Our Marriage Is in Shambles!
Jim and Sherrie came to counseling with that, unfortunately, well-worn phrase. The same phrase use used by both Jim and Sherrie on their PDI (intake form). Another phrase that often appears on this form, they could have also reported, namely, “We fight all the time!” What is so dismaying is the fact that most couples that biblical counselors see are professing Christians. Ask any neighborhood, Evangelical Pastor, and he will echo this experience. The most heart-sickening are the 50–60-year-olds who stayed together long enough to get their children out of college. As one gentleman reported, “After the first two years, I realized I married the Witch of Endor and could only hope she would grow past it. Then children came along and sealed my dome until now. I am out of here!”
The antidotal observation is that those who take their faith seriously enough to attend church regularly and read the Bible and related materials divorce significantly less than the general population. W. Bradford Wilcox, University of Virginia sociologist, concludes that “active conservative Protestants”, who are regular pew-dwellers, divorce at a rate of 35% below the divorce rate of those who do not affiliate with a conservative church.
While these stats are worthy of note and we should rejoice, comparatively speaking, they paint a picture of a Christian population who fails to hear God and appropriate the resources He provides.
Who made the Shambles?
One Proverb a counselor better have absorbed is this one. “The first to pleas his case seems just until another comes and examines him” (18:17). Think of the other mate as the examiner. Another in the same chapter saves the counselor from being foolish. Hear this advice. “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (18:13).
While there are certainly times when one spouse bears the greater responsibility for the shambles, both are contributors. The common situation is that both rather equally bear responsibility. The counselor must painstakingly ferret out the sinful patterns, coach each couple to own their responsibility, and begin to genuinely repent, that is, aggressively focus on putting off their offensive behaviors and aggressively put on new behaviors. Each will need to understand that their behavior externally begins with their internal thinking. Thinking, biblically modified, alters the desire to change externally affecting actual change.
How Did Couples Make the Shambles?
Jim and Sherrie did what most people do when they come to counseling. They follow the pattern of Adam and Eve.
First, they did not follow God’s instructions. God gives us clear instructions about living out the marriage covenant, but couples do not follow the instructions.
Second, they did not take God at His word. Thus, saith the Lord is repeated often in the Bible, but people, including a growing host of Christian couples, do not take God at His Word.
Third, they did what they thought was self-pleasing. Couples today listen to pop psychology distributed widely in magazines, TV shows, and movies. Even worse, increasing numbers of men and women view and listen to porn to guide conduct in the marriage bed seeking self-pleasing rather than other pleasing.
Fourth, when confronted, they often respond like Adam and Eve, hiding (3:18), and blameshifting (3:12 and 3:13).
Good News for Shamble Makers
Regular church attenders who also read the Bible and pray fare much better at maintaining a stable marriage. However, their lack of implementing the many resources that God provides in the Scriptures impairs their ability to grow in intimacy. Intimacy is a major source of comfort and confidence that yields joy, even in difficult times. The Family Institute study1 found that there was a significant number of couples indicated that their marriages were strengthened under the pressure of the recent pandemic. I would venture a professionally educated guess that these Christian couples engaged more frequently together in Bible reading, prayer, and conscious dependence upon God as well as practicing respectful, caring, and problem-solving in everyday living.
Key Resources God Provides for Shambles Protection
Importance of regular attendance at worship, regular engagement in praying individually and as couples, and regular engagement in the community is touched are essentials.
While these are obvious, they are also the means to a treasure chest of other resources that, if both spouses are committed to a vital spiritual reality, can virtually prevent divorce, and foster growing intimacy and joy. There are thirty-seven strategies embedded in the Scriptures with which to unlock the joy and lock out the disappointment and disillusionment that lead to a hurtful, and eventually fractured, relationship. I refer to these as strategies and/or as tools.2 A dictionary definition of strategy is a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time. As a plan, these thirty-seven serve as a manual for marital joy. As tools, they must be picked up individually and utilized appropriately in daily living.
While these tools are addressed to the church to foster unity and joy in the church, they are directly applicable to the marriage which is the smallest unit within the church (the church in miniature, if you please). These tools are the “one another” commands of our Lord.
Strategy/Tool Number One
You engaged in the first “one another” we shall consider when you made a covenant with God in that first marriage vow. It is this: Be devoted to one another (Rom 12:10). That commitment, made to God, was to be wholly devoted to your spouse. It is foundational for marriage and all the other strategies.
Couples do well to attend a wedding at least annually and allow themselves to engage attentively to the first two wedding vows. These two vows embody this “one another” in the marital relationship. The first vow is taken after Dad (or his stand-in) places the bride’s hand on the groom’s hand, when the pastor asks each to enter a covenant with God to take the other as spouse. This is followed by the second vow in which, before God, they vow to devote themselves to one another.
Over the years, observing and performing weddings has regularly refreshed the wonder of God’s design of marriage to me, and revived my responsibility for the covenant I made with Him, and with Pam; hence, the practical recommendation for remembrance. As a sidebar, the Lord calls upon His people 8670 times to remember, as a means of helping them stay on His prescribed trajectory for life. Remembering our vows to one another made in the presence of God is a good strategy.
1 Institute for Family Studies https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-us-divorce-rate-has-hit-a-50-year-low
2 See my book, Route 37 to Marital Enjoyment, coming late September by Illumine Press