Thanks for your prayers. A few of life’s unexpected turns kept me home instead of going to the beach, but tomorrow I’ll head there for one day of sunshine and sand before I fly to Chicago for my nephew’s wedding.
It’s been fun to watch my nephew Clay and fiancé Julia mutually preparing for their big day and to see their love for one another grow stronger. Sadly, this morning, I spoke with a woman who felt quite the opposite. She asked, “Isn’t my voice supposed to count in our marriage? There is no “we” to our relationship. It doesn’t matter what I say or think, even if we agree on something one minute, he sees no problem with changing the rules whenever he feels like it. What do I do?”
Perhaps you feel the same way right now and instead of responding to a written question, I thought I’d take some time to provide a 10 point summary of what the Bible teaches about God’s design for marriage and reconciliation of a broken one.
Ten Truths Every Christian Needs to Know About Marriage
1. God designed marriage to be a loving and respectful partnership, not a slave/master dictatorship where one person dominates and controls the other. Tim Keller in his book, The Meaning of Marriage, writes, “The Christian teaching [on marriage] does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice.” When one spouse seeks to gain power and control over the other and bullies or intimidates using words, finances, physical force, or the Scriptures, he or she is not only sinning against their spouse but also against God’s plan for marriage.
2. Every healthy adult relationship requires three essential ingredients to thrive. They are mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom. Mutuality means that each person brings into the relationship honesty, compassion, and respect. Reciprocity involves a give and take, where both people in the relationship share power and both people in the relationship share responsibility. Lastly, a healthy marriage needs freedom to express one’s thoughts, feelings and needs without fear as well as freedom to respectfully challenge someone’s behavior or ideas. When any of these three ingredients are missing we may be in a relationship with someone, but it is often difficult, unhealthy, and sometimes destructive.
3. All marriages experience angst, disagreement, and struggle. When a conflict arises mature people engage in conversations where they discuss, negotiate compromise, as well as respect one another’s differences, feelings and desires. They work on problem solving, not attacking one another.
In a destructive marriage one person pushes and pressures to get his/her own way by ignoring stated or implied boundaries, trying to get a person to back down, or to make him or her feel guilty or afraid so that the person will give in and give them what they want. In a destructive marriage, the victimized spouse is not allowed to be different, have her own thoughts, feelings, desires or agenda. She is not loved for who she is, but for his idea of who she should be. When she fails to live up to his idealized image, punishment results.
4. When a person is seriously sinned against, Jesus understands it fractures relationships. He provides instructions for relationship repair in Matthew 18. First, we are to go to the person who has sinned against us and speak to them about it. However, when that conversation does not result in repentance, no reconciliation of the relationship can take place, even if one-sided forgiveness is granted. Relationships are damaged by sin and are not repaired without repentance and restitution. Joseph forgave his brothers long before he saw them again when they came looking for food in Egypt, but he did not trust them or reconcile with them until he saw their hearts were changed (Genesis 44,45).
5. When a person or spouse respectfully speaks up against injustice and oppression in a marriage (or anywhere else for that matter), God is with them. When a spouse speaks up against the abuse and injustice in her marriage, Christians need to come along side her, hear her, and provide church support and help. In practicing Matthew 18, she is seeking true reconciliation and is attempting biblical peacemaking. The church must not pressure her reconcile without any evidence of repentance or to be a peace at any price peacekeeper.
We hear God hates divorce but in the context of Malachi 3, God is actually rebuking an unloving, unfaithful husband, not denouncing a desperate wife. In addition, Scripture is clear: God hates haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:17-19). He also hates pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech (Proverbs 8:13) which are often the very characteristics of a destructive marriage.
6. If the abuser refuses to listen, refuses to repent or change, the blessings of a close marriage are impossible. Unconditional love does not equal unconditional relationship. God loves humankind unconditionally but does not offer unconditional relationship to everyone. Our sin separates us from God and repeated unacknowledged and unrepentant sin also separates us from one another. Marital intimacy, trust, fellowship, and warmth cannot exist where there is fear, threats, intimidation, bullying and disrespect of one’s thoughts, feelings, body, or personhood. A marriage with no boundaries or conditions It is not psychologically healthy, nor is it spiritually sound.
7. One person in a difficult/destructive marriage can make the relationship better by not reacting sinfully to mistreatment, not retaliating and not repaying evil for evil, but one person in a difficult marriage cannot make a bad marriage good all by herself. It takes both people working together. Sometimes Biblical counselors place an inordinately heavy burden on one spouse to somehow maintain fellowship and intimacy in a relationship while they are repeatedly being sinned against.
8. If the couple desires biblical change, Christian people helpers (pastors, Christian counselors, well meaning friends) must not attempt to heal the couple’s serious marital wounds superficially by pushing premature reconciliation or promising peace when there is no true peace (Jeremiah 6:14) A Biblical peacemaker knows there is no quick fix to these difficult situations and walk this couple through the counseling stages of safety, sanity, and stability, until they reach security. There is no mutual counseling possible without first establishing some history of safety, not only physically, but emotionally and financially.
9. When trust in a marriage is broken (through deceit, infidelity, abuse, or unfaithfulness in various ways), the marriage is seriously damaged. The gift of consequences can be a painful but potent reminder that the wrong-doer will not reap the benefits of a good marriage when they continue to sow discord, sin and selfishness. Consequences may include legal ramifications, church discipline, and/or loss of relationship through separation when warranted.
10. Church and pastoral support and accountability are critical for a couple to heal from a destructive relationship pattern. Secrets destroy. An atmosphere of loving accountability and support along with zero tolerance for manipulation, abuse, or power and control over another individual, is the optimal environment for biblical peacemaking and relationship repair to take place.
Now it’s your turn. Give us your thoughts as to which one of these 10 points is most ignored or incorrectly taught by church leaders?