Is Your Marriage Bewildering?



Someone once told me that he thought it must have been an effort to be friendly toward and act genuinely interested in the 250 guests I interviewed. I replied that it was not an act with me-I thoroughly enjoyed meeting these amazing people and listening to their fascinating accounts. I had the privilege of interviewing well-known personalities-people who touched lives through politics, the sciences, the arts, and literature.

One of the most memorable authors I interviewed was Florence Littauer, who gave a fascinating account of her wedding. Like most young ladies, Florence had long dreamed of the day she would be married. She was employed as a high school drama teacher when she became engaged to a wonderful young man, so she decided to let her pupils participate in planning and arranging some of the details of her wedding. "Everybody worked," she told me. "We had the auto shop boys find a white Cadillac; the wood shop boys made scepters for the bridesmaids; and, of course, I was the queen. My students wrote to Life Magazine suggesting that they come and cover their teacher’s wedding.

Both Florence and her students were surprised when reporters and photographers from Life actually appeared. For weeks they followed Florence around taking notes and pictures. The wedding was a dream come true, and being chosen by the magazine as "Bride of the Year" only made it better.

But, Florence told me, her marriage that began with so much fanfare soon ran into serious trouble. Only with the Lord’s help, much prayer, and a great deal of growth in the lives of her husband and herself was the couple able to overcome the weaknesses in their crumbling marriage and rebuild it stronger than ever. Out of the experience, Florence wrote a book, appropriately titled, After Every Wedding Comes a Marriage.

Based on her experiences, as well as my own, I am focusing this chapter on the special ingredients that are vital to a successful and happy marriage.

Unconditional love

In counseling couples with marital problems, I’ve found that dissatisfaction often seems to center in family life. For example, a husband who undergoes unusual stress at work frequently transmits that stress to his relationship with his wife. Likewise, a wife who is dissatisfied may shower her feelings of depression and resentment on her husband. Consequently, one of the first casualties of dissatisfaction is often the marriage.

I believe the quality of one’s love is a barometer of the state of the marriage. When the marital "love level" (I especially like this term) declines, coldness in the relationship sets in. Wives, your husbands are the last ones who should bear the brunt of your baffled feelings. Husbands, the same is true of your wives. Why is it, then, that the ones we love most are often the first to feel the heat of our negative feelings? The last person with whom we should be short of temper is our spouse, and yet so often the opposite is true. In fact, a popular song from the past was titled, "You Always Hurt the One You Love," as if that made everything all right.

Genuine love demands an unconditional commitment and requires a daily, conscious effort in order to grow stronger. Because this is especially true in the marriage relationship, those looking for an easy way out will not experience success in matrimony. I have advised many women that they must be willing to do whatever is necessary to make their marriage rewarding. "Work at it," I tell them.

Some of the best advise I ever received came early in my own marriage-"Love your husband. It will put iron in his spine."

I’ve made that my philosophy, and it has worked. Thus, I tell those who seek my help, "Love your mate when it’s easy, and love him when it’s not. Love him unconditionally."

Unfeigned love, you see, begets more love because we are all responders. So as the partners commit themselves to showing love toward each other, the relationship blossoms and grows in strength and beauty.

Too many people view love as something that must be earned or deserved. Yet, love that is not unconditional is not really love at all. The essence of God’s divine nature is love-unconditional love. He loved us in spite of our shortcomings. In fact, He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us.

Don’t try to change your spouse

Too many people marry their spouses thinking that they can change the other person into someone more to their likes or dislikes. Florence Littauer told me that if this were possible, she and her husband, Fred, would have done it. "I set out to make Fred fun like me," she said, "and Fred was determined to get me organized like him." Her advice to those trying to change their partners-"it won’t work!" Disillusionment and discouragement are bound to be the result, and ultimately the marriage will flounder and may fail. A successful marriage cannot be built on unrealistic expectations.

Since real love is an unconditional commitment to the good of another, the attitude that seeks to change the other partner is often based on selfish motives. Selfishness and true love are incompatible. Being committed to the good of another involves making sacrifices, giving, and yielding-all without demanding repayment or reward.

Submitting youselves one to another

Ephesians 5:21, the doorway to the apostle Paul’s discussion about marriage and the family, speaks of submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Here, I believe, is the key to success in marriage. I know it works, for it has worked for Jack and me, and I’ve seen it work in many marriages. It can be summed up in a single word-submission. I am not speaking of some kind of self-abdication that makes a woman subservient to her husband, but a mutual biblical submission that makes a husband and wife partners together in life.

What this means is that the husband and wife should be more concerned about the desires, the preferences, and the needs of their spouse than they are with their own. The result of such an attitude is a relationship where nothing is demanded and nothing is expected. Rather, everything is given freely and received with gratitude and humility. Instead of yearning to be served, each yearns to serve-that is real love.

You can see how this kind of love cannot be damaged by unfulfilled expectations. It asks for nothing, it insists on nothing-it just gives. It is not manipulative, it is not suspicious, and it takes nothing for granted. I believe if we will strive to infuse that kind of love into our marriages, we can guarantee their success.

There is a deep satisfaction that comes with submitting ourselves one to another. In earlier days when Jack and I had very little materially, we were content just to be together. We never felt we needed money or houses or things to make our marriage better. Just enjoying each other was more than enough.

This remains true today. The Lord has blessed us in many ways, and yet our greatest enjoyment still comes from being together and enjoying each other’s presence. Although we both like to "get away from it all" each year, we do not limit our vacation plans to where I want to go or what Jack would like to do. Instead, we try to determine how we can spend our time together.

A few years ago, for example, we vacationed in Toronto. Rather than spending a lot of money on activities to keep us entertained, we took long walks together. In fact, we walked about ten miles a day, just talking, sharing, and spending time with each other. Jack indulges my appetite for art by browsing through a museum with me - he wants us to enjoy each day to the fullest. Our marriage is a partnership in which friendship, respect, affection, and the wonder of love all play key roles. We do not need external, artificial, or material things to make it work. Oh, I appreciate his thoughtful gifts (he never forgets a special day) but this is not the glue that holds us together.

Taking time to share

The value of sharing in marriage cannot be over-emphasized. The inability of one or both partners to truly care about and become involved in the life of the other is one of the major reasons that interest and affection often begin to wane in the early years of wedlock. Instead of becoming a part of each other, husbands and wives all too frequently find themselves drifting apart.

As I have already indicated, sharing does not have to be contrived or implemented as a duty or chore. Indeed, it should be a natural outflow of the bond of oneness into which the bride and groom entered on their wedding day. Just taking the time to talk about goals, desires, decisions, and accomplishments-perhaps even fears and frustrations-is all that is required. The mutual commitment of each to the other will do the rest.

One of the most beautiful aspects of my walk with Jack has been our continual ability to communicate. One of the most endearing compliments he has given me was on an occasion when he arrived home from the office, walked into the kitchen, put his arm around me and said, "The sweetest part of my day is being able to come home to you and talk about everything that has happened." We started talking on our honeymoon and we have never stopped. I have to smile, even as I share this with you, at the number of times we have entered an elevator in a hotel talking about something, and minutes later suddenly realized we had forgotten to push the button for the floor to which we were going. Oh, there have been those times of silent communication, also.

The eloquence of silence

The best gift I could give to Jack while he was memorizing God’s Word in a motel room or traveling back and forth from an auditorium in a van was the gift of my silence. This silence was good for me as well for it taught me the importance of using quiet times to my advantage-reading the Bible, praying, practicing, writing letters, composing an article for our magazine, or simply meditating. It is important to meditate and communicate with God in our thoughts. How long has it been since you enjoyed a silent time of direct communication with your heavenly Father? However, even during the quiet times, Jack and I were never far apart in communicating. Does this sound strange? You can know each other so well that even a smile, a gaze, or a nod of the head can be beautiful communication.

I also want to mention that the need for sharing increases tremendously as children are born. Then, more than ever, quality time spent together in activities that involve every family member will enrich one’s life immensely. One of the most important and valuable things is a family devotional time when dad, as the head of the home, shares his faith with those whom God has entrusted to his care. A caring, concerned, loving father will never neglect the responsibility and opportunity to train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6).

From a social standpoint, family companionship does not have to cost a lot of money. There are many types of wholesome and enjoyable activities that do not cost anything. You can go to a museum, spend a day at the lake or park, attend an outdoor concert, or just go for a drive in the country. Each of these is more valuable than spending time mindlessly absorbed in a television program. And with children, just the fact that you care means more than any material possession you might give them.

Let me stress that no one can have the proper kind of marriage or family relationship without a willingness to give as well as to receive. Perhaps this concept seems foreign to everything you have come to believe. Ours is a society preoccupied with rights-women’s rights, children’s rights, civil rights, personal rights, and every other kind of rights. Although many of these rights are important elements of a free society, they can also bring death to individual relationships and especially to marriage. Real love never demands its rights.

One of the purest forms of human love is that of a mother for her baby. Such love is totally selfless and sacrificial. The mother feeds the child, changes him, rocks him, responds when he cries, holds him when he needs her, sings to him, and does virtually everything for him. What does she get from the child in return? Only the satisfaction of having loved. He or she is too immature and dependent to return her love in a meaningful way. He or she can do nothing but demand more of her time and attention. Still, any good mother will tell you that nothing is more satisfying than caring for the needs of an infant.

My heart is deeply grieved by the unnatural affection displayed by some mothers and fathers today. They are unhappy with themselves, but instead of facing the issue openly and honestly, they project their deep-seated dissatisfaction toward their children-even to the point of blaming them for their problems and the irritations of daily life. The result is often child abuse.

What is happening to home life?

On one of our trips to Brussels, Belgium, near where Jack’s relatives live, we were walking in the downtown area and passed in front of an arcade. It seemed that there were hundreds of kids hanging out there, playing the machines, totally absorbed in that activity. I remember turning to Jack and saying, "I wonder what their home life is like?"

Today, in almost any town in our country, you will find the same situation, proving that family relationships are at a disturbingly low ebb in our nation.

I once interviewed Georg Andersen, an interior designer with many years’ experience in various settings, both commercial and residential. I was immediately attracted to his book, Interior Decorating: A Reflection of the Creator’s Design, because of the cover. It shows a beautifully decorated room, but what caught my attention was the glass-topped coffee table with two children’s chairs alongside. When I read the book I learned that this was the Andersen living room. Provision had been made for the youngest members of the family to be totally included. I was impressed.

This is a subject on which I could spend a great deal of time because, even though I don’t have children, it is a topic very dear to my heart. My mind is troubled every time I see children who look lonely and unhappy; I cry when I read stories of child abuse or hear of child abandonment.

I heard about a young couple going through a divorce-the mother had walked out of the marriage leaving behind three small children. Even though she left them with her husband, she was still walking away from her God-given role as a mother. I must confess I do not understand how any woman can do this. She was obviously dissatisfied with the marriage. To walk out on her husband is one thing, but to leave those precious children is something else! I wept when I heard this story.

I do not know the circumstances surrounding that couple’s failed marriage. I do know there are some cases of wife abuse which would necessitate a separation. (Such was not the case in this instance, I have been assured.) We gaze in disbelief at newspaper headlines that speak about wife-beating (and now even husband abuse), but the fact remains that such incidents are increasing steadily in our society.

We need to realize that the Bible predicts that such an attitude will be prevalent in the "last days" just prior to Christ’s return (see 2 Timothy 3:3). If you know someone suffering under such conditions or are yourself its victim, seek help immediately. A pastor or qualified Christian counselor will be both able and happy to assist you.

Love gives...and gives again!

True love, then, gives and keeps on giving. This is the kind of love it takes to make a marriage work-love that demands nothing and expects nothing; love that delights to serve and meet needs; love that finds its deepest satisfaction in giving, not receiving.

Such love does not come easily. The mother who waits on her baby was once a baby herself, crying for her own needs to be fulfilled. All of us began that way, and the selfishness of our infancy is something that is not quickly conquered. It takes a great deal of wisdom and maturity to see that satisfaction comes in serving others. Then it takes a great deal of character to have the strength of will to commit oneself to a life of self sacrifice.

Still, this emptying of self is exactly what is required to make a marriage (or any kind of human relationship) workable, fruitful, and rewarding.

Dispelling bewilderment in marriage is always out of reach for those who refuse to submit, sacrifice, and serve. They can never quite obtain what they believe it would take to make them content. The message of God’s Word is this-satisfaction in marriage, in the family, in business, in school, and in life is only for those who deny themselves and delight in serving others.

Marriage, possibly more than any other area of life, is a good gauge of our satisfaction. I do not know of anyone who has a successful marriage who is not basically satisfied. And I know of few whose marriages are failing who will say they are satisfied.

Perhaps you are dissatisfied with your marriage. Have you been looking to the wrong sources for satisfaction? Have you been demanding more than giving? Maybe you are shirking rather than accepting responsibility. Will you ask God to teach you what it is to surrender completely-to Him first, and then to your spouse? I know that if you are able to learn this basic truth and apply it to your life and marriage, your bewilderment will vanish and you can begin anew!
Jack Van Impe Ministries
Box 7004
Troy MI 48007

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