Creating a Marriage Covenant that Lasts

The attitude of steadfast love is the single most important factor in a covenant marriage.

During the past 35 years, numerous people have come into my office and said, "I just don't want to be married anymore." I'm always empathetic with those who make that declaration. I remember the early days of my own marriage when the thought I have married the wrong person plagued my mind. When marriage doesn't turn out to be the loving, kind, supportive relationship of which you've dreamed, the desire to resign is common.

Although I understand the emotions that bring one to that conclusion, the reality is, once you're married, you can't be unmarried any more than you can be unborn. Certainly, you can get a divorce, but that doesn't mean that you're unmarried. The painful experiences, memories, and scars of a marriage will be yours forever.

The person to whom you're married continues to live in the world; and you'll have some kind of relationship with him or her as long as you both live. As all who have experienced it will acknowledge, divorce has its own set of struggles, pain, disappointments, and frustrations. And it's often accompanied by feelings of hurt, anger, and the desire for revenge.

Choose to Love

Though much of Western culture views marriage as a contract, the Christian views marriage as a covenant.

And that covenant is based on the concept of steadfast love. The Old Testament word hesed and the New Testament word agape capture the biblical picture of love. Sometimes the word hesed is translated "covenant." Often, however, it's translated "mercies." As Christians, we find great security in knowing that God is a loving God and that His love is not fickle. We know that God's love will be the same as it is today. His love never ceases.

When you feel like resigning from marriage, you must return to the biblical concept of unconditional love. Without God's help, you aren't likely to love unconditionally. By nature, you love those who love you; but Christ set the standard much higher when He said, "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). In a marriage, unconditional love begins by choosing to see the positive in your spouse and, even when you don't see it, choosing to value your mate because he or she is a person made in God's image.

Steadfast love refuses to focus on the negative aspects of one's spouse. You'll discover certain things about your spouse that you perceive as negative. Don't deny them. On the contrary, discuss them, especially if there's the potential for change. The violation of this principle has destroyed many marriages. Instead of feeding negative thoughts, ask God to show you how to express love to your spouse in a meaningful way. You love God because He first loved you. The same principle is true in marriage. The more you express affirmation and appreciation for the positive traits in your mate, the stronger his or her positive feelings will become toward you. On the other hand, the more you focus on failures and frailties, the more negative your mate's feelings will become toward you.

Steadfast love is a choice. That's why Paul commands husbands to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25) and challenges wives to learn to love their husbands (Titus 2:4). Something that can be commanded, taught, and learned isn't beyond your control. You choose your attitudes toward your spouse. The attitude of steadfast love is the most important factor in a covenant marriage.

Promise to Forgive

"Till death do us part" and "So long as we both shall live" are statements of covenant. Unquestionably, the covenant is meant to be permanent. In order to honor that permanence, Christian marriages require confrontation and forgiveness. Confrontation means holding the other person responsible for his or her actions. Forgiveness means a willingness to lift the penalty and continue a loving, growing relationship.

The spirit of forgiveness is just as important as the willingness to confront. Some individuals will find it difficult to forgive. But forgiveness is a part of all covenant marriage relationships. This is the forgiveness God gives us when we accept Christ's sacrifice for our sins. It's the forgiveness that you're able to give others because you've been forgiven.

I'm so grateful that in the early years of our marriage I didn't let my desire to resign control my behavior. I remember asking God to give me the attitude of Christ toward my wife. Our marriage was reborn, and the thought of resigning has never crossed my mind again. Not all spouses will respond the way my wife did, but unconditional love is the most powerful force in the world for good.

This article is courtesy of HomeLife Magazine.