Happily Ever After?

Happily

Part of my job as a pastor is that I help couples in their marriages. I perform pre-marital, marital and even pre-divorce counseling. Honestly, most of the time, I don’t enjoy it until the couple is helped and they move into a healthy place in their relationship-than, it is a thrill!

Today, I would like to share a few thoughts with you from my experience:

Top pre-marital advice:

If you can possibly, live without that person, don’t marry them! I remember when I was a young twenty year old attending Bible college for the first time. A seasoned married professor told me that when he meets with a young couple for pre-marital counseling, he spends the entire first session attempting to convince them to NOT get married. He explained, “If I can convince them that this is a mistake in the first session, than LIFE would have convinced them in the first few years anyway, so I just saved them a lot of time, money and heartache.” Disclaimer: If you’re ALREADY married this advice doesn’t apply to you. This is only for people considering marriage BEFORE they actually “tie the knot.”

Now in my own practice, I don’t try as vigorously as this professor to talk people out of getting married, but I do take time to communicate the seriousness of this decision and explain the necessity of entering marriage with your eyes wide open and with a firm grasp on reality. The sad fact is that many people enter marriage with unrealistic expectations and no concrete idea on how to build a healthy and happy future with their spouse. This is why counseling is so important. Marriage, when done correctly, is the most satisfying human relationship that two adults can experience on earth; however, when done incorrectly, it can feel like Hell on earth.

Top advice for married couples:

God created all of us to have needs…and this is not a bad thing. He also created certain relationships to meet certain needs that no other relationship can satisfy (or should satisfy) in that way. For example, every person needs to find fulfillment and purpose in life. Believe it or not, this does not come from work or money or from people or even from life itself-it can only come from a relationship with God. Along those lines, we must never attempt to place this need of ultimate life fulfillment on our spouse because it belongs to God alone.

So, what is your greatest need from your spouse, if it is not ultimate life fulfillment? According to the Bible,[1] a wife’s greatest need from her husband is love and this is most deeply experienced when her husband sacrifices everything else (except God) and gives her priority in his life. This doesn’t mean that he stays home and waits on her hand and foot but rather he lives a sacrificial life that has her and her well-being as a primary goal. In my experience, this is where husbands really miss it. They prioritize their jobs and their goals ahead of their wives than they fail to understand why their wives are so unhappy. The reason is that she reads those actions as a lack of love and this will make her absolutely miserable and she may not even understand why.

Biblically, a husband’s greatest need from his wife is respect and this is fulfilled by her acknowledging and empowering him to lead the family. We don’t have time to develop this idea here, but the bottom line is that, generally speaking, there are immediate obstacles to this happening. The reason (in my humble opinion) is twofold: First, women are neurologically more complex[2] and second they are spiritually pre-wired to challenge their husband[3] which he will inevitably read as disrespect. I understand that my assessment may be seen by some as closed minded or old fashioned but brain science, the Bible and my experience in pastoral counseling bears out the validity of what I am saying.

By the way, please notice that as our society has abandoned these “old fashioned and outdated” principles that long term healthy marriages are becoming less common and intact extended families are also disappearing.

Top advice for couples facing divorce:

A friend called me on a Friday to inform me that he was going to divorce his wife. He was going to begin the process but felt like he should let me know since my wife and I had invested a lot of time, energy, resources and prayer into their relationship. “Wait until Monday,” I reasoned with him. “Come to a couple’s retreat this weekend and then if you still feel the same on Monday, you haven’t really wasted any time because you can’t do much on a weekend.” He agreed, than my wife contacted his wife and got her to agree to attend also. To make a beautiful and long story, shorter…that weekend, this couple was asked to think back to the reason they were married in the first place and to re-discover the love that brought them to that point. They learned about their greatest need from each other and they learned how to make God the center of their marriage. The last night of the retreat, they held hands, looked into each other’s tear filled eyes and recommitted to their wedding vows. Many years have passed and this couple is still in love and married. This is just one example of many that was helped at the very moment they thought their marriage was over.

My advice to them is my advice to you if you are in the pre-divorce stage. Every marriage needs help and most marriages can be helped. Of course, there are some rare exceptions but for the most part, most “bad” marriages can be turned around. The beginning point is recognizing the need and seeking help. Needing and seeking help is not a sign of weakness or admission of failure. On the contrary, it is a sign of wisdom and absolutely preliminary to a healthy turnaround. So, if you identify with this post and want a healthy marriage and future…seek help NOW![4]

[1] It is my unwavering belief that the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) are the manual for marriage (and all of life). Ephesians 5:22-33 teaches husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands. Dr. Emerson Eggerichs wrote an insightful book on this topic entitled, Love & Respect.

[2] Modern neuroscience has observed that a woman’s brain is smaller but more complex than a man’s. This difference in form results in a functional advantage which is evidenced in language skills and other areas. I recommend The Female Brain by Dr. Louann Brizendine as a good starting point if you’re interested in this topic. Disclaimer on the book: Although I personally enjoy Dr. Brizendine’s research and teaching, I disagree with some of her conclusions to that research, especially in the area of gays & LGBT. Having said that, I value her research and expertise and recommend her book for those Christians who are able to learn from someone they may differ with.

[3] I believe that part of the curse on Eve (Genesis 3:16) was that she would want to usurp Adam’s authority and position but God had already determined that the position of head in the family was to be his. As the prototype for womankind and through the sinful nature, this tendency is passed from Eve to all women.

[4] As a pastor, I recommend pastoral counseling or a reputable Christian counsellor. There are many good resources but a few bad ones so pray before you choose and do not seek advice from anyone who does not have a good marriage themselves.

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