1. Get Married (yes this is a statistical fact)
2. Become a Christian (another statistical fact)
3. Stay Married
4. Talk to your spouse about stuff; any stuff that is on your mind
5. Listen to your spouse when they talk about stuff
6. Read the Bible to get good tips about sex (much better and more explicit than Cosmo)
7. Be generous with your possessions (sex is about giving and stingy people make bad lovers)
8. Plan spontaneity (fun things happen when we make room for them to happen)
9. Wash the dishes, clean off the desk (an ordered living room makes for a free bedroom)
10. Practice (no one does anything perfect the first time and every good thing takes practice to perfect)
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband
(Ephesians 5:25 and 33)
Love and respect. Two ingredients for a healthy marriage. Which one comes first? How does the recipe work? Is it two portions of love mixed thoroughly with two of respect? Is it a quart of respect poured over a pound of love? What goes in first? This recipe doesn’t tell us the proportions. It doesn’t say how much respect to use or how much love is enough. It doesn’t tell us if we are supposed to add the love to the respect or vice versa. The recipe for a healthy marriage is very simple, but its application is hard. If we read it correctly it is actually impossible. The recipe is love without proportion and absolute respect. And these ingredients are not added one after the other, but simultaneously and continually. In other words the recipe is to love your wife completely all the time and to respect your husband completely all the time NOT to love your wife when she is lovely and respects you or to respect your husband when he is respectable and loves you. In other words, the recipe for a healthy marriage is an all-encompassing, non-negotiable mixture of love and respect. So go right out there and get loving and respecting and everything will be better and you won’t botch the recipe…sound about right? No. This cake will fall in on itself. Something major is missing from this recipe. Its gospel context. It is the mixing bowl we throw ourselves in that contains us and sustains us.
We are not made for absolutes. We don’t love completely and can’t claim to offer love unconditionally. We lack the capacity for absolute respect. We run down mentally and physically. Our emotions wear out. None of us can be a source of love and respect for another person on our own without limits. So is the Bible teaching us a recipe for a healthy marriage or is it giving us instructions to bake a futility cake? The mixing bowl is what we need. The gospel is the context we can use to cook a good marriage. Just before the Bible sets out the well known love and respect teaching, it gives a not so well known or repeated instruction: submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph 5:21). This is the preeminent piece of the teaching and nothing in the rest of it makes sense without it. The gospel is love and respect without measure. Unconditional love and utter respect given to all people by a Person able to deliver both and to sustain them indefinitely. A husband who reverences Christ (actually is the same word meaning “have respect to”) experiences a love he did not earn from a source he does not have to create or sustain. Husbands don’t need to be a primary source of love to their wives if they have reverence for Christ, they only need to let that incredible love overwhelm their hearts so that it overflows into their marriage. Wives don’t need to be the primary source of respect for their husbands if they have reverence for Christ, they only need to let that incredible respect overwhelm their hearts so that it overflows into their marriage. The love and respect shortage in our marriages isn’t a supply problem, it is a source problem. There is more than enough love and respect to bake into our marriages, we just need to stop trying to get it from our spouse and get it from the gospel instead.
Not feeling respected by the wife today? Stop looking at her and look to the cross where the most important boss in the world focused all his attention on you, held you up as an example of the person he’d love to promote, and promises to forever dedicate himself to making sure you become everything you’re meant to be. If that isn’t enough respect, your wife doesn’t have a chance at making you feel respected. Not feeling loved by your husband today? Stop looking at him and look at the white knight who stormed The gate, slew The dragon, bought you the perfume of eternal life and lives to make you into your full self. If that’s not love enough, your husband hasn’t got a prayer of making you feel loved.
If we want satisfying and healthy marriages the recipe is love and respect, but not the way most of us try to bake it. It is not a knock off version of love and respect found in a second hand market; it is the real stuff imported from God’s storehouse and accessed by turning our eyes away from our spouses and onto Jesus. This is too simple you say or it isn’t scientific, or I can’t trust it. Well, the statistics say clearly that Christians experience a higher rate of marital satisfaction (yes, including sexual satisfaction). And consider this final point: no one has a marriage without faith. It isn’t as if we choose between trust and not trust. We trust or we don’t have a marriage at all. Believing the gospel means marriage with faith in God. Marriage without the gospel means faith without God. Good luck with that – and I do mean that – without the gospel there is nothing to depend upon but luck, and it means finding your own hearty supply of love and respect you are sure will never run out. Marriage with faith in God is much simpler and sustainable. It is healthy.
There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.
– Martin Luther
“The war (WWII) will fail to absorb our whole attention because it is a finite object and, therefore, intrinsically unfitted to support the whole attention of a human soul.”
– C. S. Lewis
Late one night I was contemplating the safety of my wife and kids. I was on a ship somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. If you are a thinker, underway on a ship at night can be a lonely place. I worried about who would check the front door and make sure it was locked. What if they had a flat tire, who would help them? What if the baby got sick? What if someone broke into the house? What if my wife gets in a wreck? On and on it went. My own bad news network broadcasting in my head. My favorite channels to tune into: doubt, fear, and worry. There seemed to be no end to the channel surfing. But I got a break through signal from God. He walked me through some simple thoughts: what if you weren’t 4000 miles from home right now, you’re on the ship sitting at the pier in homeport…I was liking this channel…now imagine you have to spend the night on the ship because you have duty…ok I may not like this channel so much…but you’re there and your family is at your house about 20 miles away, who is keeping your family safe from the things you’re worrying about? I had to say all of my fears could come true even if the ship was in homeport. Then He asked me if all of them could come true if I was in the house or car with my family. All of them could. God revealed to me His constant watchfulness and care was what kept my family safe (and always had been). What a blow to my ego! It’s not me who’s been ensuring our well being it is God. In that moment I didn’t relinquish control of my family, I acknowledged I never had control of my family. What a relief!
Who is keeping you safe? If I was depending upon our government to keep us safe I would still be up in the middle of the night, not because it is incompetent, but because the absolute safety of a soul is beyond the reach of any government. If any government of ours ever sets out to make us each “safe” we should all head for the hills as fast as we can go. The only way humans know to keep other humans safe is to take away their freedom. It is only in a sovereign creator God that we find both freedom and safety. As C.S. Lewis said of World War II, war will fail to absorb our whole attention because it is finite. We should add fear, worry, doubt…everything else will fail to hold our attention because we have infinite souls. We have God sized souls. Rest, peace and hope only come from having God in our souls, and once you’ve recognized and invited infinity into your soul, the finite will have to flee. When all the bad news starts again, instead of letting it force you to ask “where is God?” let it remind you that you are not in control, and you need God. The distance between you and safety is the exact distance between you and God. How far apart are you? At Calvary God erased the distance between Himself and us through Christ. Now, through faith in Him, we can say there is no distance between our souls and God. That is safety. No wonder Jesus said “Let not your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.”
My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. Ps 131
“Most traditional college students are emerging adults—they have adult-style freedoms but lack some or all of the typical adult responsibilities: work, marriage, and children. They can put off those responsibilities for years, never committing, changing jobs and relationships. Some exhibit little interest in stability. That’s why it’s difficult to put age brackets around emerging adulthood; it resists being tied down, because its inhabitants resist settling down.”
(from Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying by Mark Regnerus, Jeremy Uecker
What would you tell your emerging adult child about getting married at age 19 – 23? Is that too young for marriage? Old enough to drive, old enough to vote, old enough to drink, old enough to join the military. Marriage? Maybe you should wait. Wait for what? Stability? The current cultural script in the West is not one that promotes stability for our children emerging into adulthood; it promotes delayed adolescence. The pattern set for emerging adults is living in a bubble of irresponsibility funded by “free money” (college loans or parent’s) which allows them to live without engaging the truth of personal fiscal responsibility, and encourages them to practice relationships without regard for responsibility other than reproductive health. Spending 3-5 years in the responsibility vacuum stunts our growth. It doesn’t make us better at making choices, it makes us worse. It doesn’t make us more ready for grown up life, it makes us less ready. It doesn’t make us more relationally stable, it makes us more prone to relational instability. This script we lay out for emerging adults means they often reach thirty years of age with habits and beliefs predisposing them to quitting anything that gets hard whether its a dream, or a job, or a marriage.
So we got married young. I was in my second year of college. We had a baby during our second year of marriage, and she was born with health issues requiring several corrective surgeries from the time she was 18 months old. How does that look to the odds makers and pundits today? A recipe for disaster and failure. The distraction and pressure of marriage probably meant my grades would suffer. My wife’s choice to marry early and have children would keep her from reaching her potential. Our children would be neglected. Actually my grades began improving from the time we got married to the point that I made the dean’s list my last three semesters whereas I had almost failed out during my first three. My wife did not pursue a college education but she went into business for herself and built a successful one doing what she loves to do and was a stay at home mom at the same time, which she loved even more. Both our kids were raised in a two parent home and both graduated from college themselves. Both are good kids and better people.
Our cultural script is contributing to cultural rot and we could use a rewrite. If we look at what our colleges produce versus what 5 years of marriage produces there is no comparison in value added. Marriage is an education in itself. Marriage teaches lessons no college teaches. Marriage 101 is what every employer in the nation looks for in any job candidate: show up every day ready to work. Communication? I took my little family to my speech class at Old Dominion U and demonstrated live for them what it takes to communicate in the most important environment they would ever see; not a board room but a living room. (I got an A on that speech). Cooperation and Teamwork? Bring a baby home from the hospital and figure out that no one but you and your spouse are there to get it to stop crying. A marriage degree is worth much more than any degree offered by any college. We should stop discouraging our young people about marrying young because “they need to go to college and figure out what they are going to do with their life.” We should get people ready to marry earlier. We should tell them the truth about one of the most important things to them: that if they want to have a lot of very satisfying sex for the longest period of time they should get married because married people all have more and better sex than non-married people (the “marriage kills sex” myth is something to take on in another blog post another day). We should tell them that getting married creates stability from which they can strive together for their dreams. We should tell them that being responsible for children and a spouse makes being responsible to a job look easy and makes them more employable. We should stop valuing education above relationship and financial stability above human community. I know this isn’t what we hear from our culture. It is counter-cultural, but when you look at our culture do you want your children to be conformed to it? Does it look healthy? What kinds of things are elevated and celebrated?
Marriage is a good thing. It is better than college and it is more effective than college at producing a better community. I’m not suggesting we all run out and begin setting up arranged marriages for our kids. I am saying we should spend more time helping our kids study for marriage than studying for the SAT.
Our first apartment was in Ocean View. The day I went to see it was a hot one. The power was off and had been since the previous tenants moved out several weeks before we rented the place. When I got to the kitchen and opened the fridge I got a rude surprise. Someone left a box of frozen chopped broccoli in the freezer. It was not frozen anymore. It was a pile of rotten green goop. The smell was like a punch in the face. One minute I was enjoying my new place and imagining how fun it would be to get married and move in, the next minute I was gagging. It took hours of scrubbing, a bottle of bleach, and a week with all the windows open to get rid of the stench. I was so glad I opened that freezer before Tina moved in with me.
If your marriage stinks it’s probably because you or you spouse never looked in the freezer. Or maybe you did but you weren’t willing to do the work to clean up the rotten stuff in there. It could also be you’d rather keep it to yourself. Listen, there is no such thing as being in a fully committed marriage relationship where you can’t or won’t take out each other’s trash. The rotten broccoli belongs to both of you. Open the freezer and admit it is there. Help each other clean it out. If you don’t clean it out you are going to end up with a bigger problem in the end. You’ll end up with a smell that is overwhelming. A smell that gets into every nook and cranny of your life. It will make your spouse stink and your kids stink and everything else stink.
It takes courage to open up places we’ve never opened or opened and then slammed shut and threw away the key, but it is better than rotting from the inside out and taking your family into the rottenness with you. How bad can it be? In the Navy we have a saying about bad days. We’d say to each other, “They can’t take away your birthday.” Right. It was a way of reminding ourselves that the Navy had limits to its power. Whatever bad things are inside of us or our marriages have limits. The gospel speaks of being “born again” and that “the old has passed away and the new has come.” If this is true it is comprehensive. It is a new that comes from beyond our abilities and delivers a re-creation that cannot be taken from us. When things stink don’t run away from them, go after them together with your spouse, but do it in light of what God has done for you. He cleans us so that we are clean and can only be dirty if we insist we are dirty in spite of all the evidence he gives us to the contrary. If your spouse seems hesitant to go there, you go first. Show that you believe the gospel first. Show that you have a clean that is really clean. Gospel clean can’t rub off because its rubbed all the way into us; to our very core.
In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.
(2 Corinthians 2:14-16 The Message)
Is there something in your relationship that predisposes you to divorce? According to studies conducted by John Gottman, a professor and head of The Relationship Research Institute, the leading indicator of potential for divorce is found in the way a couple communicates. The presence of criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt are all bad signs, but contempt is the worst. Gottman claims that when he and his researchers discern contempt between couples it is an 85% plus indicator that divorce is imminent. Malcolm Gladwell detailed the method Gottman uses in a book titled Blink. The method is simple; a couple sits together and discusses whatever they like; whatever is on their mind. Researchers measure their body language. Facial expressions. Posture. Body and hand movements. They dissect a video of this exchange and categorize what they see. And they can see contempt. Is that hard to believe? Not for me it isn’t. I don’t need a super slo-mo break down of someone’s body language or facial expressions to detect contempt. It is hard to define contempt, but I know it when I see it, and I know something else; I know when I am showing it. How about you? Can you feel it when you are receiving or giving contempt? I can understand why it is a predictor of divorce. It is belittling. It is discounting. It is placing someone below you and acting as if who they are and what they think are of no consequence. It is relationally corrosive whether you give it or take it. Contempt is relational rust, and it will disable not only our marriages, but our friendships, our families – anything it touches.
According to the research I should be divorced. Not only have I dished out a heap of contempt upon my wife, but I have done plenty of things worthy of her contempt. But there is a secret to disinfecting our marriages. There is a way to stop the rust in its tracks, and to restore and renew the metal underneath. It isn’t painting over it. Some years ago the Secretary of Defense came to visit our ship during a Fleet Exercise off Puerto Rico. The Captain ordered us to paint the bridge wings even though we didn’t have time to properly prepare the surfaces. We painted right over the rust. The Secretary came and walked around our great looking bridge wings. He came and went in an hour. A week later we had all the rust plus paint peeling all over the place. The bridge wings looked worse than than ever. You can’t paint over rust. You have to acknowledge it and take a grinder after it until the metal shines. And this is how you survive contempt. Acknowledge it, and grind it out. This is simple, but it isn’t easy. The way we discovered it was the way most of us survivors discover it; we got married to a person who we never thought we’d hold in contempt and ran right into the fact that both of us were contemptible. This was a shock to our system, so we did what most people do; we glossed over it. We pretended it just wasn’t there. After a few cycles of shocking ourselves and covering it over, we had a real mess on our hands. We had contempt popping out from under our paint and we couldn’t ignore it any more. We had to face the fact we married someone contemptible, and then we had to decide to grind it out. Getting down to bare metal is not comfortable. It hurts.
The truth is that it takes more than just you or your spouse to get it done. We are not contemptible people because our spouse says so – marriage didn’t make us that way, it only revealed what was already there. It revealed the true and deeper relational rust. There is corrosion at a much more profound level; between us and God. What God did to save us from this was truly amazing, and it was what saved my marriage. The gospel is that God who could belittle us and count our opinions and lives as meaningless, demonstrates through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that he does not hold us in contempt. God allows himself to be held in contempt so that we don’t have to be. Do you see the practical application of this? How can my wife hold me in contempt when God doesn’t?? She can’t keep me there! If God says I am beyond contempt, I am beyond contempt and no one can hold me there but me. And when I try to arrest my wife and throw her into my own little holding cell, I realize how ridiculous it is to try keeping her there. This is the grind; the gospel meeting contemptible people day after day, knocking off the real cosmic rust and taking us back to a true view of ourselves. My wife and I live with this grinding as a reality. It keeps us shiny and new looking through the harsh environments we’ve sailed through in our marriage.
“But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.”
(1 Cor 3:28)
The only people who don’t believe this are either comatose or they’ve never been married. If your goal in life is simply to avoid trouble you are going to have to avoid people – and the further away you get the better off you’ll be. Marriage is the exact opposite. It is putting on the handcuffs and swallowing the key. It makes everything more difficult. You may be able to avoid every one else but how can you avoid another person when they have become ‘one flesh’ with you? You can’t. Avoiding trouble means avoiding growth and life. Conflict with no resolution is hell. No conflict and no resolution is stagnation. Conflict and resolution equals growth. Living things grow. A good reason to get married? It will cause trouble.
Who do you admire? What if they were to call you and ask to have lunch this week? Would you rearrange your schedule to meet them? Would your priorities stack up differently? What would it do to you if you discovered they admired you? That they rearranged their whole schedule to spend time with you? It would radically change the way you looked at yourself to discover you were admired by the admirable.
Many of us forget that our spouses admired us so much that they rescheduled their whole lives around us – that’s called marriage. Your spouse does admire you that much. How does it feel? Fulfilling? Sometimes it is. Sometimes the spouse we admire admires us and makes us feel so full we can’t imagine being more full. But this doesn’t always work and it never lasts. We need more admiration than anyone is capable of giving, even if that person gave us the promise of a lifetime. We need more. Our spouse needs more.
At the root of the word admire is the an old Latin word meaning “miracle.” There was a time we thought it was miraculous to have the admiration of our spouse. I thought it was at the time. And still do most days. But there is something more miraculous about the story of the gospel, and it carries both me and my wife when we don’t have enough admiration for each other. Here is the most admirable person who ever lived making the promise of not just one lifetime given to us, but an eternal lifetime given to us. Bending the schedule of eternity around me. When I see this – really see it for what it is – I am admired enough to last when my spouse doesn’t admire me, or just as significantly, when I don’t admire myself anymore. There is a way through. There is a way up. Does my spouse admire me enough? No. But miraculously, God does.
admiration (n.) early 15c., “wonder,” from Middle French admiration (14c.) or directly from Latin admirationem (nominative admiratio) “a wondering at, admiration,” noun of state from past participle stem of admirari “admire,” from ad- “at” (see ad-) + mirari “to wonder,” from mirus “wonderful” (see miracle). The sense has weakened steadily since 16c.
There is a perfume my wife wears that makes me nuts. Its called Pleasures…yeah. She wears it well. But there is no perfume that can make a woman smell so good as the compliments of her husband. The scent of a well loved woman is obvious to anyone around her. A man who takes out a bottle of the finest praise and pours it all over his wife will fill his home with the fragrance of life. And thats really what we want more of right? Just life. None of us is too poor to afford the most expensive and desirable cologne. We should use it lavishly. Does your home, your marriage smell like a locker room? Full of competition and clashes and cutting words? Mine has. Plenty of times. Its usually because I’ve treated my wife like one of the guys instead of treating her like she is a woman, The woman. The one I chose and the one who chose me. Competition is over. We won. Cutting words are really putting down my own self, belittling my own choosing. Calling myself a loser. Cutting my self down. The reason we don’t have enough compliments to pour out on our wives isn’t that they are not worthy of them, its because we lost sight of who we are. The world takes it out of us. The world gives us nothing if we con’t pay for it in sweat and blood and time. Compliments? Did we earn them?? More than that the constant pressure of bosses and banks and brothers pushing us out of shape, putting us down so they can go up on our backs. It is hard. Very hard to see ourselves rightly. Listen carefully. The reason you don’t give compliments to your wife any more isn’t that she “lost it” some where, its because you lost it. You stopped seeing yourself for what you are; a man. A man who lives before the eyes of God. What does God think of you? If his eyes condemn who can stand up? Who can fight back? Who can wrestle against that power and win? But if that God renders and opinion about you, if He compliments you, who will contradict it? Who will take it from you? If only you could know what He thinks of you. Does he render a good opinion? Does He compliment? The gospel says yes. He gives an opinion. He offers his praise. You are worthy of it. We are worthy of it. He heaps praises upon us through the gospel. He thinks so highly of us that we are stamped with it. Complimentary. Free. Given without asking a price. Paying the price so that it can be given. Look at you. Man before God. God looks upon you with favor. Do you believe it? Do you accept this opinion? This compliment? Now look at your wife. Pour out life in your home.