Let’s Put Marriage in its Proper Place
Author: Leslie Vernick
Debbie burst into tears when I asked her, “How can I help you?” She sobbed, “I feel like such a failure. My marriage is falling apart. I’ve tried everything I know how to do and he still won’t connect with me. When I try to talk with him he tells me my expectations are too high. He puts me down, even in front of our children. As long as I keep the house, cook our meals and have sex with him whenever he wants, he thinks everything is fine. But it’s not fine for me. What do I do?”
Our first response to these clients is usually the wrong one. We search for ways to see what else she could do to make her marriage work. We tell her to try harder to make her marriage her number one priority. We encourage her to be more respectful, more loving, more forgiving, more patient, and more sexually available. Our aim is to help her win her husband’s love without a word through her godly and loving actions. And in certain situations, where a wife admits to being neglectful, this might be good counsel. But where there has been chronic and serious marital indifference and sin towards her, this approach will only make the underlying problem worse.
Any wife in this kind of marriage would feel disappointed, hurt, and angry; rightly so. But when she becomes increasingly despairing, fearful, controlling, or resentful, it’s time to help her pay attention. These negative emotions are a good indicator that her desire for a good marriage has become too important. It’s become an idol. Whenever we are dependent on something or someone other than God to fill us, it always hurt us.
Women have been groomed from childhood to put marriage first, to have a great marriage their deepest desire. But that’s not biblical. God wants to be our first love and he wants our primary purpose to be to know and glorify him. Jesus commands us to love God with everything we have not only because God deserves our love and is worthy of it, but because he knows how crucial it is to our long term well-being. God knows that whatever we love the most will rule our lives.
That’s why the Bible counsels us to let the love of Christ control us (2 Corinthians 5:14), not the love of lesser things. Desiring a good marriage is not wrong it’s fine. The problem comes when we place having a great marriage above all else,
As Biblical counselors this woman’s dilemma provides a wonderful opportunity to help her put her marriage in its proper place. As we help her to center herself in God’s love and not her husband, she is no longer debilitated when her spouse fails her or disappoints her. Yes she still hurts, but now she is centered and controlled by something Other than her marriage or her man. She now has the inner strength and courage to both forgive her spouse for his sinful failings as well as set appropriate boundaries and consequences when he continues to be selfish, unrepentant and destructive to their marriage and to her.
With God as her first love, she can love and be compassionate towards her spouse without being foolish and enabling because God shows her how to love him in a way that is in his best interests. In doing so, she learns to trust God with the outcome of her marriage.
Instead of asking her to try harder to cater more to her husband’s felt needs, which only reinforces his own entitlement and selfish orientation towards life, let’s help her do something radically different. Let’s help her become a God-centered woman rather than a husband-centered woman. Let’s help build her CORE strength so that she can speak the truth in love to her husband as well as implement consequences for his destructive behaviors. She will be too afraid to make that change unless she come to a place where she can trust God to be enough for her.
We must help her settle this question deep in her heart because until she does, she will be unable to make the changes she needs to make. As she starts to do things differently the destructive marital boat she’s on will start to rock and there are no guarantees that it will right itself. But I do know one thing for sure. When a marriage has been in a downward spiral of indifference, sin, and destruction and everything she’s tried up to now has not resulted in any lasting positive change it’s time for her to change her strategy.
There are times she must risk unraveling the life she has to find life God wants for her.
Posted on April 20, 2015