The relationship between a man and a woman in marriage is arguably the most important and powerful relationship two people can experience. It is more than just a “piece of paper” or a social convenience. It is a doorway into an experience of life that we all dream of and hope to attain.
The marriage relationship, as God designed it, has the potential for the greatest experience of intimacy, companionship, partnership, mutual support, protection, personal growth, pleasure, enjoyment and productivity of any human relationship. A good marriage is a wonderful blessing and an unparalleled treasure for the husband and wife. A strong, growing, loving marriage is also the nurturing environment in which children thrive and grow to be healthy, responsible adults. The blessings of a good marriage go even further into the neighborhood, work place, government and the church.
This tremendous potential for good in marriage is exactly the reason why a failing, or failed, marriage causes us so much concern. To the same degree that a good marriage can bring “heaven,” a failing marriage can bring “hell.” Whether you have been through one, are in one, or are watching one, you know that a failing marriage is so painful, debilitating and destructive that ignoring it is not an option. It is why you picked up this article. There is just too much at stake in every marriage.
Some years ago a friend and I were backpacking in the Sierra mountains. It was a long trip on a well-traveled trail so we occasionally passed, or were passed, by other backpackers. Over the first few days we were playing “leapfrog” with a particular couple. We’d stop for a break and they would pass us. Later we would pass them as they rested. Eventually we introduced ourselves and got to know a little bit about them. As it turned out, they were not married. I don’t remember if she had been married before, but he had been—four times! And at that time, he was divorced, again.
The next morning, my backpacking partner asked me, “What causes a man to be married and divorced four times?”
My friend and his wife had been married for several years. He felt fairly secure in his own marriage. It wasn’t perfect, but he couldn’t imagine himself divorced. However, hearing how someone could be married and divorced four times caused him concern. What causes a marriage to fail and why didn’t this man learn the lesson in his first marriage—or at least his second?
My friend’s question revealed a weakness in his own marriage, and in most marriages. My friend didn’t really understand why a marriage fails. And because he didn’t know why marriages fail he also didn’t know how to protect his marriage. His marriage was vulnerable!
Money, Intimacy and In-laws?
For decades, failed marriages have been blamed on basically three things: financial problems, intimacy problems (usually physical intimacy for the man and relational intimacy for the woman) and in-law problems. The reason why this has been accepted for so long is that clearly, these topics come up repeatedly in failing marriages. They are very common stress points in a marriage. (You may even immediately identify with one or more of these in your own marriage.)
Stress points are any outward circumstances that challenge us. They cause pain or threaten it. Lack of money, lack of intimacy and the lack of supportive in-laws are common stress points, but not the only ones. Chronically poor health, loss of a child and terminal illnesses are examples of other kinds of stress points a marriage may face.
The good news is this, that as painfully challenging as these circumstances can be, they are not ultimately the cause of relational breakdown. If they were, then every marriage is only as secure as the uncontrollable circumstances around it. Some marriages thrive and grow under stressful situations. Other marriages collapse under “favorable” conditions. Married couples with lots of money, exhilarating sex (with each other), time together and supportive in-laws still get divorced. Why? Because the real cause of marital failure is internal, not external.
So Why Do Marriages Fail?
Marriages fail for basically three reasons:
The underlying self-centeredness of people
The unhealed and unresolved effects of past injuries
Ignorance of and/or the misunderstanding of the fundamental distinctions between each other.
We are going to look at each one of these in just a moment, but before we do, we need to consider the possibilities and the limitations in restoring and building a good relationship.
The good news here is that if the above statement is true, then the health and well-being of a marriage are not left to chance circumstances. God has given us tools to overcome each of the three causes for marital failure. We can take action. Every husband, every wife can choose to act on this truth in such a way so as to give his or her marriage the best possible opportunity to not just survive, but to flourish.
I say “the best possible opportunity” because the attainment of the highest potential in any relationship depends upon both persons, not either one alone. Relationships are partnerships. The quality of a relationship and the experience of the people in that relationship are dependent upon the character, words and actions of both individuals in that relationship. This is why the Bible says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.” God knows that it is not always possible. The other person may not want to cooperate. It is possible to be a perfect person, invite people into a loving relationship with you and then have some people still hate you, despise you and kill you. Look what happened to Jesus.
Since then the ultimate quality of a relationship is dependent upon both people, the limitation is that you alone can only take the relationship so far. But you alone can do several things to tremendously improve the potential quality of your marriage. You are not helpless. This is the great possibility. You alone can improve your marriage relationship.
Now, I know that some of you may feel that you have already done as much as you can do. Perhaps you have. But why then are you reading this? Is it not with the hope that there is something more you can do, something you have missed?
You may think you have tried everything but rarely is it the case that we have done all that we can do to give our marriages the very best opportunity to flourish. No matter how “bad” your spouse may be (and he or she may very well be), it is still true that everyone has blind spots. Everyone is less than fully informed. Everyone has been crippled. The purpose of this article is not to condemn you, or to make you feel like it is “your fault.” It is to help you discover what perhaps you have not yet done, in order to give you hope and direction.
Even if your spouse is completely at fault and is unwilling to participate in improving him- or herself or your marriage, the new things that you learn, the new steps that you take, will improve you. You will become more healed, more whole, and more able to do what is good and right. You will be better off in every way, even if your spouse isn’t!
And even if your spouse does not want to change, and even though you do not have the power to make him or her change, you can change what is happening in your marriage. Let me explain.
A relationship is like the game of tennis. Each player hits the ball over the net to the other player who then hits it back. Except on the serve, a player must always hit from the spot to which the other player hit. For this reason, tennis is a very reactionary sport. The players are constantly reacting and adjusting to what the other player is doing. Relationships are just like that. We are always reacting to what the other person is doing—and he or she is always reacting to what we are doing.
Since tennis players differ in strength, experience, talent, strategies and goals, each player develops his or her own style and tendencies. We do the same thing in relationships, especially long-term ones. We develop patterns. We tend to treat each other in predictable ways. Some patterns are healthy. Others are not.
When the marriage “game” isn’t going the way we want it to, we usually try to change the way the other person is playing. We appeal to the other player. We give directions to the other player. We belittle the other player. We yell at the other player. We threaten the other player. We do all kinds of things to try and get the other player to change. However, none of these strategies work. People who do not want to change the way they play the game do not change … at least not until we change.
Suppose for a moment that you were in the habit of always hitting the ball to the left side of the court and your spouse always hit the ball back in a hurtful way. All of your efforts to get him or her to change have failed. You have become frustrated because you can’t get him or her to change. (You don’t have the power to change other people.) But one day, instead of hitting the ball to the left side, you hit it to the right side of the court. Now what happens? Your partner is stunned. Your spouse must adjust to your new play. You’ve just changed the game by changing your pattern. Imagine what would happen if you didn’t hit the ball back at all?
We do not have the power to change the other person, but we do have the power to change what happens in our marriage. When we let God change us, we automatically play differently. We change the game. It forces our partner to play differently—maybe not better, or more lovingly, but differently. The added benefit of this is that sometimes, changing the patterns of the game causes the other person to want to change in a positive way.
So the good news is this, that no matter what your spouse does or does not do, you can act to improve yourself, your marriage and the way you influence your spouse. Now let’s look at each of the three reasons why marriages fail and what we can do to overcome them.
The First Reason Why Marriages Fail:
The Underlying Self-Centeredness of People
There are many who would have us believe otherwise, but people are basically selfishly self-centered. No one has to train a child to throw a tantrum, lie, hit or steal. It comes naturally.
The very fact that every community has a framework of laws that governs the behavior of its members is a testimony to this reality. No one wants to live in a community where everyone is free to do whatever they want to do. Anarchy is very oppressive and utterly destructive—it is scary!
As soon as they are able to receive it, we train our children to be kind, gentle, honest and loving. Without this kind of training, and even with it, people exhibit the terrible selfishness embedded in the soul of every human being. And that selfish nature does not go away as we grow up. It does not go away when we get married. We just learn to control it better and make it behave in public.
The Bible calls this problem of self-centeredness “sin.” Sin is the opposite of love.
Love is the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the well-being of another.
Sin is the willingness to sacrifice the other person for the well-being of self.
Love builds people up and creates better relationships. Sin hurts people and destroys relationships. No relationship can endure sin forever. Eventually the destructive nature of sin turns family, friends and partners into enemies.
In the beginning of a relationship, people work hard to keep their self-centeredness under control. We put our “best foot forward.” We want to make a good impression. We try to win the other person’s affection by being the best we can be. They are doing the same thing with us. When selfishness does become evident it is usually considered an exception. We tend to overlook it, both in ourselves and in the other person. But usually, after the wedding day, the motivation to be so self-controlled diminishes. Both partners not only are more willing to express their selfishness, they also expect the other person to tolerate it. After all, “You married me.”
The more time two people spend together, the more opportunities there are for selfishness to rear its ugly head and strike. In a marriage, self-centeredness has a tremendous number of opportunities to express itself. It is just a matter of time. Even the best of people (relatively speaking) are guilty of acting out of self-centeredness.
What that self-centeredness looks like varies from person to person. Depending on a person’s upbringing, the amount of stress he or she is under and some other factors that will be discussed below, a person’s self-centeredness may be socially acceptable or socially unacceptable. It may be tolerable or intolerable. It may be expressed in hurtful words and actions or it may be expressed through the lack of loving words and actions.
No relationship can endure self-centeredness forever. Over time, the selfishness of sin erodes the good qualities of a relationship. Behaviors that once were tolerable become intolerable. Minor acts of selfishness grow into significantly hurtful ones. Fatigue sets in, followed by frustration and finally desperation. Healthy relationships cannot grow in an environment of selfishness. Relationships are destroyed by it.
If it is true that self-centeredness destroys relationships and that we are all self-centered by nature, what can we do? What is the solution to this problem?
Some would say that we should just try harder to be loving, to do the right thing, to be less selfish. The Bible says that trying harder to be a loving person doesn’t work. The fundamental problem is not what we do on the outside. It is who we are on the inside. The problem is in our very nature. No matter how hard we try we cannot change our nature.
But God can!
God never intended for us to be selfish. He designed human beings to be loving, like He is. But something terrible happened to God’s creation. A first sin sneaked its way into humanity and damaged every one of us. Now human beings are born in a state of brokenness. We don’t work right.
But God can fix what sin has broken. That’s what “salvation” is all about. God can and God wants to do it. God is able to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God can change the inner nature of a human being. He can turn self-centered people into loving people. He does this through His Son, Jesus Christ.
First, Jesus came two thousand years ago to pay the debt of our sins. He volunteered to do this because the Father loves us and He loves us. Since Jesus has paid the price for our sins, God is just in forgiving us—He sets us free from having to pay the penalty ourselves. We are forgiven.
But if that’s all that Jesus did then we would still have an insurmountable problem—we are still selfish by nature. We would continue to sin thereby continue to destroy ourselves, each other and our relationships.
God’s solution to that problem also comes through Jesus. Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus is alive, powerful and active. He is not some casual spectator. He is eager to give life and to heal anyone who will come to Him through faith. Jesus comes to live inside of His followers and impart to them His loving nature. A true Christian has a new nature, a selfless nature, just like Jesus.
That is why the Bible says, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Now, you have probably noticed that Christians do not always act selflessly. Christians can, at times, be as selfish as non-Christians. This is because the new motives of love must still pass through a gauntlet of lies, brokenness and old habits. (This is the third reason why marriages fail which we will look at below.) The Bible says that our minds still need to be renewed and made like the mind of Jesus. But the new motive of love is there. The possibility for real love is there.
There are only two possible ways to deal with a self-centered nature:
Control it, or
Replace it with a loving nature
You’ve probably noticed in your own life that the first way doesn’t work very well. You’ve probably noticed that it doesn’t work well in your spouse’s life either.
Self-centeredness cannot be truly overcome in any other way except through Jesus Christ. Laws, rules and consequences cannot accomplish what Jesus Christ can. Without Jesus Christ the best one can hope for is to control a sinful nature. And even when it is controlled, the selfish nature will still force its way out and be a destructive force in every relationship. Better to let God replace it with His loving heart.
Now, if you and your spouse are both Christians, you both are on the right track. You both have the potential to overcome your self-centered habits and love each other. You can avoid the first reason why marriages fail.
If your spouse is not a Christian, you can’t make him or her become one. But you can give him or her opportunities to want to become one by how well you display the loving nature of Jesus.
Do you have the loving nature of Jesus Christ?
If you have not yet let God change your nature you can do so right now. It is not a process. It is not a religion. It is not something you work for or make happen. It is something you receive. God is offering you a gift—a new nature, a new life. Would you like to be like Jesus in heart and mind?
In the New Testament book of John, we find the record of a conversation between Jesus and a divorced woman who had been married five times and was now living with another man. Jesus knew what she needed. She did not. Jesus said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
The “gift of God” is everything pertaining to real life—God’s kind of life.
“Who it is who says to you” is Jesus, the Son of God.
Jesus is still saying these same words today. He says them to wives, husbands, divorcees, children … everyone. He is speaking to you.
Would you like Him to give you life? He’s just waiting for you to believe that only He can give it to you and for you to “ask” Him to do it. That’s how faith in Jesus begins. Tell Him what you are thinking. Thank Him for loving you so much that He would rather die than live without you. Ask Him to give you His nature of love. He will do it.
As I mentioned above, that new nature must still express itself through your mind. God can change your nature in a moment. But renewing your mind takes a lifetime. You need to let God heal and restore your mind, will and emotions—your soul. This is done as you learn and grow with other Christians.
If you are already connected with a strong group of Christians, great! Continue. But if you need to find such a group, we offer ourselves to you. Walnut Creek Friends can help you grow in your relationship with God and with people. As we let God heal and restore our mind, the loving nature within us has better opportunity to be expressed clearly. Selfishness decreases. Love increases.
This will dramatically affect your marriage, even if your spouse is not a Christian. Love plays the game of marriage differently than self-centeredness. In tennis, the word “love” is used in scorekeeping. In tennis, “love” means “zero.” In marriage, when even just one person has real love, it means both people have something powerful.
The Second Reason Why Marriages Fail:
The Unhealed and Unresolved Effects of Past Injuries
This is a much larger topic than can be adequately addressed here. But because it is so very important to every person and every marriage, I must say something at least by way of introduction.
There is a saying that, “Time heals all wounds.” Unfortunately this is not true. Healing may take time, but time is not the reason why wounds heal. A small cut in a dead body does not heal, even if we wait a long time. On the other hand, a small cut does heal when the cut is in a living body. It is the “life” in the living body that brings healing. Time does not heal. Life heals.
One of the more sinister aspects of sin is that it damages the human soul—our mind, will and emotions. Like the bite from a poisonous snake, there is a two-fold damage. First the fangs pierce the flesh—that’s bad enough. But it’s the poison that is injected into the body that causes the real damage. Sinful words and acts inject a lethal poison that cripples the human soul. Time does nothing to remove the poison or heal the damage.
Unfortunately, most of us have been taught otherwise. We think that if an injury to the soul happened a long time ago then it has been healed.
We were also taught to believe, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” But like the saying, “time heals all wounds,” it also is false. All sins are damaging. Some sins do not damage the body directly. Some do. But all sins damage the human soul. The damage is real and is inescapable. The damage causes us to think less clearly, choose less wisely and feel uncomfortable, even tormented.
Imagine for a moment that when you were born, you were issued a backpack. You would be required to wear this backpack every day and night of your entire life. Now let’s imagine that every time someone sinned against you, he or she put a rock in your backpack. The rock may be large or small, depending on the kind of sin, but it was a rock nonetheless. As the sins increased, so did the number of rocks in your backpack—and so did the weight. At some point you had to start walking differently, standing differently, and sitting differently. Even your sleep at night was affected by the weight in your pack.
Some people have crushing loads on their backs. Others have learned to manage semi-effectively. But everyone is carrying a backpack full of rocks. And the weight of the rocks affects how we live.
An injured soul is unable to function like a healthy soul would, just as a person weighed down with 50 pounds of rocks can’t walk like a person without a backpack. A crippled soul forces people to act out in many hurtful ways: destructive behaviors, insensitivity, outbursts of anger, isolation, chronic depression, compulsive behaviors, fighting, addictions, increased selfishness, chronic worry and fear, perfectionism, over-competitiveness and more. Damaged souls are crippled in their capacity to love God, love others and love themselves. Ultimately, the fruit of a damaged soul poisons every relationship.
The problem becomes even more severe when we learn that sin damages not only the one who is sinned against, but also the one sinning. A self-centered act is like a suicide bombing. Not only are the innocent injured, but so is the bomber. When we sin we put a rock into our own backpack!
Our entire lifetime, up to this very moment, has been spent in the presence of people who sin. Some people have sinned more, some less. And we ourselves have sinned—acted selfishly. Even if we could isolate ourselves from other people, we can’t escape ourselves. We have damaged ourselves by our own sins. The question is not, “Have I been damaged?” The question is, “How badly have I been damaged?” “How heavy is my backpack?”
And again, time does not heal the damage caused by sin, nor does turning eighteen or getting married! You don’t get to dump the rocks out at your wedding ceremony. So many people think that getting married or getting a new spouse will solve their inner soul problems. In fact, instead of healing the damage in our soul, the dynamics of marriage bring it to the surface!
Since everyone has been damaged by sin, when you got married, you married a person crippled to some degree in mind, will and emotions. You didn’t focus on how he or she was injured. Perhaps it was even hidden from you. But it was there. And the person who married you, also married someone with a crippled soul—you! These unhealed and unresolved injuries from the past work against your marriage.
In addition to the rocks the two of you carried into your marriage, you both have contributed to each other’s burden. Whenever two people live together, no matter how much they love each other, it is just a matter of time before they sin against each other—and more rocks are added to the packs.
Sometimes a spouse can add more rocks during the lifetime of a marriage than what others have added. Abusive behavior, adultery, addictions and abandonment are among the more destructive sins. But often times, the unbearable burden we feel in our own pack is not because our spouse has added so many more rocks. Rather it is because our pack was already full and we were near the breaking point when we got married.
What shall we do? How do we get the rocks out of our pack? How do we help our spouse to remove some of the rocks out of his or her pack? How do we let the life of God heal the damage caused by sin and thereby allow us to be less crippled and more loving?
Most people rely on will power, trying harder, making promises (or getting a spouse to make promises), threats and guilt. These things do not work! A person who is paralyzed from the waist down cannot run no matter how hard he or she wants to or tries to. He or she cannot run no matter how much external pressure is applied. What a paralyzed person needs is healing.
God is able to heal the damage caused by sin. But He does so only as we allow Him to.
Imagine that God is a doctor who can heal any and every ailment. But you have to go to Him to be healed. People who stay away from His office can’t receive healing. They continue in their sickness. Now I want you to imagine that the door to His office has a sign over it. The sign reads like this,
“Enter to confess your sins and receive God’s forgiveness.
Enter to forgive someone who has sinned against you.
Enter if you want to ask someone else to forgive you.”
You might think, “Hey, wait a minute. I thought this was a doctor’s office.”
It is, but the doorway into His office is forgiveness—receiving it, giving it and asking for it.
Practicing forgiveness, all three paths, is the way in which God takes the rocks, one by one, out of our pack. (It would be nice if we could just dump the whole thing out at one time, but it doesn’t work that way.) Practicing forgiveness is how God heals the damage of sins, one by one. The person who doesn’t practice forgiveness will continue in his or her broken condition. The person who develops a lifestyle of forgiveness continually becomes more and more healed, less and less crippled and more able to love.
To develop a lifestyle of forgiveness we need to learn how to identify sin and respond to it immediately in the same way God deals with sin.
Whenever we discover that we have sinned against God, we learn to immediately confess our sin to Him, knowing that Jesus has already paid for it, and receive His forgiveness.
Whenever we discover that someone has sinned against us, we learn to immediately remember that Jesus was executed for that person’s sin, accept His payment and find out how to love this person. (This love does not deny the reality of the person’s offense and the consequences that have been set in motion. Real love holds an unrepentant, unchanged person accountable for his or her actions. Real love can look very tough when that is what the other person needs.)
Whenever we discover that we have sinned against someone else, we learn to immediately go to him or her, confess our sin and ask that person to forgive us.
Forgiveness is not a one-time act. It is a continual way of thinking, a way of living based upon the payment of Jesus Christ for all sins. And it is the doorway through which we enter into God’s healing. God heals us as we practice the forgiveness only Jesus makes possible.
You and your spouse both have been damaged by sins. Some of the damage was caused by you, some by your spouse and some by other people. Also, since time does not heal the damage of sin, some of the damage was caused only days ago, some years ago, some decades ago. Some marriages fail, not because of the damage caused in the marriage, but because of damage caused before the marriage even began. The unhealed and unresolved damage from past injuries can destroy a marriage.
The damage is real. Fortunately, so is God’s healing power through the kind of forgiveness made possible only by the payment of Jesus for all sins.
If we are going to overcome the second reason why marriages fail we must learn to practice forgiveness and let God heal us. As you yourself do this, you will also give to your spouse a better opportunity to practice forgiveness. You can’t make him or her do it, but you can create the environment that makes it easier and more inviting to do.
I wish I could explain more about practicing forgiveness now, but it would become too involved and too long. However, because practicing forgiveness is so important and because it is so poorly understood, even by most Christians, Walnut Creek Friends Church conducts regular seminars on this forgiveness. If you would like to know more, please contact our church for information on the next seminar.
The Third Reason Why Marriages Fail:
Ignorance of and/or the Misunderstanding of the Fundamental Distinctions Between Each Other
The third reason why marriages fail is not as deep as the first two, but failing to take it into account has ruined many a marriage.
People are different from one another. We all know that. People are different from each other in many ways. On the one hand this is obvious, so obvious in fact, that we take it for granted. On the other hand, however, we tend to ignore this reality altogether. In general we all tend to act in ways which betray our assumption that the other person sees things the way we see them, thinks the way we think, values what we value and communicates the way we communicate.
Years ago, while driving across the southwestern part of our country, I had the opportunity to drive into Mexico. It was early in the morning and very foggy. I did not know how to speak or read Spanish, but I thought, “No problem. Surely the road signs will be in both English and Spanish.” I crossed the border and immediately realized I was in trouble. All of the signs were in Spanish! After driving through the fog for about ten minutes I decided I had to turn around immediately and come back to the country where I knew the language.
People from the United States tend to think that everyone knows English. We assume that we can go into another country, and no matter how different they may be from us, that they will make the adjustment and speak in our language. (That attitude is actually a part of the self-centeredness problem.) Occasionally that may be true, but in most cases it isn’t. If you want to communicate effectively with someone in another country then you must take the initiative and learn his or her language. Speaking English slowly or more loudly does not make English any more understandable to a person who does not know English.
This principle is true in many facets of a relationship, not just language. Even when both people speak the same language, they may fail miserably in communication. Jokes and prejudices arising out of the basic differences between men and women have been propagated for thousands of years. The jokes may be inappropriate, and the prejudices wrong, but the basis for them is often rooted in some measure of truth.
Bob and Samantha came in to see a counselor because they were both unhappy in their marriage. Both of them felt that they worked hard at trying to make their spouse feel loved and their marriage pleasant, but neither of them felt loved by the other. So the counselor asked Bob how he showed his love to Samantha.
“Well,” he said, “what I like to do is to help her get things done around the house. When I come home and see that things are messed up, I start cleaning and putting things away. I especially like it when she is gone and I can get the whole house cleaned up before she comes home.”
The counselor then asked Samantha, “How does this make you feel?”
She cautiously responded, “I feel guilty even saying this. On the one hand I like his help—but on the other hand, when Bob cleans up the house I feel inadequate. I feel like I don’t measure up. It can make me depressed.”
Bob, of course, was startled. He couldn’t imagine that helping Samantha was making her feel bad.
Then the counselor asked Samantha, “How do you show your love for your husband?”
“Well, one of the things I like to do,” she said, “is to cut some flowers from our garden, make a nice arrangement and put them on the nightstand on his side of the bed.”
“Bob, how does this make you feel?”
Bob said, “The flowers were for me? I just thought you liked flowers.”
Both Bob and Samantha failed to take into account some of the fundamental differences between men and women. They did not pay attention to how men and women tend to receive (and express) love differently. They each expressed love to the other in the way they wanted to receive it—betrayed by their statement, “what I like to do is ….” Love is not best expressed by what you like to do, but rather by what the other person likes you to do. To love in this way you must learn your spouse’s “language.”
Men and women are different in several ways. For example, men tend to feel loved when they are respected for their abilities and accomplishments. However, women tend to feel loved when they are treated as special and cherished. Men tend to focus on activities. Women tend to focus on relationships.
In recent years, several good books have been written that can give you insight into the heart and mind of the opposite sex. “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” by John Gray is one. Another is “The Language of Love” by Gary Smalley and John Trent. I can recommend both of these books to you. There are more.
The Bible also instructs us on some of these differences. After all, the God who made men and women ought to be able to tell us something about how we are the same and how we are different from one another.
One such passage is Ephesians 5:22-33. It is one of the most controversial and misused sets of verses in the Bible.
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything
” Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh
“This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.”
I did not realize the value of these verses until I memorized them and saw that neither the wife nor the husband has an advantage over the other. Both are to surrender themselves entirely to the other. One is supposed to “submit” as the Church is submitted to Christ and the other is to “love … as Christ loved the church.” So why the different commands? Because men and women receive love differently. These verses are not so much about how to structure authority in a marriage as they are an insight into how to make your spouse fall in love with you!
Notice the two words I have highlighted in bold face, cherishes and respect. A man tends to fall in love with a woman who respects him so much that she is willing to “surrender” to him—mind and body (which is why sex for men is so often associated with power). But a woman tends to fall in love with a man who cherishes her and treats her more special than anything else in his life—more important than his job, his hobbies, his mother, etc. A woman does not feel loved when she is in second place in a man’s life.
I have written a special article just on these verses entitled “How to Make Your Husband Fall in Love With You Over and Over—and visa versa.” If you would like a copy, please call the Walnut Creek Friends Church and we will send you one. Or you can come by and request a copy.
In addition to the general differences between men and women, husbands and wives also differ from each other in several other non-gender specific ways. On an individual basis, some people are more dominant while others are more passive. Some people are energized by being with other people (extroverts), while others are energized by being alone (introverts). Some want to participate, and some want to watch. Some people prefer to lead while others prefer to follow. There are many ways in which people differ from one another.
A strong marriage develops when both the husband and the wife become students of each other. You need to become an expert in your spouse. (Who has better opportunities and reasons to become an expert in your spouse?) You need to learn what make him or her “tick.” Why does he do what he does, the way he does it? What makes her feel the way she does and how do you enter into it? In a strong marriage, both the husband and the wife learn to speak the other person’s language of life instead of trying to force each other to speak their own language.
Reading good books on the basic differences between people can help you grow in your understanding of both yourself and your spouse. But far and away, the best way to come to know your spouse is to spend time with him or her, become very observant and learn to ask good questions. The books can give you generalities, but your spouse is unique. You need to do your own research. You need to become the world’s leading expert on your spouse.
What you then do with that information will be determined by the quality of your inner life. A self-centered and/or broken person will use that information to hurt his or her spouse. A selfless person who is being healed will use that information to strengthen, encourage and build up his or her spouse.
Understanding the basic differences between yourself and your spouse will help you to overcome the third reason why so many marriages fail—if you use that understanding lovingly.
Conclusion—Why Do Marriages Fail?
Marriages fail because the stresses of life on the outside overwhelm the weaknesses on the inside.
Marriages fail for very predictable reasons:
The good new is that while we have little to no control over the external stresses, God can do something about our weaknesses. You are not merely a leaf blowing in the wind, neither is your marriage. You can take action, even if your spouse does not, to become a better, stronger person and thereby improve the condition of your marriage.
Why do marriages fail? They fail because people stop trying, stop fighting for something they know is worth saving and building.
Why do marriages fail? They fail because people are doing the best they know how—but they do not know enough. They are doing what seems to them to be the best option they know, but there are better options they don’t know.
Why do marriages fail? They fail because ultimately it does take both people to sacrifice for the well-being of each other, and sometimes one person cannot or will not participate in a constructive manner. Some people are bent on destroying their spouse and/or their marriage. Sometimes there just isn’t anything more one person can do. God knows that. Again, I remind you that the Bible says, “If possible so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
It is not always possible to make a relationship work. Some marriages will fail.
There is, unfortunately, a great stigma in many churches against divorced people. Divorced people are sometimes rejected and excluded or just considered second-class Christians.
A pastor friend of mine startled me several years ago with something he said about how some churches treat divorced people. Before becoming a Christian, he had been married and divorced and remarried to another woman. Both of them then became Christians. They were happily married and serving God. But after experiencing rejection and disapproval from several Christian churches over many years he had come to this conclusion—”In many churches it would have been better for me to have killed my wife rather than divorce her.”
I first thought he was joking. When I saw that he wasn’t, I was shocked. “What do you mean?” I asked.
He said, “If I had killed my wife and then become a Christian, I would be considered by many to be a great testimony for God—a former murderer become Christian. But as a divorced person, I am forever second-class. I am treated differently.
Friends, this ought not to be!
Life is not dependent upon our past. It is not dependent upon our own failures or the failures of the people around us. Life is not dependent upon being single, married or divorced. Real life, God’s life, is dependent upon Jesus Christ and your relationship with Him.
All of us have personal experiences filled with failures and disappointments (if we don’t see that then we are in denial)—some caused by us, some caused by others and some caused by both. Jesus is in the business of fixing the problem. Jesus is in the business of taking dead people and making them alive, of taking broken people and making them whole! There are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. There are only humble people wanting to let God make them into saints.
Jesus said, “… I have come that you may have life, and have it to the fullest!” What you need and want most in life is not dependent upon your husband or wife or your marriage. Your husband or wife is not God (which you have probably already noticed). Your soul was made to have a deep, abiding, satisfying, fulfilling, relationship with the One who created you for Himself—God. There is no substitute for God or the relationship we can have with Him. Even a perfect marriage to a perfect spouse cannot give you or be for you what only God can be in your life.
God loves you. And whether you are a man or a woman, single, married or divorced, He wants to have a relationship with you that is bigger, stronger, deeper and more intense than any relationship between two human beings. He is pursuing you as if He were courting you. Are you responding to His love, kindness and generosity?
Becoming a Christian is a lot like courtship. Someone introduces you to each other. You like what you see and start to spend time with each other. After a while, you get to know the other person well enough, and enjoy each other’s company so thoroughly, that you want to be together “forever.” Then it is time to make a decision, “Shall I continue to pursue this relationship and make it my number one priority or let it go?” Jesus is wholly committed to you. Can you commit yourself to Him?
If the person of Jesus Christ is new to you, I want to encourage you to start spending some time with Him. Talk to Him. Listen to Him. Learn about Him in the Bible. Spend time with others who know Him well and act like Him. Jesus really is a wonderful person and He loves you so much that He would rather die than live without you—and that is precisely why He died, so that He might have the opportunity to live with you and you with Him forever!
But since the quality of every relationship is dependent upon both persons, you have to decide to respond to Him and say, “Thank you for loving me so much. Thank you for dying for me so that I could be forgiven. Thank you for wanting me. Yes, I want you, too.”
Then, as in any good marriage, continue to spend time with Him, getting to know Him more and more. Any husband and wife who fail to spend adequate time together are working against their marriage rather than for it. Good relationships can only grow when time is spent together.
For this reason, we want to invite you to come and be a part of the Walnut Creek Friends Church. A church family is not a substitute for God, but a good church family can help you discover the love of God in Christ Jesus and deepen your relationship with Him. If you do not have such a church family, please come. Our hearts and arms are open wide to you.
Now, may the God who made men and women, who created the relationship we call “marriage,” strengthen and encourage you and give you life, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- Steve Diehl