What do you – and God – really want in your marriage?
- Think about what YOU personally most want in your marriage.
- Write down your top 4-5 desires.
- If you like, take a moment to share what you’ve written with your spouse/partner.
- Put your paper away for later reference.
N.B. Compare “wants” for our own personal enjoyment with “desires” for the health and strength of our marriage (which focus upon both husband and wife), e.g. happiness, fulfilment, success, great family life etc.
My personal desires for our marriage:
- A blessed marriage – enjoying a truly joy-filled, happy and fulfilling marriage – experiencing God’s true blessing upon our relationship, and joy that goes far deeper than just superficial happiness
- An intimate marriage – closeness and depth on every possible level
- A united marriage – enjoying peace and harmony in our daily relationships
- A loving marriage – enjoying the richness of a mutually loving relationship and the security that one experiences in a truly loving relationship
Did you write any of these on your paper? We all share these desires for our marriages.
Two introductory comments:
- Firstly, these four points are like GOALS that we are to keep working towards throughout our entire marriages, not just ideals we dream “one day” of achieving.
- Secondly, while we will look at each point separately, they are all INTER-RELATED each being an integral part of a complete or completed marriage, all rooted in God’s Word.
Firstly, we desire a BLESSED marriage.
A “BLESSED” MARRIAGE, NOT JUST A “HAPPY” ONE
The first response many of us might give in response to the question about what we really want in marriage, is: “I desire a truly happy marriage.” There’s nothing wrong with that desire (cf. Tim LaHaye’s book: How to be happy though married) – as long as we define “happiness” biblically!
Every couple dreams of having a happy marriage but few couples fulfil this dream. It takes two people working consistently over the entire length of their marriage to experience true and lasting happiness – what a beautiful sight to see a couple who have been married for 50+ years so deeply fulfilled in their relationship with each other.
But happiness is far more than smiles and laughter and fun times. For God’s true people, there’s something far deeper and richer than the pursuit of happiness in marriage – it’s the desire to experience BLESSEDNESS and JOY – see Gal.5:22; cf. John 15:11. God delights to bless us with much joy in our marriage relationship.
Is there a difference between a happy marriage and a BLESSED marriage, if so what is the difference?
- “Happiness” comes from the root word “hap” which means “circumstances”. Happiness is based upon positive circumstances, things going our way as we want them to.
- “Blessed” is a Bible word meaning “deeply happy and content, to be envied” – it is linked in the Scriptures with obeying God’s commands and fearing His name – Ps. 112:1-2; 119:1-2.
Psalms 112:1-2 (ESV)
1 Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!
2 His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Psalms 119:1-2 (NIV)
1 Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.
2 Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.
So a blessed marriage is a marriage where the husband and wife aren’t just “believers” but earnestly desire to obey God’s ways and fear His holy name.
What has God commanded husbands and wives to do?
A selection of Scriptural commands for husbands and wives:
Matthew 19:4-6 (NIV)
4 "Haven’t you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’
5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?
6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Exodus 20:14 (NLT)
14 “You must not commit adultery.”
Exodus 20:17 (NLT)
17 “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
Malachi 2:15 (NLT)
15 Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth.
Ephesians 5:33 (NIV)
33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Colossians 3:18-19 (NLT)
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.
As we obey these commands each of these commands, we receive the fulfilment of God’s promise for a truly BLESSED marriage.
A blessed marriage is NOT dependent upon a continual flow of “good luck”. As we walk in God’s ways, loving and fearing Him, He will bless us with a marriage rich in joy and peace (shalom).
This is really GOOD NEWS, because we know that life is full of unexpected experiences and events that we wouldn’t choose for ourselves – sometimes our dreams aren’t realised – life has its highs and lows, moments of gladness and also moments of great sadness.
When as husbands and wives we determine to put Christ and His kingdom first (Matt.6:33), God’s presence will go with us no matter the circumstances may be like. Going through hard times together has the great potential to draw a couple closer together.
Testimony: my recent illnesses and Frieda’s help – experiencing these trials together have brought us closer together.
“Blessed” are we and blessed are our marriages when no matter what life experience we be facing in our marriage, we keep trusting God, thanking Him in all circumstances.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
No matter what, as we continue to walk together as believers, we will experience the BLESSING of God’s great faithfulness, goodness, kindness, guidance, help, protection and so much more.
God delights to do His people good, both as individuals and as couples and families – He is sovereignly and in love working for our GOOD in every situation – what an amazing God and what a privilege and joy when we shelter under His wing and place all our husband / wife and children under His care.
Romans 8:28 (NLT)
28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Secondly, we desire an INTIMATE marriage.
A MARRIAGE MARKED BY INTIMACY INSTEAD OF ALIENATION AND DISTANCE.
Isn’t this also your desire? I’m sure it is.
It’s much deeper than just “physical intimacy” – Jesus Himself longed for intimacy with His disciples – so it is a “holy” desire to have also in our marriage relationship.
This desire arises from deep within our inmost beings = God has made us for relationship – for significant, meaningful, intimate relationships where we can share on the deepest level – see Gen.2:18.
It is helpful to be aware that in our desire for intimacy in our marriage relationship, we also experience an “aloneness” and loneliness – one result of the Fall of man into sin is that we feel an inner estrangement – we aren’t yet “whole” – we grapple with our sense of alienation from ourselves – in Christ, healing begins to take place
How do we cope with this deep, inner longing for intimacy in our relationship?
Our instinctive response is to look to other human beings in the hope that they will take away that sense of loneliness and inner emptiness.
But there is only one who can truly fill that void within – JESUS – even the most loving, caring husband or wife can never satisfy the cravings that we have within our souls for an intimate relationship.
Selwyn Hughes in his book Marriage as God Intended says that “The Biggest, Single Obstacle” to a happy and successful marriage is “… attempting to meet your basic personal needs in and through your marriage partner” (p.119) – including your need for an intimate relationship.
JESUS ALONE FILLS OUR DEEPEST NEED FOR RELATIONSHIP. This can never be replaced by another human being, e.g. wife or husband. So we need to make sure that throughout our marriage, we make our relationship with JESUS the number one / priority relationship.
Testimony: from the beginning of our relationship – well before we were married – we each determined in our hearts that JESUS would be No.1 – this hasn’t resulted in a shallow relationship with each other – the closer our relationship with Jesus, the more free we are to have a relationship that is free from the sinful tendency to expect from our marriage relationship the intimacy that only God can give to us.
When we personally live our lives in intimate fellowship with Jesus, we cannot but bring into our marriages a spiritual depth and richness that will greatly enrich our spouse/partner. Once we realise this fact, then we can work towards enjoying an intimate relationship with our spouse.
WHAT IS INTIMACY?
Intimacy is the experience of closeness between a husband and wife. This is God’s desire and heart for marriage – instead of two people growing apart from each other, still living together under the same roof, eating meals from the same kitchen, even sleeping in the same bed – but living life at a distance from each other, living separated and alienated lives.
Charlotte H. & Howard J. Clinebell, The Intimate Marriage (Harper & Row, New York; 1970):
Pages 24-25: “Intimacy is an art with as many expressions as there are artists to express it. It is often expressed in the sharing of thoughts and ideas and feelings. It is expressed in shared joys and sorrows, in respect for the deepest needs of the other person, and in the struggle to understand him…. Intimacy is not a constant, but is expressed in varying degrees in the ebb and flow of day-in, day-out living. And intimacy is never a once-for-all achievement but must be nurtured throughout marriage; with this care, it grows and changes with the stages and seasons of marriage.”
Pages 29-31: Ten dimensions of intimacy
- Sexual (the experience of sharing and self-abandon in the merging of two persons, expressed in becoming “one flesh”)
- Emotional (the depth awareness and sharing of significant meanings and feelings – the touching of the inmost selves of two human beings)
- Intellectual (the closeness resulting from sharing the world of ideas)
- Aesthetic (the depth sharing of experiences of beauty)
- Creative (shared creativity)
- Recreational (play that includes the sexual part especially in the early stages of the relationship but which also involves other activities and rejuvenates the personality through stress-relieving play)
- Work (sharing a broad range of common tasks involved in maintaining a home etc.)
- Crisis (the strength which stems from standing together in major or minor tragedies etc.)
- Commitment (the core feeling of ongoing mutuality which develops in a marriage in which there is shared dedication to some value or cause that is bigger than the family, something that both partners regard as worthy of self-investment)
- Spiritual (the nearness that develops through sharing in the area of ultimate concerns, the meanings of life, their relationship to the universe and to God)
Page 36: “… each couple must work out its own most-satisfying pattern of intimacy. Intimacy is different for different people. In all marriages there are cycles of moving toward and moving away from one’s spouse….It is our experience that there are at one time or another walls in every marriage, sometimes high, sometimes low. Most of us long for more intimacy than we have found. We hunger for the walls to be lowered. The message of this book is that significant lowering of the walls usually is possible, if a couple is willing to work at developing the potential for joy, pleasure, and creativity in their marriage.”
Helps for nurturing intimacy in marriage:
- Risk greater openness. Courageously step out of the safety and security of our “aloneness” and give ourselves unreservedly, in abandon, to our spouse – risk, step of faith. Page 25: “Intimacy grows as couples dare to risk greater openness.”
- Be present emotionally to one another. Page 25: “Intimacy grows as couples learn to be emotionally present to each other.”
- Grow in your level of caring for one another. Page 26: “Intimacy grows as couples develop a high degree of caring for each other.”
- Keep building a climate of trust and faithfulness. Page 26: “Intimacy grows in a climate of trust based on commitment to fidelity and continuity.”
Keep working together towards intimacy in the many areas of your relationship – don’t be discouraged when at times you feel a sense of distance or estrangement in your relationship – but don’t sit back and do nothing – don’t rob yourself of the great blessing of closeness with your life’s partner – don’t settle for anything less.
Beware of the danger of satisfying this need for intimacy with someone else – either of the same sex, or of the opposite sex – how easy it is to get ensnared in an intimate relationship with another “lover” when you have given up working on making your mate your closest friend. See article: “Is your best friend taking your husband’s place?” by Lori Thorkelson (sub-title: Emotional Dependency – A Threat to Close Friendships) http://www.sloppynoodle.com/wp/emotional-dependency-a-threat-to-close-friendships-by-lori-thorkelson/
Thirdly, we desire a UNITED marriage.
A MARRIAGE MARKED BY UNITY, INSTEAD OF TENSION AND CONFLICT.
Isn’t that your desire and longing also? One of the strongest hopes and dreams for our marriage relationship is to experience harmony and peace instead of tension and conflict.
Is this not a deep longing in Jesus’ heart for His relationship with His bride? Did He not desire His disciples to be truly UNITED as ONE with His heart and mind – “Can’t you understand? Why are your hearts so dull and hard?” – Jesus longs that we understand His purposes and link our hearts with His – to be truly “spiritually ONE.” He grieves when our minds and hearts are fixed on pursuing our own desires because He knows that this will take away from a rich experience of blessedness and intimacy in our relationship with Him.
What does God’s Word teach us about UNITY in marriage?
Foundational text: Gen.2:24 – two persons becoming ONE
Illustration: two pieces of paper becoming glued together; cf. Jesus’ commentary on this Scripture in Matt.19:3-6.
In marriage we remain two different individuals. However, we unite together to become ONE for God’s honour and glory.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Unity / union in marriage can be likened to …
- Becoming “yoked together” as TEAM OF OXEN – yoked together in order to work together – this implies that a core truth in our unity in marriage is having the same purpose and goals, heading in the same direction.
- Setting out on a long journey together as FELLOW-TRAVELLERS. The first important step is to leave parents and the security and support of their home, so you can join hands with your travel-mate. From that point on, you need to stay together as you travel along unknown tracks, helping one another to moving forward.
- Committing yourselves to work together as CO-LABOURERS in order to build a strong marriage, serving as co-workers with Jesus – planning together, working hard to agree on the primary details together, then uniting energies in the life-long process of building the home.
Unity in marriage is …
- A series of choices and steps to unite one’s heart and life with your partner’s.
- Agreeing together on your life’s purpose and goals.
- Choosing to link hearts together in order to fulfil God’s purposes and plans.
Helps for nurturing unity in marriage:
- Think “we” not “me” – think of yourselves as a TEAM working hard to build a true “team spirit” rather than competing for the top position –testimony: Frieda’s ministry is OURS together, not hers – supporting her, helping her – the same with my ministry – so we enjoy serving the Lord together – bring the same way of thinking into family responsibilities and chores – not “his” and “my” but our shared responsibilities, helping and serving one another in love – Gal.5:6, 13
- “Find oneself by losing oneself in another” (Erik Erikson – Clinebell: 33) – if you want your married life to revolve around YOU, don’t expect to enjoy a united marriage
- Knock down internal walls that divide and alienate you from one another, e.g. walls of ignorance, walls of enmity and animosity, walls of prejudice (“women ….” or “men …”), walls of independence
- Unite together in prayer regularly
- Set a clear goal to be united in all major decisions – if not truly united, then don’t move ahead – wait patiently – keep sharing and discussing the issue – ask God for clarity
- Don’t compromise on primary convictions for the sake of unity – unity stands together with truth
- Don’t attempt to achieve unity by forcing your mate to agree with you – pseudo-unity where the other person unites out of fear
Fourthly, we desire a LOVING marriage.
A MARRIAGE MARKED BY LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS, INSTEAD OF “FALLING IN AND OUT OF LOVE”.
I am sure that deep down we all long for a marriage marked by mutual love and affection as well as mutual respect and admiration.
And this is also Jesus’ desire that in our human relationships, especially in our marriage relationship, we will love one another as He loves us– John 13:34 “… as I have loved you.” We can look forward to the enjoyment of a pure and perfect love relationship with our heavenly Bridegroom.
This experience of divine love between Jesus and His bride is the biblical pattern for loving one another in marriage – Eph.5:24-33.
GOD’S LOVE FOR US IS ROOTED IN HIS FAITHFULNESS.
Psalms 36:5 (ESV)
5 Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
The roots of love for our spouse must go deep down into the soil of our commitment to total, undying faithfulness – in our minds, our speech and our actions.
Proverbs 3:3 (ESV)
3 Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.
Unfaithfulness today is often portrayed as “normal” in modern marriage. In reality, little is said and written about the deep and long-lasting grief and suffering that flows out of “affairs” for many, long years.
In English, we have just the one word “love” – in many other languages, a variety of words describe the various dimensions of love.
C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves explains the four Greek words for “love” and how they apply to us – I want to take these four words and use them to give some breadth and depth to this wonderfully rich word “love” …
- Commitment (rooted in exchanging marriage vows) – agape
- Companionship (sharing the journey together) – philia
- Affection (touch and tenderness) – storge
- Passion (sexual pleasure) – eros
Each dimension of love fits perfectly with each other dimension, each impacting the other dimensions. For example, “affection” helps to nurture “mutual attraction”, “commitment” forms the strong foundation for “companionship” etc.
ILLUSTRATION: Lovers in marriage are like GARDENERS who work hard and persevere nurturing the plants in his/her garden … fertilising, watering, weeding, watching for plant disease or pests … waiting for the fruit to grow and ripen.
Each of these dimensions of love complements the other. Each need to be nurtured throughout the entire length of a couple’s marriage in order that the plant of love will produce much fruit, to be enjoyed by many.
Helps for keeping love alive and growing in marriage:
Nurture commitment (AGAPE) love:
- Serve one another with sacrificial love – Gal.5:13.
- “In biblical literature, its meaning and usage is illustrated by self-sacrificing, giving love to all–both friend and enemy.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_words_for_love)
- Fight against any thought or action that will undermine your commitment for life. Determine in your own mind and heart that you will not allow Satan to rob you of this most precious and permanent relationship – no matter what.
- Satan is a robber or thief. He is continually seeking to rob us of true love, to destroy married love, to come as a thief in the night and sow weeds that will infect our married love. We must be continually alert to Satan’s attacks.
- God hates adultery because of the sheer hell it unleashes. And He also hates divorce. He hates these because they rob us of the beautiful gift that He has given to us in married love. Walk in the light with one another. No darkness and hidden stuff. It will eventually come out into the light.
- Celebrate your wedding anniversary with gusto. Make it special. Use this opportunity to honour your spouse and to remind him/her that you are totally committed for life to him/her.
- Renew your marriage vows. There are times in our relationship when for different reasons, we begin to grow apart. We begin to feel as if the foundations are beginning to crack and break apart. After such a difficult time, set a time aside to renew your commitment and vows to one another.
Nurture companionship (PHILIA) love:
- Aim and enjoy becoming each other’s “best mates”.
- Take time to show sincere interest in each other’s lives. Ask helpful and appropriate questions. Learn to see her or his lives as a part of yours. Build bridges into each other’s lives.
- Beware of filling up your lives with your own activities and plans.
- Example: watching TV programs or DVDs, focusing on doing things with your own “mates” or “girlfriends” etc. – you will never be able to become close companions if you choose to live separate lives – if you go down that route, you will inevitably grow apart – then when you are older and retired, you will feel estranged from one another.
- Be playful. Laugh a lot. Have fun.
Nurture affection (STORGE) love:
- Esteem one another in your hearts. Affection begins in the mind and heart.
- Be gentle, kind and tender with one another. Friendship cannot grow if you are not being friendly to one another.
- Touch one another affectionately. Use non-sexual touch. Hug and kiss one another frequently. Take initiative rather than adopting the attitude of “wait and see!”
- Say often to one another, “You are my true love and joy, God’s special gift to me.”
- Express thanks for small and large blessings.
Nurture passion (EROS) love:
- Think “love” not “sex”
- The world’s way of thinking which we imbibe through the media and movies is to think of “having sex” – although we use the word “passion” to describe EROS love, we must recognise and accept “making love” as a clear obligation to one another in marriage – see Ex.21:10 – thinking and speaking about “having sex” tends to degrade the whole experience whereas “making love with our beloved” expresses the mystery and beauty of sexual intimacy as God designed it to be.
- Remember love begins in the mind – therefore, think wholesome, pure thoughts about sexual love:
- Put away wrong, negative thoughts – learn to hate the degrading, polluting thoughts from the world – fight hard against the evils of pornography.
- Get rid of any negative thoughts about sex you may have picked up somewhere in the past, e.g. from a mother who sows negative thoughts about sex in the mind of her daughter = “sex is a duty to be endured
- Don’t let Satan rob you of the delights of God’s gift of sexual love by filling your mind with “shame” or “guilt” so that you can’t enter into both giving and receiving this wonderful expression of love.
- Fill your mind with positive and true thoughts about sex – read and meditate on the Scriptures – read a good commentary on the Song of Songs (by Solomon).
- Give yourself wholeheartedly to sharing the delights of sexual pleasure together
- There isn’t anything quite as undesirable as trying to make love with a mate who is cold and obviously uninterested – give yourself to the sexual experience – as you give yourself in total abandon, so you will receive far more in return.
- Be disciplined
- You need to make love regularly whether you feel like it or not – you must never allow yourself to become so busy or engrossed in your own work, pursuits and interests that you selfishly neglect your sexual responsibility towards your spouse (1 Cor.7)
- When making your plans for the week, pencil in a special “date” with your wife or husband – talk about it
- Sometimes make it a surprise – in the long term, marital love is more about maintaining a loving, caring discipline than about expecting spontaneous, passionate encounters – but always ready to interrupt your plans and have “quickies” just for fun!
- Never force your mate to engage in love-play against their will – never use “sex” as a form of manipulation.
- Put off a “performance” focus … put on a “partner” focus – seeking to maximum the pleasure and enjoyment of your mate.
THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION … What does GOD desire in and through your marriage?
Three fruits from our marriage of great significance to God – and also to us:
- GROWTH AND FRUIT IN CHANGING LIVES – God is like a Gardener who looks for and expects fruit to grow both in our individual lives as well as in our relationships
- Will we allow our marriages and especially our life’s partner to be God’s primary instrument to refine us?
- A LIVING WITNESS TO THE GOOD NEWS – God also desires that our marriages will be clear and compelling testimonies to the transforming power of the Gospel
- Will we allow our marriages to be full of Good News – forgiveness, mutual love and affection, unity and peace – for the sake of the kingdom?
- OFFERINGS OF PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING – God blesses us so that we might offer up to Him the praise and thanksgiving that is due His holy name
- Will we as believing husbands and wives allow God’s Spirit to keep changing and renewing us and our marriages so that we bring great joy and delight to the heart of our King and Saviour?