Part of the Defending Your Marriage From External Stressors Series
Chip and Sandy are like many married couples who say, "We're making it" in marriage. Recently I asked Sandy, "Do you ever feel great about your marriage?" She paused, clearly uncomfortable with the question, and replied, "My husband doesn't abuse me, doesn't cheat on me and hasn't left me. I would say that I am blessed."
Indeed, God has blessed Chip and Sandy. But, Sandy's response left me pondering the meaning of "great" marriage. God wants us to have not only life but to experience it abundantly (3 John 2). Yet, Sandy seems more aware of what is thankfully absent than nourished by what is abundantly present.
Maybe I should have asked Sandy a different question: "Does God occupy the center of your marriage?" After all, a God-centered marriage assures God's blessings upon the marriage covenant, fosters authentic partnership and models genuine love for others.
Many couples fall short on this point because God is pushed to the margin of the relationship. These couples have a sense of God, but they may compromise on obedience to His Word. They may pray for God's presence in their decisions, but lack the patience to wait for God's timing. They may seek more godly influences in their lives, yet their jam-packed schedules leave little room for meaningful relationships. The Apostle Paul describes this phenomenon as a form of godliness, but one lacking its power (2 Timothy 3:5). These power-deficient marriages are mediocre. Are you settling for the mediocre in your marriage?
Avoiding the Threat of Mediocre Marriage
The secular influences that surround us can exact a toll on marriage. Protecting your marriage against these stressors requires effort in five areas: unconditional commitment to the marriage, trust, respect, healthy boundaries and protected couple time.
- Unconditional Commitment. Secular western culture defines individual happiness and satisfaction as the endpoint of marriage. While these are good things, we may have lost the equally critical concept of commitment. Despite culture's prioritization of pleasure and convenience, God expects us to be committed to Him and to our marriage regardless of how satisfied we feel at the moment. This requires an abundance of forgiveness, grace and humility between husbands and wives, even in the face of difficult circumstances.
- Increased Trust. Many Christian marriages lack godly trust yet fail to realize it. Similar to Sandy's response, many Christian couples think of trust only in the context of marital fidelity. However, when God is marginalized in your marriage, trust deficits are also characterized by blaming, suspiciousness, power plays, jealousy, secrecy and hidden agendas. Increasing the level of trust in your marriage requires a commitment to care for the needs of your spouse more than your own needs. This also requires trusting that your spouse knows what they need more than you do, and honoring them. Trust, like marriage in general, only works as both you and your spouse agree to move forward together.
- Increased Respect. Husbands feel respected when their wives express appreciation for what they do. Women, by contrast, feel respect when they are supported for who they are. Marital disrespect, however, almost always derives from one of three types of issues: delusions of grandeur, devalued self-worth or unchecked fears. These selfish tendencies push God into the margin — resulting in an unbalanced marriage where spouses behave defensively. Increasing respect necessitates understanding how your spouse feels respected, assessing your own control issues and praying for healing in this area.
- Healthy Boundaries. Boundaries are an imaginary and internal line where your self ends and another's self begins. There are three types of boundaries: rigid (unhealthy because they are inflexible and disinterested in the perspectives of others); enmeshed (unhealthy because they are so weak that they cannot guarantee safety); and permeable (healthy because they are strong and flexible; able to accept a learning posture while restricting influences which are unsafe for the marriage). God-centered marriages work to maintain marriages with permeable boundaries.
- Increased Couple Time. Time is your most valuable asset. The value that you place in your marriage can be assessed by how much of your time is spent cultivating it. Couples voice a desire for intimate companionship. Yet, most couples spend more time microwaving dinner than investing in their marriage. The commitment, trust and respect so vital to healthy marriage are only fostered with a primary investment of time.
An Abundant Marriage
The Holy Spirit emboldens couples to resist the stressors that erode their marriage only if they move God to the center of the marriage. Abundant marriage is within your reach as you allow the Holy Spirit to reveal and heal your strengths and weaknesses. In healthier marriages, this may just require additional insight. More troubled marriages are likely to require intervention by others who are committed to the health of your marriage.
Many couples enter into marriage with false or unrealistic expectations. Some believe that marriage will solve their problems. Some do not understand that strong and growing marriages are a result of hard work.