In the book of Proverbs, God provides through King Solomon a behavioral picture of the person who is considered wise. In relational terms, wisdom is seen in the pursuit of the good life, that is, the godly life—a life marked by certain qualities that emulate the love God desires for you and with you. It’s the kind of love that elevates everyone around you.
Proverbs is a practical guidebook that answers the question, “How then shall we live?” More specifically, its focus is on how best to live in the here and now—right here on earth. It provides a blueprint for the life of wisdom in contrast to the life of foolishness. In effect, it is a handbook on how to have the most fulfilling, satisfying relationships you can have on earth. This, of course, has the greatest significance for your most intimate relationships, especially your marriage. So you might think of the book of Proverbs as a primary source of principles for a sound marriage.
To that end, Proverbs gives us ten reminders of how to excel in our relationships—reminders that will ensure wise living and healthy intimacy:
1. Practice humility. Humility means having the patience to respond calmly and with restraint toward those who have hurt you, especially if one of them is your spouse. Humility also suggests the ability to admit that you could be wrong, could have misread your partner’s message or have a flawed memory of what was said or done. Finally, humility implies asking as early as possible for forgiveness when you have wronged him or her. Remember, try to focus on doing right rather than insisting on being right (Proverbs 6:3; 8:13; 9:9; 13:10; 16:18; 19:11).
2. Watch what you say and how you say it. This stresses the importance of the communication framework—are your words spoken with a spirit of good will or with a fundamentally critical spirit? Even though you don’t control others, you still are in control of your own choices. Remember, too, that you are at your strongest when you ask for help, that is, when you risk making yourself vulnerable (Proverbs 10:14, 21, 32; 11:12; 14:3,9).
3. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. In other words, make being a good listener your first goal. Develop the habit of circumspection (even to the degree of “buying time” if you need to) in your verbal responses. Ask yourself, What don’t I know in order to stimulate further inquiry. Above all, find out what your partner is thinking and feeling—dispose of your own assumptions (Proverbs 1:5; 11:12; 15:28; 18:13; 19:11).
4. Receive good advice without becoming defensive. The degree to which you are defensive is the degree to which you are insecure and/or guilty. Wisdom is displayed in the value you give to helpful counsel. You need not be threatened when your partner (or anyone else) knows something you don’t know (Proverbs 9:9; 12:15; 13:10, 20; 15:5).
5. Peace in relationships is found when you affirm the other person’s point of view. This is called validation. Relationships are sabotaged by the “It’s all about me” mindset. People generally do not get upset with each other if they feel that they matter, i.e., that what each believes matters to the other. This is what is meant by loving well. Without cynicism, love your spouse in an “other-centered” way. Selfless giving (sometimes, even sacrificial giving) is the crux of every meaningful relationship (Proverbs 11:16-17; 13:12; 15:23; 16:24; 17:17).
6. Rightly manage your anger. First and foremost, seek equity not revenge. Make dignity and integrity your aim. Remember, you cannot damage another person without also damaging yourself. When you intentionally hurt another person, you cannot like what you see in yourself. Avoid jumping to conclusions—be a “multi-optional” thinker instead. Address your inner hurt sooner rather than later, or else it will work against you like a cancer. Healthy conflict resolution requires immediacy or something close to it (Proverbs 6:16, 19; 10:9, 12; 11:3; 12:16).
7. Prize honesty and authenticity as a characteristic of your relationships. Don’t put up walls that keep others (including your spouse) at a distance because this leads to loneliness and misunderstanding. Be known for being direct—figure out what you want and learn how to ask for it. Be straight forward about how you feel without accusation. Invite your partner to really know your insides and seek the same from your partner (Proverbs 12:19; 15:4; 19:22; 24:26; 26:28).
8. Reciprocate a life of service to one another. Rather than constantly complaining or expressing pessimism, a wife is to carefully build up the relationship (Proverbs. 12:4; 14:1; 18:22; 21:9, 19; 25:24; 30:21, 23). The husband, in turn, is to cherish and treasure his wife—to openly admire and celebrate her best qualities (Proverbs 31:10-31).
9. Be a good friend to your spouse by being a good friend to yourself. Keep this in mind: Low self-esteem is the greatest enemy of a healthy relationship. Sometimes it fuels a lack of forgiveness that further perpetuates self- hatred and leads to a self-destructive lifestyle. Nothing more quickly destroys the good will of a marriage (Proverbs 14:30; 17:22; 18:14; 19:8; 22:1-2).
10. Keep connected to God and His standard of righteousness. The Mosaic Covenant (also called, the Ten Commandments) is essentially a document of love, not merely a statement of ethical principles. It directs us to love God (first 5 commandments) and to love others (second 5 commandments). Jesus fulfilled this law, subsequently giving us a new model of loving: “Behold, a new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” This was given in the context of His demonstration of humble service as the criterion of greatness in God’s eyes (Proverbs 1:7; 2:1-3,9-11; 4:4-8).
Taken together, these principles from the book of Proverbs lay out the surest path to a happy marriage—a happy life. However, they are easier described than lived. We have a great tendency to withdraw or lash out when we are hurt by someone. Yet, it’s precisely the courage to do the very thing that seems so counter-intuitive at the moment that will most likely change and heal our hearts.
The alternative is ultimately tragic. Listen to C.S. Lewis’ description of hardening yourself against emotional injury:
To love at all is to be vulnerable … If you want to make sure of keeping it (your heart) intact, you must give your heart to no one…wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries…lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
Marriage was intended by God, in part, to provide an intimate environment for nurturing a soft heart open to the entreaties of love. How sorrowful it is, then, when that environment is no longer safe enough to prevent its hardening.