Achieve Unity in Marriage without Losing Your Uniqueness
- Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
- 2006 12 Dec
If you want a fulfilling marriage, but fear that the relationship’s demands will swallow up your own personal fulfillment, take heart. Experiencing the joy of unity with your spouse doesn’t have to cost you your uniqueness. By learning to become interdependent, you and your spouse can become one without compromising your individual distinctiveness. Here’s how:
Look to the Trinity as your marriage model. Realize that just as God exists in three distinct forms (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) yet is also completely unified, your human marriage can mirror that divine relationship. Know that God wants to use your marriage to help both you and your spouse grow more and more into the people He wants you to become. Understand that, through this process, you each can be transformed into a unity that transcends what either of you can be alone. Invite God to use each of your individual strengths and weaknesses to create a thriving marriage.
Don’t expect marriage to complete you. Instead of viewing yourself as an incomplete person who needs your spouse to make you whole, recognize that, in Christ, you are complete alone. Remember that your true identity is as God’s beloved child, free because of all Christ has done for you. Rely on His unlimited power rather than your own limited resources. Don’t depend on your spouse for what only God can give you. Ask God to show you which of expectations you have of your spouse are unrealistic. Then let those go. Focus on pleasing God rather than just pleasing your spouse. Don’t simply go along with whatever decisions your spouse makes because you’re not sure what your own opinions are; get to know your thoughts and feelings, and learn to be comfortable expressing them clearly. Approach marriage as a union of two complete people, secure in who they are, working together toward a common purpose – to love God and others more and more.
Don’t live separate lives. Rather than seeing yourself as independent of your spouse, recognize that your lives are intertwined and that you each have a responsibility to consider the other whenever you make decisions that affect your life together. Be in close communication with your spouse regularly and make choices that will enhance your emotional connection. Listen to your spouse even more than you speak, so you can come to understand what’s important to him or her, and why. Know that building a life together rather than separately will help you each discover more personal fulfillment than you could experience on your own.
Keep the covenant. Decide to remain committed to your spouse, no matter what, and ask God to help you love him or her unconditionally. Choose to make sacrifices for the sake of your marriage, recognizing that both your own needs and your spouse’s needs are valid. Meet your spouse’s basic needs for belonging and bonding. Show your spouse that he or she can trust you. If either of you has betrayed the other in the past, pursue healing through the process of confession, forgiveness, and restoration. In your sexual relationship, get to know what your spouse desires and think of those desires as well as your own while trying to give your best to each other.
Regularly serve your spouse through acts of kindness (such as making meals and helping with chores and errands) to give him or her the security of seeing your love in action. Humbly recognize how much you continuously need God’s grace; pray about all your concerns and rely on the strength He will provide. Make your marriage a collaborative venture in which you each do all you can to create the best marriage possible.
Give each other grace. Remember how much grace God gives you every day, and let your gratefulness motivate you to offer grace to your spouse. Understand that living in an atmosphere of grace will get rid of destructive emotions like guilt, shame, and bitterness and inspire you and your spouse each to work on changing for the better. Instead of blaming your spouse for problems, accept the person he or she is – flaws and all – and accept responsibility for your own contribution to the problems in your marriage. Realize that trying to change your spouse is futile; instead, pray for him or her persistently, trusting that God will work through His Spirit to bring about real and lasting change whenever your spouse seeks Him. Rely on God’s help to forgive your spouse whenever he or she makes mistakes.
Show appreciation whenever your spouse does something that blesses you. Pray for the confidence to be who you are, rather than pretending to be the person you think your spouse wants you to be. Give your spouse the freedom to be authentic without fear of being criticized for it. Respect and embrace each other’s unique personality and gender differences, and learn how to use those differences to complement each other and build a stronger marriage. Don’t let rigid, traditional marriage roles frustrate you; recognize that there are many ways of doing what needs to be done in your shared household. Think and pray about creative solutions for assigning collaborative roles that take advantage of each other’s interests and talents and don’t place too much of a burden on one spouse over the other. Be flexible enough to change role assignments for a season when each other’s circumstances or needs change.
Empower each other. Remember that marriage is a relationship of equals who mutually submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. Follow Christ’s example of self-giving by considering each other’s needs rather than just your own and serving your spouse out of love. Treat your spouse the way you would like to be treated. Do all you can to help your spouse reach his or her full potential, and welcome help that your spouse gives you. Rather than just yielding to your spouse’s wishes or trying to force your own way, join forces to use each of your personal resources for the good of your marriage and God’s glory.
Ask God to give you and your spouse a vision for what He wants your marriage to be like, and choose to mutually invest in your future together. Working together, seek to become all that God intends you to become, both individually and as a couple. Express your views honestly and directly, and encourage your spouse to do the same. Do your best to understand each other’s perspective and remember that two perspectives are better than one when it comes to solving problems. Make yourselves accountable to each other and make every effort to fulfill your responsibilities to each other – not just to fulfill a duty, but because you share genuine love.
Pursue intimacy. Pray for the courage to be truly open and honest with your spouse about your deepest thoughts and feelings. Take the risks necessary to share your fears and dreams. Create a safe atmosphere for your spouse to feel comfortable to do the same with you. Understand that your need to be known is a valid one, and do your best to get to know your spouse. Spend significant amounts of time talking and listening together. Focus on listening attentively, putting your own agenda aside to pay full attention to what your spouse is saying. Don’t interrupt or interpret your spouse’s message while he or she is talking. After your spouse is finished, repeat back the basic message you heard in your own words to check whether or not you heard it accurately. Pay attention to your spouse’s body language and tone of voice, as well, for cues to how he or she is feeling. Try to see the issue from your spouse’s point of view.
If either you or your spouse has been betrayed in the past, work through the healing process together so you can regain trust. Think and pray about how each of your families of origin have influenced the way you relate to your spouse and others today. Then work on changing unhealthy patterns to healthy ones. Remember that sexual intimacy will strengthen your emotional intimacy as a couple. Pray with and for each other regularly, and discuss your spiritual journeys often. Whenever you encounter a crisis, reach out to God for wisdom and comfort and turn to each other for courage and understanding. Work to develop a marriage that can withstand any difficulties you all might face.
Seek God’s will together. Whenever you’re facing key decisions, seek God’s will about them through prayer, Bible reading and reflection, counseling, and feedback from family, friends, and fellow church members.
Deal with conflict wisely. Acknowledge and face the conflicts that come up in the normal course of your marriage. Identify the core issue and focus just on that without getting distracted. Agree to discuss the issue at a neutral place and time. Come with a desire to use the conflict to help strengthen your relationship. Refuse to bring up past mistakes. Avoid emotional hot buttons when talking with each other. Don’t dismiss your spouse’s concerns; take them seriously. Avoid "why" questions that often lead to blame. Keep the conflict between the two of you, without involving a third party. Don’t ridicule your spouse. Respect each other’s right to veto the discussion if one of you breaks the rules for fighting fairly. Take breaks at the end of each discussion round. Work together to find creative solutions.
Keep your bond strong through different seasons. As you and your spouse pass through the various seasons of marriage, work together to revise your dreams and goals. For example, when you have your first child, discuss how you’ll incorporate your parenting roles into your relationship, and when you retire, figure out how to find fresh meaning in how you spend your time.
Balance work and family. Be fair and flexible when assigning childcare, household chores, and other duties to each other. Keep in mind each of your current work schedules and other commitments, and do all you can to support your spouse so neither of you becomes overwhelmed with your individual responsibilities. Rather than just reacting to life’s pressures, agree with your spouse on priorities and develop a proactive plan for how to handle every aspect of work and family life. Be willing to let non-essential tasks go during particularly busy seasons, and welcome help from family and friends.
Enjoy a healthy sexual relationship. Remain faithfully committed to each other. Clearly and directly express your personal sexual preferences and get to know your spouse’s as well. Respect each other’s preferences, seek to please each other, and don’t coerce your spouse outside of his or her comfort zone. Know each other’s sexual history and work compassionately to help your spouse find healing if he or she has experienced any past trauma such as rape or abuse. Never use sex to control your spouse. Work out conflicts regularly so you don’t bring them into the marriage bed. Keep your romance alive through creativity and fun. If either you or your spouse desires sex more often than the other, work together to find middle ground. The spouse with less desire can find some new ways to be receptive, and the spouse with more desire can divert some sexual energy into other activities that enhance your marriage. If your marriage has been damaged by an affair, get counseling and do all you can to reconcile.
Grow spiritually together. Remember that God is using your marriage to help both you and your spouse mature into the kind of people He wants you to become. If your spouse is at a different level of spiritual maturity than you are right now, seek to inspire and support each other. Listen to each other’s concerns with compassion. Pray together often. Read, study, and meditate on the Bible together. Participate actively in church, worshipping together. Take advantage of marriage enrichment events and programs at your church. Find a couple you admire to mentor you. Work in your community to serve others together. Go on retreats together. Thank God regularly for the gift of your marriage. Rely on strength from the Holy Spirit to incorporate your beliefs into your actions in every part of your lives.
Adapted from A Model for Marriage: Covenant, Grace, Empowerment, and Intimacy, copyright 2006 by Jack O. Balswick and Judith K. Balswick. Published by IVP Academic (a division of InterVarsity Press), Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Jack O. Balswick (Ph.D., University of Iowa) is professor of sociology and family development, and director of marriage and family research at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He has twice received an American Senior Fulbright Scholar Fellowship. He has been associate editor of the Journal of Marriage and Family, Family Relations, Journal for Scientific Study of Religion and Religious Research Review. He has authored or co-authored articles in over 70 professional publications and has presented papers at conferences around the world. He is author or coauthor of 17 books, including Men at the Crossroads, The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home, The Gift of Gender, Social Problems: A Christian Understanding and Response, Relationship Empowerment Parenting, Authentic Human Sexuality and The Reciprocating Self: Human Development in Theological Perspective.
Judith K. Balswick (Ed.D., University of Georgia) is a licensed and practicing marriage and family therapist in practice for over thirty years and taught for over twenty years in the marriage and family therapy program at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. She has served on the editorial board of Marriage and Family: A Christian Journal since 1997 and she has contributed articles to that journal and to several others, including Family Ministry Journal, American Journal of Pastoral Counseling, Journal of Psychology and Christianity and Marriage Partnership. She is author or coauthor of The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home, The Gift of Gender, Mothers and Daughters Making Peace, Raging Hormones, Life Ties, Then They Leave Home, Family Pain, Relationship-Empowerment Parenting, The Two Paycheck Marriage and Authentic Human Sexuality.