Beyond a Happy Marriage

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Within the past month, I’ve been accused of two things that seem to be mutually exclusive.

A few women have made comments like, “Why don’t you ever challenge the men? Why is it always the woman’s responsibility to build a healthy marriage?”

And men have written me with this kind of complaint, “The Bible says that wives should fulfill their husband’s sexual needs. There are faithful men living in sexless marriages because ministries like yours make excuses for women.”

We have a wonderful, small staff at Authentic Intimacy prayerfully responding to comments like these. We realize that one ministry will never be all things to all people. It’s also true that a particular blog or podcast may seem to be unbalanced, based on a person’s current situation.

I understand that comments like these can come from frustration and hurt... that the advice given hasn’t helped. Perhaps you have read all the books and followed all the advice that is  supposed to strengthen your marriage yet have never experienced a significant improvement.

If that describes you, I’d like to suggest a few things to consider.

The Bible never set a great marriage (or sex life) as a goal for us to attain.  If I wanted to sell more books or conference tickets, I would readily choose titles like “Five Foolproof Steps to a Great Sex Life” or “How to Make Your Husband Fall In Love with You All Over Again.” I could write books or blogs about those topics. I don’t for a few reasons. First of all, no one can guarantee you these results. Relationships are complicated. People bring to marriage burdens, wounds, fears, and their own sin nature. Certainly there are principles that help build intimacy, but they don’t work in every marriage. But most importantly, God never called us to make great sex or romantic love a top priority in our lives.

Much of our Christian view of marriage has been flavored by the culture around us that continually advertises marriage and romantic love as the road to personal fulfillment. A biblical marriage is not always a happy marriage. If you don’t believe me, read the book of Hosea.  Marriage and sexuality are important because of what they represent – God’s covenant love for us. Our attitudes toward marriage and sexuality must be an outgrowth of our foundational love and commitment to God.

We become frustrated in marriage because we have the wrong goal. We want to be happy and fulfilled in romantic love. That’s not a bad desire, but it’s a misplaced goal. A wonderful marriage is a desired fruit, not an expected objective. The larger message of Scripture is that covenant love is sacrificial love. It’s not driven by what we can get but what we can give. Gary Thomas’ best-selling book The Sacred Marriage puts it this way, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

Tweet: "We become frustrated in marriage because we have the wrong goal. We want to be happy and fulfilled in romantic love. That's not a bad desire, but it's a misplaced goal." @DrJuliSlattery

You may have heard a lot of sermons about finding true love or living “happily ever after,” but this is not the larger message of Scripture. Marriage is to be honored by all as a sacred covenant but should not be worshipped as our primary path to happiness and fulfillment.

The Bible doesn’t go easy on anyone. If you can regularly read the Bible without conviction, I’d suggest that you are reading it with the wrong heart attitude. Every one of us has a human nature that is oriented to rebel against God. Even while running a ministry and teaching on marriage, there is an undercurrent of pride and selfishness within my heart. When I pray or open the Bible, God convicts me. His words offend my self-confidence, my dishonesty, and self-righteousness.

James describes God’s Word as a mirror.  When you read the Bible, the mirror will reveal things God wants you to change. If we are sincere about our faith, we will take to heart what we see and ask God to bring change. I have never intentionally looked into a mirror to see how someone else looks, even if they might be in the background. I always look into mirrors to study my own reflection. How does my makeup look? Is my hair out of place? How does this outfit fit? If you approach the Scripture or even a ministry like Authentic Intimacy with the primary focus on your spouse (or anyone else), you missed the point.

Without a doubt, there are many things your husband or wife should be doing differently. If he or she took God’s Word seriously, your marriage would probably improve. But God hasn’t asked you to change your spouse. He is asking you to be faithful and humble in your own walk. In the Blessings of Humility, Jerry Bridges wrote, “The proud person is so busy judging the sins of other people that he or she has no time to see the sins of his or her own heart. Meanwhile, the humble person is so busy dealing with his or her own sins that he or she has no time to judge the sins of others.”  

Obedience and healing are complicated. As noted in the beginning of this blog, one frustration a husband may have with his wife is a lack of interest in sex. (In many marriages, the opposite is also true.) Paul clearly writes in I Corinthians 7:5 that a husband or wife should not deprive each other of regular sexual intimacy. This passage can be used as a reason for resentment and even as justification for looking at porn or having an affair. “My needs aren’t being met, so I’m entitled to meet them another way!”

We should never apply a Bible passage without the context of the rest of Scripture. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that a Christian marriage should include such feelings of entitlement. That’s not the purpose of Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians. Sexual intimacy in marriage is important, and married couples should pursue it. But sexual intimacy is never the result of demanding or expecting sex. Sexual intimacy is built as each person, the wife and the husband, learn to serve each other in bed.

There is always a reason why a person avoids sex. Sometimes that reason is bitterness and anger, but more often it is rooted in either physical or emotional pain. Before Paul tells married couples to “stop depriving each other,” he writes that both the husband and wife have the duty to fulfill one another. Fulfilling each other is not just about getting physically naked. It involves the kind of love that Paul will describe later in this very same letter as “patient, kind, without envy and pride, other-focused, not easily angered, keeping no record of wrong, always protecting, trusting, hoping and persevering.”

When a spouse has experienced emotional or sexual trauma, learning to enjoy sex may involve a journey rooted in unconditional acceptance rather than unbridled passion.

Tweet: "God isn't calling you to a great sex life or even to a great marriage...He's calling you to a great love life." @DrJuliSlattery

God isn’t calling you to a great sex life or even to a great marriage… He’s calling you to a great love life. Although the two at times may overlap, there is a world of difference between the pursuit of them. Rather than asking, “What should I do to have a great marriage?,” it’s better to ask, “How can I honor God in my marriage?”

Marriage is important and holy, but we were not created for marriage. We were created for God.  I hope that what you find at Authentic Intimacy strengthens your marriage, but my greater hope is that what you find here strengthens your trust in the Almighty God.

 

Want to learn more? Listen to Java with Juli episodes #160: Why God Created You to Be Sexual and #166: We Are All Sexually Broken , and check out the blog post Your Sexual Differences Can Make You Better Lovers.

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  • Truth matters

    Truth matters

    wow, what a great post. such perspective and wisdom. thank you for taking the time to clearly speak the truth of God's Word and helping us to understand it rightly.
  • Katie Laven

    Katie Laven

    So well said. Your ministry/podcast have always challenged me to be more Christlike, humble and serving. I’ve never felt like it was giving me excuses!!!
  • Jennifer Keessen

    Jennifer Keessen

    This is wonderful, and I'm so blessed to have stumbled upon this particular blog. I love this ministry, and love your books and studies, but hadn't read many of your blogs until this morning. I'm so glad I did. Dr. Juli, you have such a way of speaking Truth in love, and it's like that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.... Thank you!
  • Karlene Beckford

    Karlene Beckford

    This Article is AMAZING! The number of married couples experiencing loneliness and distance in Christian Marriages is so vast and enormous, and steadily increasingly. The Gem in this article is when Ai said " the bible should be read in the entire context of the scripture. " This is the Truth regarding anything, or else the danger of distorting the authenticity and Truth of what is being said is compromised. If both parties will love sacrificially to serve each other, then our marriages, families, society, and the church, would at last MIRROR the beauty of the Beloved, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
  • Jeffrey Knight

    Jeffrey Knight

    Very, Very Good. Thanks

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