I’ve been married nearly a dozen years. I’ve performed I don’t know how many weddings, presided over even more pre-marital counseling sessions and refereed an equal amount of relationships as they were coming to an end. So I’m not Dr Phil but I’ve learned a thing or two. Or ten.
#4: The Power of One
Married couples rarely come to my office when their marriage is in a good place.
That’s a shame because- let’s face it- it’s when neither spouse is hostile, defensive or bearing grudges that both of them are most likely to hear honest feedback. It’s only in the absence of threat that people are willing to change their habits and try out new skills.
Nonetheless, like an overweight 55 year old who waits until it feels like an elephant is standing on his chest to go in for a routine check-up, most couples wait until their marriage is about 5 calories away from quadruple bypass to seek counseling.
When couples wait that long, no matter the issues in their marriage, the conversation usually plays out the same way in my office. I feel like a referee at a tennis match, watching the accusations and hurt volleyed back and forth with neither willing to stop until someone declares the match in their favor.
Marriages can get like that, tit for tat, tit for tat, tit for tat. The resentment and recriminations build until you feel powerless NOT to respond. The hurt becomes habituated and before you know it the tit for tat just is your marital banter.
The Apostle Paul has verse about marriage in his letter to the Ephesians. Because it’s been used to endorse traditional- even oppressive- gender roles, it’s not a scripture that most Christians turn to anymore. But there IS wisdom in it.
Paul says that “husbands and wives should submit to one another…out of reverence for Christ.”
A lot of times couples stuck in the tit for tat will contend that they won’t change until the other changes. While that may sound like equity and justice in another context, in the context of a marriage it’s insanity. It’s mutually-assured destruction.
Here’s what I’ve learned about Paul’s verse.
For marriages stuck in the tit for tat spiral, it only takes one to begin the process of change and healing. That is, for marriages experiencing strain and sadness, marriages bowing under the weight of bad habits, healing can begin with only one of the spouse’s buying in out of reverence for Christ.
I’m not suggesting that a spouse should tolerate abuse to keep the marriage together.
No, I’m saying that love for Christ can motivate and empower a spouse to decide by themselves to act differently, to shed habits, to refuse to return the tit with a tat.
If being a Christian means thinking of yourself less and if being a Christian means turning the other cheek (again, don’t freak out on me- I don’t mean literally), then certainly being a Christian within your marriage means not having to be right all the time. Not having to win. Not having to respond to the
tit. I mean tat.
One of the things I’ve learned about marriage, one of the things I’ve seen with my own eyes, is that, yes it takes 2 to make a marriage, but it only takes 1 to start the process of healing and change.
And sometimes just getting that process started is enough to change the dynamic and break the logjam in a relationship.
Because of course, the math has a corollary.
It only takes 1 to prime the healing pump.
But it also only takes 1 to end a marriage too.
And therein lies one of the reasons I believe it’s important for couples to have- or be working towards- a shared faith. Because if ‘reverence for Christ’ isn’t a shared value, then it becomes harder, I think, for the 1 + 1 to forever be 2.
After all, without Christ I’m predisposed to worry most about, to protect, guard and defend the 1. As in, myself.