The wedding day is usually one of the greatest days in a couple’s lives. As they stand before their guests and before the Lord, most couples anticipate a blessed and joyful future together. They stand at the altar and share their vows, and neither plan for divorce nor expect their marriage to be miserable.
Why is the divorce rate what it is? Statistics vary from source to source, but we all know that the divorce rate is high both inside and outside the church (maybe not nearly as high as we often hear and quote – see this article from Shaunti Feldhahn).
So what happens between the ideal at the altar and the reality of marriage for many couples? This week in Merge, we discussed barriers to strong marriages. While there are many obstacles to oneness, here are five barriers most couples face and how those barriers can attack our oneness in marriage.
5 Barriers to Oneness in Marriage
James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
One characteristic we all share is that we are selfish. Our fights primarily come from the fact that we are self-seeking; not typically because of money, sex, in-laws or unmet expectations – just to name a few. Your quarrels arise from the selfish desires that wage war inside of you and in your relationship. Selfishness will hinder your oneness in every way, every day.
2. Fear of intimacy
Genesis 3:7a Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.
Adam and Eve go from being naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25) to hiding in shame (Genesis 3:7). Equally we hide and cover our differences out of fear of getting caught. We believe that if we are discovered then no one will accept us, or – even worse – no one will love us.
The reality is that we have already been ‘discovered.’ Jesus knows everything you’ve done, are doing and will do. Yet, He willingly chooses to love you, to the point of dying on the cross for your sins (Philippians 2:5-11). If we understand the gospel, then we are free to be open and intimate with each other in marriage.
3. Laziness and apathy
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Over time in marriage, we can become passive and choose not to pursue one another. In many ways, this is a veiled form of selfishness when we choose our own desires and check out of the relationship. We become passive in our relationship and just quit caring.
Love, on the other hand, is self-giving and active, not lazy and apathetic.
The fact is, we just don’t know how to be married well! We don’t have good models of marriage in friends, parents, and society, so we don’t know how to pursue each other. Take some steps on the premarried side to prepare for marriage, or if you are already married, get equipped through classes, a community group, or something like re|engage.
5. A poor understanding of the gospel and forgiveness
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
When you commit to each other until ‘death do us part,’ you commit to stick together no matter what challenges and struggles come your way. When things are “better, richer, and marked by health,” it’s easy. On the other hand, when life is “worse, poorer, and marked by sickness,” you will be tempted to bail and look for the way out.
Rather, do for your spouse what God did for you in Jesus. Forgive one another as God in Christ forgave you. (See Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13, Matthew 18:21-35)
I resonate with ALL FIVE of these barriers.
All five have been, and some currently are, challenges in my life. The biggest one I face on a daily basis is selfishness. I am the most selfish person I know, and consistently have to battle my selfish desires. Philippians 2:5-11 is the passage I go back to as I look at the example of Jesus. Christ put our needs before Himself. In the same way, I can follow His example and put my wife’s desires before my own.
Number 5 on the list is not #5 in importance. In fact, a right understanding of the gospel and forgiveness allows us to overcome barriers 1, 2, 3, and 4. The gospel overcomes our selfishness and puts our spouse’s needs before our own. The gospel allows us to face one another without a fear of intimacy or being found out, since we have already been ‘discovered.’ The gospel makes no room for apathy and laziness; rather, the gospel initiates (Romans 5:8). The gospel takes away the excuse of not knowing/ignorance. An understanding of who Jesus is and what His Word says takes away the ignorance. Jesus and the Gospel is the solution to all of the barriers to oneness.
Which barrier is hurting your relationship? Can you think of other barriers to intimacy that prevent us from truly loving and serving each other?
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