That title should get your attention. 🙂
My wife and I have been enormously blessed in our marriage. It’s not a perfect marriage—no marriage is, because it’s made up of two imperfect people. Things cannot be greater than the sum of their parts. Or can they?
We have had highs and lows in our 29 years. But just as the highs get higher, so do the lows—they get higher as well. Higher highs and higher lows is good in investing, but it’s a spiritual experience in marriage. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I’m not saying you have to be a Christian to have a good marriage. I’d like to say you did, because I would love for all of you to be believers in the God I’ve come to know. But godly love is not a religious concept, it’s a God-concept. There’s a difference. God = love, and marriage was instituted by God at the very beginning of mankind’s stint here on earth, long before Judaism or Christianity. So marriage is not a Christian or Jewish institution. It’s a God-institution for humans to understand God and relationships in a deeper way.
If you love, and love deeply, you can have a great marriage, no matter what your beliefs about God. I do believe Christian insights heighten our knowledge and experience of what it means to love unconditionally, offer grace, receive forgiveness, and serve selflessly. But “Christian” marriages based on selfishness fail just as easily as non-Christian marriages based on selfishness. And for the record, I’m not talking about loving in the Hollywood sort of way, which is based on emotion, but the Biblical way, which is based on putting others’ needs ahead of your own. There’s a vast difference. The emotional and erotic kinds of love are intended to be the incredible byproducts of the higher action-oriented sort of love. The world is discovering that putting the emotional and erotic kinds of love as the chief goal simply doesn’t work. It leaves one empty.
My wife and I can’t take credit for our marriage “because we’re such amazing people.” Yeah, no. Quite the contrary. Yes, we love well and deeply. But we fight, we ignore, we get too focused on the kids, or the foster kids, or home improvement projects, or church functions, or the finances…just like everyone else. We achieved what we have only—and I do mean only—because of God and his grace in our lives, and the wisdom, mentoring, and instruction of other godly people we’ve learned from (none of whom were at Stanton, interestingly…I learned from Stanton how NOT to do marriage).
We went into marriage with absolute commitment. That was a good start. But we needed to glean a lot from people who had good marriages. We read the Bible with the focus of learning how to have a good marriage (not simply to point fingers at others). We read other books, blogs, and email newsletters by many Christian authors (Love & Respect, Generous Husband, Generous Wife), but not exclusively Christian authors (Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus), with tips for healthy, vibrant marriages. Some of it was good and helpful, some of it not. We’ve watched Christian videos to improve our marriage, and faced difficult subjects head on; for the most part, at least. When we don’t do that is when things tend to get rough. True confession!
I’ve learned a lot about communication over the years through my marriage. I’ve learned that words are imperfect vehicles to communicate ideas. Words must be chosen carefully, thoughtfully, lovingly, in order to have their intended effect. (I don’t see that a lot of times when I see some of the comments coming through on this blog. I don’t want to be a babysitter. But I digress.) Often, we communicate more nonverbally than we do through our words. Our facial expressions and tone of voice (or tone of blog comments) says a lot about how much we care about the person we’re communicating with.
Marriage has taught me about the nature of God, and of loving, self-sacrificial, leadership. I’ve learned about myself and I’ve learned about my wife. I’ve learned what she likes and doesn’t like, in the kitchen, in our child-rearing, and in the bedroom. We have come to realize that the best marriages are not a 50/50 partnership, but a 100/100 commitment. If I hold back on my effort in the relationship because I don’t feel like she’s giving a full “50%” then it’s a race to the bottom. Each withholds their love in response to their perception of what the other is giving to the relationship.
If on the other hand I make a decision to give 100% to my wife, regardless of whether I think she’s giving me 100%, or 75%, or 30%, now we’ve changed the game, haven’t we? Now, it’s a race to the top. Each one is motivated to outdo the other in loving, supporting, nurturing, blessing, sexually satisfying, and yes—sometimes, submitting—to the other.
A lot has been argued in the comments here on this blog about submission and marriage relationships in general. I haven’t read most of the comments. I’d like to, but currently I don’t have the hours in the day to follow and respond to every debate point by point. If I were independently wealthy, I’d love to do this full time. 🙂
What I will say is that submission in a Biblical context is not something that is, or can be, imposed upon the relationship. I’m blessed that my wife came to me one day after a women’s Bible study, and asked me what I thought about submission. This opened the door to many years of study, open conversation, and incremental growth for both of us.
Having grown up in the Stanton sect where my mom ran the household spiritually, and my dad hid in his study (I love him, bless his soul, but Stanton sucked the life out of his leadership instincts), I was floored when my wife asked me how she could be a better wife in this area. I didn’t know what to say, other than, well, let’s study this some more.
But her willingly offering to follow my lead in life spurred something amazing in my growth as a human being, as a man, and as a Christian over the past 29 years. It caused me to take leadership more seriously. To study it, ponder it, read about it, both from a secular point of view, as well as a Biblical point of view. I’ve grown as a result, and so has she.
And for the record, it doesn’t mean that I always get my way, and force my will on her. I’d be a jerk if that was the case, and my ability to lead would go out the window. We have amazingly deep and open conversations about many subjects. Franky, financial topics are some of the most difficult; I’m sure some of you can relate.
The reality is that men and women were created differently by God. One’s not better than one the other, or less than the other. We’re just different, and that’s not only OK, but very cool. We are amazed by our differences and how we were created to work together nonetheless. Yet in Christ, we are as one.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
We have to acknowledge that we have different biological, emotional, sexual, and spiritual needs and inclinations. Getting those differences to work together for a common goal—that’s unity. That’s being made in the image of God.
So for those who are unmarried, offering advice on what you think the Bible says about submission, or marriage, or sex for that matter, I would just encourage you to speak humbly until you yourself are married and have some experience under your belt to meld with your book knowledge. I’m not saying don’t speak at all. I’m not interested in shutting people down. I’m just encouraging everyone to have some humility and be willing to accept wisdom from those who have travelled The Way a little further than maybe you have. That’s all.
Merie offered all kinds of book knowledge to young couples about marriages and child rearing, based only on her limited understanding of those subjects from the Bible without real world application. This is why she yelled and screamed and pounded tables at her audience to keep their babies quiet. This is why she encouraged wives to rebel against their husbands in order to achieve the objectives of her little division of Christianity. I can grant that maybe she had good intentions; judging intentions is over my pay grade as a human. But a good outcome? I think we can see the rotten fruit of that tree in the many failed marriages and dysfunctional families in the 50 years since I was born and Stanton was launched.
While the Bible does gives us a good idea of what healthy marriages will end up being like (husband as a leader, for instance), it is absolutely useless to try to force the marriage to look like that without first taking the steps to ground the marriage in self-sacrificial love. This is the husband’s responsibility, first and foremost, and his ability to lead proceeds from it. To just impose what we think the Bible says about the marriage is at best “faking it.” At worst, it’s tyranny, because it removes choice.
It’s possible to unlovingly make your marriage “look” like one the Bible describes. But if love is the Greatest Command, I have no interest in forcing my marriage to look a certain way at the expense of love. So what the Bible is really describing when it talks about submission is a marriage that is the fruit of two people devoted to Biblical, self-sacrificial love. It’s the result of a good marriage, not the definition of it. It’s how a good marriage ends up looking because of the undying love, respect, and self-sacrificial love for each other that it is actually based on.
I so appreciate the love and respect I receive my wife. I don’t ask for it, much less demand it. I simply offer her my complete self in terms of my own love, respect, and time, and she responds in kind. That is why I feel blessed and would lay down my life for my wife, not because I’m a tyrannical king who needs to lord it over my wife to make myself feel like a man. That is how boys behave, not men. And if my wife ever thought that about me, I’d feel like a complete failure as a husband, much less a father.
So for anyone wanting to improve their marriage—whether you call yourself a Christian or not—I highly recommend the Weekend To Remember conferences organized all over the world every year by a ministry called Family Life. They have radio shows, podcasts, books, videos, conferences; some of it free, some of it that costs money. But it’s all great content.
We first heard about this conference probably eight or ten years ago, and it was given rave reviews. Another couple we know went to it a couple years ago and it really improved their marriage. My daughter and her husband (newly married) went last year, and we bought tickets for ourselves this year. Last weekend we went to the Boise conference location, and it was fantastic.
Without a doubt, if you want to invest in your marriage, go to this conference, or start small by checking out various marriage resources like Art of Marriage.