Friday, 13 August 2010

What Happened to They Lived Happily Ever After?

For those of us brought up on Cinderella and Snow White there was no doubt that someday our prince would come or that we would find an enchanting, yet mysterious young maiden. There are some of us who even believed that if we kissed a frog it would turn into a prince, unfortunately in most cases they remained a frog. It would be great if I could say that all Christians who unite spend their days in Camelot, it would be but I can’t.

The cold reality is that few couples live in Camelot, for most it is more like a life sentence in the La Brea Tar Pits. And It can get somewhat dicey if we look to Scripture for solace when things are not going well. First Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 28b says. “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” Thank you Paul (that would be the Apostle not the Beetle). By the way Paul is not suggesting that those who are single will be trouble free.

It is not like the creator of marriage forgot to leave us the operating manual. He said, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21) and then spends the next 12 verses unpacking what that would look like.

The next words out of our mouth are usually something like, “Yes but he never…” “Yes but she doesn’t…” I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but I have figured out all by myself that there are only a few options here. We can remain miserable and stay in the marriage, perhaps finding a diversion; we can get out of the marriage and hope to find a totally selfless other person who will meet all our needs (yeah right!); or we can humble ourselves before God and seek His guidance and direction.

Here’s where it gets really tough, given the same choices your spouse may not come to the same conclusion. In your case your husband may remain a frog or your wife may make Dorthy’s wicked witch of the east look like a fairy god mother. That does not alter the choice of where you go from here. Out of reverence for Christ the husband must love his wife as Christ has loved his church. Out of reverence for Christ the wife must respect her husband. These conditions are not based on performance. Ideally your husband/wife embodies the love of Christ but if they don’t you are still called upon to glorify God in all that you do. (1Cor. 10:31)

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The “Un-Divorce” Is Unsatisfactory

The title of a recent article on was “The Un-Divorce: When Leaving Your Marriage Is Just Too Much Work.” The article goes on to cite specific reasons why a number of couples are opting to remain married yet lead separate lives. The article states that in “These days, "un-divorced" couples are becoming common in an ever-diverse and complicated society.” So the rationale goes, “For many couples, divorcing is simply too painful. Neither partner wants to be the first to pull the plug. In other cases, couples cannot afford the costs associated with divorce. Many times, they have children and don't want to deal with custodial issues or a dirty legal battle, especially if one partner uses drugs or has had an affair.”
“An ever diverse and complicated society” seems to be a clever phrase that is summed up in the word unregenerate, i.e. unrepentant, sinful, and not made new. I recognize that Biblically speaking infidelity and the desire of an unbelieving spouse to dissolve the marriage are legitimate grounds for a couple to divorce, but even then only after trying to reconcile. I also understand that under certain circumstances, such as abuse, it might be best for a couple to separate for a time with the ultimate intention of coming back together as husband and wife after one or both parties have resolved their issue and received professional help.

But deciding to become roommates because you don’t feel as though you love your spouse any longer just doesn’t fit my paradigm of what God intended for marriage. There is nothing that God ever created that was meant to be mediocre, including marriage. More specifically marriage is to bring glory to God. (1Cor. 10:31)

It seems to me that the first decision that one must grapple to the ground is where you stand spiritually speaking. Do you really believe that God is the Creator of the universe, that His Son died for your sins and rose again and do you believe His Word is inerrant? If your answer to any of these three questions is “no” then there is nothing based on Scripture that will motivate you. However if you are a child of God then it is not too late to seek a marriage that would bring you joy and God glory.

It begins with a conscious decision that you are going to make your marriage work, with the help of God. It is believed by many that feelings follow actions. So though you might not feel as though you love your husband/wife you can begin the process of restoring love to your relationship. Make a list of specific actions you can take, i.e. offer to do the dishes, bring home flowers, get the book Love Languages and determine what your spouse’s language is, make a special meal, kiss him/her before you leave the house each day, etc. Begin to incorporate more and more specific loving actions into your daily routine. You will see a difference in how you feel toward him/her and how they respond to you.

Monday, 9 August 2010

From Good to Great

There was a very good business book out a few years ago by Jim Collins entitled Good to Great, The premise was that while there were many good companies there were certain characteristics of great companies. Great was measured by predetermined criteria and the results were sustained over time. One might suggest that marriages could be examined in a similar fashion.

Lisa Kift, a Marriage and Family Therapist, wrote an article entitled “The Characteristics of Successful Relationships.” Most likely if the following ten are found in abundance in your relationship you have a good marriage. The ten are: (1) friendship,(2) humor, (3) good communication, (4) chore sharing, (5) satisfying sexual intimacy, (6) affection, (7) the absence of John Gottman’s Horsemen of the Apocalypse (see post of 8/5/10), (8) mutual and separate friends, (9)reliability and (10)relationship vision.

So what could possibly be missing from the list? You did ask that didn’t you? In my opinion for a marriage to go from good to great it must glorify God. A marriage must be built on a covenant commitment, i.e. we are in this for the long haul. A marriage must be built on total trust and honesty. For a marriage to significantly move the needle on the “Marriage Richter Scale” the partners must treat love as a verb; they must be willing to put the other first.

A couple that has God at the center of their marriage handles conflict in a much different way. They view disagreements as a way of learning more about one another, as a way of arriving at a decision that honors both parties and brings glory to God in the process.

When God is at the center of a marriage the difficulties that are certain to come will not have the devastating affect that such difficulties often have on marriages where God is not at the center. Unemployment, for example, can have a huge impact on a marriage. Not only does it squeeze a couple’s financial resources but self-confidence and security can be shaken. Shame, blame, guilt and anger surface along with underlying worry. If God is at the center of the couple’s marriage they recognize that in the cosmic scheme of things God is still in control. They have the peace that comes from trusting Him. Most likely they are not totally worry free, but they support one another and encourage one another and pray for one another.

A good marriage features all the interpersonal skills you can bring to bear and the application of much of the wisdom that can be found in hundreds of books on the subject. A great marriage is one that adheres to the principles laid out in Scripture, which brings sustainable joy to the couple and brings glory to God.

If God Can Change Nineveh

Francis Chan was reflecting on the Book of Jonah. He was taken by the miraculous change of heart that came about in the city of Nineveh on the very first day that Jonah delivered his message. The bottom line is “with God all things are possible.”

Perhaps you and your husband/wife are struggling. You are staying together but living parallel lives. The spark that once existed between the two of you has gone out. You are civil to one another most of the time, as for intimacy it is a thing of the past. You may have lost hope that things would be any different. This is not the life that God intended for you.

The king of Nineveh urged his people to “call urgently on the Lord” and the Lord “had compassion on them”, and He will have compassion on you. The people of Nineveh were called upon to repent. This is a good place to start. Pour your heart out to God; ask him to forgive you for those areas where you have failed to be the husband/wife that God has called you to be. Be very specific. The next step is for you to go to your husband/wife and ask them to forgive you, again be very specific. This will most likely be one of the most difficult things that you have ever done but it may very well be the beginning of God’s redemptive process for your marriage.

Am I obligated to have sex whenever my spouse asks?

Winston Smith professor at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation answers the question, “Am I obligated to have sex whenever my spouse asks?”

Let’s pick up where Winston leaves off, namely are there other factors going on in the relationship? A leading culprit in the absence of intimacy is the absence of love and respect. Ephesians 5:33 is very clear; “husbands love your wives as you love yourself and wives respect your husband.” There has never been anyone who has loved someone else more than himself/herself, save Jesus. Yet this command is not an allegory meant to symbolically describe the way the husband should treat his wife. It is to be taken literally and it is not something that comes naturally to the man. Women on the other hand tend to be loving and nurturing so God is asking them to respect their husbands, regardless of whether or not they are deserving of respect. Why is respect so difficult for the wife, because in the Garden part of the curse which Eve was to bear was that she would struggle to dominate her husband, It is theoretically more difficult for the wife to respect than to love.

The answer is for the husband to learn from his wife how she wants to be loved. Is it flowers once a month, quality time each day, words of affirmation, or a hug? For the husband what does respect look like to him? Is it a thank you for providing each month, or a word of affirmation for something he does well?

"Sex is not just about scratching a biological itch, like being thirsty and needing a glass of water. Sex has a deep relational and theological meaning.
Sex is ultimately God expressing His love for His people. We tend to keep sex and God in different categories even though we recognize it is a gift from God.
We need to ask other questions when one of the partners desires to be intimate and the other doesn’t there is something going on at the heart level of our intimacy. If we are sexually infrequent and sexually frustrated there is a good chance that there are other negative factors in the relationship that are showing up in the bedroom. Sex can be a barometer.
Different levels of desires and excitement may call for one of the partners to be sacrificial."