You can have a marriage that is mutually satisfying while being honoring to God. You really can! Accepting who you are, resting in who God is, and living as he calls you to live will produce a harvest that is far better than the small-vision dreams that you are able to come up with on your own.
Here are the daily commitments that become the daily habits of the kind of marriage that God’s design intended and his grace can make possible.
1. We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.
We will come clean and deal honestly with our sin, weakness, and failure. There is only one way that a marriage grows. There is only one way that a marriage changes. There is only one way for your marriage to be what God designed and has enabled it to be. What is this one way? Confession and forgiveness. It is only when we commit ourselves to daily patterns of humble confession, coupled with the willingness to quickly and completely forgive, that a marriage can exceed our limited expectations.
These two things always need to be held together. Regular patterns of forgiveness give us the courage to continue to confess, and regular patterns of confession allow us to experience the joy of the restoration of forgiveness. Why is this so hard for us? Why is this not a regular pattern in every marriage? What will this actually look like in the business of daily living.
2. We will make growth and change our agenda.
We will pull weeds. You would tend to think that dissatisfaction is the enemy of marriage, but, in fact, the opposite is true. As sinners, we have the perverse ability to be all too easily satisfied. We tend to be willing to live with a human second-best that falls tragically short of God’s wise and beautiful plan. We tend to settle for marital détente instead of striving for real love. We tend to be satisfied with low-grade bitterness and disappointment rather than working toward a pattern of real confession and forgiveness. We tend to settle for a relationship that is all about negotiating rights instead of one that loves to give and to serve.
What does it look like to commit to daily change? How do you go about identifying weeds of wrong that need to be uprooted? How do you know for sure what needs to be planted in their place? How can you work to make dissatisfaction a good thing, something that actually deepens your love and the functional quality of your marriage? How do you keep from being stuck in patterns that fall way short of God’s plan and fail to rely on the resources of God’s grace?
3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.
Trusting and entrusting, we will build a strong foundation. We simply cannot have a healthy, God-honoring, mutually satisfying marriage without trust. In a fallen world, trust is the fine china of a relationship. It is beautiful when it is there, but it is surely delicate and breakable. When trust is broken, it can be very hard to repair. It is trust that allows a husband and wife to face all the internal and external threats to their unity, love, and understanding. It is trust that allows couples to weather the differences and discouragements that every marriage faces. It is trust that allows couples to talk with honesty and hope about the most personal and difficult things.
There are two sides to trust. First, you must do everything you can to prove yourself trustworthy. Second, you must make the decision to entrust yourself into your spouse’s care. What does it look like to engender a marriage where trust thrives? What does it look like to rebuild trust when it has been shattered? What are the characteristics of a relationship where trust is the glue?
4. We will commit to building a relationship of love.
We will incarnate Christ’s love. I sit in the balcony of my church on Sunday mornings and look down on the crowd, and I wonder how many of the couples are living in loveless marriages. You may be shocked at this, but I am convinced there are many marriages devoid of real love. Yes, there may be some respect and appreciation, and, yes, the couples may have learned how to avoid daily battles. They may enjoy doing things with one another every once in awhile, but the practical and personal sacrifices that define love are simply not there.
One of the beautiful things that marriage is meant to do is drive each of us away from habits of self-reliance into patterns of dependency on God.
These couples do not respond with mercy and grace in the face of one another’s weakness and failure. They don’t willingly sacrifice their agenda and their comfort for the good of the other. They don’t look for ways to help and encourage. They don’t jump in and help the other bear the burdens of life in this fallen world. What does real love in marriage look like? What are the daily sacrifices that love makes? What does it mean to respond to your spouse with mercy? What does it mean practically to be willing to lay down your life for another person? What are the characteristics of a loving marriage?
5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.
Celebrating the Creator, we will face our differences with hope. God places lilies next to rocks. He places trees next to streams. He causes bright sun to follow a dark night. He made the muscles of a lion and the delicacy of the wing of a hummingbird. One way God establishes beauty is by putting things that are different next to each other. Isn’t this exactly what God does in marriage? He puts very different people next to each other. This is how he establishes the beauty of a marriage. The moon would not be so striking if it hung in a white sky; in the same way, the striking beauty of a marriage is when two very different people learn to celebrate and benefit from their differences and to be protected from their weaknesses by being sheltered by the other’s strength.
6. We will work to protect our marriage.
Watching and praying, we will work to protect our relationship. There are few things more dangerous to a marriage than the feeling of “arrival.” When a couple loses a healthy sense of need, patterns of laziness and inattention grow. No longer does the couple carry around the sense of the enormity of the task they have undertaken. No longer do they live with a shared sense of need for God’s help and protection. No longer are they looking down the road for potential difficulties that may threaten their union. No longer is their marriage protected by humble prayer.
Every marriage requires divine intervention. Every marriage needs divine wisdom. Every couple will be pushed beyond the limits of their character. Every couple will need strength beyond what they have. No husband and wife can do what they were designed to do in marriage without assistance. One of the beautiful things that marriage is meant to do is drive each of us away from habits of self-reliance into patterns of dependency on God. What does it mean to have “watch and pray” patterns in your marriage? How should a couple measure their potential? How do we recognize signs of impending marriage danger? What role does prayer play in a healthy marriage?
These are the six commitments of a healthy marriage, and with practice they become daily habits. These define how you admit your daily need and make reconciliation the moment-by-moment lifestyle of your relationship. There are few things sweeter and more beautiful than a long-term marriage of unity, understanding, and love. There are few things more deeply discouraging and personally hurtful than a marriage of distance, coldness, and conflict. There are few things sadder than couples who settle for survival, or choose to coast, or stay together but have essentially given up on one another.