Justin, there are 12 things you need to do if you want your marriage to work

On Tuesday, pop star Justin Bieber made national news by announcing that he and model Hailey Baldwin were engaged to be married.

But the fact of his engagement didn’t get nearly as much coverage as the words he used in an Instagram post to describe his intentions in marrying Hailey.

After gushing about Hailey, he talked about the value of marriage. What’s more, he made clear his intention to show his little brother and sister what a healthy and stable marriage looks like.

And, in a statement not often heard from American celebrities, he stated his intention to let “Jesus through his Holy Spirit guide us in everything we do and every decision we make.”

Bieber’s words are good ones. And good words are a great start.

But, as so many of us have learned over the course of our marriages, good words and intentions must turn into healthy marital habits and patterns or they will soon ring hollow.

Fairy tale marriages are hard to find. And by “hard to find,” we mean “impossible to find.” Our own marriage certainly hasn’t been a fairy tale. It’s been messy. It’s taken a lot of hard work. But we’ve been determined to fight for our marriage, and the fight has been well worth the effort.

So Justin, in wishing you and Hailey the best, and building off a combination of biblical wisdom and hard-earned marriage experience, we offer you twelve golden rules for a healthy and stable marriage. These aren’t the only twelve insights into a good marriage, but they’re a good place to start.

Talk about first things first. A marriage will be at its strongest if God is at the center of it. In fact, God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy. Even the difficult moments in marriage are an on-ramp to a closer relationship with God, and a closer walk with God is the path to a happier marriage.

Put down your cell phone. We mean it. Put those phones down. Give your best time to each other rather than to your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feeds. You can bank on it: twenty years from now, you won’t be saying, “If I’d just spent a little more time tweeting, our marriage would be in much better shape.”

Make the bedroom a priority. And by bedroom, we mean sex. It takes a lot more than sex to build a healthy and stable marriage, but sex is an indispensable part of it. So take God at his word—since he created sex and designed it to be enjoyed in marriage—and don’t neglect the bedroom.

Tell the truth. This is a big one. The spouse who wants a strong marriage will refuse to lie or keep secrets and, on the flipside, will affirm their partner for fessing up and telling the truth.

Talk about hard things together. Finances. In-laws. Sex. Career. Raising children. Anybody who’s been married for more than a week knows that these things can be hard to talk about. And for that reason it is easy to avoid them. But if we don’t put energy into communicating about these challenges, our marriages will wither on the vine.

Fight the right way. All married couples get sideways every once in a while. And it’s in those moments—when you don’t really like each other that much—that your choice to love each other anyway means the most.

Be your spouse’s biggest encourager. Your spouse will have enough critics. So instead of joining that number, be their greatest supporter. It’s not wrong to criticize, but make your criticisms few and your encouragements many.

Ask good questions. One of the surest signs of love is attentiveness. Do you love your spouse? Then get to know him or her by asking good questions rather than centering the conversation on yourself.

Make friends with fighters. Make sure you spend time with friends and couples who encourage you to strengthen your marriage, and less time with people who downplay the value of marriage or tempt you to compromise your marital commitments. You need some sparring partners to keep you in the ring.

Play together. Budget for a consistent date night and for a yearly vacation. Find an activity that you both love—playing a sport, refinishing furniture, camping, writing Fox Opinion pieces, composing Billboard Hot 100 songs, whatever it may be—and make it a priority.  

Laugh together. Even—and especially—in the hard times, find reasons to laugh. (Not at each other, okay? With each other.)

Keep your children in mind. Strive for the kind of marriage that makes your children want to be married when they grow up.

Why is marriage so difficult? Because we are imperfect people. We’re sinners. And marriage is the place where our sin is likely to be exposed on a daily basis.

But the realization of our imperfection is also why marriage is so beautiful. It is an echo of God’s love for imperfect people, a love that was demonstrated most powerfully when Christ died on our behalf.

So, let’s have the same hope for Justin and Hailey’s marriage that we have for our own—that, through the God-given gift of marriage, they will experience a love like God’s love, a love in which they are both fully known and fully loved.

Bruce and Lauren Ashford are the parents of three small children and live in Raleigh, NC. Bruce’s latest book is "Letters to an American Christian." Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford and Facebook.