Most of the couples I work with have never given much thought to what God’s purposes are in their marriage. They know why they chose to get married, but not why God chose to create marriage. As a result they start to define and measure marital success based on their own criteria instead of the Creator’s.
As discussed earlier, God chose to reveal Himself through people: Male and female He made us in His image. The combination and relationship between the sexes together reveal the image of God. Specifically, God gave us the metaphor of marriage to reveal the kind of relationship He desires to have with all people.
In the Bible God describes the relationship as such: I am the husband and you are my bride. I pursue you and you respond to me. Together we share a passionate love affair.
When marriage is functioning as God designed, it reveals to our kids, family, and the world around us the kind of relationship God wishes to have with all people.
Holiness vs Happiness
In his book, Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas raises the question “What if God is more interested in our holiness than our happiness when it comes to marriage?”
The point being, not that God doesn’t want us to be happy, but that His priorities are different than ours. God knows that the route to true happiness is by way of holiness. He uses our marriage to draw attention to and draw out our immaturities and sinfulness. Not to dump in our spouse’s lap, but so we can take responsibility for submitting them to Him for sanctification.
As we grow in holiness, into the fullness of the image of Christ, becoming more and more like God—we become pretty enjoyable people to be married to. As both spouses choose to engage this journey, marriage gets really good.
What if we stopped blaming our spouse when we are upset and instead begin asking the question, “Father, how are you using this situation to accomplish your purposes in me? What opportunity does this present for me to manifest your character and grow into your likeness?”
Sometimes what the Lord is teaching us is humility, patience, mercy, and grace. At other times it’s challenging us to face our fears, speak-up, and assert boundaries against sinful behavior.
Sometimes when our marriage isn’t making us very happy, it is successfully accomplishing God’s purposes by helping us grow into the people He has created us to be.
The number one killer of marriages are URCsum (pronounced irksome) situations. Unresolved Reoccurring Conflicts. Our inability to work through these situations in a win-win manner grinds away at our affection for each other. Each fight leaving us liking our spouse a little bit less.
Don’t let the enemy use URCsum situations to undermine your marriage and the effectiveness of your ministry. If there are subjects that continue to come up repeatedly, each time creating tension and disconnection in your relationship – do something about it! Get some outside help to work through what you haven’t been able to on your own. Pride will keep you from getting help, humility will bring you healing and freedom.
Common URCsum Situations
Chances are improving your communication skills will go a long way in helping you be able to navigate these situations more successfully. Sometimes it just requires some outside perspective from an experienced marriage professional to help you identify the stick and find resolution.
100% of Marriage Conflicts…
One hundred percent (100%) of marriage conflicts are the result of individual problems. A marriage doesn’t have a life of its own. It is a relationship between two people. Thus, all marriage problems are, at their core, the problems of the two people in the marriage.
Since you are married to a dirty rotten sinner, who is married to a dirty rotten sinner – there are no innocent parties. And, trying to figure out who’s “more guilty” with a riveting game of “Find the Bad Guy” is an utter waste of time.
The only useful thing to do is to accept responsibility for the only thing God has given you the ability and responsibility to control – YOURSELF. Take ownership for maturing into the person God has called you to be and showing up in all situations the way your King would have you.
Sometimes that means getting counseling for yourself, even if your spouse isn’t willing to. “I didn’t because they wouldn’t” is a lousy excuse when you stand before the King and give an account for your life.
I place the highest possible value on the sanctity of marriage. Next to an individual’s relationship with God, I believe that there is nothing in this world more important than the bond between husband and wife. That’s why I’m dedicated to doing everything I can to strengthen good marriages and bring healing and restoration to marriages that are struggling to survive. A large part of my ministry has been devoted to the preservation of marriage, and as a result we are strongly opposed to divorce as an “easy” way of solving marital discord.
That said, there are several biblical passages that have played an important role in shaping my thoughts on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. In general, as Bible-believing Christians, we take the view that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and desires to bring healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation to broken marital relationships.
Nevertheless, there are three situations in which the Scriptures make allowance for divorce and remarriage:
1) When the first marriage and divorce occurred prior to salvation. Although a person cannot undo all the sins he has committed, he is forgiven for the wrongs he did before accepting Christ (see II Corinthians 5:17).
2) When one’s mate is guilty of sexual immorality and is unwilling to repent and live faithfully with the marriage partner. Jesus states specifically that divorce and remarriage are acceptable when due to this kind of “hardness of heart” (see Matthew 19:9).
3) When one of the mates is an unbeliever and willfully and permanently deserts the believing partner. This does not refer to a temporary departure, but a permanent abandonment (see I Corinthians 7:12-15).
Separation, unlike divorce, is pro-marriage. Divorce says, “we are irreconcilable and our marriage unsalvageable.” Separation, on the other hand, communicates that one or both parties are not ready to give up on their marriage. Separation honors the sanctity of marriage and takes seriously the marriage covenant.
Separation may be by mutual consent and for a pre-determined period of time in order to devote oneself to prayer (1 Corinthians 7). This sort of separation can allow a couple space to think, refocus their hearts on God’s plan for their family, and to heal.
At other times separation may be called for without mutual consent. This can be the case when one spouse repeatedly and unrepentantly is sinning against the other. In the Old Testament we see God, the husband of Israel, separate himself from her because of hard hearted, unrepentant, and ongoing sin against Him (Jeremiah 3; Isaiah 50; Hosea 2,3).
Separation, whether by mutual consent or because of the unrepentant sin of one spouse, is always aimed at reconciliation. God’s desire is that we reflect his patience and grace as we look to Him to perform a miracle of healing and restoration in our marriage. Separation is a purposeful step taken to preserve the integrity of our marriage covenant, not to undermine it.
I have a confession – I am completely ill-prepared in the event of a zombie apocalypse. I don’t even know what one does to prepare for zombie apocalypse. So I’m toast. Brains eaten. It’s over.
The reason I’m ill prepared for a zombie attack is because I don’t believe it’s a real thing. We don’t prepare to defend ourselves against things that we do not believe are real threats.
That’s actually one of the more common schemes of the enemy against marriages. The killer, stealer, and destroyer of our souls lulls us into a belief that somehow we and our spouse are immune to the possibility of an extra-marital affair. Sure, other people we know have fallen into them, but we are different…
There’s both pride and naivety in this that leaves us vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. Because we don’t believe it’s possible, we don’t put defenses in place to protect us from it. I’ve literally had hundreds of couples in my office saying the same thing, “Josh I never saw it coming. I was the last person anyone thought would get caught up in something like this.”
We don’t plan to fail, but by failing to plan we end up in moral failure.
It starts in the little things. The enemy doesn’t show up with a large flashing sign that says, “This way to death and destruction.” He weaves his way in with discontentment in our marriage. Our pride causes us to push aside checks in our spirit and that of our spouse. We start thinking about the other person more and intentionally making more time to be around them. A subtle but real emotional connection develops over time. We tell ourself, and our spouse, “It’s nothing; we’re just friends.”
It’s always nothing, until it’s something.
Then one day it’s something. We’re shocked. We can’t believe it, but we’re certain it will never happen again. That’s how we justify to ourself not getting open about it, continuing the secret. And it keeps growing, as these things do.
Continuum of Attraction
Our attractions follow a very predictable pattern. For starters, we are inclined by biology and life experiences towards attraction to certain quality traits. These are the quality traits we are attracted to in our spouse. Our spouse, however, is not the sole possessor of these quality traits. We notice the same traits in others.
If we focus on those traits in others, by giving them air time in our head thinking about them, over time those attractions will grow to an affection. This is where we have an emotional connection with the person or the idea of the person (since we may not even actually know them very well).
At the affection stage it “feels good” to be around them; we enjoy their company. That’s why we make more time be around them. We make choices that ensure our paths cross. We find reason to call, text, message, or email.
The more time we spend thinking about and engaging the person the stronger the affection grows. Eventually it grows into a passion, which generally turns sexual at some point.
At the same time we are growing our affection for another, by being focused on the praiseworthy quality traits they possess, we are growing increasingly discontent with our own spouse – as we focus on the less than praiseworthy traits they possess.
Typically, we make excuses to ourself and our spouse about its “nothingness,” so we can continue pursuing it. We can become quite defensive of the relationship. It’s not until it crosses the physical line that we are shocked – How did this happen?!
The heart is like a spotlight in a greenhouse. Whatever the spotlight shines on grows, and whatever is neglected in the dark withers. In marriage, we have a choice as to where we shine the spotlight of our heart. We can choose to think about and focus in on aspects of our relationship or spouse that we dislike, or we can put our attention on those things that are worthy of praise or are attractive.
We can either complain about the Unresolved Reoccurring Conflicts in our relationship or we can take action to address them. If we don’t address them, they become opportunities for the enemy to get a hook into us and drive a wedge in our marriage.
The enemy doesn’t play fair. It’s not like he lays off when we are having a hard time in our marriage. He seizes the opportunity to attack. Utilizing our unaddressed heart wounds, he knows just how to craft the bait for the trap.
Protect Your Marriage
Don’t be foolishly naïve to the schemes of the enemy. Protect your family, your marriage, and your ministry by:
- Finding healing for the wounds of your heart and unfinished business from earlier years in your life.
- Addressing Unresolved Reoccurring Conflicts with your spouse, so that they don’t have the opportunity to fester.
- Humbly listening to the concerns of your spouse or friends.
- Living transparently, especially with your spouse. No secrets, un-accounted for time, email, text messages, or social media accounts they don’t have access to.
- Having accountability people in your life you can share openly with about people who are in your life possessing attractive quality traits to you. Bringing it out into the open creates accountability and reduces opportunity for the enemy.
- Being discerning and aware, rather than foolishly naïve, believing yourself or your spouse immune to the attacks of the enemy.