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God created man and woman, and He not only prepared the world around them to support their physical life, but also made provisions for them to have a fulfilling and satisfying relationship to sustain and strengthen each other. So, marriage is a special gift from God for us to enjoy. One of the reasons why marriages do not seem to be enjoyable at all for many people could be that they have not understood the real purpose of marriage, or pursued that purpose.
After God created Adam and he had the whole world to himself, what God noticed was that it was not good for him to be alone (Gen.2:18). If we use our imagination and think that it was Eve who was made first, she too would have felt alone (perhaps more so)! What Adam lacked was a companion like himself to whom he could relate (v.20). That was what God created next and gifted to him – Eve. Now Adam and Eve both had someone to be with and to share their whole life together – to face joys and challenges together, bring up children, plan and carry out different tasks, lean on each other, support each other, stand with each other, etc. This is true companionship, starting at the heart level and involving every other aspect of life.
This should be the reason why a Christian wants to get married. Imagine what would happen when people get married for all kinds of other reasons, including money, practical convenience, social pressure, advancing age, etc. Then they are not really interested in the person they marry but some side benefits they were looking for! But these ‘side benefits’ lose their value after some time, and they find themselves stuck with a person who now begins to irritate them!
Another reason for unhappiness in marriage is that people are looking for happiness which they hope their spouse will provide. Isn’t that really selfishness, the opposite of love? They don’t realise that the spouse too has similar expectations! The simple secret here is that we will become happy if we focus more on loving our spouse and making our spouse happy! The fact is, if we keep expecting that our spouse should make us happy, it is going to create many situations where we get upset and frustrated.
Many people quit their marriage calling themselves ‘incompatible’. Of course, when we consider someone for marriage, we do need to consider some minimum levels of compatibility – in faith, language of communication, general interests, etc., and no major disparity in economic, educational and social background – so as to ensure that both of us can relate to each other without too much difficulty. Sadly, some Christians make the mistake of thinking that if both of them are children of God, everything should be fine. No. We can be ‘unequally yoked’ in other ways too (2Cor.6:14).
But at the same time, we must know that there is no such thing as perfect compatibility. Each spouse will bring to the marriage different sets of family upbringing, personality traits and gender differences! The adventure in marriage is to recognise and accept these differences, and then to learn to adapt oneself to the spouse. Trying to change the spouse will not work, and will cause frustrations, anger and even hatred towards each other. Just being different from us is not a sin! A better approach is to recognise that the other person is as he or she is, and then make adjustments from one’s own side! God wants our incompatibilities to complement each other – the husband’s strengths meeting the wife’s needs and vice versa.
Gender differences are more than physical! Men and women think, talk, feel and look at life and situations differently, and their expectations from marriage are also different. Recent research has shown that there are many such differences, and there are many books that describe them. These differences have to be admitted and faced, and both spouses have a lot of things to learn in the way they should live together. This is a lifelong process of learning! But if we do it in the right way, the heartaches become less and the enjoyment more!
In a Christian marriage, when we face difficulties because of differences between each other or we face common challenges from outside, our approach should be to jointly and individually seek God for wisdom and help to face them and deal with them in the right way. We must remember that just as God has a plan for our lives as individuals, He has a plan for us as families too. There are things He wants us to accomplish individually with support from the other, and there are things He wants us to accomplish together. A great joint task is parenting, where both father and mother are involved.
When two people get married, they start a new family. In order to be able to build up a relationship between them that makes them increasingly one with each other, they need to start from a place where their spouse becomes the most important person in their life. As they open up to each other and share life together, they get to know each other intimately and become ‘one team’ or ‘one partnership’. Therefore, God says in His wisdom that they should both ‘leave’ their parents and cling to each other (Gen.2:24). This means that now they give a preferential treatment towards each other compared to what they used to have with their parents. Their responsibility and loyalty move from their parents to each other. Many times, the fear of cutting the ‘umbilical cord’ between the parents and the married children – from both sides – prevents the husband and wife from becoming one, and builds up a constant source of conflict between the old parents and the married children.
‘Leaving’ father and mother does not, of course, mean cutting off all connections with them or shirking the responsibility of taking care of them in their old age. “Honour your father and mother” is a commandment from God for all times. At the same time, we must remember that these married young people are not ‘children’ anymore who have to obey their parents!
In a Christian wedding, the couple makes vows to each other in the presence of God and other people. We can summarise the vows in three parts. They agree that it is going to be an exclusive relationship between them, that no one else is to get in between them. This refers to their faithfulness to each other and also to not allowing anyone else to disturb their relationship. It is relevant to note that their relationship with each other should even be more important than with their own children! Secondly, their commitment to each other is to be total, irrespective of ups and downs in health, wealth or comfort level. No one can predict what all they will go through in life in these areas, but the couple is making a promise to each other that they will stick with each other through thick and thin. Thirdly, this relationship is meant to be life long, till one of them dies. Many times, people do not think much about the seriousness of their commitment when they get married. But it is good to tell premarital couples about this, and also to remind older couples frequently about this.
Just as in God’s trinity where there is a hierarchy of authority and submission in the presence of equality in godhead, God has designed marriage also to operate a hierarchy among husband and wife (1Cor.11:3), who are equal in value before God (Gal.3:28). The order is God the Father, Christ the Son, the husband and the wife. If this order is respected by both the husband and the wife, it will give rise to order and harmony in the family. But if the husband demands that the wife should submit to him while he is not submitting to Christ, he has got it all wrong. For centuries many husbands have done this, and treated their wives like someone inferior. It is the task of a Christian marriage to show the right example to the world.
In the marriage ordained by God, the husband takes responsibility as the head of the home, and gives his ‘life’ to take care of his wife and children just as Christ does for the church (Eph.5:25-28). In other words, he does not lord it over his wife, but ‘serves’ her sacrificially. He provides for the family not only for the material needs but also spiritual leadership, and takes responsibility for the family. His wife recognises this leadership which the Lord has given her husband and stands with him as he handles his responsibility (vv.22-24). Submission is an attitude of respecting his position of leadership without trying to take over control herself.
In practical terms, the husband and wife work together as a team, recognising each other’s roles, responsibilities, abilities and shortcomings. They complement each other, consult with each other and make decisions together, the wife showing her husband respect as her ‘head’ and the husband showing her special consideration as a woman (1Pet.3:7). They talk things out together, seeking always to understand each other and to support each other, without giving in to competing with each other or proving each other wrong. God has determined that two are better than one, and the synergy that comes out when husband and wife work together is amazing. God also points out that a husband and wife who understand each other’s minds well and harmonise with each other bring a certain authority to their joint prayers (Matt.18:19,20).
Psychologists tell us that even though all human beings want to be loved and respected, it is generally true that women experience the need to know they are loved more than their need to be respected, and men have more need to know they are respected than their need to be loved. Accordingly, there is more meaning to what God tells the husbands to do – love their wives (and show it to them) – and what He tells the wives to do – to show respect to their husbands. On practical terms let us understand that husbands tend to interpret a lack of respect from their wives whenever they have a problem, and wives tend to see a lack of love from the husband’s side! They may be wrong in their interpretation in many situations, but they come to such conclusions easily because of what they inwardly feel as being the most important thing that their spouses should do for them.
Sexual relationship between the husband and wife is the most intimate expression of love between human beings. This is so for the husband and wife who are becoming more and more one in the mind and spirit, and for whom a sexual expression is natural and spontaneous. There is nothing unholy or impure associated with this relationship between husband and wife, because this is what God had ordained even before Adam and Eve sinned (Gen.1:28). Sadly, for many people it has become a quest for individual pleasure, using others. When a husband ‘uses’ his wife to get pleasure for himself, his wife feels used and cheap, and this causes her to turn away from sex.
One of the differences between men and women comes up in their approach to sex. Men think mostly about the physical thrill of sex, while women cannot enjoy sex properly unless they feel loved by their husbands. So, in order to have a healthy sexual relationship, the husband must make sure that he expresses his love for his wife as a way of life irrespective of sex. On the other hand, wives need to realise their husband’s strong urge for physical relationship and avoid turning away from him (1Cor.7:4,5).
These are days when the pressures of life are many and strong, and it is easy to let misunderstandings accumulate without having time to clear them. But this must become a priority for husbands and wives to spend time with each other, talking things over, sharing joys, sorrows, desires, fears, disappointments, etc., keeping a short account with each other with regards to forgiving each other, just as we do with the Lord (Eph.4:32). As Christian couples, let the Lord be at the centre of our life, even as we read the Bible, pray together and discuss our life situations. In that way, way we will be able to stand together and face the schemes of the Devil, as well as fulfil what God has in mind for us.
God’s desire is that a marriage should last till death. He hates divorce. Every couple who has problems in their relationship should take all measures – prayer, seeking counsel, mediation – to sort them out and to restore a good relationship. At the same time we must keep in mind that there are certain situations which go beyond reconciliation, such as a husband who physically abuses his wife without any repentance, or a spouse who refuses to give up an extramarital affair, where it is a lesser evil to separate than to continue in the relationship. We must not think that when God hates divorce it means divorce is inconceivable (totally disallowed under all circumstances) for Christians. If we study the heart of God as revealed throughout the Bible we will see that sometimes He allows a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater evil. I am not making a case for divorce, but saying that sometimes it may become inevitable. At the same time I would suggest that such decisions are best taken by mature leaders in the church rather than by couples themselves.
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Go to Chapter 21. The Christian and work. Go to Table of contents.
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