May 13, 2014

The Two Dimensions of Marriage

Gary Thomas —

         There are two questions we can ask within marriage that will take us to two entirely different dimensions. We have to choose in which dimension we want to live. The two questions are these:

            “How can I bless you?”


            “How can I get my own way?”

            If we live in the second dimension (“How can I get my own way?”), every conflict will be resolved in terms of how we benefit from the outcome. If we live in the first dimension (“How can I bless you?”), every conflict will be resolved in terms of how our spouse is blessed in the process.

            Sacred marriage is about choosing to live in the first dimension. I have to focus my thoughts, emotions, and ultimately my will on the purpose of blessing my spouse. I have to reject the second dimension as being less than a sacred marriage, something unworthy of fighting about, and something rejected by Scripture (“What causes fights and quarrels among you?…You want something but don’t get it.” James 4:1, 2).

            Every day of marriage is a fight to live in the first dimension. Every selfish fiber in my sin-stained soul tempts me and urges me to dwell in the second.

            Does living in the first dimension mean we become “sacred doormats”? Absolutely not. It all depends on the content of the word “bless.”

            For instance, in a real-life scenario, a wife told me that her husband said, “Quit throwing away my pornography. I need it. If you throw away my pornography, I’m throwing away your Bible.”

            Her desire is that her husband not keep a stash of pornography. That’s what she wants. But it’s also what will most bless her husband. So she doesn’t “give way” and allow him to maintain a separate sexual life apart from their intimacy. She “blesses” him by saying, “No, I won’t stand for this.”

            To bless someone is to seek their ultimate good, and their ultimate good is what draws them to God.

            Another scenario: let’s say a husband is married to his church. He’s ignoring his wife and kids, or, perhaps better said, making them less a priority. His ego is clearly tied up in pleasing his congregation every Sunday with a sermon that will be praised. The wife wants him to invest more of himself at home. That’s a good and holy desire, and in fact a spiritually healthy desire, as pride pulls us away from God and service brings us closer to God. So “putting up with that” isn’t blessing him, it’s hurting him.

            But her reproof will be aimed toward blessing her husband, not getting her own way.

A husband might “bless” his wife by truly wanting her to consider a healthier style of life. He might want her to be released to enjoy sexual intimacy more freely and more often. Of course, he would benefit from both these aims, but if he is driven by a desire to bless her, not to get what he wants, he will still be living in the first dimension.

            Living in the first dimension is all about Holy Spirit inspired and empowered hearts directing our wills. It is the only sustaining basis for a truly sacred marriage.

            Our spouses can usually tell if we are pursuing the first or second dimension. I can’t explain why, but there’s just a different tenor in our tone, a different approach, a different attitude that comes out of us when we live by the first dimension than when we selfishly pursue the second.

            When we live self-righteously in the second dimension, we can do great harm, even when we’re in the “right.” It’s possible to be “right” in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. Fighting for the right out of selfish concerns is still a miserable place to live. We’ll lose even if we win. Besides, nobody wants to be “conquered,” even if they deserve to be. And when we live in the second dimension, that’s what we’re seeking to do—conquer our spouse.

            A healthy marriage, a growing-in-intimacy marriage, is built on the partners consciously choosing to think about and ask, “How can I bless my spouse?” A shrinking marriage, a marriage devolving into frustration and disappointment, is a marriage in which the partners fall into the default mode of “How can I get my own way today?” If we don’t think about this, we’ll usually just collapse into the second mode. We have to choose (and keep choosing) to live in the first dimension. But just like climbing a large hill is worth the effort when you get to the top and enjoy the view, so the “work” of living in dimension one is rewarded when you build a marriage based on blessing. It’s a very pleasant place to live.



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2 responses to The Two Dimensions of Marriage

  1. Gary, I always enjoy your posts.

    I just finished teaching Cloud and Townsend’s Boundaries in Marriage at my church and they said the same thing in the last session. They were discussing Ephesians 5. To use your terminology, if a husband lives in the first dimension, and the wife resists him, something is wrong. The reverse would also be true.

  2. You wrote: In a real-life scenario, a wife told me that her husband said, “Quit throwing away my pornography. I need it. If you throw away my pornography, I’m throwing away your Bible.”

    That short three-sentence paragraph should scare ANY believer from dating a believer. Wow. Will be sharing this post with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community at

    Thanks again, Gary!