Recently, four of us from Grace Alameda attended the ACTS 29 West Regional conference in Reno, Nevada. It was a great three days of learning and reflecting on how the church can grow to engage different spheres of the ever-changing world around us. We felt it would be a waste if we didn't take the what we heard and shared it with all of you. The following is a reflection from a marriage seminar which didn't have a real title. So it'll just be a list of the "10 Threats to Marriage." I obviously attended this seminar for personal reasons and life timing.
It's only fair that I first plug the book that the seminar speaker wrote and spoke from. Justin Buzzard is pastor of Garden City Church in San Jose, CA and wrote "Date Your Wife". From all accounts, it's an excellent, short little tome on marriage. Judging from what I learned in this seminar, I would definitely trust what he shares in that book. So with all that said, the 10 threats to a healthy and hearty marriage.
1. Choosing to settle for an average marriage
Every new couple is told that the first year of marriage is pretty tough and horrible. That you're going to be constantly at each other's throats and that after that, you just learn to settle, to be ok with less. Thankfully, I've been told by many others that it doesn't have to be this way. That marriage can be a garden, that when well-cultivated and cared for, can bloom. The wedding isn't the finish line, it's the first step out of the blocks. The most rebellious, counter-cultural thing that would be the best testimony and witness to the world that Christians can have is to pursue, desire, and work for a great marriage. It just doesn't have to be that bad.
2. Thinking our culture is structured to benefit your marriage.
Consider that the first relationship attacked by Satan was marriage. The devil will throw everything your way to get you to focus on something else than your marriage; your job, your kids, your bills, your extended family. When you consider the social assumptions the world makes of marriage (not a covenant but something you can have one foot out of) or biological assumptions about marriage (it makes no sense because we're just animals but great for tax breaks), everything about our culture is not geared toward building up your marriage but breaking it down. This means you can't passively expect to have your marriage work miraculously. It takes work, being on the offensive, fending off Satan and the lies this world tells us and relishing the truth of what God has created for one man and one woman.
3. The biggest problem in my marriage is never me.
You will always be the biggest sinner in your marriage. The moment you get away from that is the moment you don't live by grace. Yes, there are extraneous circumstances where the sin of one outweigh the spouse and fault and blame can be focused on that person. But when it comes to day-to-day maintenance and care, no real transformation of your marriage can happen until you're willing to walk in your marriage with this reality. Race to repent, be the first to say sorry.
Couples pad their marriages with all kinds of things to avoid dealing with real life issues. Having communication problems? You just need to have a getaway for awhile. Your wife is mad at you? Buy her a necklace and things will be fine. Connected with point 2, Netflix, fine dining, jewelry, vacations; these are not bad things in and of themselves but they do not replace intimate, honest and genuine relationship that embraces the closeness of being open with one another.
5. A weak sex life
Regular sex needs to be a priority for a couple. The frequency matters especially when life gets busy and the kids start running around. There is importance to enjoying the one flesh union of marriage in its strongest physical expression. It calls for understanding each other and pursuing the pleasure of the other, learning and communicating what feels good.
The goal of sex is intimacy, the coming together of two people who are naked and unashamed before each other. Therefore, sex is a perfect barometer of your relational temperature. You can't have conflict with each other and still have good sex. Sexless marriages generally have less to do with the actual sex and more to do with real, unaddressed life issues that a couple is avoiding or suppressing. Simply put, sex is spiritual warfare, one of the largest battlefields where your relationship is fought for.
6. Lacking self-awareness
Growing self-awareness means growing humility. Knowing yourself and having a firm grasp of who you are helps your spouse know you better and allows you to know your spouse better. We are always researchers of our own hearts and our spouses help us do that. We must learn to face our stories in fresh, deeper, honest ways. This means facing your wounds, your sin, your fears, your failures and doing the same with your spouse's stories.
7. Fixing your spouse
The Bible never calls us to fix our spouses, only to love them deeply, to submit to one another. It's because God knows that only love rooted in His grace can change people, not our methods of behavior-modification. The single goal you have as a husband is to be the one person in your wife's life who isn't trying to fix her but love her unconditionally forever and vice versa. (Author's note: Easily the one thing I couldn't stop thinking about after this seminar.) This is only possible through prayer and being quick to listen and serve rather than speak and solve.
8. Avoiding conflict
There's nothing wrong with having conflict in a marriage. It's the marriages that have none that swim in troubled waters. Both sides must learn to run toward the tension and keep short accounts with each other. Understand how your spouse generally handles conflict and allow them to process things in their space before you come back to addressing it. Also, be careful of late night arguments and fights where tiredness and irritability lead to careless words and regrettable actions.
9. Going at marriage alone
Very often, it's easy to feel like you're the only one trying in the marriage. Nonetheless, we would do well to remember that there is only one perfect person in your marriage: Jesus. Both sides are always inadequate in one way or another to do life. The more we embrace Jesus, the more our marriages thrive. Do not pretend that things are fine if they are not. Get help. Find mentors to speak with, share with your discipleship groups, talk to your pastors.
10. Not having a plan
We need to be intentional in our marriages. It's not a Tesla on a freeway that you can hit auto-pilot on but you have to have a plan. Dream about your marriage with your spouse regularly. What would a flourishing, gospel-centered marriage look like between the two of you? What does it look like to be trusting God together 5 years from now? 10 years from now? Write these things down and re-visit them every couple of months. Put plans in place to turn these dreams into realities. Map out what steps you both can take to grow in that direction.
Think about weekly and daily rhythms for life. What will it take to make your marriage thrive? A weekly date night without the kids? Touching base every two weeks on spiritual vitality or financial status? Making sure that you're carving out regular time for intimacy? Spending time with other couples on a regular basis? This is the fun stuff. You can plan it together, do the activities you both enjoy. It's never an escape but it's proper maintenance and life-giving.
That's it. It's a lot to chew on. I obviously am no guru on this stuff. But I'd love to be in conversation with you about it. What has worked for you so far? What has been good for your marriage?