12 Major Lessons God Has Taught Me In 38 Years of Marriage

My wife Kristi and I celebrated our 38th anniversary a few days ago.

That day my daughter asked me what were a few things I’ve learned in all those years. I didn’t know she was going to ask my wife the same thing later, then post our responses on Facebook.

Since then I’ve been pondering: what has God taught me in 38 years of marriage? One reason he has probably given me 38 years so far is because I’m such a slow learner. Anyway, here are some things God has taught me:

Have no expectations of your spouse – only have expectations of yourself

I don’t mean that we should not expect our spouse to be faithful or that we should not expect our spouse not to abuse us. I mean that we should not expect our spouse to always meet our needs or appreciate us or serve us in certain ways. Unmet expectations can lead us to frustration and anger.

The only expectations I should have are of myself

What am I doing for my wife? Am I serving her? Am I trying to please her? When I focus on myself rather than my wife, I can see plenty of areas I need to grow in. If I focus on myself and where I should be pleasing my wife, I’m not going to be frustrated at my wife’s lack of meeting my expectations.

Try to be the biggest servant in the house

But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” MK 10:43-45

If anyone could have expected to be served, it would have been Jesus. Yet the greatest being in the universe became a servant and gave up his life for those who certainly didn’t deserve it. So my goal is not to worry about if Kristi is serving me or not, but my goal is by God’s grace to be the biggest servant in the house.

We all have blind spots

In other words, we all have things about ourselves we can’t see, or can’t see accurately. Therefore we should be quick to listen when our spouse mentions a sin or weakness they see. Before we respond, “What!! Me! No! I’m perfect in every way. I never respond harshly! I’m always gentle DOGGONE IT!” we should consider that this might be a blind spot and we aren’t seeing it as clearly as our spouse.

I probably have a log in my eye

Along the lines of having blind spots, before correcting our spouse on something we should check to see if we have any logs in our own eyes.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. MT 7:1-5

It’s so easy to pass judgment on our spouse for their failures or weaknesses. But Jesus tells us we should look at our own faults first, which are probably greater than our spouses. We should suspect a log in our own eye before jumping on the speck in our spouse’s. This will help us to be slow to correct, and merciful when we do.

Resolve conflicts quickly and keep short accounts

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. EPH 4.26-27

Try to resolve conflicts before going to bed. If possible, don’t let them linger. You may need a few minutes to calm down, but try to work things out the same day. When we let anger linger over time it gives the devil the opportunity to lie to us, to foster bitterness, etc.

Sometimes it’s hard and takes a long time to discuss something and try to resolve it the same day, but try to. Early in our marriage someone said, “Keep short accounts.” Don’t let anger linger. Along those lines…

Be quick to forgive

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” MK 11.25

I want God to forgive me when I sin against him. If your spouse has sinned against you, be quick to forgive them, especially if they ask for forgiveness. Ask the Lord for grace to forgive.


Now obviously with major sins, and ongoing serious sin, this is not easy and sometimes takes time. Couples may need counseling and it doesn’t mean we must be quick to get over hurt and pain caused by serious sin. To forgive doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences or that we must be quick to trust.

But in most day to day minor offenses, we should be quick to forgive. Obviously this is a subject that books could be written about, but in day-to-day life, be quick to forgive.

Our spouse should be our #1 priority

Even over our children. Because in marriage we are in a covenant with our spouse. We have no covenant with our kids. Obviously they are important to us, but our spouse should be our top priority. This means we have to be careful that our lives and interests or jobs or church doesn’t crowd out time with our spouse. They are our top priority.

Jesus will change my spouse (and me)

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. PHP 1.6

When tempted to get frustrated at your spouse trust the Lord – he is at work in both of you and he will finish his work. We are all slow to change, but if we are patient, the Lord will bring his work to completion. God is making us like Christ. It is a slow process, but trust the Lord. Pray for your spouse. Ask God to work in their lives. He will.

Our happiness and contentment are in Christ, not our spouse

So many get frustrated because their wife doesn’t make them happy. Their husband does not fulfill them. No human being can fulfill another human being. Only Jesus can fulfill and satisfy us. As David said,

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. PS 16:5-6

The Lord is our portion and inheritance. The Lord is the only one who can fulfill our needs and fill us with joy. Don’t look to your spouse to do what only the Lord can.

Don’t judge your spouse from your strengths

It’s so easy to look down on others who struggle with things we don’t struggle with. You may be an early riser who jumps out of bed and into your morning devotions, and your spouse may be just the opposite. You may not care for sweets that much and your spouse may have a real temptation there. It’s so easy to look judge others from our strengths. Yet God says,

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. RO 15.1-2

If you’re strong in an area, bear with the weakness of your spouse. Finally, this question has helped me immensely over the years.

When tempted to anger ask yourself, “What is it that I want that I’m not getting?”

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. JA 4:1-2

We all have “passions” or “desires” – things we want or crave. It could be that we crave respect, or we want some time alone. We want our spouse to do certain things for us. When we “desire and do not have,” when we “covet and cannot obtain” it causes quarrels and fights. It makes us angry. The source of our anger is not our spouse, but our own desires. When we don’t get those desires we get angry.

So the best question to ask ourselves when we are tempted to anger is “What is it that I want right now that I’m not getting?” No one can make us angry. Our anger is never caused by someone else. Our anger comes from our strong cravings within. This has helped me immensely throughout our marriage.

Those are a few things I’ve learned over 38 years of marriage to my wonderful wife. I’m sure I have much more to learn. Hopefully the Lord and Kristi will keep being patient with me….

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.

7 comments

  • Marc I really was inspired by your post. Don and I try to live by the same ideas as you and Christy. You two are a wonderful couple

  • Absolutely right on. Kathy and I will celebrate 45 years in October. We didn’t know early on but Jesus’ carpentry created the perfect dovetail that is our marriage. It sounds so cliched but it is absolutely true that we are more in love today than at any point in our marriage. When God has designed something, it is not only perfect in every detail, it is dynamic. His tapestries do not become threadbare. On the contrary, they increase in beauty. New every morning. I understand that now more than ever through what He has conceived and developed in us.

  • Wow! I love how deep and wise your words are.

    I have only been married for 5 years, but it has been the hardest thing I have ever fought for. My husband and I are both very strong willed, bull headed, and we have learned the hard way through out most of our marriage so far, but I can honestly say that when we do the things you have listed above, we THRIVE!

    Thank you for this wonderful article! Your site is inspiring!

  • Dear Pastor,

    I have been married for 41 years . I feel that my husband’s love for me is dwindling, superficial and without much feeling. He doesn’t hold my hand when crossing the road as he used to when we were younger. Instead, he will simply push my shoulder when crossing the road. I felt annoyed with this pushing.

    Whenever he went on overseas business trips, no matter how long his trip lasted, he never made any attempt to call home. What he did was that, he would sent me a WhatsApp to say he has arrived day the destination. For the rest of the duration, I would hear nothing from him until the day of his coming back he would send another WhatsApp to say he was at the airport awaiting his flight departure.

    He would not gave me much information of where he stayed or which part of that country he would be despite having told him numerous times that should anything happened to him, there would be no way I would know his whereabout.

    He didn’t take my words or advice seriously, simply brushing them aside. It’s ‘in one ear and out the other’.

    Often I felt very frustrated angry. When I shared my thoughts with him, he got angry.

    What shall I do?

  • Dear Ps Mark, I stumbled on your article as I searched the page on the parallel Bible. The article on the 4 best advice you have ever had on marriage!!! It was powerful. So I clicked the blog and ended up hear.

    I have been married for 12 years and I can tell through all my failures that what you taught here is true. I’m going to copy and paste it somewhere. It is short and as such easy to read as a quick reminder.

    I’m a minister of the gospel in Africa. I’m in my early years of ministry after resigning from my medical profession. These last 4 years have been fire to my marriage. The deep reduction in income troubled my wife a lot. In 2016 October she chose to have another relationship and ended up pregnant. In her explanation to me she said she felt she wanted to appreciate the man who was giving her money. I lived on & ate Matthew 18:33 during this season. I was not a mature christian either 8 years back and i received God’s mercy. So I forgave her.

    But she aborted the child. Nevertheless we moved on and promised to have a better marriage focusing on God. She even wrote me a commitment letter promising to love and submit. She told me she understood my calling and was committed walking with me. For sometime I have been a minister and stay at home husband.

    One year later she entered two other extra marital relationships and she is now pregnant again.

    Ps Mark kindly “strive with me in your prayers for me” Rom 15:30. I need God’s wisdom and grace.

    Any counsel is welcome. If you are led by God to speak a word of wisdom or knowledge to me; please don’t hesitate.

    Maranatha

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