Early in my marriage, I was reading the 2nd chapter of Genesis. It describes Adam and Even in the Garden. I had read it many times, but this time God helped me understand it in the context of marriage. He used it to bring my marriage back from the brink of divorce.
In Genesis 2:24-25, God speaks His first words about marriage. I call these the “four laws of love.” They are guidelines God gives about marriage. When we follow them, the success of this relationship at the center of civilization is all but guaranteed.
The very first law in this passage is what I call the Law of Priority. It’s one that trips up many of the thousands of couples I’ve counseled over the years. We see the prominence of priority in the first part of Genesis 2:25 — “a man shall leave his father and mother.”
Before marriage, the highest commitment and devotion in a person’s life is to their parents. This changes at the altar. God designed marriage to operate as the most important human relationship in our lives, second in priority only to our relationship with Him.
Look at any problem that may exist in your own marriage and it won’t take long to see that those issues stem from misplaced priorities. If we prioritize any other human relationship or interest above our spouse, our marriage will struggle.
To see how it happens, think back to the beginning of your relationship. When a couple starts dating or begins to fall in love, they pay close attention to the relationship. They spend time with each other regularly. They sacrifice to meet each other’s needs. They defend the relationship against competing demands.
Once engaged, this continues up to the wedding. They spend time together and focus attention on each other. The honeymoon is wonderful. After tying the knot, the excitement of a new living situation keeps things going — especially for a younger couple. If problems arise, the husband and wife work together to communicate and find solutions.
Within a few years, though, a couple of different things happen. One or both spouses gain more responsibilities at work. Their careers progress. And within a few years, the couple begins to have children. According to research, the shift from childless newlyweds to parenthood is when the satisfaction level of a marriage begins to drop significantly.
At this stage, early problems may be ignored or masked. It’s easy to let those things slide because both parents are busy at work — or because both are focused on a baby. These problems aren’t solved. They are simply pushed aside. Unaddressed, they begin to magnify. Dissatisfaction or frustration start to fester.
Even if both parents work, the differences between men and women at this stage are very real. Women are instinctively nurturing. A new mother will pour her attention into caring for the child. Men instinctively want to be providers, and a husband will give more attention into his career.
These a positive instincts! Work and parenting are good things, of course, but at this stage they can represent a subtle shift in priorities. Where once a couple prioritized each other, they allow something else to compete with the time and energy that had once been reserved for marriage.
I can’t begin to count the number of couples I have counseled whose bottom-line complaints are the same. Women share with me a version of this: “He works all the time, and when he gets home, he is tired and just wants to rest.”
Guys tell me a version of this: “She doesn’t even know when I’m home. She is so busy with the kids that she is completely worn out when we are finally together.”
Both husband and wife feel violated. They are jealous of the thing that has stolen their place of priority with each other. And it’s a legitimate form of jealousy, because this change violates God’s design for marriage and the law of priority. Unless this problem is corrected, it can harm the relationship.
Studies indicate that, as the average couple gets older and their children grow older, the satisfaction level of marriage drops until children leave home. That’s why phrases like “The honeymoon is over” have become part of our language.
BUT, it doesn’t have to be this way. Do you really think God designed marriage to get worse and worse? Or did He make a mistake? Not at all! While this scenario is common, God’s plan for marriage is for it to improve every year. One of the ways to ensure this is the case is to follow His plan. We have to follow the law of priority.
It’s important to provide for your family. But your work supports the family. Your family is not in service to your job. A career should never become more important than a marriage.
It’s important to love your children and meet their needs. But raising children is a temporary assignment. Your marriage is for a lifetime. Besides, you don’t want your kids to grow up around unhappy parents or an unhealthy model of marriage. And what kind of marriage will you be left with when the kids move out?
If you find that your priorities are misplaced in your marriage, then you will need to recommit to your spouse. Talk to each other. Repent of the ways that you have failed and re-establish the right priorities.
Then take action. The important thing to know about priorities is that they can’t be proven by words. You can say “my marriage comes first” all day long, but the proof of that statement comes with behavior. What will you give up to meet your spouse’s needs? You have to show priority — you can’t just speak it.
All of us know what it looks like to invest in our children. All of us know what it looks like to invest in our careers. But what would it look like in your life to invest in your marriage? That’s the question we should be asking.
The answer is to build disciplines and traditions into your marriage that re-establish and then protect its place of priority. Schedule date nights. Take walks together. Set aside time to talk every day, face to face. Cuddle together and be intentional about affection. Take short or weekend trips. Schedule sex and times of intimacy. Find a hobby or activity you both enjoy and pursue it together.
Other than your commitment to God, your marriage should be the most important thing in your life. Follow the law of priority and you’ll enjoy a healthy, successful marriage.
This is an excerpt from "The Four Laws of Love: Guaranteed Success for Every Married Couple" by Jimmy Evans. He shares that God created love and marriage, and He created laws to guide and guard them. When God’s laws are honored, marriage is the safest relationship on the earth. Available now at fourlawsoflove.com
Jimmy Evans is the Founder and CEO of MarriageToday, a ministry and nationally syndicated television program devoted to helping couples thrive in strong and fulfilling marriages and families. He is Senior Pastor of Gateway Church, one of the largest churches in the nation. He and his wife Karen have been married for 47 years and have two married children and five grandchildren.