Boy has marriage been on my heart and on my pastoral schedule a lot lately. I have seen an increase in the number of marriages that are on the rocks over the past year or so, and I think that is due at least partially to the economy. When everyone was refinancing their mortgage every two years to buy new cars and take vacations (like their home was an ATM machine), and receiving bonuses for showing up to work on time on a semi-consistent basis it masked significant issues between husband and wife. Now, though, the economic security has been removed from many and with it the salve on the wounds of many a marriage.
With that said, I actually think the economic crisis is in reality a good thing for marriages, even marriages that are struggling! That might sound weird, but bear with me. The problems that many marriages are facing didn’t just show up when there was more month than money; the financial stress just brought to the front problems that were hidden. The cracks in the foundation were already there, they were just under the carpet! Now, though, they have come to the surface and refuse to be ignored. If that’s you, it’s good to remember a couple of important principles when your marriage is rocky:
- You aren’t experiencing anything that is totally out of the ordinary. In fact what you most likely have is a bad case of the normals! Trust me, there are plenty of couples who are struggling with issues that are similar to yours. As the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Your marriage is almost certainly not broken in a way that someone has not worked through to build a successful and happy relationship. That’s not to make light of sometimes serious issues, but it is to say that if they could solve it you can too.
- While it is never fun to deal with problems in life, when the cracks in the foundation show up at least you can identify the problems and then work on making them better. When things lurk under the surface there is seldom true joy, but nothing to put your finger on. Now at least it’s identifiable and therefore solvable.
So if you’re sick of “Saturday Night at the Fights” in your marriage, it’s time to make changes in the way you treat your spouse, marriage, children, etc. to change the dynamic. And even if you’re not experiencing the terrible screaming matches, pulling your relationship out of the doldrums is possible if you’ll commit yourself to the process of improvement and stick it out no matter what. No one ever gets married looking to get divorced, so let’s get after the process of making it better!
STEP 1: GET OVER THE MISGUIDED IDEAS
Nothing stands in the way of marital improvement like preconceived notions. This is especially true of ideas of marriage that are ludicrous but so prevalent in our media that we believe the lies. Some of the more misguided ideas I have experienced or seen people fall prey to include:
- The “sitcom” mentality: Thinking that all problems get solved in 30 minutes with two commercial breaks. We’ve been programmed to see all problems as simple and all solutions as quick and easy. News flash: life ain’t like that! Cliff Huxtable (the favorite TV dad of all time…) may have been able to do that…but he wasn’t real! It took you years to get into this mess; likely it will not be fixed overnight.
- “Genie in a bottle” syndrome: The belief that as long as you pray about improving your marriage (especially if you end the prayer with the magic phrase “in Jesus’ name, amen”) then it will automatically get better. This oftentimes comes from a misunderstanding and misapplication of verses like John 14:13, but when we realize that’s not the point of this verse then we realize that God uses prayer to change us more often than He uses it to change others. God most often uses hard work and sacrifice by both husband and wife to make a marriage joyful and fulfilling.
- The “Song of Songs” myth: Some couples read Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon…right before Isaiah in that part of your Bible that is pristine because it’s not been read much) and think that their marriage should always sound like Solomon and the Shulammite do. If the birds aren’t chirping and the bliss isn’t so thick you can cut it with a knife, something must be terribly wrong! Umm…that’s a love poem. It’s awesome, but anyone who’s ever written a mushy letter to a spouse can tell you that’s the ideal and an expression of the heart, not the workings of day to day life. I can just imagine Solomon passing gas under the covers or the Shulammite spending too much money on a designer purse, then the two idyllic lovebirds having an argument over it.
- The “Incompetence” fallacy: Sooooooooo many couples I know feel like they should know how to live happily ever after without any help beyond their Bible and their wedding vows. Where we ever got the idea that we should be able, without guidance and mentorship and community and help, to solve all of our problems I will never know. But too often we feel like we should know how to be happily married by osmosis, like we absorb it through the air or something. Since we obviously didn’t, we’re a terrible failure and therefore should just give up. This one usually comes when the first three fallacies have all come to pass.
- The “One Way Street”: Believing that one or the other spouse is responsible for all of the problems in a marriage. Certainly one spouse can cause an awful lot of problems, and I am willing to admit that every now and again a husband or wife will go completely off the deep end and torpedo a marriage. For 99.99% of us, though, our problems come from putting two people who share at least their depravity in close proximity. (that’s Romans 7:14-25, even among devout Christians, for anyone wondering…) We need to own our part of the problem and especially our part of the solution.
Once we get over the misguided ideas that have stood in the way of real improvement we’re ready to actually make some progress. By realizing that improvement in our marriage relationship is neither simplistic nor easy we finally come to the place where we can start to make some strides. Here, where we are hurting inside but unwilling to take the path of least resistance, is where we find that the grace of God can finally take over.
In the next part of this series, we will start down the path to marital improvement by acknowledging what our individual responsibility in our marriage is and how we can serve Christ by serving our spouse.