Building A Strong Family - Part 3 of 4

Proverbs 24:3

(Adapted from a sermon by Rick Warren)


Today, as we continue our series on “Building A Strong Family,” we're going to talk about “The Stages of Marriage."  You might be able to appreciate this.  I came across it a few years ago. It is called the seven stages of a cold in the life of a married couple.

The first year the husband says. “Sugar. I'm worried about my little baby girl. You've got a bad sniffle. I want to put you in the hospital for a complete checkup. I know the food is lousy, but I've arranged for your meals to be sent up from Romano's. It's all arranged.”

The second year: “Listen, honey, I don't like the sound of that cough. I've called Dr. Miller and he's going to rush right over. Now will you go to bed like a good girl -- just for me, please?”

Third year: “Maybe you'd better lie down, honey. There’s nothing like a little rest if you're feeling bad. I'll bring you something to eat. Do we have any soup in the house?”

Fourth year: “Look, dear. Be sensible. After you've fed the kids and washed the dishes you'd better hit the sack.”

Fifth year: “Why don't you take a couple of aspirin?”

Sixth year: “Why don't you just gargle or something instead of sitting around barking like a seal?”

Seventh year: “For heaven's sake, stop sneezing. What are you trying to do, give me pneumonia?”  (Bruce Larson, THE ONE AND ONLY YOU, Word Books, 1974) (#724)

On the serious side, Proverbs 24 says, “Homes are built on the foundation of wisdom and understanding.” (Prov 24:3)  In other words, God wants you to be wise.  He wants you to understand how your marriage operates.

This morning we're going to look at the common stages in a marriage -- so you can be wise and understanding.  A lot of marriages fall apart due to ignorance.  They're unaware of the dynamics.  They're in the dark as to what is actually taking place in the marriage.  I've had people say, “I have no idea what went wrong!  I never noticed anything was wrong.”

Today we're going to let God give us some wisdom and understanding, which – He says -- is the foundation of a strong home life.  There are three predictable stages in any marriage. We're going to describe these stages -- and then show you how to make it to stage three in your marriage.

The FIRST STAGE of marriage is found in The Song of Solomon.  We might call it


This is the “thrilling” stage of the marriage.  The Song of Solomon is all about the happy honeymoon.  Chapter 2, verses 2 through 9 describe this stage of the marriage. Listen to the comparisons and descriptions here. Solomon and his beloved wife are describing each other.

Solomon says, “Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens.” This guy is smitten!  She replies, “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men.  I delight to sit in his shade and his fruit is sweet to my taste.  He's taken me to the banquet hall and his banner over me is love. Strengthen me with raisins and refresh me with applies for I am faint with love.”

She's saying, “I'm devastated by this guy. He's one big hunk!” Notice verse 8: “Listen my lover.  Look!  Here he comes leaping across the mountains bounding over the hills. My lover is like a swift gazelle or a young deer. Wives, can you see your husbands bounding into the room in his boxer shorts?  Leaping over chairs and couches?

What is happening here?  There are five words that describe this first stage of marriage:

1.  Intensity. There is focused attention.  They're spellbound absorbed.  They are engrossed with each other.  They've got a crush on each other.  “I only have eyes for you!”  They are totally preoccupied.  “I'm faint with love,” she says.  That's what happens in the first stage of marriage.  You are zapped! All you can see is that person.  It’s a time of great intensity.

2.  Idealism. You have a tendency in the first stage of your marriage to put your partner on a pedestal.  We see this in chapter 4 of the Song of Solomon.  He says, “How beautiful you are my darling.  How beautiful.” Then he starts comparing her: “Your eyes behind your veils are doves.  Your hair is like a flock of goats.”

Men, don't try that one on your wives! “Your teeth are like a flock of sheep.”  Just understand this is oriental beauty!  “Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon.  Your mouth is lovely.  Your temples behind your veil are like halves of a pomegranate. Your neck is like the tower of David.”  (Song of Solomon 4:1-5) He's kind of giving her a run down on her body.  He keeps going but I think I'll stop right there at the neckline!  He sums it up in verse 7: “All beautiful you are, my darling.  There is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7)  Notice the idealism?  They see each other as perfect.  There is a total disregard of differences and faults.

There's intensity, idealism – thirdly

3.  Indulgence. There's a lot of giving in and a lot of giving up.  “Whatever you want, darling!”  You go along to get along.  You cater to every whim.  You're pampering each other. You can't stand sports but you go with your husband to the ball game.  He hates going shopping at the mall -- but he goes anyway.  In this stage you indulge each other, please each other.  There is also

4.  Infatuation. There is extreme happiness, a great feeling of well-being.  You are “in love.”  Everything seems great. The world seems great, you seem great, your mate seems great. “I'm in love!”  There's a bounce in your step.  This entire book is filled with this – they are enamored with each other, infatuated – they can do no wrong.

You have all of these ingredients in the happy honeymoon.  Intensity, idealism, indulgence, infatuation.  But one more word describes this stage:

5.  Ignorance.  The fact is, you don't really even know that person.  You're in love with an ideal of them.  You don't know what they're really like and you don't know what you're in for.

(One guy said, “I didn't know that puppy love would lead to a dog's life.”)

During this first stage we tend to ignore our differences and overlook our faults and put our hang-ups aside and any major conflict is swept under the carpet.

Infatuation is when you look at her and think she looks like Julia Roberts, cooks like Martha Stewart, sings like Dolly Parton, plays tennis like Serena Williams, and can make you laugh like Joan Rivers.

Love is when you realize that - in fact - she cooks like Julia Roberts, sings like Martha Stewart, plays tennis like Dolly Parton, is as funny as Serena Williams, and looks like Joan Rivers.”  (248)

It's infatuation when you think he is as sexy as Brad Pitt, as smart as Albert Einstein, as noble as Ralph Nader, as funny as Tim Allen, and as athletic as Michael Jordan.

It's love when you realize that -- in fact -- he is as sexy as Albert Einstein, as smart as Michael Jordan, as funny as Ralph Nader, and as athletic as Tim Allen. (413)

The fact is this stage doesn't last.  It can't last.  Sooner or later we awaken to a few realities - that we have differences and faults.  We have different temperaments, we have different personalities -- and we come to realize there's more to life than just having fun. There are responsibilities you have to face. You start having to pay bills.  The first stage kind of floats off to the side and we come to stage two.

STAGE TWO is described in Proverbs.  Realize that the same man who wrote The Song of Solomon wrote Proverbs.  Notice the change in attitude.  In The Song, Solomon says, “You're perfect! You're flawless.  There's nothing wrong with you.  It's great. I'm in love.  It's fantastic.”

A little while later -- in Proverbs – Solomon says this about his lovely wife, “It is better to live alone in the corner of an attic than with a contentious wife in a lovely home.” (Prov 21:9; 25:24) “A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day.  Restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.” (Prov 27:15-16)

What happened?  His delight turns to disillusionment.  His dating turns to debating.  His romance turns to resentment.  The ideal turns to the ordeal.  This is stage two.  Stage one is the Happy Honeymoon.  Stage two might be called


The thrill turns to tension.  It's like the man who goes in complaining to his pastor two months after marriage, “I got false advertising here.”

The Pastor said, “You took her for better or for worse.”

The man said, “Yeah, but she's a lot worse than I took her for.”

There are five words that characterize Stage Two in marriage:

1.  Dullness. It's back to the routine.  Boredom sets in. You become complacent.  You lose interest.  You neglect your appearance.  In dating you looked perfect.  But then, after you get married, you start letting it all hang out.  The attitude before marriage is “Anything you want, darling.”  After marriage it's “Get it yourself, Buster!”  Dullness and routine is a part of this stage. Then, there are

2.  Disagreements. You begin to clash over differences. You begin to argue.  There's some strife in your marriage and some hang-ups and you experience disharmony.  There is conflict and disagreements.

3.  Defensiveness. You start protecting yourself.  You're not as open as you were.  You don't let your guard down, you watch your rear flank -- you're not as open and vulnerable. There's a com-munication breakdown.  You don't want your faults used against you.  You start protecting yourself, because you think they could use that as ammunition against you.  We accuse and excuse.  We excuse ourselves and we accuse our mates.  We blame them and start finding fault with each other.  Resentment builds up.

4.  Disapproval. Before, we find Solomon saying, “Everything she does is right!”  Now he's saying, “Nothing she does is right!”  What a change in attitude.  There's a lot of criticizing and complaining.

It's like the wife who said, “I knew my husband was temperamental but I found out it was 90% temper and 10% mental.”

And there's nagging. The husband says, “All she does is nag!  She's a witch!”  Solomon writes, “A nagging wife annoys like a constant dripping.” (Prov 19:13)

The wife says, “I just don't respect him any more.”  Respect goes down the tubes.  We criticize and jab. Someone said, “The way to bury your marriage is a lot of little digs” -- constantly being critical and disapproving of one another.  Finally, there is

5.  Disappointment. You become disillusioned.  I've heard people say, “I feel cheated.  I got in this marriage and now I have these secret feelings of regret.  I feel trapped and I don't know how to get out of it.  What have I got myself into?” The doubts come along, “Did I do the right thing?  Did I marry the right person?  Was I not listening to God?  Why didn't I listen to my mother?”  Doubts, disillusionment, and disappointment.

These five D's -- Dullness, Disagreements, Defensiveness, Disapproval, and Disappointment -- set you up for the two Big D's:  depression or divorce.

Since divorce is not really an option for the disciple of Christ, a lot of times we think the only alternative is depression -- endure the misery for the rest of my life, internalize the anger.  I have had people tell me, “My relationship to my wife/husband is really getting me down!”  What a change between Stage 1 and Stage 2.  Stage 1 -- “You make me feel so great!”  Stage 2 -- “You make me feel so bad!”

There are actually three alternatives to problems in marriage, not just two.  Some people breakup, some people breakdown, but God enables us to breakthrough.

Unfortunately, most marriages never get past Stage 2.  The average length of a marriage in the United States is now 7.2 years.  That means they never get to Stage 3.  They go through the honeymoon stage.  Then they get stuck in the debating stage.  The party's over and everything comes crashing in.  They realize, “We do have differences!  We look at the world differently.”  There's either a breakup or a breakdown – divorce or depression -- (“I'm just going to live in mutual co‑existence and I'm not going to like it -- but we're just going to hang in there for the rest of our lives and be miserable!”) or there is a breakthrough into Stage Three. Dr. Linda Waite, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, led a study of 5,232 married couples.  The results of the study were released last year and there were three very significant findings.

1. 67% of unhappy marriages become at least moderately happy within five years – so don’t give up hope.

2. Common feelings during unhappy marriages, such as depression and low self-esteem, rarely change after divorce – so the problem may not be the marriage – it may be personal issues that have never been faced and dealt with.

3. The unhappiest marriages had the greatest turn arounds, with 78% of people who stayed in marriages they described as “very unhappy” calling themselves “happy” five years later.  Reasons for the turnaround – the unhappy state motivated them to talk their problems through (often with professional help) or they simply “hung on” and outlasted their problems.  (Bottom Line Personal 1/15/03, p. 10)

No matter what your problems – there is hope.  If you both WANT to work on your marriage you don’t need to succumb to either breakdown or break up – you can break through to Stage Three.

STAGE THREE is described in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous chapter on love.  Listen to what it says: “Love is patient (that's how you make it to stage three). Love is kind.  It does not envy.  It does not boast.  It is not proud.  It is not rude.  It is not self-seeking.  It is not easily angered.  Love keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13:4-7)

Stage three in a marriage is the stage of


That's what is described here: mature love -- not infatuation, not romanticism -- but mature love. The love that the Bible speaks about is much different than what people normally mean when they use the word "love" today.

Biblical love is much more of a commitment to act in a certain way, a choice of the mind, rather than an emotional feeling that one falls into.  Love is a decision to act in the best interests of another, to defer my will to their will, to submit my desires to their desires.  True love never selfishly seeks it's own ends, but unselfishly lives to please the object of its love.

One reason many marriages fail is because the "love" they share is purely emotional, perhaps more lust than love.  They look for good feelings, for the excitement of each other's presence, for the emotional rush their partner gives them.  But life doesn't always feel good, isn’t always exciting.  What happens when that emotional rush diminishes?  Such "love” -- based on the self-centered interests of what makes me feel good -- will inevitably fail.

Biblical love is a commitment to sacrifice my life, my interests, and my desires - for the sake of another.  In marriage, it's a commitment to be sensitive in determining the needs of my mate and then meeting those needs, regardless of how I feel at the moment.

It's a commitment made to faithfully love and serve one another -- for better or worse; whether my mate is vibrant and healthy or ravaged by disease or accident; whether times are good or bad – and I guarantee that there will be bad times.

Biblical love is always unconditional.  Our society says:

  • ·       I'll love you if ... (you do or are a certain way).
  • ·       I love you because ... (you're so beautiful, you make me feel good).
  • ·       I love you when ... (you do something).

But if our love is conditioned upon the actions or appearance of another, it will be short-lived.  Appearances change. Thirty years ago, when Karen took me for better or worse, she took someone that was 20 pounds lighter, with far less wrinkles and no gray hair. Appearances change.

Others don't always act the way we want them to act. Biblical love says,  "I love you ... REGARDLESS ...” regardless of what you do, what you say, what you are -- I love you and am committed to your welfare.

This is the love God commands us to have for our mates.  Now, you can't command a feeling, only a conscious choice can be commanded. Many people don’t have a relationship that lasts for a lifetime because they have never CHOSEN to love each other unselfishly and unconditionally.

Love is a choice, a decision.  If you choose to love each other unselfishly and unconditionally, then you will have a relationship that will last a lifetime.

I want to give you some words that are characteristic of stage 3.  I put them in an acrostic TRUST -- the only way you make it to stage three in marriage is through mutual trust.

T - Tenderness.

There's tenderness in your marriage. You're gentle -- not judgmental -- with each other.  You're careful with each other's feelings.  You're tender with each other's egos.  You realize you're on the same team.  You're not out to destroy each other.  You're tender.

R - Respect and Responsibility.

You respect your spouse. You treat them with appreciation.  And you accept responsibility for your part in the marriage.  Accept your responsibility to make the marriage work.

U - Understanding.

The only way you make it to stage three is to know and accept your differences, to recognize and realize that we're different.  We're never going to be alike.  But that's OK. God didn't make another person just like me.  I'm unique.  I'm the only one like myself.  You know your temperaments, you know your faults, but you still accept them.  Out of that understanding comes ...

S - Security.

Mature love has a security that says, “No matter what happens, we will make it.”  You're not threatened by disagreements.  When an argument comes along you don't get afraid and think, “Maybe the marriage is dying, maybe it's ending.”

You think to yourself, “We've gone through too much together to let this slip away.  We've had too many good experiences to let this current crisis or argument destroy our marriage.”  The security comes from an unreserved commitment to each other.  You say, “I'm committed to you regardless.”

That security will revolutionize your marriage and your communication and your sexual relationship and everything.  You're at home with each other's bodies because you're secure in each other's love.

T - Truthful and Trusting.

Mature love is truthful.  “It delights -- it rejoices -- in the truth.” You're open.  You're honest.  You say what you feel.  You're truthful but you're tender.  The Bible calls it “Speaking the truth in love.” (Eph 4:15)

That's the stage that God wants us to get to where we find ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction.  How do you get there? How do you survive Stage Two so you can make it and thrive in Stage Three?  There are three things you must do: open up, give up, and grow up -- that's how you make it to Stage Three.  First

1.  Open up.

The starting point to get out of Stage Two and into Stage Three in a marriage is to open up. James 5:16 says,  “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” I know a lot of relationships that need to be healed.  How is a relationship healed?  Through confession and prayer.  You open up.

It takes a lot of honest communication to get into the third stage.  Admit you're part of the problem.  Often it means eating some crow facing the issues.  Share your feelings and be honest with your spouse.  Quit pretending and quit concealing -- “This is where I'm hurting.  This is what I don't like.  This is what I need.  What do you need?  What is hurting you?”

Don't be defensive.  It takes a lot of listening and a lot of leveling -- gut to gut -- to make it to Stage Three.  So many times we conceal.  Like the wife who said to her husband, “Are you a man or a mouse?  Squeak up!”  Confess your faults to each other. Open up.

2.  Give up.

Give up those ways of reacting that plainly don't work.  Give up those things that tend to increase the problem rather than decrease the problem. Give up the attitudes and responses that heighten the tension rather than reduce the tension.  What are some of those common, self-defeating attitudes?

  • ·            The silent treatment.  That's one you need to give up. I'll just sulk and pout.

“Is anything wrong?”


“Are you sure?”


“Are you all right?”

“Just leave me alone!”

The silent treatment is a way to kill marriage.  I've seen marriages that died because of it.  Some other things you need to give up:

  • ·       Threatening to walk out. “If you don't do this, just watch what happens!”
  • ·       Sarcasm and ridicule.  That never built a marriage.  It may be cute.  But it doesn't help.
  • ·       Blame.  As long as you spend all your time trying to fix the blame you can't fix the problem.  You have to decide -- “What do I want in my marriage?  Do I want to fix the problem or do I want to fix the blame?”  Frank Freed said, “Blame literally comes from B-LAME.”  When you're blaming, you're being lame.
  • ·       Trying to change your partner.  That's a self-defeating response.  “I'll just improve them.  New improved hubby.  New improved wife.  Made in the image of me.”

I always tell couples before I marry them to remember the acronym: WYSIWYG.  It’s an old computer term: “What you see is what you get.”  Don’t go into a marriage thinking you’re going to change your mate. Give it up.

You open up, you give up -- and finally you

3.  Grow up.

The greatest need in marriage is maturity. There are a lot of selfish, immature people that got together before they realized what they were doing.  And the marriage can work if they will grow up and accept some responsibility.

You have to learn to adapt and to adjust.  There's got to be give and take.  Grow up. Change is rarely instant in a person.  It's rarely a radical change, rarely dramatic.  It just takes time and effort to get to Stage Three.

It doesn't happen overnight.  But is it worth it?  Yes!  I stand as a testimony to that today.  It's worth it. There's nothing more fulfilling than having a relationship that's built on some things that will not change.

How do you have a marriage that will last forever?  The Bible says here are three things that are going to last forever in 1 Corinthians 13 -- faith, hope, and love.  Build your life on those three things and you’ll have a relationship that lasts forever.

I realize that we've got all kinds of marriages represented here. We've got newlyweds; we’ve got some people who have celebrated their fiftieth anniversary.  Jesus Christ is willing to help you at every stage of your relationship.

Has your marriage got to Stage Three?  Sometimes stress can throw it back into Stage Two.  Maybe you were there and maybe you're not there right now.  Do any of these items describe your relationship?

Dullness -- Have you become bored, complacent, your marriage is in the doldrums?  It's not bad it's just ho-hum!  Dullness.

Disagreements -- You're continually clashing and arguing and having conflict and fighting and poking at each other.

Defensiveness -- You accuse your mate and excuse yourself.  You blame them.

Disapproval -- “I just don't respect my spouse any more!” There is constant nagging, picking, put-down. What's the solution to that?  Start treating them with respect. How do you change a person?

The only way to change another person is by changing yourself and treating them the way you want them to be.  Don't give them a sermon; just treat them the way you want them to be.

Disappointment -- some of you think, “I am trapped!  What have I got myself into?”  As a result you've got the big D -- Depression -- and maybe you even have thought about the other D -- Divorce.  Jesus Christ can transform your marriage.

Would you in your heart right now pray a prayer to the Lord and express to Him the very feelings you have toward your relationship?  Some of you are saying, “I am discouraged.  I am depressed.  Our marriage is dull.  We do have disagreements.  I am defensive.”  Just admit it.

Say, “Lord, I admit that I'm part of the problem in my marriage.  Sometimes I'm just plain selfish.  Sometimes, Lord, I'm resentful.  Sometimes I'm stubborn.  Sometimes I'm defensive.  Please help me to change.”  Say, “Jesus, help me to open up, and help me to give up all those things in my life that are self defeating, that don't build a marriage but tear it down -- threats, ridicule, blame, the silent treatment, trying to change my partner, sarcasm, ridicule.  Help me to open up.  Help me to give up.  Help me to grow up.  Help me to mature, to become more like You.  I believe in You and I trust You to help me.”

I’m sure there are some here this morning who have gone to church in the past, you're a good person, a good neighbor, you try to live a moral life and treat others right I just want to ask you one question: “Have you ever established a relationship with Jesus Christ?”  That's the key.  That's the underlying presupposition for this entire series on marriage and the family.

You need God's help.  It takes three to make a marriage. The Bible says, “Two are better than one for they get a good return for their labor. If one person falls the other can reach out and help, but people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. If one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.  A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Eccles 4:9-12)

Here Solomon brings God into the equation. Two are better than one, but – when the relationship between husband and wife is intertwined with God -- the marriage becomes even stronger.

If you've never said, “I want a relationship with Christ,” would you say that in your heart today?  I'm not talking about a religion, or joining a church.  I'm talking about a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Jesus wants to come into your heart and change your life, your marriage, and your family relationships.

The Bible says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21) The apostle Paul was a persecutor and a blasphemer – he hated Christ and Christians – and had even murdered believers and thrown them into jail.  But God changed his life.

When he met the Lord, he was told, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16)  Will you do that today? Jesus says, “Just trust Me.”  That's the turning point.  Will you give your life and your marriage to Jesus Christ?”

Let’s pray:

Lord, I thank You for many here this morning that are saying, “I want to be honest with God.  I want Jesus Christ to come into my heart and change my life and my marriage.”  Lord, help them to understand the stages of their relationship. Help them to open up with each other, to give up those destructive attitudes and behaviors, and to grow up – accepting the responsibility to do Your will in their marriages.

Help us, as a church, to help them.  Thank You that we don't have to rely on our own power, but we can depend on You.  In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.