Thoughts on how to best apply what you read about marriage to your particular relationship
Marriages and individuals vary widely. That’s an obvious statement. That reality, however, makes doling out marriage advice in the blogosphere quite a challenge. It’s often a struggle for me to write to the “typical couple” because there is no such thing. I hesitate to give a lot of specific, prescriptive marriage advice. The problem is that a specific prescription is often the very kind of guidance people seek when they come to Heaven Made Marriage.
So how should you view what folks like me write and teach about marriage, given that I probably don’t actually know you and your marriage situation personally? Allow me to draw an analogy.
How is Giving Marriage Advice Like Managing a Pandemic?
To me, the challenges I face in giving marriage advice are very similar to the challenges our leaders face in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic (yes, I find mind marriage analogies in strange places!). Just like with the virus, people want to know exactly what to do and what not to do. The government issues national guidelines that are very broad. Then the state governors have to figure out how to codify these guidelines in a way that’s best for the people of their state. Local governments have to do much the same. They have to interpret the state guidelines and apply them to each unique community as best they can. (I’m not going to get into how well I think most are doing this – that’s not my point.). Ultimately, though, it’s up to individual citizens to do what they believe is right.
If you’ve read here long, you know I tend to emphasize principles of biblical marriage. In the same way that governments have to interpret and apply the national guidelines for managing the pandemic, your task is to figure out how these principles apply to your particular marriage. Yes, I often offer examples of how to apply what I write, but these too must be sifted through the lens of your unique relationship with your spouse.
Think It Through, Filter As Needed
So here’s my advice about marriage advice: consider what you are reading or hearing through the lens of your particular marriage. Filter out what doesn’t seem to fit, but also consider whether there is a guiding principle there that might simply apply differently for you and your spouse. Ultimately, you have to think it through and assess if/how the advice applies to your particular marriage.
My pastor has a saying that I think applies here, “Eat the meat and spit out the bones.” If you look for the meat, you’ll usually find it. And the fact that there may be some bones doesn’t invalidate the meat.
Stereotypes usually exist because something is generally true. But there are plenty of “atypical” couples to whom some stereotypes don’t apply: wives with a higher sex drive than their husbands or husbands who are more verbal than their wives. So not all advice applies in the same way to all couples. If you are an “atypical” couple, rather than dismissing the advice altogether, you might need to flip it around.
Here’s another important point: don’t assume that just because one precept applies mostly to either a husband or wife that it doesn’t apply at all to the other spouse. Here’s a good example: research has consistently found that men typically place a significantly higher priority on being respected and that women place a relatively higher priority on being loved and cared for. Does that mean that wives don’t need respect or that husbands don’t need love? Of course not. Sometimes marriage authors make broad, simple statements to make their message clear and easy to understand. Nuance can muddle the message and can lose the reader. The problem is that nuance is often necessary.
Finally, it’s important to remember that almost any marriage advice will fail at the extremes. There are always cases of ill-willed, abusive, shut down, addicted or vindictive spouses for whom nothing their partner does will solve their issues. These extreme cases do not make general biblical marriage principles untrue, but a couple in such extreme situations will often need specific, professional help to save their marriage.
The Bible and Marriage
The Bible has a lot of great marriage advice. I always try to test what I write against the truth of Scripture. You should do the same as you read.
Here’s the problem. What one person says is “biblical” another person will say is not. The same Bible passage can be interpreted differently by different people, sometimes leading to intense debate.
So what can you do with all this?
We Need the Holy Spirit
Here’s some excellent news. We’re not left on our own to figure all this out.
Jesus promises us help in John 16:14,
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
God is totally for your marriage, and He is eager to guide you into the truths that will make your marriage strong and vibrant. You should absolutely seek out solutions to your marriage issues or to look for ways to make your marriage better, but ultimately, rely on the Holy Spirit to help you apply them to your relationship.
James 1:5 has this great promise for us.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
I love the fact that God’s wisdom comes without any condemnation or shame.
So how exactly do we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us? We ask, and we listen. If you are new to the notion of “hearing from God,” it’s not nearly as strange or spooky as it sounds. God is a good and loving Father who loves to speak to His kids. I’m convinced that he is speaking all the time, but we aren’t always in a position to listen. God uses many different methods to convey his heart to us. The Bible is a primary way God speaks truth to us, and it’s vital that all the other ways we “hear” are in line with His Word. He also uses impressions in our minds or spirits, dreams, pictures, visions, songs, and other ways. The main thing is to seek it and the stay attentive to His voice, in whatever manner it may come.
The best lens through which to view all marriage advice (and any other advice for that matter) is heaven’s lens, which the Holy Spirit is eager to show us. Our task is to ask and listen.