The February 2015 issue of Reader’s Digest featured a lead article which was captioned, “The Best Advice I Ever Got.” Twenty-two people, including bestselling authors, humanitarians, entrepreneurs & entertainers, were asked what the best advice that they had ever received is. On the subject of listening Stephen Spielberg said, “Listen to everybody before you make up your mind.” I can really appreciate this advice from Julie Morganstern, who said of experts, “If you’re listening to an expert and don’t understand him, he’s not an expert.” A little closer to the subject at hand was the advice on love from Nate Bagley, who said that he had visited with a woman in Georgia who has been married for over 60 years. She told him, “Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.”

In 2012 the book was published, The Best Advice I Ever Got on Marriage, compiled by Jim Daly, President & CEO of Focus on the Family. It may be that this book was the inspiration behind the topic assigned to me. I don’t know. Mark Twain was known to give & loathe advice: His number one piece of advice was to reject the vast majority of what passes for advice. On the other hand, if advice has the ring of truth to it we would do well to listen and heed. Paul advised the church at Corinth to finish what they have begun in their giving effort for impoverished brethren (2 Cor. 8:10).

The subject for this article challenged me no little. I have forgotten a lot of such advice over the years, so my recollection of such practical counsel was of little benefit to me at the time. Where do you find help on a topic like this? You find help in sources expected and unexpected.

For this article I will employ the metaphor of a road trip.

Avoid Bad Roads – The Time to Get a “Divorce.”

At the beginning of this marital trip I appreciate the advice of David Sain who said, “The time to get a divorce is before you marry”[i] David envisioned the following scenario: A woman went to a counselor for help with a problem – seeking some advice. Her husband drinks, has a violent temper, cusses her out and hits her. He will not go to church with her. She’s a Christian, but he is not. Her question to the counselor was, “What I want to know is can I get a divorce?”

The counselor asked the woman, “When did your husband start doing these things?” When did he start drinking? “Before we married. He saw no problem with it.” When did he cuss and hit you the first time? “Once when we were dating.” Did he ever go to church with you? “A few times before we were married.” All the things she found so miserable were things he did before they married. The time she should have “divorced” him was before she married him!

This lesson will focus on two key thoughts to picking the right kind of mate. First, don’t marry a question mark the first time! (Matt. 19:4-6). Marriage is when a man and woman who are both eligible “leave & cleave.” Who are eligible? Obviously, those who have never before married are eligible to marry. Those who are widowed are eligible to remarry, “but only in the Lord.” And those who are divorced from a sexually unfaithful mate (Matt. 19:9). And second, don’t marry a question mark a second time, as per Paul’s directions in 1 Corinthians 7:39.

Select a mate with a good and honest heart! Avoid alcohol-fueled rages; don’t date a person who drinks. Avoid being cussed out and yelled at; don’t date a foul-mouthed hot-head. Avoid the violent temper; look for the “red flags” now. Don’t date someone who attends church services only to please you.

Talk with Those Who Started the Trip Ahead of You – Seek Advice from Older Couples.

Solomon said that age should bring wisdom (Prov. 16:31). Bill & Pam Farrel addressed this subject in the book, The Best Advice I Ever Got on Marriage.[ii] They advised younger couples to get with the older couples where they go to church and ask them questions about what works for them in marriage. To men, they said: “Women build trust by connecting.” If you want your wife to trust you, be intrigued by her conversations. Women need to be listened to. To women, they advised: “Men build trust through success.” Men need to feel successful in career, romance, home life and fatherhood. If he does a good job, tell him so. It’s your job to encourage him as leader. It’s God’s job to change him. To both men and women, they wrote: “Conflict is normal even for loving couples.” Learn the art of forgiveness. Good advice!

Make Good Time; Use Cruise Control – Keeping the Promise Even When/if the Flame Has Died Down.[iii]

  1. S. Lewis offered good advice for the long-haul of marriage. This was the unexpected source for me, not being an avid reader of C. S. Lewis I was delighted to find this direction in his classic work, Mere Christianity. Lewis shows that the promise we made “till death do us part” commits us to one another even when the flame of passion has simmered down. A promise must be about things I do; actions; commitment. No one can promise to forever feel a certain way.

Being “in love” is a glorious state that makes us kind and courteous. It opens our eyes to a person’s lovelier qualities. Lewis’ advice: Being “in love” is a good thing, but not the best thing. There are things below it, but there are also things above it. It’s a noble feeling alright, but still a feeling. It can’t be the basis for a whole life.

Lewis stressed that ceasing to be “in love” does not mean ceasing to love! Love, as distinct from being “in love” is more than a feeling. It is agape – a deep unity maintained by the will and strengthened by habit. We can have this love even in those times when we might not like each other. Being “in love” moved us to the promise of “till death do us part” – it was the spark that started the car. The quieter love enables us to keep the promise – it is agape on which the motor of marriage runs!

The typical idea is that if you marry the right person you will be “in love” forever. Therefore, when some think they are not “in love,” they feel entitled to make a change. They don’t realize that the thrill will go out of the new love too. Those who resign themselves to the loss of the initial thrill and settle down to sober interests are more likely to find new thrills in different directions. What Jesus said of his death and resurrection might suggest a thought here (Jn. 12:24). If you try to make thrills a constant pursuit they will become weaker and fewer and you will be bored and disillusioned for the rest of your life.

The best marriage advice I have ever heard embodies a well planned life-journey from start to finish. It would plant the seeds of wisdom in knowing bad roads to avoid before you say “I do.” It would open our eyes to the experiences of those who have made this trip ahead of us. It would help us to see that the initial spark of starting the marital car is needed, but in order to make good time you must set the cruise control on the love that holds on – agape!

[i] 1992 Freed-Hardeman University Lectures, “The Time to Get a Divorce,” by David Sain (218-223).

[ii] The Best Advice I Ever Got on Marriage, Compiled by Jim Daly (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2012): Chapter 10 – “Ask Older Couples What Works for Them,” by Bill & Pam Farrel (Kindle book).

[iii] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001 (104-114).