Richard Exley Ministries

The Truth About Marriage

Marriage, which was designed by God to end the loneliness of human beings, is often the loneliest place of all.  You live in the same house, share the same bed, parent the same children, even make "love," yet you never really connect with each other.  For all the things you appear to have in common you have become strangers. To make matters worse your spouse may be so wrapped up in their own life, that they don't even realize the tragic emptiness that haunts you.

According to counselor Aaron Rutledge, "...modern couples expect marriage to provide self-development and fulfillment; mutual expressions of affection; satisfaction of sexual urges; a sharing of child-rearing responsibilities; a mutual experience of status, belongingness and security; and shared interests in friends, recreation, worship, and creative work.  In the history of mankind," Rutledge concludes, "never have so many expected so much from marriage and family life."

Reformed pastor Frederick Herwaldt, Jr., echoes Rutledge's conclusions and even goes a step further, "I believe marriage is in trouble today because society and the church have a faulty view of it - a myth of this human, delightful, yet flawed, institution.  Though a few lone voices speak against the institution, most laud a romantic image of marriage as life's ultimate source of true joy."

If Herwaldt means that marriage is in trouble because couples expect to “live happily ever after” then I agree with him.  But if he means that you shouldn't expect to find fulfillment in your marriage, no matter how hard you work at it, no matter how committed you are, then I must disagree with him.  We live in a fallen world and consequently we must contend with our sinfulness.  But God still intends for marriage to be a special relationship, where two people experience the deepest intimacy, and the most complete fulfillment of which they are capable.  To settle for anything less is to deny the divine ideal. (click here to continue reading)

As a pastor, I have the opportunity to conduct many weddings, and I always encourage couples to receive Holy Communion during the ceremony.  Not only is it a deeply spiritual act, but it also provides a unique opportunity for me to address the special responsibilities involved in marriage.

The Communion emblems symbolize the heart and soul of marriage. The bread exemplifies true love – the gift of one’s self. Taking the bread Jesus said, "...Take and eat; this is my body" (Matthew 26:26). The cup then portrays the gift of forgiveness. Again Jesus said, “’...This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out...for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matt. 26:27,28).
 
In marriage we must love one another like that – selflessly, to the very laying down of our lives – that is our interests, our desires, our needs – for our beloved.  We do it for our beloved but we also do it for our marriage, for the good of this holy relationship. We give our marriage priority time and energy lest love be lost in the press of living.

I addressed these thoughts in a letter I wrote to Leah, our only daughter, on the eve of her wedding:

“Leah, marriage is what you make it.  Under God, it must be the single most important thing in all your life.  If your marriage is good, you can overcome anything – rejection, financial adversity, illness and even the death of a loved one. If it is not good there is not enough success in the world to fill the awful void.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than your marriage, so work at it with love and thoughtfulness all days of your life. Remember your vows:  you have promised, before God and your families, to forsake all others and cleave only to each other. Pledge yourselves, not only to physical faithfulness, but to emotional fidelity as well. Do not allow friends, family, or career to meet your “belonging needs.” Determine that these emotional needs will be fulfilled only in your marriage.  

“Marriage is made of time so schedule time together. Spend it wisely in deep sharing. Open your heart to Douglas, holding nothing back. Spend it wisely in fun – laugh and play together, do things you both enjoy.  Spend it wisely in worship – go to church together and pray with each other daily. Spend it wisely in touching – hold each other.

“Remember, a song isn't a song until you sing it. And a bell isn't a bell until you ring it. And love isn't love until you give it away, so give all of your love to each other all the days of your life.”

Unfortunately the romantic glow of your wedding will soon give way to the nitty-gritty of everyday life. And as unbelievable as it may have seemed to you on that special day, you will soon sin against your beloved and your marriage.  I know. I am guilty. Within days after our wedding I was wounding Brenda, cutting her to the core with my angry words. And she was wounding me with her sullen silence. Only forgiveness could heal our wounds and restore our relationship.

Of necessity, I addressed this very issue as well in my letter to Leah:

“I know you think it could never happen to you and Douglas but let me assure you that even the best marriages suffer wounds. You will sin against your marriage; against the very one you love and he will sin against you. Sometimes you will do it deliberately, in selfishness or anger, but usually you will sin unintentionally, thoughtlessly. What happens next is critical; it will decide the fate your marriage. You must forgive him. It won’t be easy. He has hurt you and everything within you cries out for revenge. You will be tempted to get even. Don’t yield to that temptation.  If you do you will only wound your marriage further. Forgive him. If you can’t do it simply because you love him, do it for your marriage, for the relationship that is more important than either of you.” 

What am I trying to say?  Just this: Don’t spoil today by dwelling on past failures, your own or your spouse’s. We’ve all been hurt by those we love most, but our only hope for having the kind of marriages our hearts hunger for is to forgive and forget. If you insist on nursing yesterday’s hurts, you will become a prematurely old and bitter person. You simply cannot afford to let past hurts rob you of today’s joy or your future happiness. If you are really serious about experiencing love and intimacy in your marriage then make the most of today.  Live it to the fullest.  Love completely and forgive freely.  "...rejoice in the wife of your youth, be captivated by her love" (Proverbs 5:18&19).

This article has been excerpted from  “Life’s Bottom Line” by Richard Exley