Life Hope & Truth

From the January/February 2017 issue of Discern Magazine

Three Don’ts Before You Say “I Do”

You’ve fallen in love, and you’ve begun planning a beautiful wedding! You pick a date, choose invitations, order the cake. … You’re ready to walk down the aisle—or are you?

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If you’ve ever built a home, you’ve had to consider a very important question: What type of foundation will you build on? The foundation is the first part of your house to be built; it’s not as visible, yet it’s as important as what you build on it. The foundation’s role is vital, because it supports and gives stability to the rest of the house.

A family is like that house, and it needs a strong marriage for its foundation. And families are the building blocks of society.

Yet the institution of marriage has taken a real hit. Some even ask, “Why marriage?” Many more have broken foundations and are watching their families come crashing down.

Three don’ts for a firm foundation

The properties of concrete often make it the building material of choice for foundations. It has strength and durability, versatility, sustainability and elasticity, and other qualities that are important for the substructure of a house.

If you want a marriage that will stand the test of time and weather all types of disasters, you need to “pour concrete” for a stable foundation. But how?

1. Don’t build without a plan.

If you want to create something beautiful and sustainable, you need a good blueprint. If your blueprint doesn’t extend beyond your wedding day, don’t expect much.

God offers a blueprint that begins with a vision of what He wants you to build in your marriage, along with instructions for each stage of preparation and building.

A concrete foundation is poured in steps, and as with most things, this requires preparation. If the act of pouring is like the wedding day, then getting to know your future spouse can be likened to leveling the ground and building the form to pour the concrete into.

This implies a design. Where will the home be built? What does the floor plan look like? How big will the home be? How much concrete will be needed to support the weight of this home? We develop ideas of what we want our marriage and family to be by looking to those couples we hold in high esteem. What is it about them that we like?

Next, create a sketch of what you want. Keep in mind, though, that while we often focus on what we want in our spouse, we also need to prepare ourselves. We make a checklist of characteristics for a potential mate, but do we ever think to do a checklist on ourselves? What kind of person do you need to be so that your marital foundation is strong and able to support a healthy family?

Consider bringing a professional architect into the design process. This might be your pastor or a professional counselor who shares the same core values about marriage that you do. It’s the architect’s job to help you make sure your design goals will work and steer you around design traps.

Gary* and his wife, who have been married for five years, completed four premarital counseling sessions, which included a compatibility test that highlighted what they had in common and areas that might be potential problems.

Elaine* and her husband Jim’s* relationship has stood solid for 35 years, partly because they dated for four years before pouring their marriage foundation.

Amanda’s* life tells a different story, however. Married and divorced twice, both her relationships developed cracks before the building process had even begun. Her first husband date-raped her after they’d known each other three months. (Back in the 1960s marriage seemed like the only viable option when one was 17 and pregnant.) There wasn’t time to prepare a strong foundation, and the essential qualities of a good “pour” were missing.

Preparing to pour your marital foundation means taking time to get to know each other. Elaine attributes marital success to being able to see Jim in many different situations over the four years they dated.

“I wanted to see whether he had a heart for service, how he behaved around children and, most importantly, his commitment to God.” Experts also suggest considering how a potential mate treats his or her parents and family.

Amanda, on the other hand, realizes that she was naive and easily manipulated by the man who became her second husband. She was too quick to trust, wanting to believe the best without actually getting it. She compromised her relationship by not having a thorough design and then sticking to it.

2. Don’t compromise with quality.

Engineering concrete is complicated; the mixture of ingredients must be just right. Experts explain that if “proportions are off, even a little bit, concrete is weakened and durability is compromised.”

As a counselor, I often find that people ignore what they see when they’re first dating, or they twist it to mean something else.Elaine’s husband, who’s also a pastor, has observed from many years of counseling others that when it comes to your spouse, “you get what you see, minus a little.”

As a counselor, I often find that people ignore what they see when they’re first dating, or they twist it to mean something else. I hear things like, “I just love him so much,” despite knowing that he’s a heavy drinker and that when he’s drunk he’s not very kind. Or I hear a man say that the woman he wants to marry is very clingy and emotionally dependent, but it’s okay because that makes him feel important—at first.

If, as Elaine’s husband said, you get just a little less than what you see, then what are you ignoring that will weaken your foundation? Are there some missing ingredients in yourself or in your partner that you’re excusing away? The most common mistake with concrete is to water it down. Doing so makes concrete easier to work with at first, but ultimately it compromises its integrity.

Are you watering down your values? Values are what shape our character, and character is the rebar (steel reinforcement) that strengthens our marital foundation.

If you get just a little less, then don’t expect him or her to change. If you marry thinking that you can change up the ingredients or repour him or her into something other than what he or she is right now, you’re deluding yourself.

It doesn’t work that way. Yes, marriage changes you. But once poured into the forms you’ve built, your foundation is what it is. So start with the very best materials you can find and use the best tools available for keeping that foundation strong, long after it’s poured.

3. Don’t give up on the blueprint, even when it gets difficult.

Concrete needs time to cure after it’s poured, and it gets stronger with every day that goes by. But almost all concrete will crack eventually due to improper dirt work, bad soil or stress. Builders know this, so they use rebar to reinforce the concrete, and often create joints to control where a crack will occur.

Marital rebar should be part of your design. You need to anticipate what those cracks will look like and build into your plan how you will address them. But, unfortunately, too many couples treat their problems as a reason to tear down their structure and start over, instead of anticipating and planning for them.

Cracks are inevitable in marriage. You can’t put two imperfect people together—with different perspectives, upbringings, etc.—and not have them poke each other with the sharp edges of their personalities. It’s the longevity of a marriage that smooths out the sharp edges and gives you the durability of a solid concrete foundation.

Ultimately, the blueprint for a strong, God-ordained marriage is found in Ephesians 5. Here we find an outline of instructions for husbands and wives that liken our roles and responsibilities in marriage to how Christ treats people: with love, humility, kindness and an attitude of service. When you follow this blueprint, your marriage will be able to absorb and distribute the tensions that will come.

Sometimes, though, we believe our problems are too numerous to repair. Perhaps the damage occurred because of poor quality materials, a lack of proper preparation or structural compromise. Maybe we became victims of erosion or were toppled by a devastating choice with earthquake-like ramifications. No matter how the damage comes about, it’s a painful process for everyone, with far-reaching aftershocks. God hates divorce for this very reason (Malachi 2:14-16).

That’s why so much time and effort need to go into the design process before you ever pour your foundation. If, however, you’ve poured that foundation prematurely, don’t give up and start over. It will be hard work and require dedicated effort, but with the help of your architect, you can still build something beautiful that will last a lifetime.

Time to say “I do”

Considering these don’ts and other aspects of marriage preparation may not seem romantic or exciting, but they can be vital to ensuring lifelong romance and enduring love.

After you’ve leveled and compacted the ground, set your forms and tied your rebar, you’ll be ready for the day when you will pour your foundation.

So enjoy your wedding day; it’s a time of celebration that marks the building of your new life together. But if you want it to last a lifetime, remember your don’ts before you say “I do!”

Read more biblical advice about marriage in our Life, Hope & Truth articles “What Is Marriage?” and “How Great Marriages Work.”

*Client names have been changed to protect privacy. Debbie Pierce is a licensed counselor with more than 23 years of experience working with people of all ages in marriage and family issues.

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