Dennis Rainey, President of Family Life Ministries, has been married to Barbara for over 40 years. His national radio program and dozens of books and videos have taught millions of believers principles that have blessed marriages and families for decades. In reflecting back over his 40 years of marriage, Rainey has published his Top 40 List. From that, I have chosen my favorite ten of his keys to a successful marriage. I hope they bless your marriage as much as they have blessed mine.
1. Marriage and family are about the glory of God. Genesis 1:27 is clear. “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him.” Rainey says, “From the beginning, marriage has been central to God’s glory on planet Earth.” Most couples enter marriage with one consuming misconception. “Marriage is about my needs.” Nope – marriage is all about the glory of God, not the happiness of man.
2. Marriage is played out on a spiritual battlefield, not a romantic balcony. Satan’s first attack on Adam and Eve was on their relationship with each other. The reason same-sex marriage has enjoyed the favor of man is that man has ceased to seek the favor of God. Satan knows that if he can defeat marriage, he can defeat humanity. A successful marriage is built on a couple’s determination to win the battle on a spiritual level.
3. Isolation is the killer of marriage. Genesis 2:24 lays it out for us: leave, cleave, and become one. The enemy seeks to divide us. But first, he must isolate us. Jesus prayed that his church may be one (John 17). He knew that in isolation a person can be convinced of anything. Satan did not tempt Eve when Adam was in the room. Isolation is a marriage killer.
4. We must confess to God, but also our mate. James told the church to “confess your sins one to another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). What’s true for the church is true for a marriage. We all struggle. Nothing brings a man and his wife closer than to share those struggles with a spirit of confession. When you mess up, tell your mate. Ask for their prayers, and when necessary, their forgiveness.
5. Forgive, forgive, forgive. Forgive your mate “as God has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). Ruth Bell Graham said, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” Forgiveness is the opposite of bitterness, and bitterness only hurts the one who is bitter. You must learn to let go. And you must learn that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – your mate will ever do that is beyond the forgiveness of God.
6. Keep the d-word to yourself. God hates divorce, and we should hate the things God hates. Yes, God’s Word allows for divorce in the case of adultery. But he never recommends it. God majors on raising the dead. I love what Jesus said when Lazarus lay on his deathbed. “This sickness will not end in death” (John 11:3). You may feel like your marriage is dead. But it doesn’t have to end there.
7. Embrace perseverance. Don’t expect an awesome marriage to come quickly or easily. Charles Spurgeon noted, “It was by perseverance that the snail reached the ark.” No one learned to ride a bike on his first try. It’s okay to fall off sometimes. It is okay to have failure. Just don’t accept failure. Get back on the bike. Keep growing, learning, and trying. Nothing that comes easy is worth much, anyway.
8. Women spell romance differently than men. For men, it is “s-e-x.” Case closed. That spells romance. For women, it is spelled “r-e-l-a-t-i-o-n-s-h-i-p.” Women love hugs that are intended as hugs. Women are all about the relationship and emotional intimacy. The sooner the husband figures that out, the sooner he will enjoy sex according to its full intent.
9. Put your marriage ahead of your kids. Your marriage must be built to outlast your kids. On average, marriages will be kid-free for two-thirds of their years. You cannot build everything around your kids. Your marriage must come first. Your children will see this priority and it will serve them well when they get married. The first institution of the Bible was marriage, not family.
10. Go camping. I heard this one from Gary Smalley on an Alaskan cruise several years ago. He cited a study of the 500 possible activities for a married couple to engage in. His research concluded that the #1 thing a couple can do to build their marriage is to go camping. In so doing, they must embrace teamwork, diverse skill sets, and even frustrations. A family that camps together stays together.