Strong Marriage, Strong Families
By LESLIE LUDY
When Eric and I were first married, we heard all kinds of “doom and gloom” predictions about our romantic future. “Sure, you are in love with your husband right now,” a cynical older woman told me, “but just wait a few years. Pretty soon the romance will die, and he’ll start getting under your skin.” Another time I heard the host of a Christian radio show say, “Every married couple reaches a point in their marriage where they look across the table from each other and wish that they were married to someone else.” And frazzled parents often warned us, “Wait until you have kids — there is no chance of romance lasting once kids come along!”
Eric and I were disturbed by this dismal forecast over our marriage. After all, God had beautifully written our love story. Every detail had been lovingly orchestrated by His hand. Was God in the business of scripting beautiful love stories, only to have them end in disillusionment? It just didn’t sound like His nature. But having only been married for a few months, we weren’t exactly sure how to avoid becoming one of the statistics. We could only hope, pray, and believe that things would be different for us if we kept our eyes on Christ.
Now, twenty years later, I can honestly say that we haven’t become a statistic. In spite of many challenges, trials, and pressures we’ve faced over twenty years of ministry and child raising, our marriage has only grown stronger and more beautiful. I’ve often asked myself why this is the case. In an age where marriages — even Christian marriages — are falling apart left and right, why is ours still going strong?
Is it because we have stumbled on some brilliant communication techniques or read loads of helpful books on marriage? Are Eric and I unusually gifted in the art of sensitivity and romance? Are we simply fortunate enough to be among the rare few who, just by chance, happened to sidestep the dismal marriage epidemic?
No. In all honesty, the secret to our marital success is surprisingly simple and it really doesn’t have anything to do with us. Eric and I have chosen to keep Christ at the center of our lives. Instead of looking to our marriage to meet and fulfill the deepest needs and desires of our hearts, we have each looked to Him as our ultimate source of joy and security. Making Jesus Christ our All in all is what has kept our marriage thriving. Instead of putting unhealthy and unrealistic expectations upon each other, our deepest needs are met by Christ. This enables us to look to each other not with a selfish perspective (i.e. what can I get from this person?) but with a selfless one (i.e. how can I give to this person?)
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we never have selfishness in our communication. At times, I take my eyes off Christ and begin believing the lie that unless Eric becomes the ultimate knight in shining armor, showing perfect sensitivity to me in every situation, I can’t be happy or fulfilled in my marriage. This faulty notion only leads to nagging, complaining, arguing, and all around frustration on both sides. But when I turn back to the true Source of fulfillment, security, and joy, I remember that Eric is not perfect and never will be this side of heaven. Eric is a wonderful husband, but if my marriage fulfillment depends on my spouse’s perfection, I am only setting myself up for disillusionment. When Jesus Christ is the One who “fills me all in all,” I am able to joyfully serve, give, and pour out my life for my husband — finding tremendous fulfillment in serving Eric, not for selfish reasons, but as an outflow of my love for Jesus Christ.
C.T. Studd wrote, “Marriage can either be a taste of heaven on earth or a taste of hell on earth, depending upon where you place the Cross.” Eric and I have found that statement to be absolutely true. When we die to selfish whims and desires, learning to love each other selflessly and sacrificially just as Christ loved us, our marriage thrives. It really is that simple. Marriage conferences, marriage books, and marriage counseling certainly have their place, but unless Jesus Christ is in His rightful place between a man and a woman, the relationship can never truly succeed as God intended it to.
God intended marriage to be the cornerstone of a healthy family. Unless our marriages remain strong and thriving, our families cannot thrive as God intended them to.
If your marriage is struggling, here are some practical ways to cultivate a shift of pattern.
1. Find Your Fulfillment in Christ
When we fail to cultivate our daily relationship with Christ, we can easily start looking to our spouse to meet needs in our life that only He can truly fulfill. This only leads to frustration, disillusionment, nagging, complaining, and arguing. Certainly marriage is meant to bring a measure of joy and fulfillment into our lives, but our earthly marriages are only meant to be a shadow of a far more important love story — our relationship with our Heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
If you are frustrated with your spouse’s shortcomings, be sure that you are making your relationship with Jesus Christ a top priority. Beware of adopting the attitude that says, “I won’t be happy unless my spouse changes in these areas!” Remember that in Christ, you have everything you need for perfect happiness and contentment right now — whether married to Prince Charming or Joe Deadbeat.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pray for your husband’s shortcomings and help him rise up to God’s standard for his life. But it does mean that you can avoid a lot of marriage frustration and disillusionment by keeping Christ in His rightful place, and finding your ultimate fulfillment in Him. Take time to be in His presence each day. Worship, meditate on His Word, and pour out your heart to Him. Ask Him to fill you and meet your needs where human love falls short. He is the only One who will never fail you, never disappoint you, and never act selfishly toward you.
Instead of putting your happiness “on hold” until your spouse finally becomes more sensitive, learn to find your happiness right now in the One who will never leave or forsake you. No marriage counselor in the world can accomplish what He can.
2. Ask a Different Question
When I was a young wife, I often read Christian books on marriage. There were some helpful tips in these books, but soon I began to realize that they often made me feel discontent with my marriage. Many of them focused on practical ways that a wife could help her husband better understand and meet her needs. And while this was not always a bad thing, I found that when I focused too much on “getting my needs met,” I began to gain a critical attitude toward Eric.
Reading about “what a wife needs from her husband” caused me to notice all the ways that Eric was falling short in being the perfect Prince Charming I’d always dreamed of. Instead of wondering how I could love and serve my husband, I started spending far more time thinking of ways that he should be loving and serving me. Instead of asking the question, “How can I bless and serve my spouse?” I started asking, “Is he doing a good job of blessing and serving me?” As a result, our marriage became strained and both of us became frustrated.
During my second year of marriage, I finally made a purposeful choice to no longer ask the question, “Is Eric meeting all of my needs?” Instead, I decided to ask a new question: “Am I loving and serving my spouse as God intended me to?” As a result of this attitude shift, there was a noticeable change in our marriage. I was no longer so concerned with what Eric was or wasn’t doing in our marriage or if he was performing perfectly as a husband. I became more focused on faithfully fulfilling the call God had placed upon my life to love, serve, honor, and help the man He had chosen for me.
Amazingly, when I took this approach, Eric became a better husband — more sensitive to my needs, more caring and considerate. Why? Because instead of feeling nagged and criticized, he felt loved, respected, and appreciated. He wasn’t constantly on the defensive and feeling like a failure. Rather, as I loved and served him, he became stronger as a man and more able to meet my needs. My decision to ask the right question (i.e. “what can I give?” rather than “what can I get?”) literally transformed our marriage in those early years. And even now, whenever I feel a strain in our marriage, that is the question God always brings me back to.
That is not to say that I never communicate about my needs to Eric, or that I never help him become a more sensitive husband. I am certainly not a silent, mousy, martyr-complexed wife who never shares her needs or concerns! But I have learned that when I approach my husband with a selfish, needy, critical attitude, only concerned with getting my own needs met, I am setting my marriage up for disaster. On the flip side, when I approach him with a loving, patient, outward-focused attitude, I build him up instead of tearing him down. And as a result, I build my marriage and family up, instead of tearing it down.
Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.” The enemy often fools us into thinking that complaining and criticizing will help us get what we want out of our marriage. But when we tear our husbands down with our words and critical attitudes, we not only tear down his strength and morale, but we also pull down the very fabric of our family.
When you shift from asking the question “What can I get?” to asking, “What can I give?” everything changes. As counterintuitive as it seems, taking a selfless approach instead of a selfish one usually causes our needs to be met far quicker and more effectively than the other way around.
When our marriages are strong, our families are strong. That is why marriages are under such massive attack. The enemy knows that if he can destroy our marriages, he can destroy our families. By God’s grace, let’s refuse to let him win.