There is no shortage of advice that can be found concerning marriage. Advice that ranges from learning how to effectively listen to your spouse to how to spice up your sex life with nutritional additives. People mean well and many times the advice worked out well for them. In fact, many counselors base their advice on what has worked in their relationships more than on scripture and longitudinal research. However, there is long term, longitudinal studies that provide insight into how we interact as men and women in an intimate relationship. I often refer to scriptural truths as Capitol “T” truth (what God says) and scientific evidence as little “t” truth (what science says). I love it when both of these “truths” align and can shed light on what works in marriage.
The Four Horseman of the Apocalyptic Marriage
If you have been to one of our Love and Respect Workshops, you have heard the facilitator, Dr. Eggerich, refer to research from the University of Washington. This research, that spans 4 decades, time and time again supports what God says in his word. Especially the scripture in Ephesians that deals with the need of a woman to be sacrificially loved by her husband and the need of a husband to be sacrificially respected by his wife. Time and again his research points out how kindness, gentleness, forgiveness and being tenderhearted provide a significant defense against what he calls The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in regards to marriage. The four horseman are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Every marriage has at least a small dosage of these poisons in them. However, when any or all of them run rampant, a marriage veers towards destruction.
Ephesians 4:32 is not what we would consider a “marriage” scripture. It is a call for all brothers and sisters in Christ to treat each other as God has treated them. If you have an accurate understanding of how much God loves you, is kind to you, is tenderhearted towards you, and how much God has forgiven you; if you understand his grace towards you; you will find that it is easier to treat others in the same way. If we are called to treat our brothers and sisters with forgiveness and kindness, how much more are we called to treat our spouse in the same way.
Do you regularly express thankfulness to your spouse? The first horseman, criticism, often takes place when expectations are not being met and disappointment sets in. It often starts with complaining, which is how we express ourselves when needs are not being met. However, when these complaints are not effectively communicated we sometimes shift from the problem being the problem to our spouse being the problem. When that happens criticism of our spouse often follows. A healthy complaint might be “I wish you would hold my hand when we walk because it makes me feel secure and loved.” Criticism would sound like “You are so insensitive, why don’t you hold my hand like Jim does when he walks with Kim?” In essence, you start criticizing the character of your spouse. This creates underlying disillusionment and resentment. The answer to criticism is thanksgiving. Last week we ended with a challenge of expressing thanksgiving. Thanksgiving helps us keep things in perspective and allows us to be thankful for what we have, work on what we desire, and prevents the horseman of criticism from galloping over our marriage.
Are you open to the problems and complaints in a marriage or have you crossed over into contempt, the second horseman. Contempt often surfaces when expectations go unmet and no attempt at working on an issue takes place. People become frustrated, angry and can sometimes just be mean. When complaints turn to criticism, and people start attacking each other’s character, it is like driving a stake into your partner’s heart. People then become hard-hearted and withdraw to a defensive position. The opposite of this is empathy. A person with empathy sees a problem but instead of attacking the other person, they commit to attacking the problem. They understand that both partners in the marriage have baggage, that both partners are being “transformed” into the image of Christ, and that they are part of that transformational process. They are there to sacrificially love the other, being patient as God works out the changes that need to take place.
As the third horseman, defensiveness, surfaces in a marriage, individuals may begin to build their defenses in an effort to reduce the pain involved in resolving issues. Defensiveness surfaced when couples start blaming each other for the problems in their marriage. They may each attempt to take the high moral ground claiming their individual perspective is accurate or “right.” They may defend themselves with scripture, something they read in a marriage book or something they heard in a TED Talk. Most of the time defensiveness is rooted in pride and is the result of forgetting that both partners are influenced by sin. Your spouse is not perfect, and neither are you. God is in the process of perfecting us but all of us have a ways to go. Understanding this, and understanding what you have been forgiven for in Christ, allows you to approach marital problems with forgiveness. The greatest growth in a marriage comes from repenting (turning away from sinful behaviors) and forgiveness. Confessing, or realigning your perception with the reality of God’s word, is key to this cycle. It is this that protects you from being defensive and then stonewalling your partner in a bid to protect yourself.
Stonewalling, the last of the four horsemen, often surfaces after there have been unmet expectations, resentment, criticism and defensiveness in a marriage. Working to prevent the first three horsemen often prevents the fourth from surfacing. However, if that stage has already become the norm for your marriage it may be time to look outside of your marriage for a coach, counselor or pastor to provide help and insight.
While it is often easy to focus on the horsemen, this week I am going to challenge you to focus on the treatment. How are you (in Christ) fighting criticism with thanksgiving? How are you (in Christ) fighting contempt with kindness? Have you withdrawn to a defensive position, stonewalling your partner or are you (in Christ) committed to deal with your problems with confession, repentance and forgiveness?
This week we would like to introduce you to the Lasting App. This app distills over three decades of research into 5 minute “bit size” activities that you and your spouse can engage in every day. While provided in small chunks, the content is massive and the paid subscription gives you access to tons of topics including communication, sexuality, conflict, appreciation, etc. Linking your phone with your spouse’s phone allows you to share responses from surveys that are often revealing and insightful. You will find that though it is based on a number of longitudinal studies, the designer of the app is a christian so the content is generally consistent with scriptural truth. Try the free portions of the app and if you feel it is helpful consider the subscription, which is generally lower in cost per year than one session of therapy. While it may not be a replacement for therapy when needed, it can be part of a regime that can prevent the need in the first place.
God Bless and have a great week guys.
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