Discovered: The secret to a great marriage

God brought her to Adam.  And Adam said, “At last!”  –Genesis 2:22-23, pretty much.

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.  — Romans 12:10  In lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.  –Philippians 2:3

My wife and I each think we got the better part of the deal.

That’s it.  That’s our “secret.”

After 52 years of marriage–she to Gary and I to Margaret–Bertha Pepper Fagan and I met four years ago, February 15, 2016, and knew that week that the Lord had put us together. We were married the following January 11.  Next week we celebrate our third anniversary.

Everyone on my side of the family delights in my bride. And, as far as I can tell, Bertha’s side all seem okay with her pick of a hubby. So, we’re doing great.

We could wish every couple felt this way.

Have you ever known anyone who felt they married beneath themselves? That they could have done better?

Left unchecked, that attitude can seriously drain the enthusiasm and vitality from a marriage.  Over the years I’ve seen it ruin several promising marriages. And when it happens to a couple in ministry, it can ruin their effectiveness.

I’m thinking of one such couple. The husband told me this story after she abandoned him and their children for another man.

My friend was a pastor and a good one.  He’s in Heaven now and won’t mind my telling this, although I’ll leave his name out of it.

His wife was gorgeous. The only problem was that she knew it.  When you  passed on the street and exchanged greetings, you were left with the impression that she had condescended to speak to you.

The husband told me how it was after she had left.  “She often said, ‘You were so lucky to have gotten me.  I am so much better looking than you.  You could never get another wife half so beautiful.'”

If you find it difficult to believe a wife would say such a self-centered, unloving thing to a husband, it may be because you are in a normal, healthy marriage.  You’d be alarmed how some couples treat each other.

One day, after many years of marriage, she suddenly walked out.  And, she didn’t go alone.  She was accompanied by a well-known man in the church who was also abandoning his family.

You can hardly think of a more devastating blow to hit a church than that.

You wonder if this family could have been saved.  Had they gotten help in time, could this marriage have made it?

Question:  What should this couple have done? 

One. Recognize this as a spiritual problem.  It is that.

When one person has an exaggerated opinion of themselves and berates the one he/she is married to, the Lord in Heaven is highly unpleased.  The problem is the sinful heart.

And the remedy is repentance and submission to God.

There is no substitute for a solid, serious, daily devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.  “I die daily,” said the great apostle (I Corinthians 15:31).

“Present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).

Nothing takes care of a runaway ego like regular trips to the cross in which we lay ourselves on the altar before the Lord.  “Take up your cross daily.”

Two. The couple should hightail it to a pastoral counselor.  This is not an option, not a suggestion, not something to be done if nothing else works. Do it!

If only one spouse will go for counseling, then do it.

Recognize that in counseling, several things are iron-clad:

–This will require several sessions. (Some of our Baptist state conventions provide free counseling for ministers and families.  But even if you have to pay the going rate, anything is cheaper than a divorce.)

–If you do not know of a competent pastoral counselor, ask someone you respect whom they recommend.  If after a session or two for some reason this is not working, or the chemistry is bad between you and the counselor, find another one.  There are some wonderful people who call themselves counselors and will become a lasting friend to you. But you have to take the initiative and call them.

–It’s all about honestly telling the counselor/friend what’s going on, how you are feeling, etc.  No holds barred.  Remember: the counselor has heard it all and is unshockable.  You will be wasting your time and theirs if you do not bare your soul in the session.  If you find that hard, welcome to the human race. It was so hard for me when my wife Margaret and I went for marriage counseling some 15 or 20 years into our marriage.  But it was one of the best things we could have done.

Opening that back closet and bringing out the trash is difficult for people in the ministry. We are so used to putting our best foot forward, to expressing faith and hope, and to repressing negativity.  But in the counseling room, you open the door to that storage place where you have kept all the trash–the hurtful memories, the grudges, the hurts, the anger, the guilt–and bring it out into the open.  The counselor is not going to forgive anything; that’s not his/her job.  Sins must be confessed to God and wrongs confessed to one another.  The counselor will help you do this.

When  I shared this with Bertha at the breakfast table, I said, “What else do we need to say?  What other steps should the couple take?”  She had an answer.

“Let’s not suggest anything else.  It would detract from the two most important things they can do: humble themselves before the Lord and see a counselor.  Let’s leave it there.”

And so we shall.  God bless all who read this and feel we have described their marriage.  We’re praying for you.

Oh, by the way….

Those two texts above–Romans 12:10 and Philippians 2:3–work in family relationships just as in the family of God.  If this is the “secret” to a happy family, it’s an open secret.


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