I lost my wife to cancer at age 30, and was left with two small children. I had a lot of time to reflect on the subject of marriage. I came to realize how valuable marriage is, and truly began to look at marriage from God’s perspective.

Now, after 30 years of being a marriage counselor and studying the subject from every angle, I have concluded that there are nine fundamental things that God intended for marriage. These nine things are essential for marriage to work well. As with anything, we need a manual to know how to operate it well. The manual for marriage comes from the creator of the machine of marriage, because the person that designed it knows best how to make it function according to its purpose. God designed marriage then wrote down via His Word how to make it function properly. When we follow the biblical instruction manual the marriage works well. If we do not, it functions poorly.

The first thing to look at is the stark contrast between men and women, specifically husbands and wives. Husbands desire to be respected, wives desire to be cherished. These are the two basic fundamental desires of men and women, especially within marriage. Ephesians 5 says for husbands to love your wives and wives to respect your husbands.

Focusing on the ladies first, wives have six major needs. Affection, conversation, honesty, openness, security and commitment. Moving on to the men, husbands have six fundamental needs. Sexual fulfillment, companionship, captivating wife, support, encouragement and admiration.

Husbands, your wife needs to be treated with tenderness and gentleness, convincing her that her feelings and opinions matter. Wives be sure to always speak well of your husband to your friends (1 Peter 3). (Note: This doesn’t ever mean you should lie to your friends about your husband. Truth is a fundamental principle of God’s Word that should never be circumvented.) Without negating truth, do not be critical or disrespectful of him especially in public. Rather try to convince him of his value and worth to the family and encourage him in godliness.

Proverbs 12:4 says, “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.”

The second thing I think that needs to be happening in marriage is for men to provide an umbrella that women are willing to be under. This is the biblical concept of the roles that God designed men and women to play in a marriage. Men are to lead their families with gentleness. Always having an opinion but willing to have their opinion disagreed with. Wives, the word submission does not have to be an ugly word. It’s actually a beautiful word when interpreted and executed biblically. It means that you want him to provide and protect you, to nurture you and spread his covering of love over you. You willingly desire to be under the covering. This does not mean he gets to tell you what to do or boss you around. But it does mean that you allow him and desire him to lead, and that when he does his best to lead well and in truth and righteousness, that you encourage him even though he is not leading exactly the way you would.

Ephesians 5 states, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church, and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husband in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church.”

The book of Proverbs is clear to say that a nagging or controlling wife is like a dripping faucet and goes on to say that it will drive her husband to the corner of the house and then to the desert. Men will simply avoid an environment where they are controlled or bossed around.

Husbands there are two things that your wife will not tolerate: a passive husband or an authoritarian husband. The healthy balance in the middle is an authoritative husband who is willing to lead and have an opinion but not force her or control his family. The greatest thing a husband can do to lead his family, is for his family to see him bending a knee to God, so they are comfortable bending a knee to him. A husband must spend time in the word of God and communicate his relationship with God to his family. Humility is key to leadership! After many years in counseling, one of the most common problems I find in marriages is that they have a spiritual role reversal. This should not be.

The third thing that a marriage must have is a willingness to put your spouse’s needs above your own. Ephesians says to love your wife the way Christ loved the church. How much do you love your spouse? John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” God measured love by what he was willing to give. I believe that we can measure our love the same way. How much are you willing to give for your spouse? I have heard people say they would die for their spouse and yet they will not do the simple things that they know their spouse needs. This is ridiculous and contradictory. Many spouses would easily trade you dying for them just to get you to love or respect them more.

Another mistake that many couples make is thinking they know what their spouse needs. You need to truly know what their greatest needs are. One of the best tools I know for this is to read and put into practice a book called The Five Love Languages.

The fourth thing a marriage needs is for the wife to desire her husband physically and for him to nurture her emotionally. This is a very important basic need in a relationship.

1 Corinthians 7:3-5 tells us, “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

If a husband is physically desired, then other aspects of his life will go well. Ladies you can minister to your husband in a way that no other woman can. Do not take that privilege for granted. It should be an honor for you to get to comfort and nurture him physically. Husbands your wife is a plant that God gave you. As the gardener it is your responsibility to nurture it, water it, give it sunshine, and all the things that it needs to flourish and produce fruit. You must study your wife, become a student of her, and learn how to best nurture her. Ladies try not to see sex as a burden but rather an honor. Men, communicate with her on a deep emotional level. Ask her how she is doing and then ask her another question about her answer. Learn how to talk to her deeply. The safer she feels with you, the more likely she is able to be more intimate with you. I would recommend the book called Sheet Music by Kevin Lehman

The fifth fundamental need in a marriage is to spend quality time together. You cannot cultivate love if you do not spend great amounts of time together. It is important for a man and a woman to have a heart that is at home. Even when you are away from home your heart still needs to be at home. Also, make sure that your quality time is kid-free. A child-centered family never develops marriage the way God intended. Children are welcomed into the family but not the center of the family. Make time for each other and get away overnight to just be alone together.

The sixth thing to consider is to make sure that you esteem one another. Be sunshine to each other, not a dark cloud. No one wants to be around a dark cloud. On the other hand if you are emotionally stable and build one another up and see the world through Gods eyes with optimism then you become more attractive to your mate. Send her flowers. Tell him he has big muscles. Build each other up, don’t tear each other down. Tell her the things she needs to hear about the person she is inside, what a great mother she is, what a great cook she is, how beautiful she is. Husbands the rest of the family looks to you as a marker for how safe they feel in this world. If you come home bringing dismal news from the outside world they will adopt a spirit of fear and worry. Be joyful and peaceful because of the Lord. Wives, as best you can, make him feel like a prince. All men will be the ruler of something. Let them be the prince of their house.

The seventh need a marriage has is to be gracious and forgiving with each other, not historians. Learn the practice of losing the battle to win the war. Learn how to put out the fire quickly instead of allowing it to burn the forest down. 90% of things that couples fight about should have never even been discussed. The issue should have been let go of and not held onto with resentment. With almost all fighting, the thing you were fighting about is not even the real issue. If there are hurts, concerns, and frustrations, then figure out what the real problem is and address that.

Galatians 5:13-15 says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.”

Number eight on the list is learning to respond to God vertically, not react to your mate horizontally. As I said earlier you must figure out what the real problem is and lose the battle to win the war, but you must also learn to fight clean. All couples fight and this can be healthy, especially if it is more of a discussion and less of a fight. If you do not engage as a couple you are either a newlywed or are nearly dead. Be respectful, calm, and kind with your disagreement. You must learn how to agree to disagree and not be angry about it. Remember God put the two of you together as one. You must dance to live together, like a beautiful waltz. This requires one of the most important things a couple can do— validate each other‘s feelings. It does not mean that you have to agree or even like it, you can still validate it.

The ninth and final concept I want you to consider is to keep God at the center of your relationship. No marriage can flourish without God being at the center. A couple should be praying together as well as having their own individual relationship with God. It is very important to have godly friends in a group of people that you spend time with that love the Lord. This is typically found in a church environment or a small group. It is essential for the growth and maturity of a healthy godly marriage.

While the complete manual is Scripture, I truly hope these thoughts and excerpts from the manual for marriage helps each of you that apply them.  There is no need for any of us to be dummies in marriage, as the step-by-step instruction manual is available to each and everyone one of us. God bless!