For many people, the beauty of Christian marriage is as clear as swamp water. Conflicting messages come from all directions, and it is hard to discern the truth. Hollywood preaches that marriage wrecks romance, and fairy tales proclaim “happily ever after.” Too often marriages around us are defined by heartache and dysfunction, and we are left to wonder what a healthy one looks like.
When I married the man of my dreams on that cloudy day in May, I was half blind to the value of this precious covenant. Eleven years later, I am still learning how to be married, but God’s Word has cleared the fog for me in many respects.
Christian marriage is neither happily-ever-after nor dysfunctional monotony. It is much more intriguing.
You may be surprised what real marriage is like. Here are 10 things I think every woman should know before getting married.
1. Your husband does not define you. Christ does.
Few earthly experiences compare to the pleasure of new love. The person you love most in the world loves you back. You feel loved. Cherished. Worthy. But when infatuation fades, so does our confidence, because we measured our worth by a man’s admiration.
As strange as it sounds, in these moments of weakness we need good theology. How else will we know why we have worth apart from our spouse?
When we look to Christ for salvation, He changes us. In Him, we become righteous, beloved children, co-heirs of grace and completely forgiven (2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 4:5-6). These spiritual realities change who we are at the core of our being. They transform us in a way that a man’s love never could.
Of all the things to get wrong in marriage, this isn’t one of them. Know who you are in Christ, and let His love define you.
2. You are not enough to fulfill your spouse.
You may feel like all you need is each other, but the truth is, you are not enough. If you try to be his everything, you will fail. It’s like a child trying to solve world poverty with the coins in her piggy bank. She doesn’t have the resources. In Christ a man finds everything he needs (2 Peter 1:3). Entrust your husband to Him, and he will be in good hands. Ironically, this frees you to love him better.
3. A good wife doesn’t fit a cookie-cutter pattern.
Back in Genesis, we learn that a woman is to “help” her husband. How you help him will be different from other marriages. There is no one-size-fits-all template for this role because every husband is different.
A wise wife studies her husband to know his particular likes and enjoyments. She knows his weaknesses and how to help him to be better. She knows how to encourage him, when to confront him, and how to let him know he is loved and respected. While other women can be helpful in giving you ideas, let your husband be central in shaping your supportive role in marriage. After all, he is the one you are called to help.
4. Marriage veterans know how to fight well.
Marriage may be one of God’s greatest gifts for sanctification. Two sinners bound together shouldn’t be surprised if they rub each other the wrong way. Marital strife is an opportunity to expose sin and rub off the rough edges.
In times of disagreement, a wise wife will be slow to speak. Once something is said, it can never be unsaid, and sinful words ignite a fire (James 3:6).
There is plenty of opportunity to forgive and to seek forgiveness in marriage. Don’t be surprised or defeated by sin. God’s grace is greater than all of it (Romans 5:20).
5. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.
Some people say marriage is about “give and take,” but marriage is never truly 50/50. Even if it were, none of us see clearly in this regard. Tit-for-tat does not work in marriage; it only builds resentment. Instead, give generously just like Jesus “who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
6. A husband who points you to Christ is worth his weight in gold.
True love is not unearthed in moments of pre-marital bliss, but in long expressions of committed love, forgiveness and faithfulness. If you find someone that loves you like Christ loves the church — sacrificially, tenderly, covenantally — you have found a good thing.
In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul uses the words “nourish” and “cherish” to describe the husband’s covenantal care and leadership.
A man may cause your heart to flutter faster than bumble bee wings, but can you follow his leadership? Will he nourish, care for and provide for you? Does he exemplify Christ’s love for the church?
Muscles and mystery only go so far, but a godly man is a treasure.
7. Married sex is not an ultimate experience nor a monotonous chore.
A common sentiment in our culture is that marriage wrecks sex lives. That everything slides downhill from honeymoon bliss and lands squarely in the land of monotony or divorce. Others anticipate instant bliss and immediate gratification. The truth is not so simple.
Within the God-defined limits and exclusivity of this union, there is great freedom to enjoy and less pressure to perform. Sex does not start on a high note and slowly descend. It begins in the middle and plays a melody both low and high, forever changing, growing and developing. Despite what season you are in, married sex is always special because in some respect it reflects the intimacy between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32).
8. Your own personal holiness is the greatest gift you can give your spouse.
A beautiful body may cause an initial attraction, but a body alone is not enough. You are a whole person, made in God’s image. Your soul is made for communion with Him. When you marry a man you become one in body and soul, so your spiritual health will greatly affect him.
9. He wants your friendship.
Your husband wants more than a housekeeper. He wants a friend, an ally, someone to turn to in times of trouble. Someone who can resonate with his deepest longings and partner with him in life. You are his helper and lover, but also his “companion” (Malachi 2:14). Don’t underestimate the value of friendship if you want to see your marriage flourish.
10. Marriage is more than a piece of paper.
Your married life should testify to something much greater than yourself. Marriage is a shadow of a spiritual reality — namely, Christ’s love for His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:22-32). Your union with your husband should make you marvel at your union with Christ. And as much as we are made for our spouse from eternity past, we are ultimately made for a love not of this earth.
So the next time you wonder what a healthy marriage looks like, forget about fairy tales and Hollywood. Look to Christ, and remember His love for the church. Real marriage is not simple. It is a tangible living picture of a spiritual reality. A story of forgiveness and steadfast love. A living picture of Christ’s love for the church. And though we reflect it imperfectly, it is nonetheless beautiful.
Copyright 2014 Christel Humfrey. All rights reserved.