4 Truths to Build a Life-Long Marriage

Four Truths I’ve Learned About Marriage on our 10th Wedding Anniversary

“‘Haven’t you read,’ Jesus replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.'” Matthew 19:4-6

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the sacredness of marriage this week and pondering this mysterious union God designed where two people become one flesh. Marriage is on my mind because today is our 10th Wedding Anniversary. It was a windy April day when Justin and I stood before an old Texas barn with my veil blowing in the wind. Truly, our courtship, engagement, and wedding were marked by the fingerprints of Jesus. After waiting oh-so-many years for God to answer my prayers, I watched in wonder as the Lord provided “exceedingly more than I could have asked or imagined.”

Ten years later, we are still best friends and crazy about each other. Please don’t read that to say that we haven’t had our share of struggles, disagreements, or obstacles to overcome. But, of course, we do! It’s impossible to put two human beings under the same roof and not have some kind of drama. 

But truthfully, we love each other more today than we did on our wedding day. Not the euphoric, hormone-driven, short-shelf life eros kind of love. No, we have developed a deeper love because it knows the others’ faults, weaknesses, and fears. Yes, I still think he’s the most handsome man in the world, but I love so many other things about him that I sometimes forget that his eyes are the color of the Pacific ocean. 

While we still feel like we are newlyweds in some respects, I know that we have decades to go before we can be experts on the topic. Still, in light of our 10th Anniversary, I wanted to share some truths about marriage that I’ve learned along the way. 

1. The wedding is the launch pad, not the destination.

It’s not breaking news to say that the wedding industry has become a gazillion-dollar business. I get it. Everyone wants the Pinterest perfect event. But while so many young brides focus on the Big Day, we need to remember that ceremony and reception are just the launching pad, not the destination. Sure, we had a fabulous wedding. I loved every minute. But at the end of the day, the flowers died, the dress was packed away, and the little details that seemed like such a big decision are now just faint memories. 

What is true and lasting is not the three-tiered cake but the life-long commitment we made to each other. The decision to walk through life together, through sickness and health, for better or worse, is what prepared us for the ups and downs of life. Our wedding day was the beginning of the marriage, and the vows were a declaration of our dedication. On April 14, 2012, Justin and I pledged to love each other, but not just on that day. Instead, we promised a future love that would guide us in all the days that followed. 

“Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now—that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances.” ― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

2. Love is a choice, not a feeling.

 The word “love” is a verb. This thought hit me a few years into marriage. To love someone is not to feel a particular set of emotions that can change with the wind. Instead, to love someone places that person’s needs before your own. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is mastered by emotions. How we feel is the dictator of what we do. But this doesn’t work in marriage. Often, we are called to do the act of loving, even when we don’t feel like it. 

People leave marriages in droves because they don’t feel “in love” anymore. They mean that they don’t have the romantic rush that happens in the first stage of a relationship. When the sizzle stops, so does their commitment. But this is not the Biblical definition of love. I appreciate the warning Gary Chapman gives to newlyweds: 

“Research indicates that the average life span of the “in love” obsession is two years. For some it may last a bit longer; for some, a bit less. But the average is two years. Then we come down off the emotional high and those aspects of life that we disregarded in our euphoria begin to become important.” ― Gary Chapman

Yes, I’m still very much in love with my husband. But as I’ve shared, our devotion is deeper than it was 10 years ago. It is a love that we’ve cultivated and grown, and protected. Sure, some days are still euphoric. But most of the time, we are practicing patience, kindness, and grace while managing budgets, sorting laundry, and figuring out what’s for dinner. This is why I say, “love is a verb.” As Tim Keller writes, “When the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone.” That last line is critical; love is defined by how much we are willing “to give of ourselves.” A lifelong commitment to another person proves to be the training ground for love.

“A marriage is not a joining of two worlds, but an abandoning of two worlds in order that one new one might be formed . . . . Marriage involves nothing more than a lifelong commitment to love just one person – to do, whatever else one does, a good, thorough job of loving one person.” — Mike Mason.

3. Marriage slays our selfishness, and that’s a good thing.

Finally, if I’ve learned anything in the past 10 years, it is this: a Christ-centered marriage can slay your selfishness. The reason? Because there is no joy or peace when two people seek their own happiness. True harmony only occurs when both spouses are seeking the well-being of the other. As my friend Gary Thomas once said, “You won’t find happiness at the end of a road called selfishness.” Preach!

Friends, this is the secret to marriage that the world doesn’t know. To be truly happy in marriage requires we follow Jesus’ command to “take up our cross and follow Him.” This means we die to ourselves. I know our culture screams the opposite when it says, “you gotta put yourself first.” But honestly, let’s examine the fruit of that poisonous tree. Selfishness breeds disappointment, anger, and resentment. But the opposite is true. Selflessness, the kind of love that Jesus modeled, bears the fruit of joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Pastor Tim Keller’s advice proves so powerful, “If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.”

Dying to our selfishness is a kingdom principle. Like other teachings of Jesus, they prove to be counter-cultural. But when practiced, they bear witness to the divine wisdom. Honestly, marriage has been God’s mirror to reveal my own selfishness. I’m so thankful for the refining fire that has been used to show me how much I’m self-absorbed. Because only then have I experienced the radical grace and profound joy that comes with repentance. 

“Marriage comes with a built-in abhorrence of self-centeredness. In the dream world of mankind’s complacent separateness, amidst all our pleasant little fantasies of omnipotence and blamelessness and self-sufficiency, marriage explodes like a bomb. It runs an aggravating interference pattern, an unrelenting guerrilla warfare against selfishness. It attacks people’s vanity and lonely pride in a way that few other things can, tirelessly exposing the necessity of giving and sharing, the absurdity of blame.”
 — Mike Mason.

4. Marriage teaches us about God’s grace. 

Not a day goes by in our relationship that one of us doesn’t look at the other and say, “I’m sorry.” The reality is that we love each other, yet we are two imperfect people, living together with all of our faults and failures. If I’ve learned anything in 10 years, it is that grace is the soil in which a marriage grows. For love to flourish, we must be quick to say:

I was wrong.
I should not have said that.
Forgive me for how I acted when I was hangry. 

Believe me, when I say I won the lottery when it comes to husbands. Justin is kind, easy-going, quick to serve others, and patient. Oh boy, is that man patient! When it comes to grace, I’m by far the recipient of it. But there are moments when we both have to choose forgiveness because we are forgiven people. 

While we don’t enable bad behavior and just shrug our shoulders at sin, we understand that we are both a work in progress. God is sanctifying each one of us to be more like Jesus. Therefore, it’s imperative that we show each other the same grace that Jesus extends to us. 

“Marriage requires a radical commitment to love our spouses as they are, while longing for them to become what they are not yet. Every marriage moves either toward enhancing one another’s glory or toward degrading each other.”
—Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III

The beauty of marriage is that we become the other’s cheerleader in this work of grace. Early on in our relationship, the Holy Spirit taught me the power of my words. I could be God’s instrument of building Justin up, or I could be a tool in Satan’s hand to tear him down. As Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

While I don’t always do this perfectly, I want to be a woman who speaks words of life to my husband and serves as his biggest fan. I personally need God’s grace like oxygen, and it’s my prayer that our home is a place where His grace is modeled.

No one on earth has shown me more grace than my husband, Justin Ellis. He has been Jesus to me in so many ways. I’m forever thankful for how God answered my prayers for a husband who loved Jesus more than anything else in the world. And because Justin loves the Lord, he, in turn, loves me when I’m not easy to love. Through this act of grace, I’ve seen how marriage displays the gospel to the world. 

“God shows his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

Friends, I don’t have a lot of marriage advice. As I’ve shared, I’m still learning. But If I do have anything to pass on from the first 10 years, it’s this: Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and then ask Him each day to love your spouse through you. 


For His Glory,


©copyright Marian Jordan Ellis 2022

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