April 10, 2019
I do a bit of marriage counseling as a part of pastoring. Sometimes this is with individuals, other times it’s with couples. I’ve read dozens of books on the subject of marital harmony, taken classes on the subject, and worked hard to improve my own marriage.
There are so many fantastic resources out there for improving relationships. However, I think the one bit of advice I would give to any individual who is trying to make things better at home is this: look at the teachings and example of Jesus and implement them in your own life. This may come across as simplistic or just the advice of a minister who assumes that the Bible is the cure for everything. However, I’d encourage folks to not dismiss this suggestion quickly. I’ll offer some easy examples in support of my claim.
Matthew chapters 5 to 7 are the largest collection of Jesus’ teachings. They cover a wide variety of issues, which don’t all seem to be applicable to marriage at first glance. However, many of them are. Matthew 5:38-42 deal with retaliation when folks wrong us. Jesus talks about “an eye for an eye,” which was the Old Testament standard for measuring legal repercussions.
It’s often adopted as a standard for dealing with the folks around us. Jesus teaches that this isn’t right. We ought to turn the other cheek. As it relates to marriage, I’d suggest that this is a far better approach to conflict. I’ve seen many times when a couple can’t stop bickering because they feel the need to to get revenge over and over for perceived attacks. One harsh word garners a harsh word in response, which starts a cycle that does little to resolve a conflict. Simply resisting the knee jerk reaction to respond hurtfully does worlds of good toward perpetuating harmony.
Another example in the Sermon on the Mount is found in 5:43-48. Jesus talks about loving your enemies and praying for folks who persecute you. I’ve met all sorts of folks who have grown to resent their spouse deeply because they don’t meet their expectations. That resentment soon poisons everything about the relationship. The cure is to constantly love, forgive, and pray for the other person. Wherever we have anger and resentment, we let them go and work to overcome it. Harmony in marriage will never take place as long as we carry resentment and anger toward our spouse.
At the core of it, this idea goes back to the example Jesus lived out: Love unconditionally, serve with humility, and sacrifice of yourself. It’s a hard way to live and it takes practice. No one can do this automatically. We have to work at it daily.
Disclaimer: I am not advocating for submitting to abuse. This column is about developing health in the marital relationship. It is not advocacy of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. All of these things fall outside of what marriage is designed to be or what Jesus advocated in his teachings.