1. We have been married for almost 39 years. There is no magic formula. Much of marriage is about a committed friendship that a man and woman have with one another. Marriage may be more than simply a friendship but it is at least that. It is building a history of friendship together. It is so important that I treat her/him as I would treat a true friend.
2. Know that marriage requires forgiveness. Are there difficult and challenging situations? Of course. Such situations will mean that we will need to offer and receive almost daily forgiveness. As a Christ-follower, I can’t store up instances of my spouse’s failures, mistakes, and sins only to spread them out on the kitchen table for review every time I get angry and resentful. Before I focus on what my spouse has said or done, I might first consider what I have done in my life that put the Son of God on a cross.
3. Be committed to growing up. It is tough when a husband acts like a 12 year-old boy instead of a grown man. It is tough when one’s wife continues to behave, well into her 30s, as if the world centers around her. Husbands and wives are called to grow up and mature. Marriage is meant for grown-ups.
4. Deal with the baggage that you have. If you were hurt, abandoned, or abused as a child, no man can make up for what you experienced. No spouse can heal the hurt or make up for the insecurities that one experienced as a child. Such expectations put unrealistic pressure on a marriage.
What does a man do with pain?
Many men simply leave.
No, they don’t necessarily leave physically. Rather, they leave emotionally.
I recently heard a friend of mine talk about this as he reflected upon a very difficult time in his life. I could identify.
Many men have learned that the safest place to take one’s pain is within. While withdrawing may be one’s default for dealing with pain, it is not conducive to connecting with another. In fact, to family members and friends it can feel like the person has “gone away.”
Most men who leave emotionally do not do so maliciously. I don’t believe most have the intention of being difficult or hurting their family and friends. Rather, this may be the comfortable default that has been a part of one’s life for many years.
So when we leave one another emotionally, where do we go?
- Some of us just stay very, very busy. We lose ourselves in our work. Maybe we can stay so busy that we are not preoccupied with the pain we feel.
- Some of us look for substitutes. Alcohol. Drugs. Pornography. Or, a man may lose himself in his children so he doesn’t have to address the issues of his marriage. Or, he can volunteer for numerous activities at church. It may be hard to argue with someone who is heavily involved at church. Yet, this can be a way of not dealing with pain.
- Some of us retreat to a room within ourselves which may seem safe but actually serves to disconnect us from the people we love most. This “man cave” might be a place where we occasionally revisit the moments of shame, humiliation, and disappointments in our lives. Perhaps it is the place where we house the pain we experienced as children. Or, it may be the place where we occasionally sift through the ashes of our hurts and resentments.
As a result, many men live with an anger that quite often comes to the surface. Or, such men can experience depression.
Some secrets need to be exposed.
One of those secrets exists in families where the husband/father is a narcissistic man. During thirty six years of congregational ministry, I noticed that occasionally a certain kind of man would emerge who could be quite a problem for others. This person had a view of himself that was completely self-absorbed.
Sometimes the issue was marriage related. At other times the issue centered on the problems that adult children had with a certain man in the family. Today, this particular pattern in a man is often referred to as narcissism. This husband/father is a narcissistic man in terms of the way he sees himself and consequently the way he relates to others.
One Sunday morning, a husband flies into a rage toward his wife. He calls her several demeaning names and then tells her she is crazy. Yet, a few hours later, he leads the opening prayer at their church. Others comment to her regarding how “lucky” she is to have such a husband. She wonders for a moment if she is not making a big deal out of nothing. After all, these people at the church think he is such a good man. She concludes that maybe she just needs to try harder.
If you’ve been married for any length of time, you may have occasionally thought, “This marriage is going to kill me yet!” After all, marriage certainly isn’t easy. In fact, there may be seasons when the joy is scarce and the energy required is huge.
One thing is for certain. Marriage is for grown-ups. It can be both challenging and difficult. It can also be immensely rewarding and satisfying.
Sometimes when our marriage is difficult, we tend to focus on the flaws of our spouse. Yes, there are some marriages where one person begins to inflict emotional or physical abuse upon his spouse. Or, a married person may practice continual infidelity. These behaviors are often a way of expressing contempt toward his or her spouse. These behaviors can reduce a marriage to a crisis.
Even in healthy marriages, we can focus on the flaws and shortcomings of our spouse. Of course anyone in a marriage gets a front row seat to the virtue and the flaws of one’s spouse.
Perhaps marriage is sometimes difficult because we begin to see our flaws and sins. For the person who is serious about being shaped and formed into the image of Jesus, focusing totally on the flaws of one’s spouse can waste an opportunity to grow.
Maybe marriage was meant to kill you. Maybe marriage was meant to reveal parts of you that are un-Christlike, immature, and self-absorbed so that by his grace these might be put to death.
Marriage can be challenging. Yet, sometimes we put additional pressure on ourselves by taking on responsibilities that are not ours.
You are not responsible for your spouse’s moods.
Some men and women are very emotionally immature. Some are moody and emotionally manipulative. These people may even blame their emotional moods on their spouse. “I was in a great mood until you spoiled it!” Yet, no one is responsible for another’s mood or attitude. You cannot “fix” another’s moods.
You are not responsible for keeping your spouse from getting upset.
Some people attempt to punish their spouses when they become upset. A spouse may learn that she has to be very careful or her husband will become upset and explode with rage. As one woman said, “I have to be very careful about what I say to my husband. He becomes angry and I know I am in trouble.” As a result, the family tiptoes around this man’s feelings and immaturity.
You are not responsible for keeping your spouse from withdrawing emotionally.
One of the regrets I have in my own marriage (especially in the early years) are the times when I withdrew emotionally from my wife. I would become angry or frustrated and instead of dealing with it in a mature, godly manner, at times I would withdraw. Of course that behavior was frustrating to my wife. My behavior was not mature nor was it right. Nevertheless, she could not be responsible for keeping me from this kind of behavior.
You are not responsible for making your spouse look good.
Some people are far more concerned about projecting a particular image than they are in becoming a person of maturity and high character. Instead of behaving in a way that would please God, they focus more on looking good in front of particular people. How they appear to others on Facebook may matter more than how they are really living before the Lord God when they are at home.
Marriage can be challenging. As men and women, we do have responsibilities when we marry. However, we cannot bear responsibilities that belong to our wives or husbands. Doing so only adds unnecessary pressure to a marriage.
Many men and women sabotage their own marriages.
At its best, marriage can be challenging. Yet some people harm their marriages through their own behavior. The following are some ways in which you can do damage to your own marriage:
1. Whisper words of criticism and put downs in your spouse’s ear. Doing this will eventually destroy his or her confidence. You might think that if you whisper these words, you can save face with your friends. After all, you know if they were to hear what you whispered they might think you were rude, immature, and perhaps even a jerk. This way, you can quietly tear down your spouse while pretending to be supportive and loving before friends and family. If she objects, then you can say, “I was just joking.” The idea seems to be that if one claims to be joking, responsibility for any hurt can be denied.
2. Focus your attention on other women/men instead of your spouse. If you are caught flirting with another, be sure to blame your spouse. “Well, what am I supposed to do? It’s nice to get some attention! Maybe if you would be a better husband (or wife), I wouldn’t find this person so attractive.”
Some focus on others by using pornography. This will allow you to live in a fantasy world where you can stare at a computer screen or lose yourself in an erotic novel instead of having to grow up and commit to tender loving marital intimacy with your spouse.
3. Ignore your spouse. You can destroy your marriage over time by just doing nothing. Basically, you can live in the same house and totally ignore one another. You can ignore his/her desires, needs, and longings. There are homes where night after night married people do nothing but stare at their phones or the television. A marriage can be destroyed over time by doing absolutely nothing.