(Ask Anything Friday is a series that I try to get to each Friday… if you have a question, submit it HERE. No subject is off-limits! Questions can relate to the church, theology, personal life, etc.)
If Veronica sees that I am answering this question, she may burst out laughing or post angry comments below. I didn't do a good job leading my wife the 1st year of our marriage. As I often say, I've been married for 8 wonderful years… and 1 other one for a total of 9. That one bad year was our 1st year, and it was mostly because of me. God graciously changed both of us, mainly me, and because of that Veronica and I now have a much better, and much richer, relationship.
Of course, if you'd have asked me how my marriage was going during that 1st year, I would have said, like every newlywed Christian guy does, "Awesome!" Liars. All liars.
Marriage is the bringing together of 2 insanely flawed people who have hitherto only had to worry about themselves (yes, a slight overspeak, but you get the point). Marriage brings your selfishness and neediness to the surface, and forces you to die to yourself. As you are confronted with the need to die to yourself you likely will put up a nasty fight. Veronica and I both did. Being crucified is never fun, even when you get to have sex in the process.
So, my quick and dirty advice to you newlywed guys would be this:
- Be honest about your struggles. Open up to others about what is going on and quit faking… Be mentored by an older, godly, married man. And, whatever you do, don't wait on your wife to tell you that you need counseling. You are the spiritual leader, which means that you have to be the one who knows when you need some help.
- Become a student of (a) women, (b) marriage and (c) your wife. (A) Women are very, very different from you. 1 Peter 3:7 calls them a weaker vessel, and tells us to honor them as such. "Weaker" does not mean inferior, but "weaker" as in the way a thermometer compares to a crowbar. True, a crowbar will not break as easily as a thermometer, but there's a lot of things a thermometer can do that a crowbar can't do. So learn what those differences are, and honor those in your wife. Recognize that she, by design, reveals a different dimension of the image of God than you do. I'd suggest, for that purpose, William Harley's His Needs, Her Needs. (B) Learn everything you can about marriage. Read, fool. Turn off SportsCenter and study what the Bible says about this relationship that determines your personal happiness more than ESPN ever will. I'd recommend Gary Thomas' Sacred Marriage for that purpose. (C) Become a student of your wife. A married mentor of mine told me that… to observe her, study her, and learn what she loves and what she hates and what hurts her and what thrills her. Your emotional happiness is forever tied to her like it is to no other. Become an certified Ph.D. expert on her.
- Be patient. She is different than you. If she does need to be "changed," you will do that not by being harsh with her or by criticizing her. You will change her by your unconditional love and adoration. Think about it, that's how Jesus changes us. He accepts and loves us into His image. Paul tells us to love our wives like that.
- Your primary role with her is lover, not pastor-teacher. I see a lot of young, spiritually-minded guys really screw this one up. I did. Yes, you are to "present her faultless to God," but you are primarily her Christ-like lover. If you notice that she is not doing her quiet time every day, don't lecture her about it. If you think she is too concerned about her looks, don't preach to her about the sin of vanity. If she does indeed struggle with those things, you won't correct her by teaching her, you'll only build a feeling of condemnation in her that translates into resentment and her fantasizing about your premature death. Praise her, extol her virtues. Notice the strengths and assume the weaknesses and not visa versa. Over time, the love you show her and the model you are to her will produce more change in her than one of your brilliantly crafted homiletics…
- Realize that God's purpose for you in your marriage is to teach you to love like He does, which means loving a flawed sinner despite all their dysfunction. As Saint Lewis (i.e., C.S.) said regarding Ephesians 5:22, "The husband who gets this verse is the one whose marriage most feels like a crucifixion…This verse is most embodied in the husband whose wife receives most and gives the least, it’s the one whose wife is most unworthy of him, is—in her own mere nature—least lovable. For the church has no beauty but what the bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.” Or, to quote Gary Thomas, "Our purpose in getting married is often to find someone who can make us happy by meeting our needs. God's primary purpose in our marriage is to make us holy by giving us a chance to love like He does." (my paraphrase)
- Meditate on the Gospel. As Paul shows us in Ephesians 5:22-31, it is only by knowing Christ's love for you that you can love her properly. Think on it often, and love your wife as you have been loved.
- Give yourselves a while to get good at sex. Especially if you are a virgin when you get married (and I hope you are!), give yourselves a while to get good at sex. The worst sex of your life will be on your honeymoon. You'll good get at it, I promise. Those who report the greatest satisfaction with their sex lives are married Christian couples who have been married for a while (see Danny Akin, God on Sex).
Hope this helps… thoughts from others? If it helps, we did a study on marriage and relationships last year from Song of Solomon called "exposed." You can go here, type in "exposed" in the "sort options," and they're all up for free.