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. I often refer to these as Capitol “T” truth (what God says) and Little “t” truth (what science says). I love it when both of these “truths” align and can shed light on what works in 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, which 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. I have started the process of reviewing this research and am amazed at its accuracy and how our marriage seems to reflect the findings of this research. Time and again his research points out how kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, and being tenderhearted provide a significant defense against what the research calls The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in regard to marriage. The four horsemen 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 kindness to your spouse? Do you turn towards them when they seek to get your attention for conversation, a gentle touch, or a quick kiss; or do you continue reading the Pinterest post on how to make Lemon Drops? Do you look for opportunities to serve and express love, or do you hide behind social media or video games? Do you bring up complaints gently and humbly, or do you bring up complaints by criticizing and attacking? Kindness is the foundation of friendship, and friendship is the foundation of a successful marriage.
Are you open to the problems and complaints in a marriage or have you crossed over into contempt? Contempt often surfaces when expectations go unmet and no attempt at working on an issue takes place. People become frustrated, and 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 a tender-hearted person. They see a problem but instead of attacking the other person, they commit to attacking the problem. People in strong marriages 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.
All marriages have problems as both partners are influenced by sin. Your spouse will never behave perfectly, and neither will you. God is in the process of perfecting the way we think and act, but all of us have a ways to go. Understanding this, and understanding what you have been forgiven in Christ, allows you to approach marital problems with humility and forgiveness. The greatest growth in a marriage comes from repenting 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.
The scripture ends with Paul reminding us of what Christ has done for us. 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) committing to deal with your problems with confession, repentance, and forgiveness?
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Want to explore the beauty and challenges to marriage further and learn to overcome them? Join us for our next Real Marriage or Love and Respect Weekends in Tyler Texas. More information can be found here.