strength to forgive: To err is human, to forgive divine.

Husbands and wives who have learned to forgive have accepted their partnership with God in the adventure of relationships. The Apos­tle John says, “We love him, because he first loved us.”

5) Loving breaks the limits in our lives — don’t be jealous.

Commit your loving to God and don’t be jealous of your spouse. The wisdom of the ages reminds us that limits hamper growth. Look at these two attitudes: Howard, married 35 years, said, “I consider that my major life assignment is to create a home in which my wife can become all that God put within her to be. When she reaches her potential, I will be fulfilled. I’ve discovered that she wants God’s best from me too.”

Jane, with her marriage of ten years in trouble because of her jeal­ousy, said without recognizing her implied judgment toward her own attitude, ” I should be the most important person in his life. I want most, if not all, of his attention and time. Isn’t that what I’m entitled to as his wife?” She communicated her demands rather than her support. Her husband felt restricted and not appreciated. He could not be free to give because anything he offered was expected. His incentive was therefore crippled, and her demands seemed to increase. If you really love, give your love to God and each other. Set it free and it will return in multiplied form.

6. Discover how to have fun with each other.

Good marriages involve having more fun with each other than with other people. This is a relationship built on friendship. Learn to enjoy each other by sharing the important things in life. This means feelings as well as tasks. Too many relationships become dull and routine be­cause couples allow themselves too few opportunities for play. Chil­dren may be important, but poor parenting is done by unhappy people.

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Prov. 17:22) Prac­tice the discipline of scheduling time to be alone with each other in en­joyable activities. If you don’t, the happy moments will be shared in other relationships. Sometimes those situations can temporarily be­come more meaningful than the marriage. On occasion this leads to sharing affection and even adultery. Commit yourselves to being or becoming “best friends” in marriage. Third parties will not be a threat to you if you enjoy each other more than you enjoy anyone else.

7) Share your faith positively.

As you grow closer to God, he will draw you closer to each other. There is no more positive force than a common commitment to Christ. This cannot be considered a guarantee of no problems. Christian cou­ples have the same kinds of problems others face; they simply have an added Resource in coping with them. Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always.” Commit your marriage to Christ.