Joy, contentment, and happiness – beyond anything you could ever imagine! Where can you find it? In Christ alone. No matter what season of life you are in – married, engaged, single – this is an episode you won’t want to miss. With personal lessons learned over her 20+ years of marriage to her husband Eric, Leslie candidly shares the keys to a vibrant marriage (and life) – and also addresses the unhealthy mindsets that can lead to discontentment and disillusionment. Join Leslie, as she shares to bright and hopeful future that is yours in Christ, as you build your life around Him.
Hey everyone! It’s Leslie Ludy, host of the Set Apart Girl Podcast: Biblical Encouragement for Women of All Ages.
Today we’re going to continue with our relationship series, but we’re going to be talking about the secrets to having a vibrant marriage.This is an episode that can apply whether you’re married or single because even in your single years there are things that you can do right now to lay a foundation for marriage that will go the distance. And if you’re married, even if your marriage isn’t thriving, these are some practical, simple, biblical principles that can bring that extra grace that you need to bring your marriage back to where God wants it to be.
A Dismal View of Marriage
So having an amazing, successful marriage that goes the distance really can seem impossible in today’s world. I know many people feel that it’s an unrealistic idea or an unrealistic standard to aim for. In fact, if you look at studies and trends in the secular world, you’ll see that a lot of people are veering away from marriage altogether because they don’t believe it’s possible for a relationship to go the distance. That’s a strong trend where couples feel like it’s better to live together and not make a lifelong commitment so they can avoid getting hurt or the pain and the heartache of divorce. We have a whole generation of people who have grown up seeing their parents go through a divorce, and the pain and heartache of that, and they don’t want to experience the same thing. So when they don’t know Christ, their only solution is to never make a lasting commitment to anyone.
There was a study done in the early-to-mid-nineties, and there was a poll taken among the younger generations (teens, college-age, and twenty-somethings) as to what their greatest desire in life was. A huge majority said that they desire to be married to one person for a lifetime – which is pretty amazing to see that it’s actually a desire that is intrinsic within us! Whether we know why we have that desire, we have that desire to be with one person not to float around from one relationship to the next.
But that same study revealed that a huge majority of those who desired to be married to one person for a lifetime also didn’t believe that it was really possible. They had seen the heartache. They had seen the divorce. They had come from a divorced family, and so they honestly believed that it was a pipe dream that you could actually be married to someone, be in love with them, and have that relationship last for a lifetime.
When Eric and I were first married (which was well over 20 years ago now, if you can believe that), we heard a lot of doom and gloom predictions about our romantic future. I remember at one of my wedding showers a woman told me to wait a few years. She said, “You’re in love with your husband now, but just wait a few years. Pretty soon the romance will die, and he’ll start getting under your skin.”
I don’t know what kind of advice that was for a wedding shower, but I remember her saying that to me in a cynical, patronizing way. Like, “Well, just wait honey; it’s going to get a lot worse.”
I remember about three months into my marriage to Eric, we were listening to a Christian radio show. And the host of the Christian radio show said that every married couple reaches a point in their marriage where they look across the table from the other person and wish they were married to someone else. We also heard a lot of frazzled parents tell us, “Wait till you have kids – there is no chance of romance lasting once kids come along!”
So we kept hearing all of these voices saying, “Someday you’re marriage is going to crumble! Someday you’re not going to be in love anymore! When this happens and when that happens the romance will die!” And it really disturbed us because we had seen God so faithfully script our love story, and yet we were wondering is that where it was headed? All of these voices – even Christian voices – in our life were telling us that it was going to end in disillusionment, and it didn’t sound like the way that God would write a love story. But since we had only been married for a few months, we weren’t really sure how to avoid becoming one of the statistics. The only thing we could do was hope, pray, and believe that things would be different for us if we kept our eyes focused on Christ.
Achieving a Marriage that Defies Statistics
And now, 20 years later, I can honestly say that we haven’t become a statistic. In spite of going through a lot of challenges, trials, and pressures from being in ministry for over 20 years and raising six children, our marriage has actually grown stronger and more beautiful with every passing year.
I’ve often asked myself why this is the case? We live in an age where marriages – even Christian marriages – are falling apart left and right, so why is ours still going strong? Is it because we have stumbled on some brilliant communication technique? Or we’ve read loads of helpful books on marriage? Are we especially gifted in the art of sensitivity and romance? Are we just fortunate enough to be among those rare few who, just by chance, happen to sidestep the dismal marriage epidemic?
The Secret to a Vibrant Marriage
No. In all honesty, the secret to our marital success is very simple, and it really does not have anything to do with us. Eric and I have chosen to keep Christ at the center of our lives. And what that means is that instead of looking to our marriage to meet and fulfill the deepest needs and desires of our hearts, we have each looked to Christ as our ultimate source of joy and security.
Making Christ our All in all is what has kept our marriage thriving. I’ve talked about this in other podcasts, but I want to go a little deeper into it today because it truly is such a simple principle, and yet it’s what is missing from the majority of marriages that are falling apart and crumbling.
Instead of putting unhealthy and unrealistic expectations on your spouse, your deepest needs should always be met by Jesus Christ. When I am walking this out – it doesn’t mean I never stumble, fall, and veer the wrong way in this area of my life – but when I’m really living this out and making Christ my All in all, it enables me to look at my spouse not with a selfish perspective which asks, “What can I get from this person?” but with a selfless perspective which asks, “How can I give to this person?”
I remember reading a quote from C.T. Studd. He said “Marriage can either be a taste of heaven on earth or a taste of hell on earth depending on where you place the Cross.” That is such a powerful statement! When the Cross is at the center; when you come daily to that Cross, and you lay your burdens at the feet of Jesus, and you surrender your life to Him, and you say, “Not my will, Lord, but yours be done.” It completely changes how you approach the other person. You are no longer constantly evaluating if they’re doing everything right, and if they’re being perfectly sensitive to you. You have a very outward focused perspective on how can I serve, love, and give to this person who God has placed in my life.
Now this doesn’t mean that Eric and I never have selfishness in our communications. There have been times, like I said, that I start to take my eyes off of Christ, and I begin believing the lie that unless Eric becomes the ultimate knight in shining armor and shows perfect sensitivity to me in every situation, then I can’t be happy or fulfilled in my marriage. And that is a lie! It’s a faulty notion, and it 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, then I remember that Eric is not going to be perfect and never will be this side of heaven. He’s a wonderful husband, but if my marriage fulfillment depends on his perfection, I will only be setting myself up for disillusionment. But when Jesus is the One who fills me All in all, then I am able to joyfully serve and pour out my life for my husband, and I find tremendous joy and fulfillment in serving Him – not for selfish reasons, but as an outflow for my love for Jesus Christ. And that is what it means to place the Cross at the center of your marriage relationship.
When we die to selfish whims and desires and we learn to love each other selflessly and sacrificially just as Christ loved us, our marriage thrives. It really is that simple! If you study the different kinds of love in Scripture, the love that Christ had for us is called “agape” love. It’s a love that is not based on emotion or feeling. It’s a love that constantly puts the other person above yourself. It’s a love that considers the other person’s highest good and sacrificially pours out to show honor and love to them. Just as Jesus Christ loved us, so we are to love our spouse.
Marriage conferences, marriage books, and marriage counseling certainly have their place and can be valuable, but unless Jesus Christ is in His rightful place between a man and a woman the relationship can never succeed the way God intended it to. God intended marriage to be the cornerstone of a healthy family as well. So unless our marriages remain strong and thriving with the Cross at the center –with Jesus Christ at the center – then our families can’t thrive as God intended them to.
If your marriage is struggling, if you’re feeling that it’s become mediocre, or you simply want to prepare for the future, if you’re single and you want to know how to avoid becoming one of those statistics in the future I want to share a few practical ways that this pattern can shift in your life.
Secret No. 1: Finding True Fulfillment in Christ Whether Single or Married
The first one is what we’ve just been talking about, find your fulfillment in Christ. Let’s make that a little more practical. It means cultivating a daily relationship with Him. When we fail to do that – when we fail to spend time in His presence every day, when we don’t take our burdens to Him in prayer, when we aren’t studying His Word, when we’re not pouring our hearts out to Him or walking with Him closely – we can easily start looking to our spouse to meet needs in our life that only He can fulfill.
This not only leads to frustration, disillusionment, nagging, and complaining, but it also puts a lot of unhealthy pressure on the other person. You’ve often heard men joke around that women don’t really know what they want. I think that can definitely be true! When a woman is not finding her fulfillment in Christ she can be emotional. Her emotions can be all over the map. Her desires can be all over the map. Her husband can’t seem to do anything right to make her happy and that is the sign of a woman who has not been spending time with Christ or finding her deepest needs met in her relationship with Him
Now certainly marriage is meant to bring a measure of joy and fulfillment into our lives, but we have to remember that our earthly marriages are only meant to be a shadow, a picture of a far more important love story – our relationship with our Heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ!
If you are frustrated, if you’re married right now and you’re frustrated with your spouse’s shortcomings be sure that you are making your relationship with Christ a top priority. Be aware that it’s easy to adopt an attitude that says, “I won’t be happy unless my spouse changes in these areas.” You have to remember that IN Christ you have everything you need for perfect happiness and contentment right now, whether married to Prince Charming or Joe Deadbeat!
Now this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pray for your husband’s shortcomings and help him rise up to God’s standard for His life. We shouldn’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, guys will be guys; he’ll always struggle with these things.” We need to love and pray and believe that he can rise up, be something more, and live out the manhood God intended for him. But it also means that we can avoid a lot of marriage frustration and disillusionment by keeping Christ in His rightful place and finding our ultimate fulfillment in Him.
So take time to be in His presence every day. Worship Him, meditate on His Word, pour out your heart to Him, ask Him to fill you and meet your needs where human love falls short. Remember He is the only One who will never fail you, never disappoint you, and never act selfishly towards you.
Instead of putting your happiness on hold until your spouse finally becomes more sensitive, learn how to find your happiness right now in the One who will never leave you or forsake you. No marriage counselor in the world can accomplish what He can. And again, this also applies if you’re in a single season of life. Maybe you’ve been putting your happiness on hold until you finally meet the right guy, until you finally get married. If you’re taking that attitude into marriage, then you’re definitely going to be putting unhealthy expectations on your future husband because your saying: “When I finally meet this guy he is going to make all of my dreams come true.” And you’re not realizing that you have everything you need right now for perfect happiness in Christ.
I’ve said on previous podcasts that in a single season of life, if you’re discontent with singleness, and you’re constantly putting your happiness and your contentment on hold until marriage, then oftentimes God will hold off bringing your spouse to you until He knows that you truly are satisfied in Him alone. The best way the you can prepare for marriage – a marriage that will go the distance – is to cultivate your relationship with Jesus Christ and build your life around Him.
Secret No. 2: Asking the Right Questions to Strengthen Your Marriage
The second practical that I want to share with you is to ask a different question when it comes to marriage. When I was newly married a lot of people gave me Christian books on marriage. There were some helpful tips in these books, but I began tor realize that they often made me feel discontent in my marriage. A lot of them focused on practical ways that a wife could help her husband better understand and meet her needs. This wasn’t always a bad thing, but I found that I was focusing too much on getting my needs met and adopting a critical attitude toward my husband.
Reading all 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 that I had always dreamed of. So now instead of wondering how I could love and serve my husband better, I started spending a lot 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?” And as a result our marriage became strained and both of us became frustrated.
During my second year of marriage, I finally made the purposeful choice to no longer ask the question: Is Eric meeting all of my needs? Instead I began to ask a different 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 doing 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 that God had placed upon my life to serve, love, and honor the man that He had chosen for me.
Amazingly, an added benefit is that when I took this approach Eric actually became a better husband! More sensitive to my needs, more caring, and more considerate. And the reason why, I believe, is 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. As I loved him and served him, he became stronger as a man and more able to meet my needs. That decision to ask the right question, “What can I give?” rather than “What can I get?” literally transformed our marriage in those early years. Even now, whenever I feel a strain or a tension in our marriage, that is the question that God always brings me back to.
Building Your Husband & Home…Not Tearing it Down
Now, I have to add a caveat here. It’s not to say that I never communicate about my needs to Eric, or that I never help him become more sensitive as a husband. I am definitely not a silent, mousy, martyr-complexed wife who never shares any needs or concerns. But I’ve also learned that when I approach him with a selfish, critical attitude only concerned with getting my own needs met, [then] I’m setting my marriage up for disaster. On the flip side, when I approach him with a loving, patient, outward-focused attitude, then I can build him up instead of tearing him down. As a result, I build my marriage and my family up instead of tearing it down.
Proverbs 14:1 says, “[The] wise woman builds her house, but the foolish [one] pulls it down with her hands.” I think 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 his morale, we pull down the very fabric of our family.
Building Healthy Interactions Towards Men as a Single Woman
If you’re still single, the way this can apply to you is to be guarded with your words towards men in general. We live in a culture where it’s very accepted to constantly criticize men, put them down, and make jokes about how they’re only interested in one thing, or their only good for lifting heavy boxes, and they really have no clue. But begin building men up with your words. This will set you up in marriage to build your spouse up with words of honor instead of words of criticism. If you’re married and your spouse has broken your trust through unfaithfulness or other forms of serious dishonor, then it’s really important to walk through a forgiveness process. If that’s your situation, I would encourage you to listen to the message, “The Power to Forgive,” which is available for free download at www.ellerslie.com.
If the issues in your marriage are on-going and serious, I encourage you to find a Christ-centered, biblically-based mentor or counselor to help you walk through those things in a more in-depth way then what we can cover in this podcast.
Some final thoughts that I want to share with you. When we shift from asking the question, “What can I get?” to asking “What can I give?” everything changes! As counterintuitive as it may seem, taking a selfless approach into marriage instead of a selfish one usually causes our needs to be met far quicker and more effectively than the other way around.
If God has you in a single season of life, the same principle applies. Instead of becoming preoccupied with your own personal fulfillment and chasing after your own dreams, ask a new question: What can I give in this season of my life? How can I turn outward and serve the people that God has placed in my life right now rather than wallowing in discontentment over my singleness?
If you take a selfless approach toward both marriage and singleness you will find joy, fulfillment, and happiness beyond anything you could ever imagine no matter what season of life God has placed you in, when the Cross is at the center.
1. To listen to the sermon, “The Power to Forgive,” click here.