You may want to read:
When thinking about these questions, it would be best to begin by focusing on how you relate to the Lord. Whatever happens in our relationships on earth, we should not disconnect them from how we relate to our heavenly Father. For example, God calls us to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1). What better way to do that than in our relationships? Thus, we think about relating to others by reflecting on how we think about and relate to God, providing us with a template for interacting with humans. Where would you want your starting point for communication to begin—with you, your spouse, or the Lord? Let’s start with God because I suspect you are open, honest, and transparent with Him. You freely talk to Him (prayer), and He freely speaks to you (Bible).
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14).
Although your relationship with God is not perfect because you’re not perfect, you are maturing in your relationship with Him, forming the foundation for how you relate to others. Your heavenly Father teaches you how to engage others, even if those relationships are complicated. Perhaps recalling your hostile relationship with God before He regenerated you will reset the stage for talking to others (Ephesians 2:1-10). God is the hostility remover who enables us to enjoy peace with Him and others. We export what He has freely given to us. But you may say, “Rick, you’re crazy. That’s impossible! You don’t know my spouse.” I agree with you on all points. I’m probably a little crazy. It is impossible—at least impossible, apart from the grace of God, and I do not know your spouse.
What I do know is what a Christian marriage could be like and how we should strive to imitate the life of Christ in our marriages (1 Corinthians 11:1). Imitating Jesus and exporting His life and values to others is what all Christians should be doing. Think briefly about what it could look like if you chose to imitate God in your marriage. You can do this by considering two ways you relate to the Lord. There are many ways to emulate Him, but I want to focus on two for this chapter. The first is that He does not condemn us. Therefore we should be striving to live in a non-condemning marriage. The second is that He wants to listen to us. Therefore we should be quick to listen to our spouse.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
God never condemns, mocks, criticizes, or puts us down when we share our hearts with Him (Ephesians 4:29). He is always ready to listen and prepared to help. The Lord knows our frames and understands our weaknesses. He desires to uplift, encourage, and speak into our situations with love (Psalm 103:12-14). I’m sure you appreciate this characteristic of the Lord, but how does it work out in your marriage? Have you ever put something out there for your spouse to hear only to quickly retract it because your moment of transparency collided with unkindness or disinterest?
Mable has longed for an open and honest relationship with her husband, Biff. She has ventured into the transparent zone with him through the years only to meet criticism and mocking. When she tried to be transparent, she felt his critique most of the time. It would sting, which motivated her to withdraw. Little by little, the distance between them became greater and greater. Biff was clueless about these communication flaws in their relationship. From his perspective, everything was okay because they were not fighting. When they did fight, he typically rebuked her by letting her know where she was wrong. If he messed up and could not wiggle out of his actions, he would do a quick flyover to smooth things out, which was his way of justifying his actions. Then he would be off to the next thing.
Mable found more community in her ladies’ Bible study on Tuesday mornings than with Biff. She felt unheard, misunderstood, and immature for mentioning her little annoyances about him (1 Peter 3:7). Their marriage problems created pockets of silence in her heart, where she insulated herself from Biff’s insensitivity. He did not know this when I brought it up during a counseling session. It soon became apparent that he knew little about Mable’s secret life. She was lonely on the inside, a dangerous place for any woman longing for a relationship. Though she did not discern it initially, she began to drift from her relationship with Biff (and from the Lord). Facebook, texting, and Bible study were her primary communication substitutes. She was aware of the growing bitterness in her heart, but she felt trapped in her marriage.
Though she had resigned herself to “this is the way it will always be,” she did not like how things were. She was not only vulnerable to the alluring temptations of Facebook, texting, and her Bible study, but she was unwittingly open to any caring male relationship. Mable and Biff had drifted from the goal of being open and honest with each other. It was worse than that. They were heading in opposite directions. After the children leave the house and Biff retires, it will be difficult for them to stay married. Unless Biff finds a hobby and Mable continues her Facebook fascination, being together will be one long silence until death gives Mable the freedom she desires. As you think through any condemnation aspects of your marriage, these questions can apply to either gender.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).
This second aspect of imitating Jesus in your marriage focuses on Christ’s lack of self-interest. One of the statements I like about the gospel is that if it anchors you, there is nothing to fear, defend, lose, or hide. Jesus is like that. He is so secure in His relationship with me that He can take my angry responses and other ways I express my disappointment to Him. We are allowed to let Him know what we’re thinking. Jesus is about us. He dramatically proved this by going to the cross in our place. Though we should never be angry with God, it is possible, and if that were the case, our anger would never disorient Him. He would listen to and love us in response (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:8). That is the kind of love husbands and wives should imitate and enjoy.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now (John 16:12).
Biff is immature and insecure. If Mable says anything related to him, their marriage, and the need for change, Biff takes it personally and usually sulks in response to her remarks. Mable does not believe she can be candid with him because of his insecurities. This issue causes her to take a guarded posture around Biff. Rather than speaking openly and honestly about what is going on with them, it is more like talking to a child, where she must measure every word, weighing them before she can share them. She is pulling double duty: Not only does she have to care for her soul, but she also has to care for her husband. She has to grow him up before he can contribute to their mutual marital sanctification. She tries not to be self-righteous about it, but it is hard. Biff is a weak, immature, and insecure husband.
He does not process things through a Scriptural lens. He interprets stuff through his past personal experiences and hurts. His dad was a mean and condemning man who had a significant adverse shaping influence on Biff’s life. Whenever anyone says anything negative to Biff, he becomes defensive and argumentative and feels the need to justify himself or retaliate. These reactions make Biff a tedious man, which weighs heavy on Mable’s soul. She grows weary of being around him because of his deep fear of man problems. There is ongoing and seemingly unresolvable inequitable-ness in their relationship. It is similar to a college student married to an eighth grader. Biff is so different from Christ. He esteems himself more than his wife, which disables him from being Christ to her.
As you think about this chapter and how it applies to your spouse, whether your husband or wife needs to change, here are three tips to factor into your thoughts about the question sets I’ve presented.
Tip #1: Presence, Not Perfection: When a couple becomes married, they will not have perfected their communication. After twenty years of marriage, they will not have perfect communication. I appeal to these couples not to get hung up on or expect perfection in how their spouse talks. As you think about your marriage, give less consideration to the ideal of a virtue and more time cultivating its presence. For example, I am not asking if you have perfected the gift of encouragement, but can you encourage others at all? Do you have an encouragement gene? If you are more about condemning and critiquing, the place to begin is to ask the Lord to teach you how to encourage.
Tip #2: Determine the Direction: Are you both pointed in the right direction? Are you seeking daily to remove the outer layer of fig leaves so you can grow closer together (Genesis 3:7)? If you are not heading in the right direction, I appeal to you to change your course. You must repent. You do not have to go through your marriage problems alone. They may not change, but you can surround yourself with a loving, caring, and competent community to hold you accountable while experiencing encouragement in the journey.
Tip #3: Resist Self-righteousness: The quickest of all traps is to take on the victim mindset, elevating yourself above your mate. Typically, the victim will have a sanctified morality that blinds them to their self-righteousness and harsh responses to their spouse. (I’m not speaking of physically harmful marriages, but regular run-of-the-mill marriage problems.) It’s essential that the spouse struggling with an unchanging mate insist their friends be honest with how they perceive them. The hurting spouse must be open to their friends’ courageous and compassionate correctives, or they will fall into the victim trap, sanitizing their anger responses and complicating the already struggling marriage.
Finally, I mentioned two ways we can imitate the Lord in our marriages: no condemnation and listening well. What other communicable attributes of God can you imitate in your marriage to make it more Christlike? Will you discuss these things with your spouse and make these talks part of your times of reflection together until they become Christocentric habituations? If you’re unable to have these talks with your spouse, will you find that competent, courageous, and compassionate friend to walk with you for a season?
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).