January 16, 2019

Your Marriage is About so Much More than You

Gary Thomas — 

A few years ago, Lisa and I took a military transport and landed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It felt unbearably hot, even for a couple traveling from Houston. Yet the Navy chaplain escorting us around said, “Congratulations—you wisely came here during the coolest time of the year.”

Trips like this one overwhelm me with the sacrifices our soldiers make on our behalf (if you’re one of them, thank you). Many are separated from their families for months at a time. Their restaurant options make cooking at home seem like a good option. The internet connection brought back fond memories of 1990 (It took me 45 minutes to download a 32-minute podcast). And the “coolest time of the year” felt like walking on top of solar heating panels.

My first assignment at the base was to speak to a youth group on The Sacred Search (making a wise marital choice). Afterwards, an 11-year-old boy asked to shake my hand and said, “I just want to thank you for saving my parents’ marriage. My dad said your book [Sacred Marriage] held them together, and our home has been so different ever since they read it.”

Lisa (sitting next to me) and I were at a complete loss for words. He was so young, and so earnest, and so thankful, and it reminded me of a truth every parent needs to take to heart:

Your marriage is about so much more than you.

This kid said his life had been changed because his parents’ marriage had been changed.

When you fight to stay intimate with each other, when you struggle to persevere and forgive, when you pray and work to defeat the personal demons that war against your marriage, your fidelity and your very soul, you’re not just fighting for your own happiness. You’re fighting for your kids and grandkids. You’re fighting for the church’s witness. You’re fighting for the glory of God.

People who run first marathons often run for charities, saying, “I don’t want this to be just about me.” They’re willing to endure 26 miles because it means more than mere exercise to them. In our marriages, the stakes are even higher than that. Will we endure, and not just endure, but press in to each other so that we not only stay together, but thrive together and learn to cherish each other in our passion to give the world and the church the joy and example of a sacred, intimate marriage based on a mutual love for Jesus Christ?

If you could have seen how vulnerable that 11-year-old boy seemed, how sincerely grateful he was, you would be moved as much as Lisa and I were.

For younger couples, this is an inspiring call to rethink your priorities and double-down on the primacy of your relationship to God first, your marriage second, and parenting third. One of the most important tasks of parenting is demonstrating what it means to cherish your spouse. If you give your kids a warm kiss but your spouse a cold shoulder, they’ll notice. If you speak kind words of encouragement to them in the morning but cruel words of contempt to your spouse in the evening, they won’t define their home as “loving.”

For older couples (or perhaps those on their second marriage), the empty nest years offer an opportunity to take your marriage to the next level. We can’t erase all that our kids witnessed when they were growing up. But we can demonstrate the difference Jesus makes in a marriage when we re-surrender our lives to him, orient ourselves around loving him and then loving each other, choose to make our marriage more of a priority, and pray that we can give our children and grandchildren an inspiring picture of mature love going forward.

Lisa gets this, so one of my favorite things about having our children visit is her determination to make sure our marriage is operating at its finest. In part, that means we are definitely going to have sex the night before they visit. I’ve always been willing to do my part to help make this happen. Taking one for the team, of course…

Whether your children (or grandchildren) live with you or are older and just visiting, more than they need a hot meal and clean sheets, they need to see the power of a God-centered, God-empowered mature love. We might wish we could have done better for our children in the past, but a darker past will only serve as a contrast to a brighter future, glorifying God all the more and pointing our children toward Him as the one who makes all things new.

The empty nest, by definition, is defined by loss. Let’s redefine it by filling that loss with an increasing level of love and cherishing for each other. After all, our marriages aren’t just about us. They’re about so much more than that.

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22 responses to Your Marriage is About so Much More than You

  1. Gary,

    I just bought your book Cherished and have read the first 3 chapters. They are extremely thought provoking and helpful. I am pre reading as a possible book for my women’s Ministry/study I am involved in. My question is in chapter 1 & 2 you refer back to Sacred Marriage which I have not read. Is Cherish a sequal book that would be best to read after Sacred Marriage? We have many women who are struggling and asking us for a marriage study. Would you recommend one over the other to to start with? Thanks so much!

  2. My husband and I are now divorced as of 4 days ago after 29 years. He says he is not happy. I have grown in so many ways over the past few months. Over the past couple of months, I have grown closer to God. He has a very hard heart and a real problem with unforgiveness. I am praying he turns his life back to Christ

  3. If you are both Christ followers and your relationship is not improving due to one of you not “working at it”, then the person working at it and frustrated could go to Biblical counseling alone. (Biblical counseling is different from psychological couseling) You will learn and change from the counseling and the other may notice the change and get inspired. Just knowing that you are getting the counseling to save your marriage would spark some deep thinking in the other. If not, then your counselor will give you suggestions on how to convince your significant other to get the counseling in order that you are both investing fruitfully in the relationship.

  4. Married for 19 years. I have slept on the couch for the last 18.5 years because of his terribly loud snoring. I have talked to him about trying to find a solution other than nose strips (which didnt work); he hasn’t tried anything else. I have tried ear plugs, which also didn’t work. In the beginning of married life, we had a terrible disagreement with his parents and they stopped talking to both of us for years. My world came crashing in when he cut me off physically, emotionally, etc. He denied blaming me for what happened to this day but actiona speak louder than words. Nothing hurt more than him shutting me out. I ended up having an affair..BIG mistake. We now have 4 kids and I still long for the ideal of marriage…true intimacy. I feel resentful sleeping on the couch and I don’t feel like a priority at all. Recently, I told him that I felt like either his mother or maid and not his wife. Im not sure if im just being self centered or what? This is not what I dreamed of.

    • Victoria, If we can’t sleep, we become irritable people. It’s not healthy to go without sleep. And if your husband snores that loudly and medical help can’t alleviate it, I don’t think sleeping in a separate place is the issue (though I would hope most husbands would offer to take the couch rather than the reverse). But the other issues you mention are huge and they don’t sound like they have been or are being dealt with. It sounds to me like you’re concerned about some “symptoms” rather than root causes. This is a case where I’d strongly recommend you visit a counselor by yourself first, and then bring in your husband as the counselor directs. You need a counselor who can probe for abuse but also help you understand what led to the affair. There’s a lot of work ahead for you two. I doubt this is something you’ll walk out of on your own.

    • I want you to know I’m praying for you. God’s got this!

  5. “a darker past will only serve as a contrast to a brighter future, glorifying God all the more and pointing our children toward Him as the one who makes all things new.” I am hanging on to this as truth. I have a lot of resentment and unforgiveness toward my husband dating back to almost a decade ago that I know has tainted our entire family. I have started a program for recovery from sexual and emotional abuse in a Christian setting. I’m only 2 sessions in, and it seems all my repressed hurts are on the surface, and the thought of “making love” to my husband makes me want to vomit at this time.

    But there has to be hope. Because God is God, and whenever I make him smaller than that, things start to spin out of control and I experience anxiety attacks that seem to come out of nowhere, and the trauma starts to replay in my head over and over again to the point that the little changes my husband HAS made are no longer seen by me. In fact, just the other day, I had an anxiety attack that lasted for HOURS; I have no more tears to cry, no more verses to declare. But I’ve been walking with Jesus for 12 years now and there just has to be more.

    Those of us who have suffered in our marriages and for our marriages, those of us who have fought for our marriages alone while our spouse remains unchanged, at least to the naked eye, have to find hope in God alone. Because God is the only one who gets us. Sorry to disappoint, but we have to let God cut into us and get the self-protection out, get the vengeful heart out; we have to kick and scream and let Him have His way.

    I hope and pray that at the end of this program, my heart will be less cold, even if by one or two degrees, so that some day, my daughter who is about to turn five will notice a change that I can testify about later on.

    I don’t have an epic testimony at this time, but I might have one in a few years, maybe even 20 years. Praise God.

    • Liz, your testimony sounds epic to me already. I can’t tell you how much this moved me. This is faith in action. God bless you!

  6. I’m thinking my husband will be very eager to have our children visit more often when he reads this! 😉😁

    • Lori,
      Lisa swears by it, and I’m not one to argue…

      • Lisa apparently has purer motives than me. I, for one, would be planning a special “night before” for other, more practical reasons:

        – so I can stay up late with THE KIDS, not the hubby, when they visit, and
        – so I can fall into bed the night the children and grandchildren arrive, since I know I’ll be exhausted.

        🙂

  7. As we approach 50 years of marriage, I reflect. Once, my wife was asked “how could you live with the same man for 45 yrs. Her response “Oh, he’s not the same man!” For the last 15 yrs we make a point whether together or apart (due to travel) we pray for one another in the morning and the evening. It’s hard to be upset with someone, who prays for you. Onward to forever together.

  8. A great reminder, thanks for your words of wisdom and encouragement. We have kids in the early adult years and lots of coming and going. Lots of stress to work around but my husband and I make sure to have some alone time to talk to be on the same page . Also bonding time for date night and sex! Yes it keeps us in a good mood.

  9. Requires both parties making the commitment. When only one of you tries, you end up with one physicallly exhausted, emotionally drained spouse and one disconnected, selfish partner. Yes, I know, my reward will be in heaven. And at this rate, I’ll be getting there far earlier than my spouse.

    • Pat, I totally 100 percent understand what you are going through. My wife had an affair that I discovered a few years back and said she wanted to stick together and see if we could start over. It’s been 3-plus years and I have tried everything I know how to stick with my marriage covenant but she remains as disconnected as when she was having her affair. Much like you, I am just enduring this for the glory of God and praying I will find my blessing in Heaven because I am living through daily hell right now.

    • I know your pain. I have felt the same kind of toil on my body, mind, and Spirit. We can’t rush the work of God in our spouses lives OR our own. Believe on God’s Word and above everything keep in PRAYER. There is no formula in causing your husband to come around because every situation is unique. Remain as close as possible to the Lord and Savior Jesus. Let Jesus’s love fill you each and every day so that the love you receive from Him makes you irresistible, then speak your intentions clearly, calmly, and respectfully to your husband (and know, it will be resisted but your resolve is to remain calm and loving and matter of fact and let him know again, your desires for your marriage and let it go) Commit yourself to God, knowing He is for you. Let His love fulfill you and give God the desires of your heart knowing He cares for you. He will bring your husband around if you commit yourself to Him.
      Sometimes, in some cases with spouses who are self-centered, abstinence is needed to help clarify what is needed in a marriage. Sometimes a reset has to be made to the beginning of the relationship and get help from people who are for your marriage. No matter how long it takes, God is with you. You are loved. Do is your spouse. God bless

    • Oh Pat! My heart breks for you for I understand the pain. May God give you His wisdom and love and comfort so you can love your husband and wait on the Lord of promises and truth.

  10. This is so true! Even as a 40-something woman, it pains me to see the chasm between my parents. My mom has a heart so hardened by bitterness and discontent about her life that no matter what efforts my dad makes, she can’t accept it. Or rather won’t. I always thought it was my dad because of how harsh and cutting he can be, but she does the same. As of late, he’s been trying harder and I’ve seen a softening of his heart and he will catch himself when he is saying something hurtful. But she won’t give him any credit. I love my parents and pray constantly for a softening of their hearts toward one another. After 56 years of marriage, I want so much more for them that just coexistence because they don’t know anything else.

    • Victoria,
      Thanks for giving us such an honest but painful portrait of what happens when we DON’T sustain and grow our marriages. The empty nest years offer great opportunities to reignite a relationship and finally deal with past hurts. I pray your parents will consider that. I don’t think any of the readers of this blog ever want to have their marriage described they way you talk about your parents. But if we let a marriage languish, what you describe isn’t all that uncommon

    • I am there with you Victoria. It’s so sad to see this when one knows how great it could be.