Unmarried couples nurture their relationship. They are on their best behavior. They are polite. They listen with interest to each another. He is a chivalrous gentleman. She is a lady. They spend quality time together. They try to endear themselves one to another.
Married couples sometimes neglect these things. The distractions and stresses of life come. Some allow other responsibilities to crowd out relationship time. Moreover, the guard is let down and flaws become evident in each, to each.
It takes work to keep any relationship strong. This is especially true in marriage, when two people see each other day after day in all kinds of circumstances. Good relationships take effort. This is why the Bible instructs: “Rejoice with the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18); “Husbands, love your wives” (Ephesians 5:25); “Admonish young women to love their husbands” (Titus 2:4); “Husbands… dwell with them with understanding” (1 Peter 3:7).
Consider the following Ethiopian folktale which is recorded in William J. Bennett’s book The Moral Compass…
The Lion’s Hair
In a village in the mountains of Ethiopia, a young man and a young woman fell in love and became husband and wife. For a short while they were perfectly happy, but then trouble entered their house. They began to find fault with each other over little things – he blamed her for spending too much at the market, or she criticized him for always being late. It seemed not a day passed without some kind of quarrel about money or friends or household chores. Sometimes they grew so angry they shouted at each other, and yelled bitter curses, and then went to bed without speaking, but that only made things worse.
After a few months, when she thought she could stand it no longer, the young wife went to a wise old judge and asked for a divorce.
“Why?” asked the old man. “You’ve been married barely a year. Don’t you love your husband?”
“Yes, we love each other. But it’s just not working out.”
“What do you mean, not working out?”
“We fight a lot. He does things that bother me. He leaves his clothes lying around the house. He drops his toenails on the floor. He stays out too late. When I want to do one thing, he wants to do another. We just can’t live together.”
“I see,” said the old man. “Perhaps I can help you. I know of a magic medicine that will make the two of you get along much better. If I give it to you, will you put aside these thoughts of divorce?”
“Yes!” cried the woman. “Give it to me.”
“Wait,” replied the judge. “To make the medicine, I must have a single hair from the tail of a fierce lion that lives down by the river. You must bring it to me.”
“But how do I get such a hair?” the woman cried. “The lion will surely kill me.”
“There I cannot help you,” the old man shook his head. “I know much about making medicines, but I know little about lions. You must discover a way yourself. Can you do it?”
The young wife thought long and hard. She loved her husband very much. The magic medicine might save their marriage. She resolved to get the hair, no matter what.
The very next morning she walked down to the river, hid behind some rocks, and waited. After a while, he lion came by to drink. When she saw his huge claws, she froze with fear. When he bared his sharp fangs, she nearly fainted. And when he gave his mighty roar, she turned and ran home.
But the next morning she came back, this time carrying a sack of fresh meat. She set the food on the ground, two hundred yards from the lion and then hid behind the rocks while the lion ate.
The next day, she set the meat down one hundred yards away from the lion. And on the following morning, she put the food only fifty yards away, and stood nearby while he gulped it down.
And so every day she drew closer and closer to the fierce, wild beast. After a while she stood near enough to throw him the food, and finally came the day when she fed him right from her hand! She trembled as she watched the great teeth ripping and tearing the meat. But she loved her husband more than she feared he lion. Closing her eyes, she reached out and pulled a single hair from the tail.
Then she ran as fast as she could to the wise old judge.
“Look!” she cried. “I’ve brought a hair from the lion!”
The old man took the hair and looked at it closely.
“This is a brave thing you have done,” he said. “It took a great deal of patience and resolve.”
“Yes,” said the woman. “Now give me the medicine to make my marriage better!”
The old man shook his head.
“I have nothing else to give you.”
“But you promised!” the young wife cried.
“Don’t you see?” asked the old man gently. “I have already given you all the medicine you need. You were determined to do whatever it took, however long it took, to gain a magic remedy. There is only your determination. You say you and your husband love each other. If you both give your marriage the same patience and resolve and courage you showed in getting this hair, you will be happy together for a long time. Think about it.”
And so the woman went home with new resolutions.