Marriage: The Impossible Dream?
No Two People Can Make Marriage Work by Themselves
At one time or another, every couple has a houseguest-a relative, a friend, or someone you try to help. You and your spouse graciously decide to open your happy, comfortable home to this person for a brief stay. You are kind. You are caring. You are trying to meet a need. You are following the Bible's admonition to be hospitable.
You say to yourselves, "It's only for a little while. No big deal. It might even be fun. What could go wrong?" Your rose-colored, naive, unreasonably positive view of the situation is touching . . . and hopelessly inaccurate. The visit probably won't be "for a little while." It is a big deal. It won't be fun. Many things will go wrong. You are about to find out that you don't have the gift of hospitality.
Your experience as motel managers starts off pleasantly enough. Everybody is all smiles. You're helping a poor, dear, temporarily homeless person, and that gives you a warm feeling in your hearts. Your houseguest is grateful, humble, and considerate. For the first few days, maybe even the first week, things are fine.
"Make yourself at home…What's ours is yours…Thank you… You're welcome… Sorry to be a bother…Don't be silly-it's no bother."
But if your houseguest stays longer than a week (and most houseguests do), it begins to wear on you. Your beautiful, idyllic bed-and-breakfast (and lunch-and-dinner) inn quickly becomes a house of horrors. Your schedule is thrown off. Your carefully constructed routine is shot to pieces. You lose your personal space. You and your partner don't have time to talk. You realize that you have given control of your lives to an alien being.
You find yourselves in the middle of a hostage crisis, and you and your spouse are the hostages. You peek out the window, but there is no SWAT team out there to rescue you. No one is going to help. You're all alone now. Alone with your houseguest.
That…that…that…person is always around! Every time you turn around, you bump into your guest. The list of things you can't do in your own home is incredibly long. You can't drop your shoes in the middle of the living room. You can't wander into the kitchen in your striped pajamas. It suddenly dawns on you how stupid you look in your striped pajamas.
There isn't enough hot water for your shower. You can't sit in your favorite chair. Your houseguest has his selfish little hands on your television remote control! And-what a surprise-he doesn't like your favorite TV shows. You have to share the morning paper…and you hate to share. You reach for your special Snoopy glass…and it's not there.
You become desperate for the person to go. You make Xs on your wall calendar to count the days until your guest leaves. You begin giving him subtle hints that you want him to move on. You pack all his clothes and put the suitcase by the front door. You change the locks on the house. You leave an anonymous note on his pillow with this message:
If you don't leave by sundown tomorrow, something very bad will happen to you. This is not a joke.
The day finally comes when your houseguest leaves. You force a smile and mumble something about how much you enjoyed having him in your home. When you're certain he's gone, you and your spouse embrace passionately and shout for joy. The war is over, and you survived. Life will get back to normal. No more interruptions; no more interference. Just peace and stability. You even forget how stupid you look in your striped pajamas.
A Different Kind of Houseguest
You have probably lived through the chaos and inconvenience of hosting a houseguest. No matter how much you care for the visitor, there is a limit to how long someone can be around, use your stuff, and upset your routine.
As hard as it may be to believe, it doesn't have to be this way. There is one person you can invite into your home who will bring peace and joy and intimacy. Can you imagine having a houseguest who will actually enhance your life and marriage? Think about a guest who helps to:
- improve your communication;
- create openness and vulnerability;
- deepen your commitment to each other;
- protect you from Satan's attacks.
There is such a houseguest. As you have probably guessed by now, I'm referring to Jesus Christ. When He comes to stay at your house, He removes burdens instead of creating them and makes you feel free, not trapped.
Over the past fifteen years, as a psychologist and speaker specializing in family issues, I have talked with hundreds of couples every year, both in my office and at my marriage seminars. Many of these couples try to make their marriages work by themselves, just the two of them, in their own power. I say to them: "Look, let's face reality. You can't do it on your own. You need help-supernatural help. You need Jesus Christ to be a permanent resident in your home, not just an occasional visitor."
Is Your Marriage Average or Awesome?
On a recent Sunday morning, I had just finished speaking on the importance of putting Jesus Christ at the center of marital relationships. After the worship service, I stayed at the front of the auditorium, and ten or twelve couples came up to talk with me. Two of these couples stand out in my mind.
All four spouses knew Jesus Christ personally. Both couples attended church faithfully. Both couples had been married about the same length of time. But that's where the similarities ended. The contrast between their two marriages was startling-and revealing.
The first couple told me that God had blessed them with many gifts. They had stable jobs, a nice home, great kids, good health, and a real love for Jesus. But, they told me sadly, they weren't really happy in their marriage. They still loved each other, but there was no passion or excitement anymore. The fire that had blazed in the early years of their relationship had long since gone out. Though they weren't going to split up, they were tired of trudging along in a dull, predictable, ho-hum relationship. Their life together was all right, but their marriage had no particular meaning or purpose.
The second couple approached me, and before they even opened their mouths, I knew that there was something different about them. They held hands and smiled at each other. Their eyes sparkled. They exuded an energy that was hard to describe. They told me that up until a year and half ago, their marriage had been pretty boring and uninspiring. At best, their relationship could be categorized as average. Then they faced some painful events and turned to Jesus for help. They leaned on Him, sought His will, and, most of all, reconnected to Him as a couple. He got them through their crises, and they decided to continue including Him in their relationship.
They told me that Jesus had transformed their average marriage into an awesome one. They'd gone from a tedious treadmill kind of relationship to an exciting, unpredictable adventure. They were growing together spiritually, serving Jesus as a team, and making a difference in the world. Along the way, they had developed a much deeper level of spiritual, emotional, and sexual intimacy.
So let me ask you: Which kind of marriage do you want to have? Do you want a lackluster, mediocre marriage like that of the first couple I described? That's the kind of marriage many-perhaps most-couples have. It's not awful, but it's not very good either. Or do you want an intimate, fulfilling connection like the second couple enjoyed? I know your answer. The second kind of marriage is the relationship you've always wanted. The truth is that you can experience the kind of closeness most spouses only dream about. And the only way to get this kind of vibrant, exceptional marriage is through Jesus Christ.
Picture yourselves bringing Jesus into your home to live with you. He'll be more than a houseguest; He'll become a permanent addition to your marriage. He'll be the third member of your relationship. When Jesus is involved, three isn't a crowd. Three is just right!
And when you have Jesus Christ with you, you also have God the Father and the Holy Spirit. It's a package deal! Can you imagine having all the power, guidance, and love of the Godhead in your marriage? Well, you can have it. God wants you to have it. He's waiting for you to invite Him into your home.
The presence of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, is what every marriage needs. If you let Him, God will give you the relationship you've always longed to experience. Yours can become a marriage after God's own heart. He will take a good marriage and make it great. He will take a struggling marriage and get it back on track. He will take a dead marriage and bring it back to life.
I've got good news and bad news about marriage. Let's start with the bad news. The whole idea of marriage is insane. It makes no sense. Marriage expects two people to live together in harmony and intimacy, but the two are:
- different sexually,
- different physically,
- different hormonally,
- different intellectually,
- different in brain construction and chemistry,
- different in emotional expression,
- different in personality,
- different in family background.
To top it all off, both are selfish. This is nothing less than a recipe for disaster! The divorce rate of 50 percent in the United States doesn't surprise me. In fact, I'm surprised it isn't higher. When you consider the enormous challenges of marriage and the enormous differences between men and women, I'm amazed that the divorce rate isn't 80 or 90 percent.
Marriage is the one human relationship with the greatest potential for conflict. Just think about it. The husband won't talk; the wife won't stop talking. He can't remember anything that happened more than ten minutes ago; she remembers everything that ever happened to her ("I remember coming down the birth canal. It was dark, and I felt cramped. I heard screaming and moaning. Suddenly, it was very bright, and I could see for the first time. The doctor was a small man with a cheesy-looking goatee and bad breath. The wallpaper had a rocking chair print, red and navy blue…and out the window I could see…") Even if the husband could remember his birth, he wouldn't want to talk about it.
The wife wants to describe, in excruciating detail, every event of her day. And she wants her husband to listen and show interest in her monologue. She'll spend forty-five minutes talking about an event that lasted only five minutes. The husband will sum up his entire day with just one word: "Okay" or "Fine" or "Good."
He is a logical, black-and-white thinker who keeps his emotions buried inside. She is a sensitive, touchy-feely soul who shares her emotions easily and spontaneously. He didn't cry when his fifteen-year-old dog died. She cries when she sees a dead squirrel-one she doesn't even know-on the road.
She's happy having sex once a week. He'd like sex four times a week. She wants to "snuggle" and "cuddle." He wants sex. She wants to have a deep, personal conversation. He wants sex. She wants a romantic, subtle buildup to sex. His idea of a subtle buildup to sex is pinching her on the bottom and saying, "How about it, baby?"
He likes movies with plenty of gunfights, explosions, bodies in the streets, and high-tech special effects. His movies don't contain much in the way of complicated, sophisticated conversations. Most of the dialogue goes like this: "I'm gonna kill you, sucka!" She prefers movies filled with romance, relationships, and people talking about romance and relationships. She doesn't like to see movie characters die violent deaths for no good reason. But it is okay if someone dies after a long illness and has spent two hours talking about death and how hard it is to leave a cherished lover. She's watched the six-volume set of Pride and Prejudice fifteen times and says it gets better every time she sees it. Sound familiar?
As I said, on your own, marriage is impossible. That's the most important truth about marriage. It's not just really, really difficult-not just a tremendous challenge. It's impossible. Marriage is a never-ending series of conflicts, misunderstandings, and mind-boggling missed connections.
Why Are We So Different?
Why did God make men and women so unbelievably different? The main reason is so that we would have to depend on Him. God wants to be at the center of every marriage, so He made the relationship so difficult that we have to keep Him there to make it work. That's just like God, isn't it? He makes sure that He is the answer to all of life's problems.
Without God's presence and power, there isn't a couple alive that can build a truly intimate, deep love. Oh, you can stay together and limp along without God. Lots of couples-Christians and non-Christians-do that. It might be a decent marriage, a stable marriage. Nobody's going to leave. You're staying together-not because you're passionately in love, but out of obligation-because it's the right thing to do or because you have children and you don't want to break up the family.
Of course, staying together is the right thing for couples to do. But it's not the right thing to stay together like that. If you do, you're settling for far less than what God wants for your marriage. That kind of grind-it-out marriage is not what He has in mind for you.
I ask all the limp-along couples I meet the same question: "How is your marriage going?" I always get the same answer: "Oh, okay. Good. All right. Things could be worse." Okay? Pretty good? All right? Things could be worse? What kind of marriage is that? It's the kind you get when you exclude God from your day-to-day life as a couple.
The Good News
Now for the good news: Marriage is the one human relationship with the greatest potential for intimacy. Even with all our differences, marriage can work beautifully when we keep God at the center of the relationship.
God wants marriage to be a glorious, passionate, deeply intimate, sacred, and magnificent love relationship. He wants us to connect in communication, to be best friends, to meet each other's real needs, to have fun, and to glorify Him in our love.
Do you want to read one of the most beautiful and moving descriptions of love ever written? You'd better be sitting down when you read this passage from Scripture because it might knock you off your feet:
Put me like a seal over your heart,
Like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
The very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor will rivers overflow it;
If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,
It would be utterly despised. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)
Whoa! Now that's real love-a love that is a fire, an eternal flame that oceans of water cannot extinguish. When you read these verses, you can feel its passion, power, and intensity. You can have this wonderful kind of love in your marriage. God wants you to experience it in your relationship, and He will give it to you if you will give Him the chance.
The Road Ahead
All of this raises a big question: How do you get there? How do you bring Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit into your relationship? How do you allow God to give you the passion and deep connection you're missing? I'm going to show you how in the following chapters.
In part 1, I explain the importance of spiritual intimacy in marriage. Physical and emotional intimacy are important, but they're not enough. Spiritual intimacy is what you must have to achieve God's best in your marriage.
In part 2, I cover the five major benefits of spiritual intimacy in marriage: an exhilarating ride for two, great sex, deep communication, protection from the marriage killers, and a bottomless reservoir of fuel for the marriage journey. When you read about these benefits, you'll want them. Once you and your spouse have them, your marriage will never be the same.
In part 3, I get down to the nitty-gritty. I show you in a specific, practical, step-by-step fashion how to cultivate the presence of God as a couple by consistently bringing God into seven critical areas of your relationship: prayer, Bible reading, spiritual conversations, worship, accountability, service, and depending on Him in the tough times.
Finally, in part 4, I describe the major barriers to spiritual intimacy and how to overcome them. I present ten ways to motivate your mate to spiritually bond, and I challenge the six main excuses most people use to avoid spiritual intimacy.
When you've finished this book, you'll know how to spiritually bond as a man and a woman. You'll be able to develop the kind of forever love that God intends for you to enjoy.