By most standards Nancy and Josh's marriage was exemplary. Their middle-class status was comfortable. They both loved each other and adored their three children. Josh was involved in the men's ministry at their church, and Nancy taught the junior high bible class. The kids were generally well-behaved, and everyone respected this family.
Josh and Nancy had no major issues confronting their relationship, but lately an inexplicable tension was building between them. Nancy began to complain that Josh expended so much of his time and energy at work that he had very little left for her and the kids. In his mind, Josh was simply fulfilling his responsibility to his family by providing for them. He was trying to be a good husband and father, but his efforts seemed to be increasingly criticized. And Josh, like Nancy, was becoming progressively more frustrated.
Nancy and Josh's difficulty is nothing new. In fact, Genesis sheds some light on this relational state of affairs. Prior to the first human couple's rejection of God's goodness, they lived in a protected environment, with unlimited resources and an intimate connection between each other and the Creator. There was no power struggle between them, no critical view of the other. In biblical language, they "were naked and not ashamed" (Genesis 2:26).
As husband and wife, they lived in full openness before one another and God as they "walked in the cool of the evening with God." There were no barriers, no personal agendas, no unrealistic expectations of the other and no attempts to find life from the other. They both expressed to, and received from, each other the authentic love of God peculiarly mediated through them as male and female. They participated in the sacred dance of marriage, living in the full, dynamic life of their mutual Creator.
From Harmony to Dissonance
This beautiful harmony within human relationships and, in fact, the entire creation, eventually devolved into dissonance. Once they pursued life from a source other than God, the man and woman introduced into human relationships conflicts that continue to afflict us all. They first hid themselves from one another with leaves, and then they hid from the Creator among the trees. The deep, spiritual harmony that existed between the man, woman and God was disrupted.
Once banished from the garden, they entered a hostile environment with limited resources. The woman began to depend increasingly on the man for things she previously received freely from God, and the man began the arduous task of providing for his family by the sweat of his brow. The "battle of the sexes" began: "You shall desire him, and he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16). Sociologists have long recognized that power struggles occur in relationships primarily due to conflicts over limited resources. Stephen Grunlan, Marriage and the Family, 1999, p. 26
The Genesis text anticipated, and sadly described, this lingering condition.
Addressing Some Sour Notes
Whatever one thinks of the Genesis description of human relationships, it rings true and offers some valuable insights for marriage:
- While interpreters debate the specifics, Genesis indicates the emergence of a power struggle between male and female (Genesis 3:16). Whatever is involved in the "woman's desire for the man," and his "rule over her," we need to acknowledge that power struggles do occur within relationships. Though often subtle, they are real and must be recognized. If allowed to remain unchecked, power struggles can erode relational intimacy.
- We tend to seek life and identity from sources other than God. When this occurs, we place unrealistic demands on our spouse. Since only God can serve as the true source of our lives, any attempt to receive meaning and purpose from our spouse will leave us — and the other — frustrated. Additionally, rather than expressing and receiving God's love in the relationship, we'll drain it of all energy.
- As in the Genesis story, couples tend to "cover themselves" from the other. This is the biblical language to describe "the fear of intimacy" as well as "trust issues." God intends for married couples to experience full and open disclosure of themselves to one another. Though difficult to do, such honesty is the key to deeper intimacy.
In the following article, we'll consider in more detail some ways that couples can move into deeper intimacy.