Build a Marriage that Goes the Distance
- Monday, June 30, 2008
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Craig Groeschel's book, Going All the Way: Preparing for a Marriage that Goes the Distance, (Multnomah Books, 2007).
Unhealthy marriages and divorces are so commonplace that you may wonder whether a close and lasting marriage is even possible for you. You may be tempted to settle for whatever spouse you can find and just hope that somehow it’ll all work out.
But there’s a better way. If you make wise decisions before and after marriage, you can prepare yourself to experience a marriage that goes all the way to God’s best for you.
Here’s how you can prepare for a marriage that goes all the way:
Pursue Jesus first. Your relationships will never work well without Jesus as your number one priority. Devoting most of your time and energy to finding a spouse will actually sabotage your chance for a good future marriage, because your focus is in the wrong place. Instead of focusing on romance, focus on building a strong relationship with Jesus, and in the process, He will transform all aspects of your life – including your love life. Rather than looking to another person to complete you, realize that only Jesus can complete you. Seek to become the person God wants you to become – independent of marriage – so that when the time is right for you to get married, you’ll be doing so as someone who is already healthy and strong. Remember that before you can enjoy true, lasting love with another person, you must first know God’s love. The more you become like Jesus, the better prepared you’ll be to give and receive His love in marriage.
Remove the pressure. Let go of unrealistic expectations that put unnecessary pressure on you. For example, don’t worry about having to find the only person God intends to be your spouse out of every other possible candidate on the planet. No such magical person exists. The reality is that there are many people you could possibly marry, and if you do your part to meet and get to know some them, God will help you build a strong marriage with one of them. Also, be sure you don’t put too much pressure on any romantic relationship you have by trying to make it work when it’s foundationally flawed. Dating an unbeliever, for instance, is something you shouldn’t do under any circumstances, since it’s a prescription for guaranteed grief. And if you’re not attracted to someone or your personalities aren’t clicking, be honest with both yourself and the other person rather than trying to force a relationship to work. Don’t settle for less than God’s best for you. Remember that, in your search for your future spouse, you can’t find the winner if you’re dating a runner-up.
Build relationships gradually. Proceeding too fast in a relationship can cause damage to both you and the other person. Give your relationships the time they need to develop properly. Think of a relationship as driving a car with five gears. In first gear, your goal is simply to build a friendship with the other person. You invite the person to participate in your world while you do the same in his or hers, often spending your time together doing activities with groups of people.
In second gear, you spend more time alone together, but being careful to guard your heart while you do so. Ask yourself questions like these: “Is this person becoming more like Jesus?”, “Does this person have strong and growing character?”, “Does this person have the right kind of friends?”, “Is this person responsible – financially, relationally, emotionally, intellectually?”. If you can answer “yes” to all those questions, ask some more: “Is our attraction increasing?”, “Are we helping each other grow closer to God, rather than drawing each other away from Him?”, “Do people I respect think highly of this person?”, “Do I believe God is blessing this relationship?”, “Are we growing in our understanding of one another? Do we like what we see?”
In third gear, you mutually agree to pursue the possibility of marriage. Seek advice from mentors; read books about marriage; pray together; get to know each other’s families; open up about your life, hurts, and dreams; and talk about your possible future. But keep in mind that while you’re exposing your heart, you must still guard your sexual integrity. Pray regularly for God’s help to do so. Pay attention to whatever warning signals you see that could cause significant problems in marriage. Be willing to either break up or tackle the challenging work required to deal with baggage – both your own, and that carried by the other person.
Once you both agree that God is directing you toward marriage, you can enter fourth gear: engagement. During your engagement, focus much more on planning your marriage than on simply planning your wedding. Discuss such important topics as: career choices, living arrangements after marriage, financial management, bearing and raising children, choosing a church in which to serve, and how you each hope to grow spiritually together. Be sure to keep guarding your sexual integrity, so you won’t have regrets once you’re married. At the right time, enjoy proceeding to fifth gear: marriage.
Guard your sexual integrity. Protecting yourselves sexually before you get married will help you enjoy the best sex life once you’re married. Consider the physical and emotional damage that occurs with premarital sex, and resolve not to suffer the spiritual damage it brings: the loss of God’s blessing. Consider the many benefits that can come from waiting until marriage to have sex, including: learning to be faithful (if you can keep your promise to God, you’re likely to be able to keep your marriage vows to your spouse), honoring your future spouse, learning how to enjoy sex without an element of danger, and writing an inspiring love story to share with others. Set boundaries to help you and the other person avoid compromising your sexual integrity: no sleepovers, no undressing, no deep conversations late at night, etc. Pursue God’s healing for any emotional wounds you might have suffered in any previous relationships that weren’t healthy. Guard your eyes, capture sinful thoughts, run from temptation, invite others to hold you accountable, state your standards upfront in dating relationships, spend time with people who are honoring God, and repent quickly after you fail in any way in your quest to guard your sexual integrity.
Don’t play house. If you think that moving in together may improve your odds of a successful marriage, you’re wrong. Statistics show that only 40 percent of people who live together actually get married, and the divorce rate for people who live together before marriage is at least 33 percent higher than for those who don’t. Don’t compromise your standards by living together before marriage, or you’ll end up compromising your relationship. If you’ve already moved in together, move out and stop having sex right away. Understand that sex affects your emotions so powerfully that it clouds your judgment, making it possible for both of you to feel like your relationship is right without it actually being right. Take a cooling-off period and use that time to have God reclaim your mind and emotions, helping you discern whether or not your boyfriend or girlfriend is truly right for you. Promise each other that you’ll never ask each other to compromise, you won’t hurt each other’s relationships with God, and – if God leads you to – you’ll commit to a lifelong marriage together. Keep in mind that being involved and being committed are completely different. Pursue only God’s best for your relationship.
Break up when you need to do so. Don’t avoid or delay breaking up when it becomes clear that a person with whom you’re in a relationship you’re in isn’t God’s best for you. If you’re worried about hurting the other person’s feelings, just remember that it’s far kinder to break up now than it is to have him or her continue to invest time and emotions in a relationship that won’t lead to marriage. Look for warning signs that let you know it could be time to break up: like someone who lives consistently without integrity, someone who draws you away from God and into sin, someone who your friends and parents are opposed to you dating, someone who has bad relationships with his or her own parents, someone who doesn’t maintain any long-term friendships, someone who is obviously drifting away or running from God, someone who’s overly jealous, someone whose finances are a mess, someone who often tears you down instead of encouraging you, someone who’s prideful, and someone to whom your attraction isn’t growing. When breaking up, talk in person rather than just over the phone or in writing. Tell the truth, lovingly. Afterward, limit your contact so you won’t be tempted to restart a relationship that isn’t best for you. Make time to grieve the relationship, stay active, and expect that, in time, you’ll heal.
Rewrite the story of your life. Whether you are discerning marriage or already married, if your life story has been moving in the wrong direction, invite God to write the rest of your story His way. Learn from your mistakes. Confess your sins, and embrace the forgiveness and healing that God offers. Rely on God’s grace to grow. Recognize that your identity lies solely in who God says you are – not in what has happened to you. Break free from the shame of your past by realizing that, while what’s done is done, God can work all things together for good, and you can choose to move into a better future.
Set your priorities wisely. Make sure that you place God first and your spouse second in your life, no matter what the situation. While you should care about good things like your children, career, friends, volunteer work, and hobbies, you shouldn’t devote more time and energy to them than you do to your relationships with God and your spouse. And be sure to eliminate bad things from your life – things that drain your time and energy unnecessarily, like debt or an addiction.
Keep passion alive. The passion in your marriage is likely to fizzle unless you proactively nurture it. Don’t stop pursuing the love of your life after you get married. Be creative about ways to keep the passion alive in your marriage.
Deepen intimacy. Do everything possible to deepen intimacy with your spouse once you’re married. Deal with sin, secrets, and silence that block the intimacy God wants you to have. Practice successful communication techniques, such as making sure your body language and tone of voice matches your words. Be open and honest with each other, sharing your fears, hurts, and dreams. Learn how to listen carefully and compassionately to each other.
Embrace your different roles. Discover and appreciate the different ways God made men and women. Get to know the unique roles He has designed for husbands and wives. If you’re a husband, learn how to lead your family. Take ultimate spiritual and financial responsibility for your family, and protect them physically and emotionally. Remember that leading never means controlling. If you struggle with trying to control your family rather than serving them in love, repent and ask God to help you. If you’re a wife, look to God alone – not your husband – to ultimately meet your needs. Spend more time working on your internal qualities (like your character) than you do on your external qualities (like your hair or clothes). Don’t waste your time on the futile task of trying to change other people. Instead, pray and focus on your own growth. Build your confidence and don’t settle for less than the way you deserve to be treated. Instead of competing against each other, work together to complement each other and enjoy achieving more as a couple than what either of you could achieve on your own.
Build healthy habits. If you develop certain habits before you get married, you’ll likely enjoy the benefits after you get married. Deal with the emotional baggage from your past. Surround yourself with spiritually healthy friends, and ask them to mentor you. Learn how to listen well. Overlook little offenses and unintended hurts, while forgiving significant offenses with God’s help. Learn how to view situations from other people’s perspectives. Practice facing and resolving conflict (which is unavoidable in marriage). Learn how to manage your finances well, getting out of debt and giving generously. Cultivate an intimate relationship with Jesus.
Base your marriage on a covenant. Don’t settle for a marriage that’s based just on a contract, where your relationship is contingent on how well each of you live up to your expectations for each other. Instead, base your marriage on a covenant in which you commit to love each other unconditionally – just as God loves you.
Adapted from Going All the Way: Preparing for a Marriage that Goes the Distance, copyright 2007 by Craig Groeschel. Published by Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc., Colorado Springs, Co., www.mpbooks.com.
Craig Groeschel is the founder and senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv, one of
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