By Archie L.Bost, Ph.D.
In Proverbs we read, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (16:25 NKJV).
My wife enjoys watching the Hallmark movies and I enjoy watching them with her. I must admit that I really do get into them, but there are times in almost every one of those movies that I say to myself, “You have got to be kidding me.” Movies and TV programs as well as commercials can lead to myths in marriage that must be addressed in order to have a great marriage.
First, we must give up the myth of compatibility. My wife and I are as opposite as two people can be. When I was going though grad school, I had to learn to administer different profiles; and every one that I took, studied, and learned to administer, we were polar opposites on each one. We could make a list that would go on and on, but I am sure that you can attest to the same thing in your marriage. However, I heard a speaker say many years ago, “If we were just alike one of us would not be needed.”
As a result of being married to my beautiful, wonderful, smart, and gifted bride, I have grown as a husband, as a father, as a person, and even as a Christian. Gary Thomas says that God gave us marriage more to make us holy than to make us happy. It is a wonderful thing when we have both holiness and happiness. When our goal is holiness, happiness will be our reward, but when our goal is happiness, then we miss out on both happiness and holiness.
What I have seen in the 43 years of my marriage is that we have become very compatible because we work at it and yield to each other in love. When a couple gets married, they are often incompatible, but as they work at it and grow in Christ together, they become much more compatible.
Then there is the myth of greener pastures which causes us to think, “If I were married to another woman, she would appreciate me and we would be totally compatible.” In marriage we see every flaw and weakness of our spouse, and if we look hard enough we will also see our flaws and weaknesses. It is always a dangerous thing to compare our marriage to that of another couple or our spouse to the spouse of another. At this point in my career I have seen over five thousand couples in my counseling office. When I hear a wife say to her husband or a husband to his wife, “I wish you were more like …,” I know there is going to be a battle. We must stop comparing our spouse to another’s spouse and desiring our spouse to be like that person. We only see the public persona, not the whole person with their flaws and weaknesses. We usually will not see the total person until we are married, at which time we may question what we have gotten into. An attorney friend of mine who practices domestic law once told me, “We marry a dream, but sometime after the wedding we wake up to see that we are not married to our dream, but to a real person with flaws and weaknesses.” There are no greener pastures. Working on our flaws and weaknesses will grow us in maturity and godliness.
The mindset of many people and the next myth we will look at is that “permanent positive change is impossible”. There are many psychologists who believe that we don’t “change our spots.” But in Matthew 19:26, Jesus said that “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” I have counseled with countless people who come with the attitude that permanent change is impossible and therefore they are hopeless in their marriage. One such person said this week, “I believe that he is changing, but only to get me back with him. Then when he sees that I am back, he will revert to his old ways because permanent change just does not happen. This change is temporary.” Her mind was made up. I asked her, “If your husband’s change was permanent, would you want him back?” and she said, “Of course I would want him back. If these changes are for real, absolutely.” I encouraged her that change is not impossible, and permanent change is possible as we allow Christ to create that change within us.
For change to be good, right and permanent it has to begin with a desire to follow Christ. We must die to our selfish desires and yield to the Lord daily. Galatians 2:20 tells us, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” As we yield more to Christ and love Him more, our lives change in every area and our marriages get better and better. We must die to self.
Our next myth is that marriage will be smooth sailing. Many people expect to have a marriage with smooth sailing, so when turbulence occurs they are not equipped to deal with it. I refer to that as the Cinderella Complex. Never mind the differences between Prince Charming and Cinderella, they will be riding off in the carriage to a happy life without conflict. Prince Charming lives in a castle and has always been around the pomp and circumstance of royal living. Cinderella was raised as a servant in her stepmother’s house and mistreated by both her stepmother and her step-sisters, yet Cinderella and Prince Charming “lived happily ever after.” This is not real life. It takes time and hard work to smooth out the rough spots in marriage.
We all want a “smooth sailing, no conflict marriage”, but that is not a reasonable expectation for any couple. Riding off into the sunset with beautiful music playing is only in the movies. It is written into the script. Sometimes while watching a movie or TV program with my brother-in-law I would question why something happened, and he would say, “It was in the script.” That somewhat messes up the movie for me, taking me back to the reality that it is just a movie or TV program. Marriage does not have a written script. However, if we turn to God’s Word and follow it we can have a beautiful marriage, one that grows richer year by year.
If we understood the purpose of trials in marriage, we would be able to consider them as pure joy. James 1:2-4 tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when we encounter trials of various kinds, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance and we are to let endurance do its work that we might be made mature and complete lacking in nothing.” Any relationship will have trials, but the trials can produce great things. If we resist the trials and complain about them rather than embracing them, we will simply not learn what we were meant to learn and we will go through more trials. If we understand that God is up to great things in us, we will know that the trials are God’s way of training us in the way we should go, and to purify us and bring us to maturity. We are to turn to Jesus and embrace what He is doing by submitting ourselves to Him for whatever He wants to do with us.
There is an excitement about trusting the Lord Jesus with our daily lives, an excitement that can only come from Him. We can have that excitement even though the seas of marriage sometimes get rough and at times may seem impassable. We might even feel that we are going to drown and start asking, “How much longer can I continue?” We can continue as long as the Lord is our Strength, our Rock, and our Shield.
The reality of having a great marriage comes as we yield to the Lord and we have a strong prayer life. In the recent movie, War Room, we see a good example of how to be praying for our marriages and our spouses. We must be praying daily for our spouses, praying specific things, not just general stuff. I call the general prayers wholesale prayers, and the specific prayers retail prayers, item by item. A wholesale prayer will be things like, “Lord be with my wife.” Retail prayer is more like, “Lord, watch over my wife as she goes about her grocery shopping this afternoon,” or, “Lord, I know my wife has had a hard time sleeping for several nights now, so would you please give her a great night’s rest.” Pray specific prayers for your spouse. I suggest that you at least write the bullet points of your prayer and be very specific. Then record the answers to those prayers so that you are able to go back and see that which the Lord has done through your prayers. It will build your faith and build an excitement about praying for your spouse.