If I Could Go Back: Lessons for Marriage
May 23, 2012
By Sarah Strand
Jason and I will be celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary in two weeks. I am thankful that our love has become richer and deeper through all of the ups and downs of life. We have grown and learned in ways I never expected.
Ten years ago I was an almost 22 year old who had just graduated from college. I looked forward to our marriage with excitement, a little reality, and a lot of expectations.
We did the premarital counseling and filled out the worksheet where we each stated our expectations, but let’s get real, you don’t really know what you expect until you get there.
In my head we were going to clean the toilet together, grocery shop together, and pretty much everything else in between… together. Jason, as you can imagine had some different expectations.
If I could go back and teach my 21-year-old self a lesson (and I know I still have many more to learn), this would be a biggie. If I had learned this lesson earlier it could have kept us from many unnecesarry conflicts and hurt feelings.
The lesson is this, as spouses we will not fill every need, nor were we meant to. I am an advocate of books that teach us to fill each other’s love tanks, because God has called us to love each other deeply. BUT when rely too highly on our spouse to fulfill our needs and not enough on God we make our spouse an idol.
An idol is anything we put before God. In Deuteronomy 5:7, one of The Ten Commandments, God says, “You must not have any other god but me.” Marriage is a blessing created by God, and is a good thing. But idols can be just that—“good things that we’ve put before God.” Has your spouse become an idol in an unhealthy way?
If you find yourself upset often with your spouse or constantly disappointed maybe you are not seeking Christ first to meet your needs for love and acceptance. Applying these four things will hopefully improve your marriage and lead it in the direction that God intended it to be.
First, confess to God that you have looked to your spouse to meet unrealistic needs and turned him/her into an idol. Say to God, “I want you to be in your rightful place, number one in my heart.” Seek God through His Word and prayer, and ask Him to fill you with His love and presence. God is the only one who can meet our deepest needs.
Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” What a great application to marriage. This verse pertains to our emotional needs as well as our physical needs. God will give us everything we need when we seek Him first.
Second pray for your spouse. Bring your need to God, asking Him to show your spouse how they can love you in that specific way you are desiring. I have never had someone tell me that they changed their behavior because their spouse nagged them for long enough. God can change hearts, and we cannot.
Third, use actions and kind words. This is challenging because for most of us our first reaction when we don’t get what we want is to whine. I know mine is. Instead, ask your spouse in a kind tone for what you’re wanting. If you want quality time, explain that it’s important to you and ask in a loving tone instead of a complaining tone.
Take action to love and respect your spouse. Be the first to show kindness. Be the first to forgive, out serve, and encourage. 1 John 4:19 says ”We love each other because he [Christ] loved us first.”
Fourth, reevaluate your expectations. As Gary Thomas says in his book Sacred Marriage, “Marriage is not given to us to make us happy but to make us holy.”
That’s a profound statement. It means that your spouse isn’t going to meet your every need. It means that you may have moments where there’s conflict and unhappiness, but it also means that God has a greater purpose.
Marriage is a training ground for holiness. It’s an opportunity for us to grow in selflessness, serventhood, and sacrificial love. It’s an opportunity for us to hold our tongue instead of lashing out in anger. It’s an opportunity to forgive instead of hold a grudge.
Holiness is a completely different expectation than happiness. And here’s the good news. I’ve found that my marriage is more joyful than ever when I’m not creating an expectation that my spouse is going to meet my every need or make me happy at all times.
I am excited to grow by God’s grace in this area, so next decade of marriage here I come.
Sarah Strand has been married to Teaching Pastor Jason Strand for 10 years. Together they have four children. Prior to staying home with their kids, Sarah worked as a marriage and family therapist. She blogs at writeitonarock.com.