This video segment is one of six lessons in the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Foundations” seminar.
The GCM series are marriage preparation and marriage enrichment level resources. If your marriage needs restoration level care consider one of the other options available at summitchurch.com/counseling, or visit bradhambrick.com/findacounselor for help finding a counselor near you.
If you are interested in the pre-marital mentoring program built around these materials, you can find everything you need at www.bradhambrick.com/gcm.
NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the GCM seminar notebooks. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at email@example.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).
Do you get nervous when you start a study like this one? Do you wonder what this guy’s “one thing” is going to be that is completely necessary to transform your marriage into everything you want it to be? If you have done many studies on marriage, you know that every marriage expert has their thing. You’re waiting (maybe bracing) to see if I advocate for:
- You to become the Rosetta Stone of Romance,
- Give you a new system for understanding gender differences,
- Birth order differences,
- Personality or temperament differences,
- Family of origin dynamics,
- Learning styles, or
- Sleep number and thermostat settings (okay, this one is a joke).
We can learn things from any of these, or at least most of them. But if we uphold any of these as the “one thing” that makes marriage all that God intended, we err in several ways. First, we become very prone to stereotyping. Second, we oversimplify. Third, we distract ourselves from the main problem facing our marriages and, thereby, the main solution.
The main point of this series is that the gospel is foundational and central to marriage as God intended. Only rooting our marriage enrichment or preparation in the gospel will:
- address the central problem at the core of all marriage struggles – sin,
- give a context to allow you to express individual preferences without being ruled by them – sanctification, and
- provide the motivation to persevere when you fail and as you both grow/change – meaning and purpose.
7 Common Marriage Challenges
Why?!? Why do so many marriages that begin with sincere love then end in divorce? Why do so many marriages end up just staying together “for the kids” or “living as roommates”? These are disturbingly relevant questions regardless of where we are in our marital journey (i.e., dating, engaged, newlywed, or celebrating an anniversary).
Whatever the answer is, Christians are not immune to “it.” The divorce rate among Christian couples is equivalent to the rest of the culture. If the statistics are true, then much of what we, as Christians, are doing to correct the problem is ineffective, misguided, or possibly even feeding the problem.
The first lesson in each GCM seminar will seek to answer this question: what are the things that we commonly miss or overlook that make it harder for our marriages to thrive? What do we need to unlearn so that we are prepared to embrace what God intended marriage to be?
1. The mundane nature of daily life.
You usually realize when you’re doing something significant. That is one of the greatest, yet most subtle, challenges to marriage – the ordinary moments of marriage are the most significant. When you do something you view as significant, you prepare for it. When you’re doing something mundane you “just do it,” often mindlessly. Another way to say this is familiarity leads us towards neglect.
The more common and safe someone or something is, the more we tend to neglect it or focus on “more urgent-important things.” Marriage may fall into this trap more than any other relationship.
2. The investor to owner perspective change.
When Sallie and I bought our home, it was a distress sale. That means when the real estate agent took us to look at the house we saw that it was a “great deal.” It had “potential.” After we bought the house, it was a “great deal of work.” It had “problems.” The house didn’t change. Our relationship to the house changed. We changed from investors to owners.
The dating-engagement to marriage transition is no different. When we date, we see the potential of our to-be-spouse. We look at our differences at say “we complement each other perfectly.” When we get married, we too easily see the things that annoy us. Once married, we look at the same traits or dynamics and can be prone to say, “We don’t have anything in common anymore.” We’re talking about the same person. We just have new relationship with them.
3. Overly high expectations of marriage.
To hear some Christians talk, one would think that marriage was Jesus’ rival for bringing salvation to the world and peace to our hearts. Usually their logic centers around making loneliness and emptiness the core problems that cause all other human struggles. When we think of life this way, then the permanent presence of a caring person should make life perpetually “better.”
“We come into our marriages driven by all kinds of fears, desires, and needs. If I look to my marriage to fill the God-sized spiritual vacuum in my heart, I will not be in a position to serve my spouse. Only God can fill a God-sized hole. Until God has the proper place in my life, I will always be complaining that my spouse is not loving me well enough, not respecting me enough, not supporting me enough (p. 72-73).” Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage
Marriage is merely a picture of the covenant, the gospel, that is meant to satisfy our souls. When we forget this, we begin to live as if watching a Gatorade commercial should quench our thirst rather than merely teach us about the thirst-quenching product. We grow frustrated with marriage. It is as if watching the commercial (marriage) only reminds us of our thirst and highlights the inability of the commercial to do what only the actual product (the gospel) can do.
4. Viewing compatibility as a noun instead of a verb.
Too often, we treat compatibility as if it were a noun (something two people share; like a cupcake or eye color) instead of a verb (something two people do; like synchronized swimming or conversation). There is a big difference between compatibility as a noun and a verb.
Think for a moment. Over the course of human history, every combination of husband and wife personality traits have combined to make excellent marriages. Equally true, every combination of personality traits has ended in painful, bitter divorces. Simply put – compatibility is not the make or break issue for marriage; whether you honor one another in light of your differences is the determining factor.
Does that mean personality tests are bad? No. They usually do a good job of letting couples know what common challenges they will face based upon their values and preferences (less ambiguous words for “personality types”).
Learn all you can about your spouse or fiancé. Use personality tests to get to know one another if you like. Be able to predict any foreseeable challenge you may face. But, do not begin to think that compatibility is something you have (noun). Remember compatibility is something you do (verb) when you honor one other in light of your differences.
5. We are sinners and we are self-centered.
No approach to marriage that treats us a “good people who sometimes do bad things” and believes “we only do bad things because of our circumstances” will ever overcome the challenges that face a marriage. The greatest problem that faces marriage is the sin that dwells in the heart of each spouse and wants to make the marriage about “self” rather than loving God and loving your spouse.
Too often, however, Christians think of the human problem as only a selfishness problem. But there is also a self-centered problem. Yes, we want things our way, according to our preferences, and our timetable: selfishness. But we also naturally see things only from our perspective, and only experience things as they affect us, and only remember things from our vantage point: self-centeredness. We are limited to our own eyes, ears, skin, nose, and mouth for information about the world around us. This is a primary reason that only God can love perfectly. He is not limited to a point in space and time perspective.
One way we can see this is in our sense of score keeping in marriage. I notice every nice thing I do for Sallie. I even give myself credit for the nice things I only think about doing, but never get around to. I don’t accidentally do nice things, so I’m always paying attention when I do them. I’m not fully present for every nice thing Sallie does for me. I need to realize my internal scoreboard gives me one point for every nice thing I think about doing and probably only observes one in three nice things that Sallie does for me. That is simply because I am limited to my vantage point.
6. We try to make marriage our church.
We live in a day when few people really know us. Our lives are too busy. Few people live in their hometown and most move multiples times during our life. Marriage becomes the only place where we are forced to be really known. This makes the modern marriage relationship more unique in our life experience than God ever designed for it to be.
One angry spouse may say to another, “Nobody else, but you, has a problem with me!” Too often this is true. The angry spouse doesn’t allow anyone else to know them well enough to see their faults and doesn’t grant friends permission to speak into the faults that are seen. This sets marriage up to be strained.
This was not God’s design. While Genesis 2:18 say, “It is not good for man to be alone,” we cannot act as if marriage was the only thing God created when He created Eve. No! God created the possibility for community, friendship, and church when he created marriage. God never intended marriage alone to fulfill us relationally. If that were the case, then God would exist in Duality not Trinity.
7. You are both changing people.
It has been said that you will be married to dozens of people over the course of a single marriage. The act of getting married changes you. Having children changes you. Advancing in your career or losing a job changes you. The limits, ailments, and wisdom of aging change you. You (and your spouse) are not who you were. You (and your spouse) are not who you will be.
This is why it is essential to be a lifelong learner of your spouse. Couples who neglect this continual learning often try to excuse their divorce by saying things like, “We’re not the same people we were when we got married,” or “We don’t have anything in common anymore.” Each excuse reveals a naïve view of how we change over a lifetime.
Do you feel overwhelmed? At this point, it would be easy to think that a good marriage requires being a perfect spouse. One of the primary goals of this Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage series is to navigate how to pursue God’s ideals for marriage without being crushed by the standard. The gospel is uniquely capable of navigating this tension.
That is the essence of why the gospel is relevant to everything we’ll discuss. In every section of this series you should be awed by the beauty of God’s design, disappointed in your ability to fulfill that design, drawn to Jesus for forgiveness and power, and invited to humbly rely on Christ to grow more into the person God calls you to be.
That brings us to the quintessential virtue for a gospel-centered marriage – humility. Marriage is a journey from our weakness (both spouses) to God’s strength. Be willing to learn and grow as you engage with the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage series. If you do, both your marriage and your walk with Christ will be enriched.The quintessential virtue for a gospel-centered marriage is humility. Click To Tweet
When studying this lesson as a small group it is recommended that: (a) each participant read the lesson during the week, (b) watch the 15 minute lesson as a group, and then (c) discuss the following questions:
- When you think about starting a study on marriage, what aspirations and apprehensions do you have?
- How long have you been married and how have you changed (personality and values more than appearance) since your wedding? If you are engaged, talk about this question with a married couple.
- Which of the seven challenges discussed fit your relationship most?
- What is an ordinary moment of marriage that you need to invest in more, rather than neglect?
- What have you learned from a personality inventory that was helpful? With this insight to your values and preferences (nouns), how did work to honor one another (verb)?
- What virtues (i.e., good qualities) would you have ranked higher than humility in importance for a thriving marriage? What changes for you when you recognize the importance of humility?
- In light of this lesson, what changes do you need to begin making to experience more of what God intended marriage to be?