Friday, July 29, 2011

Marriage: It's Not a 50/50 Sort of Deal

Like most couples, Jeff and I went to pre-marital counseling during our engagement. The pastor who married us had recommended someone he respected. And I’ll never forget our first meeting.

After the introductions, I noticed the many books sitting on his shelves. To my delight, I had read quite a number of them. I wanted to make a good impression, so I started book-dropping. That is, I casually pointed to the binding of several books nearby and mused aloud that I had read them.

I kept going too, until I came across one book that gave me pause. I had read it years earlier, but I never liked it at all. Something about the book’s premise never sat right with me. But I was young, and I didn’t know how to articulate what I really thought of this book’s message. Besides, this particular book was a major Christian bestseller. What did I know? So I kept my opinion about this book to myself, and I mentioned that I had read this one too.

Then the counselor kindly interrupted my self-aggrandizing monologue and said that he believed the book was counter to Christ’s teachings. I was shocked. Counter to Christ? As in opposed? I asked the counselor, “How do you mean?”

“Well,” he explained, “I try to read every book on the topic of Christian marriage that publishers release, but I was disappointed to find that this book focuses on the different ways that husbands and wives can, and should, meet their spouse’s needs.”

Right. I knew that already. But why is that counter to Christ’s teaching?

The counselor went on to explain that Christ was God (I knew that already too, but I guess the counselor wanted to start with the basics). Jesus could have demanded that people worship Him. He was God in the flesh after all. But that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus laid down his rights to the throne. Jesus came to serve, to give His life for ours. Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant . . .”

I knew the counselor was now quoting the second chapter in Philippians. It’s one of my favorite passages. But as he continued, it was as though I was hearing the familiar words for the first time.

“. . . And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

The counselor didn’t finish until he had quoted the entire passage. I stood there motionless. The words flowed from somewhere deep within him. And they were more than mere words. They were Truth. And Truth resonates in our spirit.

Marriage, as our counselor explained, is not about giving 50/50. It’s not a you-scratch-my-back-and-I-will-scratch-yours kind of relationship. Marriage is not meant to be self-serving. It’s not solely about having your needs met by your spouse. Yes, we have God-shaped needs. And, yes, the marriage relationship is designed to meet some of those needs to some degree.

But only God can fill the deepest longings of our soul. And God wants us to look to Him as the ultimate Source to fill those vacuous places that ache within us. If we go into marriage expecting our spouse to meet our every need, we will be disappointed. No human spouse can do what God alone can do.

That first pre-marital counseling session was life-changing for me. The counselor put into words what I knew deep down to be right. And he helped Jeff and me to build a solid foundation for our future marriage – one that requires selfless sacrifice and service, not selfish demands and expectations.

What lessons did you learn from pre-marital counseling?
Or what lessons did you learn early on in your marriage relationship?



Sharon Sloan - Joy In The Truth said...

Great post!! And I love the reminder from that truth in Phil. chapter 2.

I remember two things from our pre-marital classes:
1. Forgive quickly
2. Love is self-control


Paula Greene said...

I love this! I knew all this, but even after 19 years of marriage, I need to the reminder that it's not a 50/50. The reference to Philippians 2 - enlightening!!

Warren Baldwin said...

Very good. I noticed you didn't mention the name of the book that was opposed to the teaching/approach of Jesus. Mind if I mention it here? Was it "His Needs Her Needs" by any chance? I've had that impression of this book. It can be very good and helpful, but it can also set up a mind set of "I'll do that for you if you'll do this for me." I used this book some in counseling and in classes but I switched to "Love and Respect" b/c I found it more biblical.


Sonya Lee Thompson said...

Very intriguing post. God's teachings are ALWAYS counter to the worlds teachings! Hard to grasp since we are so engulfed in the worlds views.

We didn't have pre-marital counseling, but would have benefited from it! I liked Sharon's two pieces of advice, too!

Marsha @Spots and Wrinkles said...

I was surprised when the pastor pointed out to us that we would tend to balance each other out.

I knew we were "opposites" - which often attract - but I had not thought about the fact that it would help create balance. He said, "you tend to be a little too pessimistic and he is a real sanguine, so he will help you when you are low and you may be a bit more realisitc when he is too optimistic." Who knew?

A multi-dimensional life said...

Excellent Post! Yes, truth resonates within our spirit! Our pre-marital counseling was much like yours and I'm so grateful.
We were encouraged to ask each other "what can I do to show you love today?" Having a servant's heart can be challenging at times within a marriage, but is's not about me!

Denise J. Hughes said...

Sharon, I believe those two things alone say quite a lot! :)

Paula, I think you're right. No matter how long we've been married, there are some things that are good to be reminded of. :)

Warren, I liked the book "Love and Respect" too. I believe I loaned it out, though, so I need to pick up another copy!

Sonja, I agree. It's so easy to espouse the world's views but with a Christian label. But Jesus' teachings were always upside down from what people expected. :)

Marsha, yes! Opposites do balance each other nicely as long as we remember to respect the differences the other brings to the relationship!

Multi-Dimensional Life, a servant's heart in marriage is key! And Jesus is our ultimate example of a servant! :)

Sista In Arms Lxx said...

Loved this post, so many young people go into marriage with the expectation that their partner will fill ALL of their needs. I've been married 23 years, thank you for the reminder. :) Lxx

Country Wife said...

Wonderful post! It is always a necessary reminder, the true servant never places expectations on others. I made those mistakes early on, but am growing out of it, I hope :)

LittleWomen21 said...

We had only one premarital session, because our pastor believed that engaged couples were too starry-eyed to really hear anything until they actually get into the thick of marriage! :)

But one thing I did remember: he asked me what I was going to do when my husband disappointed me or didn't meet my expectations. I knew enough to say "trust in God" but I sure had no clue how hard that would be!