My wife and I are in our 14th year since walking the aisle. I have some experience in the work and life required to make a healthy marriage. Everyone who talks about godly Christian marriages talks about communication, housework and the difference in needs between the sexes regarding...well...sex. Some aspects of the common advice you hear will be discernible in the advice I give here. However, from my experience to date, I have learned some things that you may not hear very often.
Part of this discourse comes from the frustration I see in the portrayal of marital relationships in the popular media and the odd way I see much of that spill over into many Christian marriages. Well, you certainly hear much bad advice coming from non-Christians and I'll address a couple of these items of bad advice here.
This is not an exhaustive or cleanly analytical list. There is some overlap and there are some gaps. Marriages are made up of unique individuals and no single formula aside from Paul's admonition to the Ephesians to submit to one another covers every aspect of marital life.
When you look at your young love through the eyes of hormonal bliss and see a thing of physical beauty looking back at you with eyes glazed over with the same hormonal bliss, it's wonderful. Expect it to change.
The hormones of a new relationship last perhaps two years. Childbearing years are often filled with new medical problems, stretch marks, short tempers, dirty diapers, no time alone, and many and sundry other things. You will see something different than starry hormones in each other's eyes. You will see bags, waning trust, discouragement and a sense of helplessness. You may even see plenty of anger depending on your spouse. Most people don't expect these things really. They had some idea that they married better than that and that "love is all we need", but when the rubber meets the road, the reality of sin in you and your partner's life comes to bear.
In the middle age years, expect those eyes to wander. Hey, we're supposed to be faithful, but we do a lot of things we're not supposed to do. If we see infidelity in some marriages, there's even more occasions where people think about it. Are you prepared to love a partner who thinks about cheating on you whether he or she actually does it? Are you prepared to do what you need to do to be faithful when the temptation arises in your own heart?
In old age, after a couple dozen different hair styles, diets and medical procedures, the hair will turn grey or white to the point where it's useless to color it anymore. No cream will be able to touch those wrinkles. Incontinence keeps visitors away and may threaten to keep each other away. I haven't gotten to that point so I'm guessing here. Viagra is poison. You'd have a heart attack if you got aroused. There's no going back when one of you physically can't have sex anymore. The kids and grandkids come to visit not as often as you would like. People treat you like a three-year-old although you were once a great leader of something. Well, you do act like a three-year-old anymore. That may be why. You look across the nursing home activity room and wonder that the person over there is really the same person you exchanged vows with; that you had the gumption to raise children together; that you... Wait - you finally remember that you divorced 20 years ago and that's not your spouse.
Things can change quickly. Have you considered what would happen if one of you were severely injured and the other had to spend the rest of their life doing little more than caring for the other without any hope of experiencing marital bliss ever again? It happens.
Things change - dramatically. Expect it.
Parents and Extended Family
You have the most wonderful parents in the world. Beware that they may let you know how wonderful they are as they point out what they perceive are your housekeeping, parenting and marital errors. You love them and even expect that when they are older you will have much to do to care for them. But right now, you just want to move to a different town. And if you are in a different town, you have to plan many trips to visit them so they can see their grandkids. You can't win for losing.
Expect a life of catering to your parents' wishes. You only thought you left home.
Between expecting changes and putting up with extended families, you might sober up enough to have some misgivings. That's a good thing. Not enough people go into marriage anymore with their eyes open. If you expect these things and are willing to take on the responsibility of being a lifelong mate for a fellow sinner as well as adopting his or her family and being insane enough to make more family that you are personally responsible for, then you may make a good go at it. Knowing that it's going to happen is half the battle.
Did I say "battle"?
One piece of bad advice from the pop culture is really merely a justification for having sex without being married. It's the concept of "test-driving" a potential spouse. There are several problems with this, but if you think that people are meant to be tried out as though you were buying them, you have a serious issue with valuing other people. More on that in a moment.
Let's test-drive the metaphor and see if it flies. If you've ever had a car, you know that test-driving it is a bit superfluous. Most cars are similar enough that it really doesn't matter. Who do you think you are, a NASCAR driver? "She's a little loose; need to tighten her up a bit; she's sliding all over the track in the corners." Baloney. What have you been doing, borrowing other people's cars to practice on? If you are comparing buying an automobile to getting married, then you must know that the important information is in the maintenance, not the driving. As you maintain the vehicle, you can adapt it to your driving style. Today, cars are computer controlled and many are programmed to adapt themselves to your driving style. If the car is driven by many different drivers, it has trouble adapting and the car ends up driving you. Read between the lines.
If you only ever drive one car and that car has only been driven by you, then you will become he best driver of that car and the car will become the best car for you. I know whereof I speak. There is a psychological principle called imprinting. It happens in humans and many animals alike. It happens when a baby sees her parents. It also happens to lovers when they look at each other. It happens in a warped way when people view pornography. If you try out different "cars" before you finally "buy", then you defeat your imprinting. When you look at your spouse, do you see the valuable person that you share flesh with or just another person in a parade of lovers?
As a note, keep in mind that when you are married you are the only oasis for your spouse's libido. In most marriages, one or the other will desire sex more than the other. If you are the one who can go for months without even holding hands, you have to actually work at this and ask yourself where your spouse is finding relief for their libido if you are denying him or her. Do you want them to be tempted or do you want them to be tortured? Do you love your spouse enough to give them what they need to keep them rooted at home? This is more important to most couple's relationships than most will say, and possibly worth thinking about even before a couple marries. Regarding our "test-driving" metaphor, it's part of the maintenance. A car needs to be driven on a regular basis or bad things will happen under the hood.
To be sure, have you seen the owner of an antique automobile that he has had since he was young or that he has taken and restored. He cares for it day and night and it shines. He covers it to protect it and takes care of the smallest details to make sure everything is perfect. He spends time and money on the car. He looks far and wide to find special parts to meet the car's needs. He drives it and shows it off, but he doesn't like others to drive it. He's proud of it. He's known for it. He enters contests and expects to win awards for how good the car is.
Do you value your spouse like this man values his car? Do you care for him or her in every way. Where other spouses are broken and beaten do you protect your spouse? Indeed, if taking care of an antique car can increase its value, do you do what you need to do value your spouse more and more every day?
I have a self-imposed rule. I NEVER speak unkindly about my wife in public to ANYONE. I might make friendly light of some aspects of our marriage, but I never talk her down to other people. I strive always to bless her in public. I go out of my way to say good things about her to other people. I don't tolerate anyone saying unkind things about her. I can't say it particularly happens. I would get very put out if someone said something unkind about my wife.
However, I sometimes hear other people speak unkindly about their spouses and it saddens me. Do they not value the one person they have decided to invest their life in? If you aren't married, look at a potential mate and ask yourself if you could follow this rule when they rub you the wrong way or fail to meet your expectations. If you are married and have a difficult spouse, can you follow this rule?
I've gone almost 14 years with this rule intact and speaking blessings over my wife in public has become a source of self-fulfilling prophecies. I delight in the way she has grown as a person and a Christian. Her value increases with me all the time and I have heard from others how they envy our relationship.
And we are to grow as Christians. Understand this. As Christians we are being sanctified. As a married couple sharing one flesh you will be inextricably tied in to each other's sanctification. Have you ever been through God's discipline where he purified you with some fire? Sanctification is often not fun, but we also know the blessing of it.
Expect to go through difficult times with your spouse. You are not perfect. Your spouse is not perfect. Expect your spouse to be part of your sanctification. Expect to be part of your spouse's sanctification. I can't stress this enough. IT WON'T BE EASY! But learn to see the blessing in it as you are purified together as a couple.
In this light, don't think of yourself too highly. I've seen men try to dominate their wives. I've seen women try to manipulate their husbands. This is wrong. Has Christ dominated the Church by force? No. But he's perfect and gave his life for the Church. Has the Church tried to manipulate Christ? Yes. We're not perfect. But Christ will not be manipulated. He lovingly disciplines us. Likewise, a husband should not be harsh with his wife, but lead her kindly in all wisdom and understanding. The wife also must not cow her husband into sacrificial submission but win him with moral force.
I'm getting all this from Ephesians 5. A man is to submit himself sacrificially for the purity of his wife and meet her needs. A wife must submit to her husband as the Church is to submit to Christ. If a husband sins, the wife is not to submit to the sin, but to honor her husband in the Lord for the sin is not her husband if he is a Christian. I explained this to my kids the other night when they asked me what would happen if we were to ask them to sin, would they follow the command to honor us or the command not to sin. I explained that there is no honor outside of Christ. I can't imagine us asking them to sin, but if we did they should disobey us and obey God instead. While it would appear to be disobedient to us, obedience to God would actually honor us whether we recognized it or not. If they obeyed us into sin, they would dishonor themselves and we would dishonor them and us. Likewise, wives, submission to your husband never means to be disobedient to God.
Rather, when your spouse sins (and your spouse will sin, sometimes most grievously) pray for them and work with them respectfully to overcome the sin. Do not assume the worst and offer blessings when they do well. By this they will grow in Christ in all humility and love.
Finances and God's Provision
Many counselors talk about finances so I won't spend much time on them. We talked about finances in pre-marital counseling. It's an issue that drives a wedge between spouses as much or more than infidelity. I'll cut to the chase. If you are a Christian, what is your hope in? Who is your provider? Are you the provider? Do you trust in your finances? God who knows all things supplies your need. I have seen a Christian family become homeless. God still supplied their need.
I know a young lady who is engaged to be married. She was raised with her needs well provided for. Her husband to be will be going to seminary. He made out a budget for them based on their expected income and it was tight. She is panicking because she has never had to do without. Fear not when you lose possessions or even your house for any financial or natural calamity. More importantly, don't play the blame game with your spouse. If you have lost money because you have sinned, then work through it. However, trust God to provide your need. Who do you trust?
You might have all the rest in the bag. You might be a high-end Christian who is on track and always contributes your time, gifts and monies in every way possible to the glory of God and his kingdom. If so, you are feeling called to do something with all this kingdom energy. You are feeling called to ministry.
What do you do if you are called to be a missionary to Africa and your spouse-to-be is called to be a professional Christian musician traveling in the US? There are two options. Either one or both of you must give up your calling or you must reconsider getting married. If you are already married, then you only have one option. You must do things where you can minister together or minister in different ways in the same place. Your calling must be tempered in this light. Not every Christian woman has the strength to be a pastor's wife. Not every Christian man will follow his wife to Africa where she is called to run an orphanage.
...and they all lived happily ever after.
Labels: advice, Christian, love, marriage