(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)
“I have no idea what I am supposed to do.”
That statement came from a very gifted and intelligent young man who was about to be married. I appreciated his honesty. He had never seen a marriage up close before. His parents divorced when he was very young. He deeply loved his mom and dad. Yet, he had never been close to a healthy marriage and so it was difficult for him to imagine what it would be like to be married.
Many other people have seen a marriage up close but it was a dysfunctional marriage with dynamics that were anything but healthy or even godly.
So what is a person supposed to do?
1. Plan to unlearn. So often, we are at a disadvantage because of our own faulty assumptions. “Surely this won’t last my entire life.” We also make assumptions about sex, parenting, and other roles. Our assumptions often come from a variety of sources and experiences. Yet, they sometimes set us up for failure.
For example, much unlearning often has to be done regarding sex and marriage. Some people enter marriage with assumptions borrowed from this culture. A person might think that sexual experiences with multiple people give one an advantage in marriage. Really? Where did that assumption come from? Did the creator ever tell human beings that this was a good thing or an advantage? Sometimes unlearning has to be done due to a long history with pornography. Such a history will often give a person some very unreal expectations regarding marriage.
2. Be intentional about learning. Maybe you have never seen a healthy marriage up close. Or, maybe you are realizing that marriage is more complex and more difficult than you imagined. Read good marriage books, particularly those that address marital concerns from a Christian perspective. Talk with people who have been married for many years and obviously love one another. Invite a couple who you admire over for coffee and desert and ask questions about marriage. Look for resources in your church. Bottom line: Be intentional about learning.
3. Observe. Are you a new parent? Maybe you have a couple of small children. Pay attention to the parents who seem to be doing something right. (Not necessarily the parents who say all the right things. Some parents can have great conversations about parenting and yet they don’t follow through with their own children.) Watch and listen to the children. Observe their parents. Listen to the interaction between children and their parents. You can learn much. If you are a part of a small group in your church, you can often observe a great deal about families. Look for those parents who model well what it means to be a parent.
Years ago, when our children were small Charlotte spent a day with a close friend who also had young children. Much of their day was spent in a mall and going to a few other stores. it was a difficult day for Charlotte and one of our girls. The interaction between them was stressful and unpleasant. As the day progressed, it only seemed to get worse. Finally, at the end of this frustrating day, Charlotte turned to her friend and said, “You have seen our interaction (mother/daughter) all day. What am I doing wrong? What do you see? What would you differently?” What a very wise move! These questions to a trusted friend led to a wonderful discussion and a few changes in the way both of us behaved as parents.
4. Focus on managing yourself.
Far too often, we become overly focused on how we might manage the behavior of others.
- “Why don’t the kids behave better than they do? Why don’t they do what I want them to do? I would enjoy life more if they would just behave!”
- “I wish my wife would be more interested in sex. I don’t know what is wrong with her.”
- “If my husband would just be a better husband, I would really be happy.”
The most important thing I can do in my family is to manage myself.
I have no control over the behavior of other people. I do have control over the way I manage myself within my family. I have control over how I will function as a husband and a father. This will challenge me to grow up and mature. This will challenge me to take responsibility for my own faith and obedience. This will challenge me to take responsibility for my own actions instead of blaming others or passively waiting for others to do better or improve.
What have you discovered to be helpful in learning more about marriage, sex, or parenting?