Marriage and the Family - 7 - Buyer Beware!

Chapter 7

Buyer Beware!

Much is said at engagement parties, showers, and weddings, about a particular couple being compatible. The truth, however, is that no two human beings are truly compatible. How could it be when we bring to a marriage two fallen human natures? Only the grace of God and the transforming power of the indwelling Spirit can bring about conditions which enable two people to become “compatible” with each other.

But there are additional liabilities. Along with bringing our fallen, self-centered natures into a marriage relationship, we also bring a considerable amount of other baggage.

Baggage Never Discarded

We are all the summation of not only our genes, but also our generations. We are the result of many life experiences and the effects they have had upon us. The following is a brief list of some of the factors which may influence how we react and adjust to marital conditions.

Patterns that were wrong: Our first lesson on how to be a husband or how to be a wife is learned as we observe our parents interacting with each other. If parents did not have a good relationship, if a father was intimidating and demanding, a wife distant and cold, we may accept this as the “norm” in human relationships and never strive for anything better. Being creatures of extremes, we either totally emulate our parents in both their marital and parental style, or we run to the opposite extreme.

How did parents resolve difficulties? Did they talk? Did they avoid facing problems? All this leaves deep imprints on young minds.

Parenting that was Wrong: Emotional distancing, conditional love, manipulation by guilt, insecurity, and a host of other maladaptive parenting techniques can be in our past. How was conflict resolved? How was discipline enforced? What were the priorities of the family? We tend to learn our parenting skills from our parents. Yet we are responsible to take these principles and to view them in light of the teaching of the Word of God. None of us is perfect as either a spouse or parent. Errors have been made by all. Yet it is the tenor of a life that has its lasting effect on others.

Principles that were Wrong: Some children are raised in an atmosphere of distrust, negativism, self-survival. Hypocrisy and manipulation of others become the tools of the trade. Some couples are driven by peer pressure, living an esteem-conscious existence. Some families are marked by a stress on the superficial, outward appearance to satisfy others without any concern for reality and depth. Spouses who have lived one type of life within the home and another when amongst believers project a wrong image for their children. This hypocritical life style may well be emulated by these same children in their marital relationships

Perversions that were Wrong: Tragically, some children have been raised with abuse of every conceivable form: physical, emotional, and sexual. This can lead to difficulties in establishing and maintaining future relationships  - especially with any depth and permanency. Why ever “relate” to anyone when all that has happened is that those closest to you either have abused you or have allowed you to be abused? The need to maintain distance has become a learned survival strategy. Fear of intimacy due to abuse can destroy a future marriage, unless both spouses are aware of the problem and willing to seek the help needed.

Blemishes Never Overcome

Memories of Past Relationships: Acquisitions and mergers, dissolution and bankruptcy, always leave marks. At times they are scars of guilt and at other times they are scars of anger and bitterness. When you are dealing with another believer, it is vital to remember that you are dealing with someone in the most vulnerable area of his emotional makeup. Kindness, purity, and honesty are always essential; their absence is never excusable.

Marks of Premarital Unchastity: Like several of the forgoing statements, it would be good if this did not have to be written. But reality is that in a world marked by a sexual frenzy and madness, many young people are driven to premarital experiences - most in their unconverted days, but some, sadly, even after conversion.

Sin can never be dealt with lightly. It always leaves scars. Those scars can open and cause a breach in a marriage, even when there has been confession before the Lord. Memory intrudes without any mercy at the most sensitive of moments. May this warning be sufficient to cause all to heed the warning of the Wise Woman of Proverbs when she urged, “Come not nigh the door of her house ...” (Prov 5:8).

Blind Spots Never Illuminated

Closely linked with the baggage we have brought into a marriage is the potential for a spouse to have blind spots which can be a major issue. These blind spots might relate to what a marriage relationship in the Lord is really like. Some enter marriage thinking that if they are in the will of God, then there will be no problems or relationship difficulties. The only apt comment to this is, “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matt 6:23). To enter marriage with the false expectation of a “no-problem” marriage is folly. But worse still, it sets up the mentality which begins a process of reverse-reasoning. As soon as a difficulty arises, each begins questioning if their marriage is really “in the Lord.” Tragically, this can lead to the false conclusion and unscriptural step of ending the marriage.

But blind spots also extend to what I expect from my spouse in the marriage. Roles of headship and submission are conditioned to a large degree on what we have learned from parents and others, rather than what we have learned from the Word of God.

Battles Never Fought

None of us (with a few minor exceptions), enjoy fighting. Most will do all possible to avoid confrontation and difficulties. But how are we to manage and resolve conflict? Some ignore it; others deny it; some repress it, providing for a future explosion. Does Scripture give us any insight?

The Song of Solomon actually does give us a principle to move on. In chapter 2:15, the bridegroom takes the lead in seeking to resolve potential problems. Yet he recognizes it is a shared responsibility -“Take us ... “ He can perceive issues which might cause a problem, or are causing a problem, in their early stage - “the little foxes.” He recognizes as well the need to deal with them together, openly, to avoid the potential damage they can do to a marriage - “spoil the vines.” In all this, he appreciates how fragile a good marriage is, and how rich it can be if roles are carried out as God intended and if issues are resolved and not ignored - “the tender grapes.”

What is the result of facing difficulties? It is seen in the very next verse by a sense of deepening intimacy and oneness.

Bitterness Never Resolved

The Cancer of an Unforgiving Spirit: Few things are as destructive to any relationship as an unforgiving spirit. We learn a vital lesson in 1 Corinthians 13: Love does not keep score! Love does not take thought of the evil done to it. It prizes something more than its own ego, rights, or vengeance. It prizes the object of its love. There should be no nursing of hurts, no storing up of bitterness. We need a spirit which not only avoids anger, but does not let the sun go down on it (Eph 4:26).

The Cause of an Unforgiving Spirit: We can make many excuses, some even plausible, for why we cannot forgive. We may label it as an inability to “forget” or to get “over the hurt,” or some similar euphemism. But the truth we do not wish to face is that we are not willing to forgive. It is understood that individuals do need time to heal and time as well to process the damaging event. Likewise, it is wise to understand that forgiving, while an act of my will, is also something which is ongoing as the hurt of the event tends to resurface.

The Cost of an Unforgiving Spirit: The person who holds out for vengeance has become a slave to the person who has caused the hurt. They become totally obsessed with one issue: when and where they can exact their revenge. The center of their existence becomes the object of their anger. Life goes on hold; spiritual growth and usefulness is cancelled. Torment and frustration become the norm. A bitter spirit prevails and destroys.

Burdens Never Anticipated

The burden of illness is very real and can be most challenging to a marriage . At times it requires role reversal when a husband is laid aside and not able to work. His despondency over his inability to provide for a family coupled with the stress on the wife who is now doing more than she ever anticipated, can prove to be a devastating blow. If this illness leads to a prolonged or permanent disability, then the stress is even greater. It takes a committed couple who bow to the sovereign ways of God, to be able to ride out the storm.

The burden of children is also a strain on a marriage. While children enrich and deepen family relationships, they can also make parental insecurities and personality weaknesses surface. If a marriage is stressed by illness or the death of a child, this can become critical, as parents may begin blaming each other or may look within for a cause of the tragedy.

Boundaries Never Drawn

Since this has been dealt with earlier in the book, it is sufficient here to say that parents must recognize that they have given their children away to form a new headship and family unit. Our value as parents is primarily prior to the marriage of our children. It is here that we prepare them for the future, and then point them in the right direction. Advice, counsel when asked, encouragement whenever possible: all these are what we can do. But we must recognize boundaries which the Word of God has set around a husband and wife. If we fail as a married couple to establish that boundary, or if we fail as parents to recognize that boundary with our married children, we are inviting difficulty.