There Are No His or Her Problems In Marriage

There Are No His or Her Problems In Marriage

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There are no his versus her problems in anyone’s marriage. There are one flesh problems. Your physical body is an excellent illustration of this worldview. If your finger is hurting, your body is hurting. If there is something wrong with your one flesh marriage, regardless of who is struggling, the whole body is in the struggle. Though you have unique lives, you are one flesh, too. What are the implications and practical applications of two unique people who become one flesh?

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There Are No His or Her Problems In Marriage

A Silly Story

The other day, I was trimming some briars behind our fence in the backyard. I caught my arm on a few of those nasty antagonists. One of the thorns broke the skin and made a slight laceration on my arm. My arm was hurting. It began to bleed. The pain would not go away, so I yelled at my arm. Anger was my way of fixing the problem, which is as dumb as yelling louder at a person who does not speak your language. I lectured my arm because it was inconveniencing me. If only my arm would cooperate, my day would go better. But my disloyal arm would not cooperate. It continued to hurt, and I kept stewing and sulking because of my non-cooperating flesh.

I then had this wild idea. What would it be like not to have this arm? What if I amputated it, replacing it with a better arm? My mind began to fixate on other arms—better arms—as I thought about what life would be like with an arm that did a better job of meeting my expectations. At our church meeting, I caught myself looking around to see what other arms were available. My mind wandered as I wondered. I fantasized ever-so-briefly about life with another arm, a wish gone awry. I felt stuck with this old arm.

An Un-silly Story

Biff and Mable have been married for eight years, and you’d only have to spend a couple of hours with them to know things were not well in their marriage. They were like the man in my silly arm story. The issues that were wrong with them were real, and the stakes were higher because marriage is not a silly, fictional story. There is a disjointedness in their one-flesh union. Neither of them understands how they are ontologically connected and dependent upon each other. They’ve forgotten how they are no longer two people but one flesh. There cannot be a dichotomy, schism, or fracture in any marriage, but there are those things in their marriage. When you see Biff, you see Mable. When you see Mable, you see Biff. They are one flesh. They are just as one as the man, and his arm is one. They are just as one as the body of Christ, and the head, who is Christ, is one.

Though there are many members in the body of Christ, we are one in the body. There are no competing parts. We all are on the same mission, working the same plan, using our gifts according to how God provides them while putting His name on display. “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:20). Though the husband and wife have different capacities, personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and experiences, marriage is two people coming together to form one flesh for the glory of God. The body never says to the arm, “I do not need you.” There cannot be a division in a one-flesh union. Marriage is not a competition but the assimilation of two people who present a dynamic picture of Jesus and His Church.

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body (Ephesians 5:29-30).

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Marriage Marathon

This one flesh idea raises a few questions for all married people to consider.

  • Are you and your spouse competitors or friends (John 15:15)?
  • Is your spouse your best friend? If not, why not?
  • How are you working to maintain unity in your body?

If part of your body is rejecting you or if you’re rejecting part of your body, you will die, or, minimally, the rejecting portion may need amputation. A body part not assimilating into the body is diseased. Marriage is similar. Spouses spend their entire lives blending into each other until they are entirely and joyfully one flesh, as much as they can be, by life’s end. Becoming one flesh does not happen in an absolutely complete way on the wedding day. That particular day is a good start, but it is only the beginning of the marriage marathon. On the wedding day, you hear the starter’s gun. The race and all its obstacles and joys are still before you. If you don’t understand this, you will be set up for much disappointment as you embark on your marital journey. I’ve seen this many times with married couples that I have counseled. They fall into two groups.

  • I did not know how to have a great marriage.
  • I do not care about leading or following well.

I Did Not Know

The “I didn’t know how” crowd was never informed, trained, or discipled for marriage. For example, these individuals may have been in a thriving youth group, but that time was not spent getting them ready for the most important thing they will ever do in their lives outside of being born a second time. Marriage is where they will spend most of their lives and most of their energy. Marriage is more important than parenting because if the marriage is not right, the chances of the children being right are exponentially more difficult. Too many of these unaware newly married couples had parents who kept them preoccupied with other things. Sports and other events dominated their teenage years, while little (if any) time was devoted to teaching them how to be what they were going to be as adults.

After their activities fade in their memories or their sport is nothing more than a dusty trophy, the novice couple enters the throes of a long and arduous marriage that they were never equipped to endure. Still, other parents have a myopic college view, as though college is the be-all, end-all. Can I speak plainly here? I counsel more college graduates than any other struggling marriage demographic. I have spent most of my adult life counseling educated and successful couples who are in miserable marriages. Nobody prepared these couples for marriage. Here are three typical responses I hear over and over again regarding the “I did not know how” crowd.

  • I never knew. My dad never taught me these things, and my church didn’t do it either. A biblical marriage is new to me.
  • I had no idea how to lead or shepherd my wife.
  • These ideas are foreign to me. This counseling season is the first time someone has taken me aside and practically taught me what it means to bring the gospel to bear in my marriage.

I Do Not Care

Another people group is those who don’t care about leading or following well. Getting a wife was just one of the many to-do’s on their list of goals. For some individuals, getting married is better than being single, and their wedding day is the beginning and end of their marriage goals. The similarity between this group and the “I didn’t know how” group is that nobody envisioned either group for marriage. The former group was mostly ignorant, while the latter group was primarily selfish. There is a slight difference. The uncaring man has the conquer and move-on mindset. He got the girl, and now it’s time to pursue other trophies. He secures a wife, a job, and whatever the next thing is as he chases his dreams.

He doesn’t give his wife much thought unless he needs her to do something for him. He lives as though there is no need for ongoing marriage maintenance. His views are about himself. His wife makes a similar mental marital misfire, thinking he will act like an adult. She assumes what an adult should be and maps that expectation over her husband. It does not dawn on her that he may have pre-problems and is in need of her discipleship care. It’s easy for a wife to misunderstand her full role in marriage, specifically as a disciple-maker for her husband. An added complication might be that she cared about the marriage during the early years, but she experienced weakened perseverance at some point, and she turned to her children as an escape from her unfulfilled marriage dream.

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Marriage and Sin

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Both of these groups have a weak view of the doctrine of sin. They don’t see sin as cancer that is seeking to devour whomever it can tempt, lure, and capture (James 1:14-15). They misunderstand the nature of sin and their mutual, complementary roles in marriage. Christian marriage partners are co-inheritors of the gift of life. They are not competitors. They continually assess, observe, care for, teach, and uniquely complement each other for the glory of God.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).

The maturing couple understands the nature of sin and their complementary roles in their marriage. They see sin as their ever-encroaching adversary and the marriage as their God-given opportunity to defeat it together. This reality is why discerning couples are considerate, aware, caring, and eager to disciple each other. The husband does not assume everything is okay and ongoing maintenance is not needed. His wife is similar. She is considerate of her husband’s weaknesses and eagerly seeks to speak into those weaknesses, knowing they are not competing with each other but are one flesh friends.

Mutual Pain and Gain

There are no his versus her problems in marriage. There is only one problem, one marriage, and one opportunity. May I illustrate? I watched my wife go through three miscarriages. They happened to her. It was her pain, her disappointment, her fear. They were my miscarriages, too. I did not feel or hurt the way she did. I have no idea of the physical, mental, and emotional agony of a miscarriage—at least not the way she does. But I hurt because she was hurting. I hurt because I lost something, too. We are one flesh. When someone murdered my brother in 1997, my wife hurt along with me. She did not hurt the way I did, but she hurt because her husband was suffering. We are not two people acting independently of each other. We are one body.

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body (Hebrews 13:3).

  • Do you hurt when your spouse is hurting?
  • What hinders you from entering into your spouse’s pain?
  • What will it take for you to do for your spouse what Christ did for you (Matthew 18:33)?
  • What is your biblical responsibility regarding your spouse’s sin?

When I sin—no matter what it is—my wife has a responsibility for that sin. She would never say, “That’s Rick’s problem. That’s his sin.” No, it’s our sin. She is not guilty of my sin, and she does not repent of my sin, but she has a role to play because she is me, and I am her—we are one. When I sin, she runs to my aid by calling me out and caring for me. She becomes my discipler, my confidant. Just like when the briar cuts the arm, the body comes to the rescue. Too many times, when one marriage partner sins, the other acts like my silly story at the beginning of this chapter. The wife acts as though she is not part of the body and it’s the husband’s problem. This attitude is the Job’s wife syndrome: The non-sinning spouse gets mad when the other spouse sins (Job 2:9).

Ironically (and biblically), this means both of them are sinning. When two people respond sinfully to sin, they both are guilty before God and before each other. They both need to repent. It’s like cursing your arm when it gets cut. That’s weird. That’s your body. You shouldn’t get mad at yourself when something happens to you. Are you following my logic? It is biblical insanity to choose sinful anger at your spouse when they sin. When part of the body rejects another part of the body, you have a problem. You better call a doctor, or, in this case, if you’re unwilling to repent, you better call your pastor, elder, small group leader, or some other competent helper in your church because you need it. There is something wrong with your body.

Rescue or Accuse

Are you a rescuer and restorer, or are you a critic and condemner? You’ll never be more tested on this than when your spouse does something that hurts you. Your spouse is an instrument the Lord uses to measure and mature you. We see this in Paul’s warning about a person in sin and a person who helps a person in sin. Take a look at these three verses and note how much time Paul spent talking to the helper rather than the person in sin. Paul gives us seven words regarding the person in sin and forty-seven words for the person who is supposed to help the person in sin. This difference is no small matter. We should read this as a warning.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself (Galatians 6:1-3).

If you don’t see your spouse’s problem as your problem and don’t actively become part of the solution, your marriage will go to places where it cannot recover. Paul warned the restorers in Galatia to guard their hearts against this kind of self-deception, and if you do, you will fulfill the law of Christ, which in this verse means bearing each others’ burdens.

Call to Action

  1. What are some areas where your husband is weak and needs your help?
  2. What are some areas where your wife is weak and needs your help?
  3. When your spouse sins, are you envisioned and ready to restore your spouse? Or, are you more apt to sin against your spouse, similar to my silly story at the beginning?
  4. Are you a burden-bearer for your spouse? In what ways do you need to change to be a better burden-bearer? Will you write out those ways and talk to your spouse about how you need to change?

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