The Parts and the Whole

By Greg Smalley
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Focus on the Family

What is a marriage? It’s a question well worth pondering.

“If you take responsibility for yourself and attend to your own self-care, you can act from a position of wholeness, not neediness. And that sets you up for relationship success.”

Gary Smalley, The DNA of Relationships 

What is a marriage?

It’s a question well worth pondering.

Two people doing two different things, working together, and it could be equated to a tango.  

Dr. Bob Paul of Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored tells us that many married couples “hit the skids” precisely because they don’t really understand what a marriage is supposed to be. It’s a very common problem, and it isn’t always the fault of the man and woman involved – at least not entirely. Lots of people come into the marital relationship with flawed expectations, expectations they’ve imbibed from the church or the surrounding culture. They’ve been led to believe that matrimony is basically a matter of finding another human being who can “complete” them.  Oftentimes they celebrate this idea symbolically during the wedding ceremony by lighting a “Unity Candle” and then blowing out the two candles representing their individual lives. They assume that marriage is designed to cure their personal ailments and that their spouse is supposed to make them whole. They don’t realize that they’ve got the whole thing backwards.

There are two crucial truths that need to be underscored here. The first is that you don’t stop being an individual when you get married. Hopefully, you continue growing and becoming the person God created you to be. Only as you bring the uniqueness that is you into the dynamic mix of your relationship with your spouse does it become possible for something rare, precious, and beautiful to emerge out of your union. That’s because a true marriage consists in a mysterious one-flesh blending of two distinct lives and personalities. For more on learning about how to equip yourself for sacrificial, selfless harmony, check out Each to the Other: Marriage as it’s Meant to Be.

The second crucial truth is that God has made each one of us with a set of needs that He alone is capable of fulfilling. To expect another human being to assume His role is to put that person under an intolerable burden. The first step to building a thriving marriage is to let the Lord fill you up with the significance and security only He can provide. Once He’s recharged your battery and given you a healthy sense of who you are and what you have to offer you’ll be in a better position to bring something to the relationship that can take it to a higher level. So, make it a priority this month to encourage one another in self-care. Your times together will be enriched! If, on the other hand, you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have any overflow, and without any overflow you’ll find it extremely difficult to care for your spouse in any meaningful way.

This is part of what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Date Night

Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Putting the Pieces Together.

Do you remember what the apostle Paul had to say about the parts of the human body (which, of course, he was using as an illustration of the Body of Christ)? “If they were all one part, where would the body be?” (1 Corinthians 12:19) It’s the same way with marriage. The relationship can’t be all it was meant to be unless each spouse knows how to make his or her unique contribution to the whole.

See if you can come up with a date night activity that underscores this idea by requiring both partners to play complementary roles. Here are some ideas to help prime the pump:

  • Go for a long drive (if you have time on a Saturday) through the city or out in the country. Based on your individual strengths and preferences, let one spouse serve as the planner and navigator and the other as the driver. Visit some places you’ve never been to before.
  • Have each spouse pick a favorite place to go or thing to do. Maybe she likes the art museum or shopping at the mall while he prefers test-driving new vehicles at the car lot or watching sports on TV at the local pizzeria. Divide the evening into two parts. Spend the first half doing his thing and the second half doing hers. Use this as an opportunity to school one another in the finer points of basketball or impressionistic painting.

Step 3: Relax and unwind. Ready for a few questions?

After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to relax and emotionally connect through good conversation . Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.

  • What was your favorite part of the evening?
  • What is the one thing you learned tonight that you didn’t know about me before?
  • How can I help facilitate your own growth as an individual – spiritually? Emotionally? Physically? Professionally? How can I encourage you and give you the freedom to pursue your own personal growth so that you can make an even greater contribution to our marriage?

Step 4: Home Sweet Home

On your way home, spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can grow both as individuals and as a couple in the days ahead. After you get home, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

© 2015 Focus on the Family.

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About the Author

Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the Vice President of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the …

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