Why do so many marriages fail? Why are some marriages happy, and others so miserable? What’s the difference between a marriage that succeeds and a marriage that fails?
ONLY ONE DIFFERENCE
I can tell you one big difference. The only actual difference between a marriage that succeeds and a marriage that fails is one thing. The marriage that succeeds doesn’t get a divorce. The marriage that fails does. Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m not saying this to condemn anyone who has landed in divorce court, it’s painful enough and I don’t want to make you feel worse. I’m sure that this series has had some rather painful moments for you already. But, I want us to think about something. Every marriage starts off the same. Every marriage is between two people, and people are horrible. We’re hypocrites, we’re needy, we smell funny, we’re expensive, we say things, we don’t listen well, we have opinions, we make promises we don’t keep, we poop and pee in the house, we erase your favorite shows from the DVR, we don’t pick up after ourselves, we don’t wash the dishes, we don’t check the oil in the car or the air in the tires, we grow old, get sick, eat your food and we have bad breath in the morning. People are the worst. And yet, some of us HORRIBLE people endure, and make marriage work. How? What is the secret?
FRANK and KIM
My wife, Kim and I have been friends since Jr High. We started dating in high school, got engaged and married while in college. So, we were friends for 4 years, dated for three, engaged for 2, and have been married for 28 years. I’m going to tell you something that you are going to find hard to believe, but it is true. We haven’t fought for 27 years. We don’t usually talk about our marriage because it makes us feel like we are bragging. Either bragging or setting up an impossible standard. We are not trying to make anyone feel stupid or like they are in an inferior marriage if they have the occasional fight. But, for the sake of this conversation, I want you all to know that we have found a few things that have really helped us in our marriage. I’m going to be talking about a few of those things today.
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (We want to know what the will of the Lord is, especially concerning our marriage). And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, (this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t DRINK wine, but that we shouldn’t drink so much wine that we get drunk. The Bible also says that God gave wine to make the heart of men merry, so we are free to drink enough to be merry, but not so much that we are sick and stupid) addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (First we have to have our heart in the right place. Everything we do should be done in a spirit of worship. We glorify God, then we can be a blessing to others. We submit to Jesus, then we can put other people first. Then we can submit to one another. It is only in this context that we should ever continue to the next verses.)
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Whoa! Is that really in the Bible? Yes. But, before anyone gets their undergarments bunched up in an uncomfortable manner, listen to what the husband has to do. It’s even worse.)
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (The husband is to die. He is to sacrifice his life so that his wife can have what she needs. Ladies, how difficult would it be to submit yourself to a man who gave his own life for you?) In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. (Oh, look there’s more. Guys, we are to love our wives as though they are our own body. This means we put her first, before anything we want. If she’s sad, we cry, if she itches we scratch, If she’s in danger, we get between her and whatever is threatening her.) He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Sometimes I think Paul forgets what he was talking about, but he always comes back) However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Love her. Respect him. We have heard these words before.)
1. ONE FLESH
When the Bible says that “the two shall become one flesh” and that this is a profound mystery, what does that mean? Is “one flesh” a reference to sex? Mankind has always been obsessed with two primary things; sex and death. The two great mysteries. You might be thinking, “Sure, I understand that death is a mystery, but why “sex?” I think I understand that perfectly well, ever since I found my uncle’s magazines.
Sex is a mystery because it’s more than naked people creating friction with their flesh. Sex is a gift that God gives us so that we can understand the union that He creates between husband and wife. It’s almost sacramental. Think about this, the church has two sacraments so that God’s people can have something that they see, feel, touch and taste to help us receive and understand forgiveness and grace. In the Lord’s Supper we have bread and wine. The wine is red like the blood that was shed for the forgiveness of our sins, if we drink enough wine it will change our attitude and outlook on life. The bread is broken like Christ’s body was broken, it is given to us, if we eat enough we will be satisfied and it will sustain our life. In a real way, the wine is his blood and the bread is his body. Mystery. In baptism we are washed with water to help us understand that God washes our slate clean, and when the baptism is by immersion, we go into the water like we are going into a grave and rise again to new life.
In the same way, sex is a gift that God gives to husband and wife to help them understand what He is doing in the marriage. It perfectly illustrates the tender, affectionate, private, intimate, holy, undefiled, consecrated, joyful, passionate and extremely desirable mystery of becoming one flesh.
2. The Rule of Enthusiastic Reciprocation
The big idea is Let Your Partner Influence you, and the first area of marriage that I want to apply this to is sex. In our marriage the rule is simple. If one of us is in the mood, we are both in the mood. Call it The Rule of Enthusiastic Reciprocation.
There are few things that can make you feel as embarrassed, unloved, ugly, undesirable or shut out from your partner as having your affectionate advances turned down. It might be the last thing you were thinking about or planning on doing, but if they start it, just go with it. You can get back to what you were doing in about 6 minutes (on average.) I’m serious about this, and I have a verse to back me up:
1 Corinthians 7:4
For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Let me put this in an actual “loving marriage, mutual submission” context. Guys, if you see that your wife is tired, or sick, or has a headache, which may or may not be code for something else, then that is not the time. The Rule of Enthusiastic Reciprocation is not the excuse for being an oblivious Jerk! If you think you can throw a Bible verse at your wife just so you can get what you want, then you are living on Planet Crazy Pants. The same is true for the ladies. Don’t try to use sex to control your spouse, or put the attention on you. Affection should be given as a gift and not demanded as a right.
3. Mutual Submission
The idea of mutual submission is so important. In marriage we have to want joy for the other person. We have to respect their ideas. We have to want to give them what we know will make them happy. We have to be selfless. It is not easy.
It is in the big things as well as the little things. If it’s time to buy a new car and he wants the glory of the sports car but she wants the practical comfort of the mini-van… If it’s Friday night and he wants to go to the Alamo Draft house to eat dinner while watching Die Hard Eight: The Zombie Apocalypse, but she would rather eat at the Fondue Pot before going to see Les Miserables… again. If he is sitting in his favorite chair on a Saturday afternoon reading the paper.. on his iPad, because, come on, this is the 21st Century and we are not Amish! and she walks into the room with a litany of honey-dos on the tip of her tongue…
What if, before you said something that started you down the road to a cataclysmic argument, what if you stopped and thought about what your partner would want? Crazy, huh?
Before you start shopping for a Jaguar F-Type you took a moment to consider that maybe while you have 3 kids and a dog this might be a better time in your life to be looking at a black swagger waggon with alloy wheels and a killer sound system. DVD for the kids and doggie seat-belts. Maybe on Friday night you go a gastro pub where he can get a micro-brew with a great burger and she can have a glass of pinot grigio with a gourmet salad before you go to the Sundance movie theater to watch “Warm Bodies” which has it all. Love, romance, comedy, zombies. It’s a Zom Rom Com. And maybe on Saturday afternoon you say something like, “You look so handsome and relaxed sitting there with your space-age technology like you’re on the Jetsons. I don’t want to interrupt you, but maybe a little later we could talk about some things that I would like to do today.” And try to say it without any sarcasm. We can tell.
Also, there’s the whole “Toilet Seat” problem. She needs it down and he needs it up. This is the cause of much consternation. OK, first of all the bathroom looks much better when the lid is closed, so whenever possible close it all the way. Second, I’m pretty sure you ladies would prefer that we lifted the seat up and forget to put it back down than not lift it up at all. If you don’t know what I mean then you either don’t have children yet or you only have daughters.
The question we have to constantly be asking ourselves is “why wouldn’t I want them to have what they want?” Why wouldn’t I want them to be happy? It’s not what you want, or getting your way. You are one flesh. You’re trying to be on YOUR MARRIAGE’S side. Marriage is a unified front, two individuals united and pursuing a common goal. It’s not a conflict or a competition.
4. KEEP SHORT ACCOUNTS
Another big marriage saver for us has been to deal with any potential conflict quickly. Keep short accounts. The Bible says to not “Let the sun go down on your anger” and we have taken that literally. If we start to feel some heat, some misunderstanding, some disagreement, we talk it out. We don’t go to bed mad. We don’t walk into church or someone’s party mad. We get on the same page as soon as possible.
5. NO HEAD GAMES
Also, we don’t play head games. We don’t expect each other to be able to read our mind. We say what we mean, and ask for what we want. If we are unclear what they meant, we ask for clarity. Without getting defensive. You have to look out for each other’s joy.
6. BUILD TRUST
Who is going to look out for what they need if it is not you? They need to see you as the person who has their back. This is where trust comes from. And trust is the secret ingredient to make mutual submission work. Remember when I said that Kim and I haven’t fought for 27 years? Well, I also said that we have been married for 28.
When we were first married we lived in the tiny married dorms at Central Bible College. The whole apartment was the size of most of our kitchens. And we found stupid things to fight about all the time. Her family was very reserved and her dad worked for the state of Illinois, my family was loud and rough -n- tumble and my dad was a coal miner. I was a slob and she was extremely neat. I liked to stay up all night writing music then sleep half of the day, she bounced out of bed early in the morning doing cartwheels and cheerfully talking to small forest animals.
We were not prepared for this. We had been friends for a long time. We had been boyfriend and girlfriend for a long time. But, now suddenly everything was difficult. Emotional.
One day we were fighting about something, and I have no idea what it was. It was surely something small and stupid. And I was yelling at her, my face red and contorted, waving my arms, following her down the hallway of our small place, and I saw myself in the mirror. I saw the demonic expression on my face. I heard the obscene tone of voice I was using. I heard the hurtful, angry things I was saying. And I stopped. I had two thoughts at the same time. The first was that I wouldn’t let anyone else talk to my wife this way. If I saw someone else treating Kim the way I was treating her I would protect her. I would take them out! And I also thought “Who is going to protect her from me?” Who is going to protect her from me? It has to be me. I am the only one who can protect her from me. Who gave me permission to talk to her that way? What part of “Love, cherish, honor and respect” did this fall under?
So I stopped. I have not said an angry word to her, I have not raised my voice to her, I have not said a cruel thing or purposely hurt or diminished her since that day. And neither has she. We talked about this 27 years ago and it changed us. We started building a foundation of trust.
James 1:20 “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Words are like money, what are you buying with the words you are spending? Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
I know this can be a hard thing for some of us to hear. Some of us have been in relationships where this trust was broken. Verbal and physical abuse happened and there was no one to protect you. I am so sorry. Trust me when I say that I know all about physical and emotional abuse and the damage that it can do. This is a broken world, and that is why the cross happened. That’s why Jesus came to earth to make it new. To repair broken lives, to offer forgiveness and healing and a fresh start. Please look to Jesus and the love that He poured out on the cross to find your hope.
7. DON’T PLAY FAIR
There is no mutual submission without forgiveness. One of the earliest lies that we start believing as children is the lie of playing fair. Of treating people fairly. As long as they are nice to me, I will be nice to them. If they hold up their part of the deal, then I’ll hold up my part. Friends, this sounds like a good idea, like a good way to live your life, but it is a lie from the devil. If you treat others with kindness and respect as long as they treat you with kindness and respect, you will eventually end up alone and bitter. Because everyone will eventually fail you. And you will eventually fail everyone else, too.
If you are thinking, “This mutual submission thing sounds like a good idea, and just as soon as THEY start caring about what I want, then I’ll start caring about what they want,” “as soon as they start treating me with respect, I’ll start treating them with respect” “as soon as they start showing love and kindness to me, I’ll start showing love and kindness to them.” This will never work. Never. You have to go first.
8. YOU GO FIRST
This message is for you. If you have been thinking, “Oh, man. I sure wish my husband was here for this message, because they really need to hear it! (or wife, or sister, or brother…) No. This message is for you. That’s why God made sure you were here today. You go first. You start loving them. Giving to them. Honoring them. Respecting them. You start treating them better than they deserve. Not fair. Better!
And responding to anger or aggression with kindness and patience is not easy. Seeing past the attitude and hearing the heart of the person you love is something that takes time to learn. It is a trained response. It is blackbelt level in the marital arts. (interesting that marital – which pertains to marriage, and martial which pertains to war sound so much alike isn’t it?)
9. GOD WENT FIRST
The bottom line for this message is that we have to submit to God. He went first. He came to earth and died. He rose again to new life and offers new life to us. Free. He forgives us and loves us, First. So, we repent and believe and look up to our Father in Heaven and say, “Thank You!” Thank You for forgiving me, wiping my slate clean and giving me a new life. Now what do you want me to do? What do You want me to do with this new life? And he says, “Love one another.”
“giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”
Father in Heaven we thank You for loving us. We thank You for saving us, forgiving us, and giving us new life. We also thank You for the gift of marriage. For some of us is it an obvious blessing, but for others it feels like a mixed bag. Some days great, some days not so good. Father, I ask that you would help all of us to hear Your Word. Open our hearts so that we can receive. Help us to submit to what You want us to do. Help us to be who You created us to be. Father, help us to take a step toward You in response to the Cross, and find courage. Courage to respond to Your great love by loving the people in our life.
We thank You for your faithfulness and Your patience with us. In the Name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN
Think of something your spouse enjoys doing, and plan it for them. Find a way to delight in their joy.