It's amazing to me that there seems to be no end to the marriage advice people will bequeath to young couples — solicited and unsolicited. Some of the advice is helpful and given with the best of intentions. Some of the advice is simple, like the reply a 10-year-old boy named Ricky gave in an interview when he was asked about marriage: "Tell your wife that she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck."
Unfortunately, some of the well-meaning counsel is misguided and downright useless, at times doing more harm than good to a marriage. Part of the problem is that what works for one couple may not be truth that can be generalized to all married couples. The fact is, it may not even be sound advice.
Some of the well-meaning counsel that has accumulated over the years is now accepted as standard advice for marriages in the 21st century. Following are some of the worst marriage advice quotes I've heard and why they may be dangerous to young married couples:
"Marriage is easy when you find 'the one.' " Although this one-and-only concept may sound romantic, there is no such thing as a "soul mate." There isn't a Scripture verse that supports the notion that God is a matchmaker or there is some divine method for finding a mate. Instead, God gives each of us personal choice and free will to decide whom to marry. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:39, "A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes. …" Sadly, the notion that God has already chosen the one for each of us has been used many times as an excuse to get out of an unhappy marriage and search for a "better" partner.
"Don't argue, because conflict is a sign of a bad marriage." Every couple experiences hurt feelings, frustrations and conflict. This is normal and to be expected. The sign of a healthy marriage is not the absence of conflict, but the love and respect with which you manage your differences amid the conflict. Don't avoid conflict. Instead, see your disagreements as a gift — an opportunity for deeper understanding and connection with each other. In James 1:2 (NLT), the writer exhorts believers: "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy." Choose to keep short accounts with each other and learn to work through conflict in positive ways. Healthy conflict management can be a doorway to intimacy in marriage, actually strengthening your relationship.
"Never go to bed angry." Paul exhorts the Christians in Ephesus, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Ephesians 4:26). Unfortunately, this great verse is constantly misemployed within marriage. This bad advice requires that you resolve your relationship issues before you go to sleep each night. Notice that the verse doesn't say anything about marriage. Verse 27 of that same chapter says, "and give no opportunity to the devil." Paul's writing is telling you not to go to bed angry because you set yourself up to be easy prey for an attack of Satan. In terms of your marriage relationship, taking a break from a heated argument when both spouses are tired, stubborn, irrational and upset can be one of the healthiest choices you make. Sleep has the capacity to refresh your mind and calm your heart, providing the necessary clarity for you to wake up with better insights and an eagerness to reconnect with your spouse.
"In a good marriage, romance and passion will always be alive." When your marriage is new, it's easy to expect endless passion and romance throughout your married life. Even King Solomon's dialogue with his wife could lead you to believe this "always" myth: "For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away" (Song of Songs 8:6-7, NIV). However, even good relationships have peaks and valleys. Add to this reality the daily routine of life with your spouse (jobs, kids, household responsibilities, commitments, etc.) and it's easy to see how romance and passion can be overshadowed. Rather than expecting passion to continually be intense, actively pursuing romance during the normal ebb and flow of married life is essential.
"When you're in love, you should automatically know what makes your spouse feel loved." Sure, the longer you are married, the better you will know and understand your spouse. But mind reading and guessing are terrible behaviors if you're endeavoring to build an intimate relationship with your husband or wife. Consider the essence of the message in Matthew 7:7, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." Ask your spouse questions about his or her unique love language. Stay current with understanding your husband's or wife's felt need. Discover what you can do to help your spouse feel loved.
"Your spouse will 'complete' you." The most romantic line in the 1996 romantic comedy Jerry Maguire actually got it wrong when Jerry declared to Dorothy, "I love you. You … you complete me." You need to understand that God completes you and gives you what you need to experience a full life (John 10:10). Your spouse complements you and is your helpmate, but God is your sustainer. Paul clarifies the purpose of marriage in Ephesians 5:31 (NIV) when he writes, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." Oneness in a marriage is about connection, sexual intimacy, unity, synergy, purpose — it's about two becoming one spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally. However, oneness does not equal completeness. You need God; you do not need your spouse for completeness.
"Marriage is about being happy." Happiness makes for a disappointing goal in marriage. What happens when you are not happy? If happiness is the objective of marriage, then during the inevitable ups and downs of married life, you will resort to trying to change your spouse so you can get what you want. However, God created marriage with something far more wonderful in mind than simply a place where we can get our needs met and find happiness. God uses marriage to help us become more like His Son (Romans 8:29). The pursuit of happiness is all about you. But Christ wasn't self-focused; He was others-focused. According to 1 John 3:16, Christ's love toward us was demonstrated in His sacrifice for us: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters" (NIV). Sacrifice leads to joy, and joy is a much deeper and fulfilling emotion than happiness. May your joy be complete!
"Spouses will naturally grow closer as time goes by." Marriage expert David Mace wrote in his book Success in Marriage, "One of the great illusions of our time is that love is self-sustaining. It is not. Love must be fed and nurtured, constantly renewed. That demands ingenuity and consideration, but first and foremost, it demands time." The real danger for couples today is the false hope that in the midst of this hectic pace of life we can put our relationship on hold. Unfortunately, marriage doesn't come with an autopilot setting, allowing us to simply push a button, attend to other obligations and still experience a thriving marriage relationship. John writes in 1 John 3:18 (NIV), "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." You must regularly invest in your marriage if you want to grow closer to each other.
"The key to a successful marriage is to love and be loved." This is both true and false. The misleading part of this advice has to do with the implication that you need to be loved. The notion that you need to find someone who will love you is completely false. I know this sounds counterintuitive. The truth is that your need to be loved has already been completely met by God your heavenly Father. Therefore, instead of spending time, effort and energy trying to get your spouse to love you, your job is to love your spouse. 1 John 4:11 says, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." Loving your spouse is your truest purpose in marriage.
"Thinking more of your spouse and kids than you do of yourself is a sign that you are a loving person." Jesus addresses the issue of love in Mark 12:30-31 (NIV) when He teaches, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." Unfortunately, the greatest commandment has often been distorted to mean: God first, spouse second, kids third, you last. You've missed the point that says you are to love others "as yourself." You can't give to others what you don't already have. You need to take time each day to recharge spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally.
Remember, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.