Andree Seu Peterson’s piece in World magazine March 26, 2022, sets the framework of today’s rumination on the institution of marriage. I have often found her column a source of inspiration. In this one, Andree focuses on our contemporary political climate in which our leaders are pushing socialistic agendas. She proffers the observation that “Communist [think socialists] regimes have a problem: They are inherently unstable [and] must mete out freedom but not too much.” She begins this piece by using her husband’s declaration when they married.
She writes, “When we got married, my husband, ever keen on preserving this union, said this to me: “Nobody can destroy our marriage. The only two people who can destroy our marriage are you and me’ “. It is this assertion that prompts this blog.
Is this assertion factual? Yes and no. On the horizontal plane, it is, but we should never overlook the reality that there is one person in the universe who is the sworn enemy of your and my marriage. His name is Satan. Now, don’t get me wrong. He cannot directly destroy the marriage, but he can prey on our sinful nature and manipulate temptations to appeal to our desires. We can then become the instruments of our doing the destroying.
A legitimate desire to be respected by our mate to have a husband provide spiritual leadership to the children can become an unmet expectation that festers into disappointment that spirals downward into depression. The latter is precisely what happened to a 30 something young mother counselee several years ago. A co-worker observed her depression over several months and felt compassion for her since his marriage had turned sorrower over the past several years.
Once or twice a week, he invited her to eat lunch together in the company dining room. It started as attempting to get her to smile. But it soon became a time of commiserating. This commiserating quickly mushroomed into an intense affection. The intense affection spiraled into a physical affair. That broke her and led to counseling. As she told her story, she ended with sobbing out a phrase something like this: “I wanted spiritual leadership for my children now I will not have a Daddy for them, and they will have a slug to blame.” There were flashing red lights, but she blew through them.
As George wrote on his PDI, I often complained to my Covenant Group that Audrey, his wife, did not respect him and his leadership. As we began our counseling journey together, I asked George to help me understand this statement. It became evident that he had a set of the family of origin expectations of what Audrey’s respecting him should look like. However, her background was very different. His family of origin could be described as gentler, politer, and more sensitive than her project living family of five sports-playing brothers and a father who worked construction.
His unmet expectations drove him to live out the description of James 4:1-5, which evidenced other expected results noted by James when he wrote, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires (1:20). He was about to separate from her in utter frustration.
While there are various ways to approach life other than those chosen by these counselees, I will point only to three in this blog. These three, of course, assume a vital relationship with Jesus and the indwelling Holy Spirit and regular exposure to the Word of God.
The first and most critical is this. The covenant nature of the marriage union. Unfortunately, the first set of vows taken in a marriage ceremony somewhere along the way was dubbed “Vows of intent.” That language underplays this exchange as simply human promises to each other. When, in fact, these vows are covenants between each partner God. It is entering into covenant with God to accept the prospective mate into a union. They become one new person as God’s representatives of his covenantal relationship with His bride, the church. This is then followed by a covenant between the husband and wife to live in that relationship, come what may.
The second remedy is honest communication between spouses characterized by empathic listening, non-defensive listening, and a commitment to spiritual growth that enables one to modify thinking and behaving that honors the other.
The third is an active determination to practice the one-anothering instructions of the New Testament in the marital relationship. This will require very intentional personal self-training. What it takes to achieve this spiritually empowered modality of life will depend on many facets such as maturity, knowledge, and peer examples. Quite honestly, the Lord had graciously embedded me in surrounding that greatly aided this refining process in my own life. This included my spiritual parents, an association with three brothers who were way down the road in spiritual development, and three years on the campus of a Christian university. By the time my wife came into my life, the Lord had already filed down many of the rough edges that would not have meshed with who she or her family was.
Perhaps you, a friend, or a counselee are awkwardly wishing the spouse was or would become a different person. This is a dangerous place to be. This thinking moves you towards being the one who can destroy your marriage, dishonor God, and forge a life of misery. Like the socialist philosophy to which Sue is alerting her reader, the thinking that says my mate needs to change (unless they are an abuser or adulterous) will lead to further frustration.
However, you, by God’s grace and change many times, effect change in the very issues generating your disappointments. Take the three remedies above and prayerfully employ them. Begin by recommitting yourself to your vow to God, then to your vow to your spouse. Follow this by studying one another passages and writing out a playbook to implement two each week. Add the following two while practicing the first two and continue this pattern.
In addition, keep a log of your communication with your spouse. Any time your spouse reacts negatively, do three things. First, choose not to respond in kind. Two, choose to act positively by saying, “Thank you for helping me realize that my action frustrated you, I will work on that,” for example. Third, keep a journal of these events—the time of day, what you did, how you respond positively to the adverse reaction on behalf of your spouse. Pray over these, plan future responses, and use them as a prayer guide for yourself.