Sunday, March 2, 2008

And the two shall become one …

But which one?
Okay, okay, I am sure you have heard this joke before. What is not a joke however is the dreary state of the institution of marriage in these days. The DSWD has reported that 40% of the couples in CALABARZON are merely living in. That translates to about 90,000 couples who either do not believe in marriage or who are legally married to persons other than their current partners.

Since December 2005 when I started giving free legal information and Biblical counseling through my Family Matters website, more than 500 persons have e-mailed me availing of this service. Probably 80% of my counselees have been women who [1] have been abandoned by their husband and who want to know how to get financial support; or [2] want to escape from their marriage or an abusive relationship. Truly, marriage is the most difficult human relationship.

The reality of conflict in marriages

You see, there will always be conflicts between a man and a woman within the framework of marriage. Genesis 3: 16 says, “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Some people have said that the expression “thy desire shall be to thy husband” refers to a woman’s sexual desire for her husband, but we know that in a lot of situations that desire isn’t there.

Conservative theologians like Woodrow Kroll say (correctly, in my opinion) that Genesis 3:16 should be read in relation with Genesis 4: 7 which states, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” These theologians say that the expression “unto thee shall be his desire” in Genesis 4:7 is similar in words and grammar as Genesis 3:16.

Thus, the proper interpretation of “thy desire shall be unto thy husband” is that there will be conflicts and struggles between a husband and a wife in their sinful state as the woman tries to wrest control over the relationship divinely ordained for the man. (Please read my article on “The Myth of Mutual Submission” for more on this issue.)

The reality of conflict even in Christian marriages

Three years ago, I talked with a newly married woman, offering to lend her my copy of Dr. Willard Harley’s book “Love Busters, Overcoming Habits That Destroy Romantic Love.” Incredibly, she said that she didn’t need to read it, or any book on marriage and relationships for that matter, because her marriage was “God-ordained.”

Contrast this naive belief with what Debra Evans says in her book “The Christian Woman’s Guide to Sexuality” (copyright 1997; published by Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois). Speaking to wives about the realities of marriage, Evans says in page xiv,

“Marriage requires our strenuous commitment – a continuing, conscious effort to remain open and obedient to God’s transforming work in our lives – over a period, in many cases, of hundreds of months and thousands of days. A successive series of seasons will bring changes, some welcome and some not, to the cherished bond we share with our husbands. Adapting across a span of years takes us deep into the hidden places of our hearts.”
Together ... forever!

Or as Anne Kristin Carroll says in page 168 of her book “Together Forever” (a Zondervan book), “The best marriages are still made up of two human beings, and as much as they may love each other, at some time, or some place, they will disappoint one another.”
Carroll knows whereof she speaks. Divorced at 18 from her childhood sweetheart, she met and married another man at age twenty-one. She eventually got divorced again but by God’s grace, she reconciled with and remarried that same man.

“Together Forever” was first published in 1982; that was a year after martial law was lifted in the Philippines, and I was just beginning my teaching career in Dona Aurora High School in San Mateo, Rizal. Despite the passage of some twenty five years however, Carroll’s insights and advice have remained solid and relevant.

The bulk of her book is divided into chapters discussing the different problems (and solutions, thankfully) in marriage These problems and some of their symptoms are:

[1] Marriage Without Christ: lives with constant problems and no solutions; the Sunday Christians; intellectual understanding of Christ and God’s purpose for Him with no personal relationship; lives which fail to produce the fruit of the Spirit – gentleness, peace, forgiving nature, kindness; a self-righteous attitude; general resentment against life.

[2] Poor Self-Image = Poor Marriage : adultery; suicidal tendencies; feelings of inferiority; constant state of apology; materialism; depression, fear, insecurity; withdrawal; the perfectionist; critical spirit; constant search for approval; inability to trust God.

[3] God Accepts Your Mate. Why Can’t You? : critical attitude towards the spouse and others; constantly comparing one’s spouse with another; adultery; alcoholism; communication breakdown; sexual failure; superior or self-righteous attitude.

[4] The Communication Blackout : constant misunderstanding; singular or mutual distrust; resentment; game-playing; mask-wearing; mates who talk too much; continual superficial conversation; emotional divorce.

[5] Who Wears the Pants? : hostility and strife in the home; aggressive, insecure female; withdrawn male; overbearing male; rebellious children; open or suppressed frustration.

[6] Sex Was God’s Idea : total disinterest; overemphasis on the physical; feminine or masculine manipulation; unconfessed guilt; jealousy; impotence, sterility; unsettled differences.

[7] The Big “I” : stubborn spirit; unforgiving nature; rebellion to God’s authority; restlessness and frustration; critical or cynical attitude; loneliness; withdrawal and daydreaming.
Emotional barriers to happiness in marriage

Carroll in Chapter 12 of her book tackles the “Emotional Barriers to Happiness and How To Overcome Them.” These barriers which Carroll describes as the most common problems, trials, strains and everyday annoyances of marriage, are the following:

  • How should you respond when you have made a mistake?
  • How am I to react when my mate fails, sins, or disappoints me?
  • How should criticism be given?
  • How do I deal with anger and arguments?
  • How to deal with depression?
  • How do you respond to a mate filled with mental-attitude sins?
  • How can I get my mate to admire and praise me?
  • How am I to deal with temptations which come into my life?
  • How do I handle fear?
  • How do I deal with boredoms in my life?
  • How do I handle sleepless nights and insomnia?
  • How to handle general irritations and problems?
  • What exactly is faith and how do I put it into practice?
  • How can I learn to trust my mate who has so often lied, cheated or rejected me? How can I trust my mate who has committed adultery when he or she is out of my sight?
  • What do I do about my husband who is in the armed services and away from home much of the time?
  • What about in-laws?
What distinguishes Carroll’s book from other books on marriage and relationships written by psychologists and counselors is found in her Afterword entitled “The Survivor’s Reward.” Reflecting on the true nature of marriage and what life really is all about, Carroll states:

How we moment by moment think, act, and relate with our mates is either God’s way, which is pure gold, or our way, which amounts to wood, hay and stubble and will be discarded and burned up when we stand before God.

Use every opportunity to present Him through thought, word, and action to your mate, children, family, and a lost world. What opportunities, what rewards, if you are only faithful! And what joy! Yes, joy, because in Jesus there is total, complete, fulfilling joy – now and for all eternity. These are just some of the heavenly rewards promised to those totally committed to Him.
Saving your marriage alone

Carroll ends her book with words of encouragement and affirmation for the person struggling, often alone, to save his or her marriage. She says, “Regardless of the strain on your relationship – adultery, incest, drugs, alcohol, homosexuality, divorce, etc. – with God, no relationship is beyond transformation, beyond hope. With God all things are possible and victory awaits you.” She then quotes the Apostle Paul’s words in I Corinthians 13:

1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.
3. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
4. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8. Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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