The Five Pillars of a Healthy Christian Marriage
By Steve Wright, LPC
Marriage is an amazing relationship in which a couple says to each other, “This is who I am, please accept me and love me for the rest of my life.” It is true that being married is no guarantee for happiness and that the institution of marriage in America is in trouble. Following are some Christian insights into understanding the ideal of what a Christian marriage should or could be.
Jesus, in talking about the sacredness of Christian marriage, said this: “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Years ago, as a young man, I worked in construction as a laborer. The company I worked for built custom homes around a lake. One of these projects was rather interesting. The owner had purchased a plot of land that was simply two sides to a ravine that led to the lake. In order to build a home there we had to have dirt and rock hauled in and dumped into the ravine until it was full. Then, after it was compressed by some pretty big machines, piers or pillars had to be bored into the ground until they hit bedrock. The house, a large one, was built on those underground pillars.
Marriage is a house that is in danger of being washed away unless it is built on some pretty strong pillars. I have here identified five pillars to marriage. These pillars need each to be strengthened in order for it to stand. They are foundational.
The first pillar is LOVE.
1 Corinthians defines love for us. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
In describing love to husbands Paul explains in Ephesians 5:25ff that love is about giving, not feeling.
C. S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity (1960) describes the difference between being “in love” and love.
Love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run; being in love was the explosion that started it. (Lewis, 1960)
Most people, when they are asked, “Do you love your spouse?” will consider the question from the perspective of being “in love.” In other words, they answer whether or not they feel love at the moment. “Do you love your spouse?” however, is more a question of one’s actions. When asked, “Do you love your spouse,” the answer should be based on actions toward one’s husband or wife. If the answer is, “yes, I love my husband/wife,” then one should be saying, “I am giving myself to him/her.”
The second pillar is TRUST.
A good marriage cannot be built and sustained without trust. Trust toward one another is vital.
Marital trust has three basic levels. Each of these levels is weighted in importance. The first level is that of fidelity. A married person must be able to trust that his or her spouse will remain faithful in the marriage. God placed such an importance on this area of trust in marriage that He made not committing adultery one of the Ten Commandments.
The second level of trust is that of honesty. A husband or wife should be able to trust that his or her partner will be honest. A spouse must be honest about who they are, what they’re feeling and thinking, and about their successes and failures. There should be no hiding from one another. They should be able to trust each other to tell the truth.
Now, if a spouse does not tell the truth about something, it doesn’t break the foundation of the marriage trust, but it does damage the relationship. A big question to be asked is why one’s spouse was untruthful. The answer to that question plays a big part in healing the wound of that broken trust. If, for instance, a wife fails to tell her husband that she got a ticket because she was afraid he would be angry, and if he has a history of being angry over things like that, then both of them must work on healing that wound. She needs to reestablish her credibility with him by being honest and he needs to make it safe for her to tell the truth by not punishing her with his anger for doing so.
The third level of trust has to do with behaviors. A husband or wife generally wants to trust that his or her spouse will behave in certain ways toward him or her. One wants to trust the other to meet needs, to treat with respect, to be patient and to consider him or her in daily activities.
The levels of trust, one, two, or three, are designated so for the following reason. If a husband breaks his wife’s trust on the first level, he destroys far more than breaking her trust on the third level. Conversely, if a husband forgets to call his wife to let her know he will be late, it would not have the devastating effect infidelity would have had. It may have broken her trust and weakened the relationship, but it doesn’t destroy it and takes less work to mend.
The third pillar is RESPECT.
Respect is the way a person treats something he or she values. If something is highly valued, a person will treat it with honor and dignity. One does not mistreat it or discard it. A valid question to ask is, “How much do I value my spouse?”
Without respect marriage partners feel devalued. That devaluation erodes this pillar and causes coldness toward one another. 1 Peter 2:17 says, “Show proper respect to everyone.”
What must be understood, however, is that men and women feel respected in different ways. A man typically feels valuable when he is able to figure something out and accomplish a goal or objective. A woman feels valued when she has someone who will listen to her and to whom she can talk and be understood.
Now, if it is true that one respects what one values, then it can be expected that a husband and wife, will show respect to each other. The problem is that the way a man shows respect for someone he values is to help fix problems and provide answers. The way a woman shows respect to someone she values is to talk to him or her.
The goal is to first of all choose to value one’s spouse, then to learn how to show him or her respect in a way he or she will understand and appreciate.
A husband who values his wife who comes to him with a problem should rethink his first inclination is to come up with a solution. He should realize that she may not be looking for a solution. She is respecting him by talking to him and expressing what she is feeling. Coming up with a solution may cause her to become frustrated or angry because she just wants to make a connection, not fix her problem. When that happens, the husband may become frustrated or angry because he thinks she thinks his solution isn’t good enough for her.
A wife who values her husband will express gratitude toward him when he accomplishes something. She will try to understand his tendency to “fix” problems and provide answers.
Men and women are generally wired like this. Possibly, God made humans this way to keep boredom at bay. A man and woman have a lifetime of trying to figure one another out. A lot of jokes have been made about men not being able to understand women. It is just as true that women have a difficult time understanding men. Joking aside, the pillar of value for one another means that husbands and wives hold each other in such esteem they are willing to forego natural ways of showing respect and learn how to show respect in ways that one’s spouse will understand.
Fourth is the pillar of UNDERSTANDING.
A man once wrote a note to his wife after a misunderstanding: “Dearest, If I say something that can be taken two ways and one of those ways makes you sad or angry, I meant it the other way.”
Zechariah 8:16 These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment….
Understanding one another is a pillar that has everything to do with going to school. A husband’s job is to become a student of his wife. A wife’s job is to become a student of her husband.
A spouse might ask the following questions:
How well do I know my spouse?
Am I aware of what he/she likes to eat?
Do I know what it is that makes him/her happy? Sad? Frustrated? Angry?
Am I aware of how he/she will react in certain situations?
How does he/she think and communicate?
Why does he/she feel certain ways?
Understanding one’s spouse is vital in order to ensure that one will be able to show respect, communicate effectively, and be what that other person needs.
There are a variety of books and seminars that deal with the issue of trying to understand one’s spouse. What they all have in common is the premise that a husband can learn about a wife and a wife can learn about a husband. The key is to learn what one’s spouse interprets as love and do that, even though one’s tendency is to do what would make oneself feel loved.
The bottom line is that a husband must become the student of his wife and a wife must become the student of her husband for them to grow a great marriage.
The 5th and final pillar is FAITH.
Faith is the understanding that there is something larger than self. It is the possibility of something better. It is the archetype, the idea of beauty. These ideals are in the mind of God. One sees something and believes it to be beautiful, but what is beauty? Beauty is the ideal God created as a template for all things beautiful.
There is an archetype for marriage. It is an ideal set in the mind of God. When one’s faith is in God and in the possibility of marriage being wonderful, hope increases. The ideal is something to strive for. It is an unreachable goal, but one to hold as a standard for a lifetime.
Two people of faith who hold before them the ideal of marriage as God intended will find the journey of marriage to be the most fulfilling of all earthly relationships, in this writer’s humble opinion.