Archives for posts with tag: Marriage

I have heard this numerous times among men. With a chuckle of knowing resignation one may tell another what his wife does that doesn’t make sense to him. “There’s just no understanding women,” they might say.

Is this right?

In a larger passage about being subject to each other, Peter writes:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)

Peter admonishes Christian husbands to understand their wives and live in accordance with that understanding. Not only is it possible for a husband to understand his wife, it is commanded. Husband, you study cars, sports statistics, politics, or whatever else you are interested in. Yet you refuse to study your wife to know her better? Study her like your life depended on it.

The effect is that the wife of a Christian husband will be honored. Perhaps you don’t want to honor your wife. Why did you marry her if you didn’t want to honor her? You show yourself to be a fool for an honored wife will glorify her husband. (1 Cor 11:17)

Ultimately, however, the result of not doing this is that the husband’s prayers will be hindered. I said study her like your life depended on it. If you’re prayers are your connection with the One who gives you life, then your life indeed depends on understanding your wife and living like it.

Christian husband, an amazing way to fulfill this is to pray for your wife. You should be doing this anyway, but I know that many do not. I have seen miracles happen in marriages where husbands pray for their wives. The next miracle could be for you.

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I love my wife and I love finding ways to serve her as a husband ought. So I like to read material that has particular insight in this area. There are sundry articles entitled things like “Ten Things Your Husband Wants You To Know” or “What Your Wife “Really Needs From Her Husband”. There are books by Christian and secular authors with all kinds of good or okay teaching and advice.

I’ve read enough of these that I have a categorization system for the advice and teachings I find. I have four categories, or echelons, of increasing insight. The first echelon comprises behavioral advice. The second echelon comprises emotional insight. The third echelon comprises instruction in worldly wisdom. The forth echelon consists of insight into spiritual wisdom. Interestingly, each one is predicated on the conditions of the echelons above it such that one must be spiritually wise in order to adequately evaluate worldly wisdom, a couple must be steeped in wisdom to meet each other’s emotional needs, and a couple must practice meeting emotional needs in order to produce ideal behaviors.

The behavioral advice of the first echelon generally consists of the typical admonition to only have sex with whomever you are married to and be nice to each other. For many people this is the only echelon with which they are concerned, and even still they struggle with it. It’s not enough to simply be told not to commit adultery. It’s not enough to be told to be nice to each other, even though particular ways of doing this are iterated. So the commercial comes on the radio and you hear people telling how they have made their marriages better and I hear people say things like, “I talked to my wife on the phone from work and listened to her. She likes it when I listen.”

The fact is that we each go through periods of bad behaviors. Ok, cheating on your spouse may be a deal breaker for most, but spouses may get grumpy or snap at each other. A fellow I know is married to a woman who is manic-depressive. Most of their married life is spent at odds with each other as a result. But the trust he has for her extends to the point of understanding that she doesn’t really want to be the way she is. And her trust in him is an understanding that life with her is difficult and he sometimes gets upset as a result.

As for not cheating on your spouse or not being abusive, the only way to have self-control is to be spiritually wise. It’s part of the gift of the Spirit. You won’t want to do what’s right if you aren’t motivated by the Spirit. Otherwise, you are only motivated by the desire not to lose your spouse and that only lasts as long as you really want your spouse around.

The emotional insight of the second echelon usually contains therapeutic information with heavy doses of the author’s personal experience as examples. Emotional insights focus on spouses being more sensitive to each other’s emotional needs resulting in specific behaviors. For example, typical insights are for husbands to help their wives out around the house and listen to them without offering solutions because that’s what women need. Wives are admonished to try to have more sex with their husbands and act like they admire them because that’s what men need.

The insights here are typically not biblically found, but where there are biblical references, they are often contrived. I hate when I read otherwise good therapeutic insights from Christian counselors with attempts to back it up with biblical references that would be recognized as poor hermeneutics by any decent theologian. For example, Ephesians 5 doesn’t instruct a wife to love her husband. This doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t love her husband and there’s nothing in the text from which to reasonably extrapolate anything supporting the observation that most men are wired to yearn for the respect of their wives. Now it’s good to observe that most men have some motivation in a marriage to be respected by their wives, but no Christian teacher should use a passage from the Bible just because he thinks he needs to find one to support an empirical observation. Sheesh.

Between the third and fourth echelons, I draw a distinction between worldly wisdom and spiritual wisdom. This is an important distinction, but without clarification, it may be lost on many people. Worldly wisdom is the wisdom of experience and practicality. It’s the realm of common sense and is limited in its scope to the immediately observable. Worldly wisdom is not intrinsically bad, but not intrinsically good either. Worldly wisdom is passed along in humor where mixed motives serve to neutralize any impact of informing the attitudes of listeners. As such, these nuggets of “wisdom” can be apprehended by people with both good intentions and bad intentions.

This worldly wisdom of the third echelon can range in depth. On the lower end, a husband may make a comment dismissing his buddies when wife calls him by saying, “I better get this, the boss is calling.” In the middle are such cute sayings like the old couple when asked if their marriage is “fifty-fifty” by smiling coyly and saying “seventy-thirty”. You don’t usually get much of an explanation as to what they mean by that. But on the upper end, you may get a serious author who seeks to enlighten couples that their “differences are meant to compliment each other.” That they each have strengths and weaknesses and where one is weak, the strengths of the other exist to cover for them. No mention is generally made of the reasonable supposition that both may be strong or weak in some of the same areas. Nevertheless, it can be a fruitful teaching if the couple takes it and earnestly tries to work together as team as such, trusting each other’s strengths and handling each other’s weaknesses with grace.

The fourth echelon is lost on most people and most authors never truly address it. The reason is that they presume that if you read their book or article, that you already have some desire to work on your marriage and therefore already love your spouse on some level. They are content to leave it at that. But such is only a prelude to spiritual wisdom. Good marriages are predicated on Truth, but Truth is more than mere facts.

The cornerstone of all truth is the gospel itself and Christ himself is the Truth. This is why in Ephesians 5 Paul links marriage first and all human relationships to the gospel of Christ in his submission to meeting our need for salvation by his submission to death. The unity of the trinity is the submission of each person of the trinity to each other in such perfect unity as to demonstrate their absolute union: He is indeed one God and this is the love of God. Our created purpose is to demonstrate this love in communion with him as well as with our temporal relationships with each other.

This is my spiritual wisdom with regard to my wife, that I see her as God sees her. Christ gave himself for her while she was yet a sinner and the Holy Spirit now lives in her sanctifying her daily. It is therefore my purpose to cooperate with God with regard to the sanctification of my wife, building her up as a child of God and not tearing her down. Whether she returns the favor or not has no bearing on my submission to her spiritual needs, except that learning to similarly submit to my needs is a part of her sanctification, not that she should find frustration and discontentment in submitting to my needs, but that she should find fulfillment and satisfaction in it. This is spiritual wisdom.

Looking back, therefore, I could never have married a perfect woman. It’s not that there really are such people who are perfect, but rather that too many people either unrepentantly believe that they need no forgiveness for anything or that they are caught up in the trappings of always appearing to be perfect. For perfection is to be complete, needing nothing. If I find fulfillment and satisfaction in meeting my wife’s spiritual needs, then what use would a perfect woman have with me and how could a perfect woman give me any fulfillment? Likewise, my submission to my wife’s needs also entails being able to be transparent with my own needs to her and vice versa.

Are you married? Do you consider yourself integral to your spouse’s sanctification?

Are you single? Don’t presume that you will find fulfillment in a perfect spouse, for we don’t gain perfection aside from the cross of Christ.

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.

Expect Change

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”?

Test Driving?

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.

Sanctification

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?

Ministerial Compatibility

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.