Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

Our biggest sale! 50% off your PLUS subscription. Use code SUMMER

Sacrifice: The Key to True Marital Unity

  • Michael Smalley, M.A. The Smalley Relationship Center
  • Published Nov 23, 2005
Sacrifice: The Key to True Marital Unity

Amy and I were locked in what felt like mortal combat. Neither was willing to give in to the other's wish. To make matters worse, both of us had legitimate needs and feelings that we were not willing to give up. This is where our true struggle began.

It was the fall of our third year of marriage. We'd already survived several major arguments, and actually came out closer as friends and lovers. But this one was different. Before, when we argued, the resolution seemed to always make sense. Like the time we survived the big "Money Management Fight." I finally understood that it wasn't "smart" financing to not tell my wife when and how much money I withdrew from that wonderful invention, the ATM machine. Our checkbook never matched the bank statement that would arrive once a month. The checkbook not matching up to the bank statement did not bother me because my philosophy for a balanced checking account was to switch banks when things got "confused!" However, Amy had a different opinion. The resolution to this problem was fairly obvious - keep the receipts! But the argument we were locked in now had no possible Win/Win solution, or at least it didn't seem to have one.

It all started one night when I returned home from my work as a marriage and family intern therapist. I immediately sensed the mood in the room. There was a familiar aura about it -- then it struck me. Before Amy could say anything, I knew she was pregnant. We were going to have our second OOOPS. Our second "unplanned" pregnancy.

Both of us immediately panicked. Actually, Amy had already spent the better part of the day panicking. How could we finish school with two children? I had one more year in my masters program, but Amy had just started her two-year program. That meant that Amy would be pregnant during her first year, and we would have two children during her second year in the program.

We wouldn't be able to afford to have both children in daycare, and were not truly willing to put an infant in daycare anyway. This meant that either Amy had to drop out of Wheaton College and attend a school closer to family in Missouri so we could both pursue our dreams, or I could take a year off from my work to stay at home full time so Amy could finish at Wheaton College.

As marriage and family therapists, we were able to recognize that both of us had legitimate needs and feelings. I had just spent three grueling years obtaining my education, and I had an intense need to use that education. Amy had a legitimate need to finish her education at an elite program in which she had already developed many lasting friendships. We were stuck.

I felt that she was being selfish in not wanting to move to Missouri, where we could both pursue our dreams while family and friends helped with the children. She felt that I was being selfish in not wanting to stay at home for one year so she could finish her degree at Wheaton College.

Then one day, after two solid weeks of arguing, we reached the breaking point. In a small bagel shop in Wheaton, Illinois, Amy and I exploded -- only as therapists can explode. There we quietly bombarded each other with hurtful words and false accusations, making sure no one could hear us. I finally stood up and announced, "Well fine! I have to go now and counsel couples!" I stormed out of the restaurant and headed for the counseling clinic, where I was supposed to help couples get along better!

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. Before I entered the counseling room, I met with my supervisor. I stepped into her office, definitely not in the mood to discuss anything close to therapy or helping people. She never looked at me, but simply said, "I think we need to just meet in silence." So there I sat, sprawled on her couch, eyes closed, head leaned back. It was then the miracle occurred.

Lying there on her couch, an image entered my head so clear that I nearly reached out to touch it. It was Christ gently laying down his left hand to be nailed to the cross. Next came his right hand. In the same fashion, he gently laid down to be hammered to his wooden cross. It was such a powerful image that I immediately began to weep.

This was the answer to our struggle. Truly, this was the answer to any couple's struggle - laying down your life for the needs and feelings of your mate. Christ literally went through Hell so we might have life and have it more abundantly. I wasn't willing to give up one year of work to spend valuable time with my children and to help my wife finish her degree at a school she loved.

The Key to a Satisfying Marriage

If we want to have a satisfying marriage, one where the passion and excitement never ends, we must be willing to sacrifice our own needs for the needs of our mate. In other words, we need to be selfless.

When couples, much like us, are entrenched in conflict, there is one major theme pervading the problem: Neither side is willing to give up their position. How can we have harmony when we are not willing to accept the feelings of our mate? In order to successfully solve our marriage conflicts, we must be able to take on the perspective of our spouse. We must be focused toward enhancing their welfare.

When we are selfless, it is like a beautiful dance, where both partners glide around the room of marriage with utter ease and confidence. But the key is that it is a couple's dance. There's no room for stylish single's dancing. This is meant to be a Waltz, not a Mosh Pit! If only one spouse is concentrating on being selfless, the strategy will fail. It takes two to tango, and two to make selflessness work in marriage.

By becoming selfless, we open the possibilities to truly experience the joy and satisfaction in our marriage God intended. When God said, "and the two shall become one", what do you think God meant? The only way we can experience the full benefit of marriage is when we give of ourselves for the good of our mate. This is the ultimate oneness!

So how did we resolve our dilemma? After my clear image of what Christ did for me, it was simple. I told Amy I would do whatever it took to help her finish school at Wheaton College. Amy was overcome with gladness, and amazingly, so was I.

I had no idea at the time how valuable my year would be as a stay-at-home father. One of the most amazing lessons learned from our experience was that of reciprocation. Because I was willing to put Amy's needs ahead of mine, she in turn was willing to do the same for me. When couples act for the complete good of their mate -- guess what -- their mate wants to do the same. It's the most infectious disease ever discovered.

God does a funny thing when we are truly selfless; God rewards us. I know it would have been a different outcome if I was simply "giving in" to Amy just so God would reward me later. It does not work this way. Only when selflessness comes from a complete desire for the good of our mate, and not our own, will we reap the rewards for ourselves as well as the marriage. The reward will be the true intimacy and passion that God intended for marriage.

© Copyright 2003 Smalley Relationship Center