SO THAT charming couple has asked you to officiate at their wedding. That places a sacred responsibility on you as a minister of the gospel to see that they have premarriage counsel. No minister ever thinks of baptizing a person without first satisfying himself that the candidate understands the meaning of the step he is about to take and accepts the teachings of the church. He, or someone, has studied the doctrines with that person point by point. So should he see that one is properly instructed before marriage.
Marriage is of God. The home is His institution. The minister is to see that each man who is about to become a husband and each woman who is to become a wife understands the meaning of marriage and the sacredness of the home. No one should ever enter into marriage carelessly or lightly, with the thought that he can dissolve the union at any time and be guiltless in the sight of Heaven. The appalling divorce rate should cause us as shepherds over the flock of God to redouble our efforts to see that every new home is built on a solid foundation. Merely wishing the couple well is not enough. We must do our part to instruct them. If ever premarriage counseling was needed, that time is now.
Naturally, each minister will have his own method of counseling, but the basic fundamental principles must be considered in each case. The following procedure may serve as a guide:
So you two are planning to be married. Are you planning to have a successful, happy home? This may seem to be an unnecessary question, for most people think they will be happier by so doing. But as a marriage counselor I think I should call your attention to the fact that there is a vast difference between planning for success and wishing for it. If you merely wish for it, my guess is that you will never have it. But if you plan for it, in harmony with the principles given to us by the Author of the home, your home will be happy.
A fundamental principle every member of the family should understand dearly is that each one is to contribute to the success of the family, each one has certain responsibilities to carry. Failure comes when one enters marriage with the idea of getting all he can for himself. He is looking for a housekeeper; she is looking for support. Disappointment is sure to follow. But when both enter marriage with the desire to enrich the life of the other, to benefit the companion, success is assured.
Now, John, I want you to look at this lovely young woman sitting by your side. Will she be happier, will her life be more serviceable, will she be a better Christian, because you are her husband? Just what are you planning to do to make her life richer, sweeter, more worth while?
And, Mary, take a good look at this young man who has asked you to be his wife. By asking you to be his bride, he has paid you the highest compliment he can pay. Will he be happier, will his life be more serviceable, will he be a better Christian man, because you are his wife? Just what are you planning to do to make his life richer, more noble, more worth while?
No doubt you two think you are very well acquainted with each other. Let's see, you have known each other for, how many years? Naturally you do know a great deal about each other, but you will learn a great deal more after you are married. You may discover certain weaknesses or undesirable traits heretofore unknown. And, too, you will be happily surprised to see traits of character and sterling qualities undiscovered before. Under the best of circumstances it usually requires eighteen to twenty-four months after marriage really to know each other. We call this the adjustment period. It is a very important period and must be handled wisely, or it can wreck your future happiness. During this adjustment period avoid rash or irrevocable actions. What do you plan to do when you discover that you two have conflicting opinions about a certain matter? Are you going to become panicky and begin trying to reform each other? Remember, marriage is not a reformatory. We do not marry to change the other person. We marry to be companions. Each takes the other as he or she is. Courtship is the time to decide whether that person is the one we want. But in marriage we take each other for better or for worse.
Marriage is for adults only. Do not act like children and begin calling each other names, throwing slurs at relatives, or pouting and sulking. Look at the problem as adults and find the best solution. Adopt a policy. Every successful business or social organization has its policies. A home established without a working policy is like a ship without a compass or a builder without a blueprint.
Do not allow molehills to become mountains. The vast majority of differences that you will have will appear small and insignificant a year from now. Spend more time and thought winning the companion than in winning the argument. It is more fun.
Some problems are major, however, and as a marriage counselor I feel that it is my duty to point these out to you. Satan, the archenemy of the home, is too cunning to try to wreck the marriage openly. He uses wedges, wedges that can enter almost unnoticed but split the home wide open.
The first wedge is used in the spiritual life and is made out of time. Satan tries to steal the time that belongs to God. Of course, you plan to have morning and evening worship in your new home, but on this particular morning you look at your watch and discover you just have time to catch the bus. You go without worship—that is dangerous. Satan will see to it that you are just as busy tomorrow and the next day, until a habit is formed. God has promised that where two or three are gathered in His name He will be in the midst. When Jesus is in the home, it can't fail. It will be a happy place. Five to eight minutes spent together in communion with our Father is time well spent.
Make a habit to attend the regular services of the church and sit together as often as possible. Take an active part in church work and accept responsibility whenever asked. Trouble is sure to follow when one works so hard during the six days of the week that he is too tired and sleepy to attend Sabbath services.
Of course, you will be adding religious books to your library from time to time, but having a weekly journal come to your home regularly is indeed a blessing. Few families give up the message who are regular readers of the Review. It costs less than a daily newspaper and is worth much more. Most people today see the wisdom of insuring their property against loss, and consider the cost of the premium a good investment. Somehow a subscription to the Review acts as an insurance policy for the Christian home.
Remember, Sabbath is a family day. The Sabbath and the home are twin institutions given to man by God in the Garden of Eden. Both are to add to our joy and happiness, our usefulness and service. God has arranged for us to be able to enjoy the Sabbath as a family. Father is not at work; mother is not burdened with the cooking or the housework; the children are not at school. The family can be together. If father goes in one direction Sabbath afternoon and mother goes in another, and the children go in all directions, the sacredness of the Sabbath is easily lost. Plan to be together as much as possible on the Sabbath. Do not allow Satan to steal the time that belongs to God.
The second wedge is money—not the amount but its significance to us. Money can relieve our wants or add to them; it can draw husband and wife closer together or separate the most devoted couple. Which do we love more, our companion or our money? The best kind of fortification against this wedge getting a start is the adopting of a sound financial policy. One fundamental principle that must be adopted is to live within the income. Don't spend money before you get it. Don't mortgage tomorrow's happiness because of today's desires. Avoid debt as you would the leprosy. It is almost sure to drive contentment out of the home and keep everyone on the anxious seat. Debt tends to magnify the faults of the companion. A single person who is in debt should postpone the wedding until he is financially ready.
Another important part of your policy should be to have a budget. Now don't throw up your hands and exclaim that there is not enough money to divide. Remember, the less you have, the greater need for planning. A budget does not subtract one penny from your account, but it does help you to spend your money exactly as you desire. Take your entire income, whether from one salary or two, and plan how it shall be used.
After a budget has been determined, the responsibility of spending should be divided between husband and wife. If the husband is to be responsible for purchasing the groceries, he should seek to supply the most wholesome and nutritious food with the money allowed. If the wife is to be responsible for the clothes, she should study how best to clothe the family with the amount available. When a budget has been set up and each one knows what his responsibilities are, there is little chance of this wedge getting in to damage the home.
The third wedge Satan uses to split the home apart is in our social life. What is our relationship to people outside the home? What is our attitude toward our relatives and friends after the wedding? Since you two are one, the parents of your companion are now your parents also, and are entitled to the love and honor of a child. Marriage in no way abolishes the fifth commandment. A son or a daughter is to show the same tender regard for father and mother whether single or married.
But the same Bible that tells children to honor their parents also says, "For this cause [marriage] shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife." When a new home is to be established, it should be separate and apart from any other, not a mere enlargement of or an addition to the former home. Unless the young man and woman are ready to leave their former homes, they are not ready for marriage. They should live to themselves, not with relatives or intimate friends. This adjustment period must not be jeopardized by well-wishers who find it hard to realize that a new home has been established.
"Around every family there is a sacred circle that should be kept unbroken. Within this circle no other person has a right to come. Let not the husband or the wife permit another to share the confidences that belong solely to themselves."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 361. When a wife tells her relatives or friends the faults and failures of her husband, she is opening the door to Satan. When a husband criticizes his wife to his relatives and friends, he is driving a wedge into his own home. The husband and the wife should seek to adjust their differences together with the help of God. If they need assistance, they should seek help from their minister or a marriage counselor who is a disinterested party and is qualified to give them the professional aid they need.
The fourth wedge separates more husbands and wives than all the other wedges put together. It is the relationships to one another within the home itself—the husband and the wife, the parent and the child, the brother and the sister. According to God's plan the home is organized, and each member has his own role to fill. When each one takes his responsibility there is harmony and peace. The husband is the head; the mother is the queen. The ideal relationship is given clearly in Sections 9 and 10 in The Adventist Home. These two chapters, in fact, the entire book, should be studied thoroughly before one marries. If the principles outlined in this book were followed, divorce courts would go out of business and juvenile delinquency would be practically unknown. Build your home on this blueprint and you will have a happy, successful home. Heaven guarantees it.
"Love is a plant of heavenly growth, and it must be fostered and nourished."—The Adventist Home, p. 50. Spend a little time each day cultivating this plant. Remember, love is never the same size today that it was yesterday. If neglected, misused, abused, it will wither and die; but cultivated, protected, and cherished, it will be more fragrant and charming with the passing of time. Don't take each other for granted. "Affectionate hearts, truthful, loving words, will make happy families and exert an elevating influence upon all who come within the sphere of their influence."—Ibid.
Love for each other can be expressed in many different ways—by the way we look at each other, by the way we talk, by the way we act. Sweet smiles, endearing words, and affectionate embraces lift one heavenward. The supreme act of endearment according to God's plan is the complete physical union commonly known as the sex relation, or coitus. All life comes from God and all love comes from God. His plan is that every new life begun should be the result of the supreme expression of love between husband and wife only. In no other relationship is this act of endearment permitted. Correctly understood and sacredly regarded, this method of endearment draws the husband and wife closer together and always closer to God. Misunderstood, neglected, or abused, it separates husband and wife and always alienates one from God.
Satan will do all in his power to use this, the most destructive wedge, as much as possible. Our only safety against this subtle entry is to study and know God's plan for sex, for He is the Author. There is more ignorance in this field among intelligent and otherwise well-informed people than in any other. Volumes have been written that give a warped, distorted picture, and which only add to one's confusion. For scientific information written in language we all can understand, Dr. Popenoe's booklet "Preparing for Marriage" * is one of the very best. Everyone anticipating marriage should have this information. Always keep in mind that this, the most intimate of human relationships, is sacred. It is the supreme act of love to be used by husbands and wives only. Outside of marriage it is sinful and degrading; within marriage, beautiful and holy. You are not married until after the wedding ceremony. If after marriage a problem arises, seek help from a Christian marriage counselor. Keep love growing in your heart for your companion day by day and your life will be richer, fuller, and happier as the days go by.
*Note: "Preparing for Marriage," by Paul Popenoe, may be obtained from The American Institute of Family Relations, 5287 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 27, California, for 25 cents.