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

Should You “Choose” To Be Attracted To Your Potential Spouse?

Recently Mike McKinley and Tim Challies both wrote articles which argued that young people, particularly men, should choose to be attracted primarily to a potential spouse’s spiritual beauty rather than physical beauty. I really respect both of these guys, love their gospel work, and usually agree with them, but as a pastor, both of these articles made me nervous. They made me nervous for two reasons.

First, the articles don’t fully appreciate the place of physical attraction in scripture. Yes, scripture is clear that in a marriage relationship, character is more important than physical attraction. But physical attraction matters. When Adam first laid eyes on Eve, there was a definite physical attraction. There was a flash of affection when he first laid eyes on her. He loved what he saw. When Adam saw Eve he burst into praise:

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23 ESV)

The Song of Solomon devotes chapter upon chapter to describing the physical attraction between a man and woman. Song of Solomon 1:9-10 says:

I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots. Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.

Just a few verses later Solomon says to his spouse:

Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. (Song of Solomon 1:15)

Solomon clearly delights in the physical beauty of his bride. He doesn’t go on and on about her quiet spirit and devotion to God, as important as those things are. He is enraptured by her beauty. He is magnetically drawn to her appearance, and can’t stop thinking about her. Throughout scripture there is an underlying assumption that a man will be physically and spiritually attracted to a woman.

If a young man came to me, and said he was thinking about a particular girl, I would ask him two questions:

  1. Is she godly? If yes, proceed to question number two.
  2. Do you think she is attractive?

If he answered “no” to number two, I would counsel him to pause, and pray, and wait before pursuing the relationship. I wouldn’t want to press him into a relationship based solely on spiritual attraction, and then later have him feeling trapped in the relationship. Scripture is clear that spiritual character is most important when considering a potential spouse, but physical attraction also plays a significant part.

This leads me to a second, pastoral concern, regarding these articles. As a pastor, I’ve seen difficult marriages in which one spouse felt pressured into marriage, even though they weren’t particularly attracted to their spouse. Basing a relationship primarily on spiritual attraction creates unhelpful, hyper-spiritual pressure in relationships. It creates an unsaid, unbiblical rule that only reason a relationship can end is for spiritual causes.

Yes, our idea of beauty has been distorted by media and pornography, and this should be a topic of conversation when considering any relationship. But we can’t dismiss the ideas of beauty and attraction all together.

A husband and wife should be spiritually compatible AND physically attracted to each other. This doesn’t mean that the man or woman is a supermodel. Beauty is fleeting, and charm is deceitful, which is why we don’t make those things the primary factors in a relationship. But God created us as both spiritual and physical beings. We are not sexless, spiritual beings. God made us to have flesh and blood. He created us to be attracted to the opposite sex.

If you are considering entering into a relationship, consider both the spiritual aspect and the physical aspect. Don’t let your values be determined by media or pornography, let them be determined by scripture. Find a beautiful, attractive spouse, who loves Jesus.

I Want To Make You More In My Image!

A healthy, Christian marriage has to include change. It’s not possible to be joined together as two sinners in pursuit of God and holiness and not help one another along on the journey. Transformation is part of what God is up to in marriage, and He uses us as instruments to accomplish that transformation. Most of us would probably agree with this to one degree or another. But there’s a problem: I want to make my spouse not like God, but like me.

Can you relate?

Ask yourself this: what do I think growth in godliness would look like for my spouse? Now ask a second question: does that change make my spouse look more like Jesus, or more like me?

So you love to read the latest Piper book before you fall asleep, but your spouse (who is faithful in morning devotions) would rather hop in bed and watch reruns of the Andy Griffith show. Is your practice really the mark of godliness – or is it just your practice?

You’re energized from doing hospitality and would have people in your home every night, but your spouse gets worn out by the whole process and would like to have a few nights off. Is that a matter of sinful selfishness on your spouse’s part– or is it just an expression of different personalities?

You want to give every spare dollar to the church’s mission fund, but your spouse thinks saving for your children’s college education should also be a priority. Is your goal the only generous, godly one – or does your spouse simply have a different way of loving God and others with your money?

Here’s where I think many of us (certainly including me!) struggle. Our preferences and our desires and even our own Christian practices get so bound together in our minds that we spend ourselves trying to make our spouses into our own image. Differences between us become threats or areas where the spouse needs to become more like me, rather than opportunities to see God’s glory displayed in diversity. But if we begin to see one another as persons created in God’s image and being renewed through salvation to progressively display Jesus’ image, we may have to admit that our agenda and God’s agenda for change might be very different. Yes, we are to help our spouses change, just as they are to do the same for us. But could it be that growth in godliness, growth in reflecting the image of God in our lives, might be less like the light from a flashlight beam – narrow, defined, and pointing in one direction – and more like the light shone through a diamond – sparkling, diffuse, and scattered in a thousand different glorious directions? Could it be that God wants our spouse to become more godly in a way that complements, but doesn’t imitate, my own walk with Him?

God is not after Christian clones, and we should not be either. Let us pursue change in our marriages and in our relationships, yes – but let’s make sure we’re helping one another become more like Christ, not each other. As we do so the glory and creativity and wisdom of God will be displayed in our diversity!

You Should Expect To Fight With Your Spouse

I’ve seen it many times. A young couple is engaged, and it’s obvious to the world that they deeply love each other. They gaze into each other’s eyes with that somewhat disturbing, glazed over, “I’m oblivious to the world and everything else”, look. They hold hands, give each other buckets of affection, and love doing even the most mundane tasks together.

But then, after they get married, something changes. The spark starts to fade. They argue about stupid things, like whose turn it is to clean up the dog vomit in the living room. Sometimes I’ll hear couples say to each other, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you,” which is really just another way of saying, “I really don’t like being around you.”

One of my favorite singer/songwriters, Feist, captured this sad truth really well in her song “The Bad In Each Other”.

And a good man, and a good woman // Can’t find the good in each other // And a good man, and a good woman // Will bring out the worst in the other  // The bad in each other

I think that Feist nailed it on the head. On their own, a man or woman can be nice, patient, unselfish, and gracious. But when you bring that same man and woman together in marriage, something inside of them detonates. Suddenly they’re at each other’s throats, calling each other names, and giving each other the cold shoulder.

Why in the world does this happen? Why do a good man and a good woman bring out the worst in each other? James 4:1 makes it crystal clear:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?

Every married couple should expect fights and quarrels. Why? Because all of us have passions that are at war within us. There is an all out, no holds barred, low blows allowed, fight taking place within us. Our sin is at war within us.

And you know what? I find this knowledge to be incredibly helpful. It helps me understand why Jen and I have conflicts. It helps me understand why every married couple has conflicts. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t involve a long psychological investigation. The cause of all fights and quarrels is the sinful passions that are at war within us.

Knowing this information gives me hope. If the cause of my fights and quarrels is my own sin, then Jesus can help me, because he came to rescue sinners. He came to save sinners and change sinners. There is no marriage beyond the restoring power of Jesus Christ. There is no relationship that is damaged beyond Christ’s reconciling power.

As Paul Tripp says in his book What Did You Expect??, “There is hope for your marriage because God is in the middle of your circumstances, and he is using them to mold you into what he created you to be.”

We should expect to argue and fight with our spouse. It’s what sinners do. And we should also expect to receive power from Jesus to overcome the arguments and fights. That’s what Jesus does.

The Best Song To Sing At My Little Girl’s Wedding

It’s really quiet around here.

I can hear the ticking of our clock and the little creaks and groans of a quiet house.  The refrigerator in the kitchen kicks on and begins to hum.  Outside its a dripping wet, grey, rain-soaked morning.  I haven’t even heard any birds singing yet today.

I’m sitting here on the couch with a cup of coffee thinking how faithful God has been to me. My daughter Bethi (I mean, Beth) got married on Saturday to a great young man named Caleb.  I made it all the way to when I was praying for the couple before I got teary, and that’s partly because Caleb was sniffing.  I’d almost started weeping earlier when some singers sang “It is Well With My Soul,” but God gave me the grace to hold it back.

“It is Well With My Soul.”  I had to hold back my tears because I was thinking of what an incredible song to choose for their wedding.  Why would anyone choose a song about suffering for their wedding?

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul, It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

As the wedding singers sang this, I welled up with tears because both my daughter and her new husband have suffered much. Caleb helps care for his older brother, Ian, who a few years ago survived a terrible car accident.  (Ian and his wife, Larissa, are also amazing examples of trusting God – visit their blog).  And 2 years ago Caleb’s dad, Steve, died of a brain tumor.  And my little girl has suffered with chronic migraines and other health problems for over ten years.

Yet they chose to sing “It is Well With My Soul.”  Why?  Because they’re finally getting married and now things are going to start going good for them?  No, because “Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.”  Because:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

How could I not well up with tears?  My little girl is saved.  My little girl knows the One who redeemed her.  And the blissful, glorious thought that makes her and her husband rejoice is not so much that God has given them the gift of marriage, but that their sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross in Jesus.

The singers finished with the last verse:

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

What a great thing to sing at a wedding – not, Lord, haste the day of our wedding, but haste the day of the wedding feast of the Lamb.  Haste the day when Jesus comes back and we see the Bridegroom face to face.

You’ll have to excuse me now.  I’m not crying.  I just got a little something in my eyes….

Submission Ain’t About Superiority

These days it can be dangerous to talk about a husband leading his family and a wife submitting to that leadership. To modern ears it sounds patriarchal. Sexist. Arrogant. Fundamentalist. As if, somehow, the husband is superior to the wife and therefore gets to lead the wife. Saying that you believe in the different roles of a husband and a wife is sort of like saying you believe in slavery. People assume that only a tyrannical husband and a doormat wife would hold to such things.

These people have obviously not met my wife Jen.

Jen is very competent. She currently stays home with our two girls, Charis and Ella. Ella, who is 20 months old, is currently in a stage that I like to call “rampage mode”. She is constantly crying, grabbing, throwing, and saying, “No!” She is the cutest human tornado that I’ve ever met. In spite of having to constantly monitor our two girls, Jen also manages to keep our house clean, keep me out of the hobo clothes I would wear on my own, and prepare fantastic meals. She paints, decorates, and pays bills. I love Jen so much, and honestly can’t imagine how I would function without her.

In many ways Jen is more self-controlled than I am. She is more compassionate and thoughtful. She relates to people better than I do and figures out creative ways to serve people. She isn’t nearly as cynical or sarcastic as I am. And she looks better than I do. A lot better.

Trust me, I’m not superior to Jen. In fact, I would venture to say that in many, many ways, she is very superior to me.

I have a feeling that the husband of the Proverbs 31 woman felt the same way. That woman was an avalanche of productivity and skill. She worked with her hands, labored in the early morning, bought and planted land, made profitable merchandise, served the needy, clothed her household, spoke wisdom and kindness, and was praised by her children. When did this woman ever sleep?

Jen and I understand that God himself gives men and women different roles to fulfill. These roles are not based on any sort of innate abilities found within the husband or wife. They aren’t rooted in a patriarchal system that exalted men over women. They don’t place the woman in a servile role to the husband. Rather, they are God-ordained roles that bring him honor and glory.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior…Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…

Submission ain’t about superiority. Jen, and many other women in my church, are a testimony to that. Submission is about fulfilling God’s call for the glory of God.

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So You Think You’ve Married the Wrong Person?

From time to time I hear a husband or wife wonder if perhaps they made a mistake in marrying the person that they did.

Things have usually gotten pretty bad by the time this question arises. Maybe the differences between the husband and wife are much greater than either one anticipated. The husband is neat, the wife is messy. The wife is talkative, the husband is quiet. The husband is always on time, the wife lives more in the moment. The wife is social, the husband is a homebody. These differences, which were initially just an irritant, have grown into something massive. What was once a tiny gap has become a great divide.

A marriage that once seemed so promising now seems to have little hope. That’s when the “did I marry the wrong person?” question usually arises.

In these difficult situations I find the words of Paul Tripp to be very helpful:

God is in control not only of the locations in which you live, but also of the influences that have shaped you as a person. He has not only written the story of you and your spouse and determined that your stories would intersect, but he has controlled all the things that have made you different from one another.

As you struggle, you must not view your marriage as bad luck, or poor planning, or a mess that you have made for yourself. No, God is right smack-dab in the middle of your of your struggle. He is not surprised by what you are facing today. He is up to something. (What Did You Expect??, pgs. 213-214)

Your marriage, and the struggles in your marriage are not an accident. Even if you married a non-Christian, you’re marriage is not an accident! God is sovereign over all your struggles and sins, and he is using the differences between you and your spouse to bring himself glory and to make you more like Jesus.

You didn’t marry the wrong person. You married the person that God always planned for you to marry, and God is with you in all your struggles.

Side note: There are obviously a thousand different variations on marriage. If you are in an abusive marriage, I am not saying that you need to stay in the path of harm. That conversation should be had with your pastor or another wise Christian.