4 Of The Best Pieces of Marital Advice I’ve Ever Heard

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I’ve been doing a good bit of premarital counseling lately, and I’ve married quite a few folks over the years. There’s lots of great advice in the Bible and other books, but here are 4 pieces of advice that have really helped me throughout my marriage. I’m still trying to apply them, and I’d encourage you to as well, whether you’re getting married in 2 weeks or celebrating your 20th anniversary.

1). Try to be the biggest servant in the house.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. JN 15:12

And how did Jesus love us? By giving himself up for us (Eph 5:25). He came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45). Jesus didn’t ask “What am I getting out of this?” but concerned himself with our welfare. Genuine love is not primarily a feeling but a costly decision to sacrifice yourself for the good of another person. Have this mentality – I want to be the biggest servant in the house. Don’t evaluate how your spouse is serving you but ask yourself how can I better serve my spouse?

2) Make God your source of satisfaction, not your spouse.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. PS 90:14

Remember – only God can satisfy our thirst. In Jeremiah 2:13 God said, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” It is evil to look to anything (or anyone) other than God to satisfy us. Anything other than God is a “broken cistern” that can’t hold water – can’t satisfy. Remember, no human being can satisfy another human being. Your spouse can’t fulfill you, make you happy or meet all your needs. Put God first in your marriage by regularly taking in his word, praying and fellowshipping with other believers. He will satisfy you with his love which you will then be able to pour out to your spouse.

3) Keep short accounts

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Eph 5:26-27

When you have a conflict, or an offense with your spouse, try to work it out the same day. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Keep short accounts. Take care of it that day. Because when we let conflicts go unresolved it gives opportunity to the devil to tempt us to further anger, unforgiveness, and other sins. It’s tempting to want to hold on to anger, to “punish” your spouse by holding on to our anger, or giving him or her the cold shoulder. But we don’t have that luxury. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Obviously there are some sins that may require ongoing counseling or dialogue and healing and trust can take time. But the idea is to deal with offenses as quickly as you can.

Kristi and I vowed on our wedding day that by God’s grace we would not let the sun go down on our anger, and in our first couple years we had plenty of times we stayed up really late trying to work through things together. I can remember one night I said, “Kristi it’s one o’clock and I have to work tomorrow but I’m committed to you and I might wrong here, so I want you to know I love you and we’ll work on this more tomorrow.” And by God’s grace we did.

4) Above all seek the glory of God.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 CO 10:31)

Your marriage is not primarily for yourself, but for the glory of God. Marriage is to display the oneness and love of Christ and his church for each other. Our marriages are to be “snapshots” of how Jesus loves his bride and how the church loves Jesus. And as Jesus did all for his Father’s glory, so we should seek to glorify God through our marriages. So if you have a conflict, don’t make your goal to win the argument, but ask yourself what will bring God the most glory. Will it glorify God most for me to be angry at my spouse or to seek to work through our conflict, ask forgiveness and forgive? Will it most glorify God for me to seek to fulfill my own desires or if I lay down my life to serve my spouse?

There you have it:

1) Try to be the biggest servant in the house
2) Make God your source of satisfaction, not your spouse.
3) Keep short accounts
4) Above all seek the glory of God.

Of course God’s word has tons more great advice for marriage, but if you do these things they’ll go a long way to help you glorify God together.

What You Really Need In Marriage

I-Need-This1Our culture is extremely self-oriented. We are continually bombarded by messages that tell us we need greater self-esteem. We begin to think, I need to do this for me, I need to be validated, I need to feel good about myself, I need to think about my desires for a change, etc.

It’s so easy to bring this mentality into marriage. We can think we “need” certain things from our spouse. But in reality, we often take our desires, which may not be wrong in themselves, and elevate them to the level of “need.” “I want” becomes “I won’t be happy unless I get…”

Of course, there’s a place for talking to your spouse about your desires. There are things husbands and wives should do for one another. They should serve one another. They should seek to bless each other. Each should bear their share of the load of caring for the children and household chores.

But be careful with desires. But what if your spouse fails to meet your desires?

I would first ask this: how much do believers in Jesus really “need” from their wives or husbands? I would submit that you DON’T “need” your spouse:

To satisfy you
To serve you
To make you feel good about yourself
To meet all your expectations
To fulfill you

It’s wonderful if you have a wife or husband who cares for you, serves you and blesses you. But remember, ultimately no human being can meet all of another human being’s needs. No human being can satisfy another human. It’s just not going to happen. Only God can meet all our needs and truly satisfy us.

We take vows to love our spouse for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in good times and bad. What will you do if your spouse gets hurt or sick and is completely unable to do anything for you? What if you have to care for him or her for years? You will have to look to the Lord for contentment, satisfaction and joy.

So what do you really need?

You need…

To love your spouse. Husbands, God commands you to love your wife, as Christ loved the church and laid down his life for her. Believers are all called to love one another and look to the interests of others. We’re not called to make sure others are serving us and looking to our interests.

You need…

To be a servant. Rather than dwelling on how much your spouse is serving you, determine to be the biggest servant in the house. And serve as unto the Lord, knowing that he will reward you.

You need…
To be patient and long-suffering
To forgive
To ask forgiveness
To pray

You need grace

AND you also need:

To have low expectations. Yes, there are things husbands and wives should do for one another. Most of us do them very imperfectly. If you have high expectations, then you’ll constantly be disappointed and frustrated.

You need…

To expect your spouse to have many weaknesses and failures.

You need…

To expect your spouse to be slow to change. Even believers who pursue God wholeheartedly change slowly. Sanctification is a long process. Character doesn’t change overnight.

If you are frustrated, examine what it is you aren’t getting. Have you taken a desire, perhaps a legitimate one, and elevated it to the status of a need? Are you seeking a human to satisfy you or are you seeking to be content in Jesus?

God Loves Odd Couples

Our culture constantly promotes the idea of finding your soulmate. That perfect person who is compatible with you on twenty-three different levels (or more depending on which dating service you use). You both love long walks on the beach, French poetry, obscure indie documentaries, art museums, and the BeeGees. She is the Yin to your Yang. She is the moon to your sun. She completes you on every level. You share a deep, mystical, soul-mate-ish connection. You look deep into each other’s eyes and instantly know what the other is thinking. You complete each other’s sentences. You have no problems because you both compliment each other perfectly.

Now, I’m not dismissing the idea of finding a spouse who is compatible with you at least on some level. If your idea of a perfect life is raising livestock in Wyoming and she wants to live in Paris you could have a problem. Finding a spouse with common interests is common sense. Don’t hear what I’m not saying (if that’s not the biggest cover your butt phrase I don’t know what is).

But the reality is, God also loves odd couples.

He loves couples that have significant differences in communication style. He loves couples that have wildly different hobbies and interests. He loves couples where the husband loves hunting and the wife is a vegetarian. He loves couples where the wife comes from Venus and the husband comes from an unknown planet in a distant galaxy.

Why does God love odd couple marriages? Because the power of the gospel is put on full display in odd couple marriages.

When a wife goes antique hunting with her husband because she wants to serve and bless him it is proof that Jesus is at work in her. When a husband gives up watching his favorite baseball team to spend time talking to his wife it is proof that the living Savior is moving and motivating him. When a husband and wife slowly and patiently work through their communication differences without becoming angry at each other it is proof that the reconciling power of the gospel is at work in their marriage. When a husband and wife lay down their personal preferences in service to each other it is a powerful demonstration of the Holy Spirit.

Perfect marriages exist only in Nicholas Sparks novels. Every marriage has challenges, hurdles, and seeming impasses. But God loves odd couple marriages. It’s in these marriages that the saving, transforming, reconciling power can be powerfully displayed.

If you are in an odd couple marriage don’t despair. God is for you, Jesus is in you, and the Holy Spirit is interceding for you. Jesus can give you power to serve and sacrifice. The Holy Spirit can transform your marriage into a piece of divine art. You only need to ask.

+original photo by CarolinaNeves

My Spouse Doesn’t Meet My Needs

“What if I marry someone, then I meet somebody prettier or funnier?  What if they don’t fulfill me?  I’m afraid I’ll become unsatisfied or discontented.”

“My husband doesn’t meet my needs. You see, I need romance and affection, and my husband just isn’t very affectionate.  I need someone who can give me this.”

What’s wrong with these statements?  What’s wrong is that each of these individuals has expectations that their marriage partner or future marriage partner should always and continually fulfill them.

Tim Keller, in his book The Meaning of Marriage (which I highly recommend) says,

Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are all looking for a marriage partner who will ‘fulfill their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.’ And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry. This is the reason so many put off marriage and look right past great prospective spouses that simply are ‘not good enough.’

Let me repeat one phrase: “They are all looking for a marriage partner who will ‘fulfill their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.’”

When we have an expectation that a husband or wife fulfill us, we set ourselves up for disappointment, because no human being can satisfy another human being.  To hope that another human can meet our needs is asking too much of anyone.  For only Jesus can meet our needs.  Only Jesus can satisfy us.  Only Jesus can fulfill all our desires.

Expectations are killers.

If you come into a marriage with expectations of the other person, and then they don’t meet those expectations, you will be frustrated and unhappy.  Expectations are dangerous and will always disappoint.  Unless you have expectations like these – I expect:

  • That my spouse will fail in many ways.
  • That my spouse will not fulfill my desires.
  • That my spouse will not always try to please me.
  • That my spouse may not always understand me.
  • That my spouse may not always appreciate me.
  • That my spouse may not love me in the way I would want.

If your spouse happens to actually appreciate, love or serve you, then praise God!  It will be unexpected.  The problem comes when we have expectations and then they aren’t met. Here are a few expectations you can cultivate though – of yourself:

  • That I should serve my spouse and lay down my life for her/him.
  • That I should seek to please my spouse.
  • That I should try to listen to and understand my spouse.
  • That I should seek to lay down my life for my spouse.
  • That I should seek to fulfill his/her desires as best I can.
  • That I should seek to love my spouse.

Here’s my suggestion: Don’t look at where your spouse needs to change.  Look to where you need to change.  Don’t have expectations of your spouse.  If you have expectations, place them on yourself.

If anyone has the right to have expectations of us it is Jesus.  Ask him what he would like you to do to please your spouse.  Ask him to help you and make you the biggest most cheerful servant in the house and not to worry about if anyone is serving you or not.

Quit Looking For Your Soulmate, Because He/She Isn’t Out There

Aaaahhhh, your soulmate (insert romantic accordion music). That one magical person whom you connect with on every level. You both love long walks on the beach, obscure punk bands from Seattle, European poetry, French Press coffee, and movies directed by Joss Wheedon. You never argue because, frankly, there’s nothing to argue about! Every moment spent together is electric, magical, romantic, sort of like a Disney movie, except without the cartoon parts or the fairy godmothers. Some of you are single, and you’re looking for your soulmate. Some of you are married, and you’re not sure what to think, because your spouse isn’t quite the soulmate you envisioned.

The biblical truth is, there is no such thing as a soulmate. My wife Jen is not my soulmate, she is something WAY WAY better. Our culture (ala Nicholas Sparks, et. all) has created the idea of two people coming together, falling deeply in love, and living out the remainder of their days in peace and harmony. Hollywood has perpetuated this idea to no end. The end result is that many singles put off marriage until they find the “perfect” soulmate, and many married people wonder if they married the wrong person because their marriage feels hard. After all, if you find your soulmate, marriage shouldn’t be hard work, right?

Wrong. The biblical picture of marriage is of two sinful people being joined together in the most intimate relationship possible. When you put two sinners together, there will inevitably be difficulties and trials. There will be friction. As Tim Keller says in his book The Meaning of Marriage:

Why would it be easy to live lovingly and well with another human being in light of what is profoundly wrong within our human nature?

In addition to being sinners, we are also frail, weak, fragile, selfish, easily worn out people. We are simply unable to give a person all that they need to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically whole. We are not God. Again, Tim Keller says:

It is the illusion that if we find our one true soul mate, everything wrong with us will be healed; but that makes the lover into God, and no human being can live up to that.

The good news, however, is that in marriage God gives us someone far better than a soulmate. He gives us the person who is exactly right for us. He gives us the husband or wife who will help us become more like Jesus Christ. Sometimes that’s a painful process for both spouses. It doesn’t feel “soulmate-ish”. When Jen is confronted with my selfishness, it hurts her. When she corrects me, it stings. But in the midst of that process, God helps Jen grow in being patient and helps me grow in being unselfish. It’s God’s perfect design!

When I’m having a particularly bad day dealing with my chronic anxiety, that is hard on Jen. She has to pick up some slack that I normally would pick up (and she does it joyfully!). I have to rely on her to do things I normally do. In the midst of all that, God helps Jen grow in unselfishness and also deepens my love for her as I see her serve me. There’s nothing particularly romantic or soulmate-ish about it. It’s hard and it requires work. But as we seek to serve each other, the end result is that we both love God more and we both love each other more.

God led me to marry the girl who is just right for me! We don’t like all the same things (I like sci-fi, she like Downton Abbey). We don’t have flawless communication at every level (honestly, I stink at communication and am really trying to grow in it). But by God’s grace, we both are seeking to serve the Lord and serve each other. That’s way better than having a soul mate.

+photo by kewl