I would like to challenge the marriage assumptions that have prevented you from seeing new possibilities in the uncharted waters of Us. The first assumption that simply must go is that you or your spouse needs to change in order for your marriage to improve.
As difficult as it may seem, I want you to consider the possibility that nothing about you or your spouse needs to change.
Nothing at all.
Beyond this I ask you to consider the reason that you began thinking that one of you needed to change. Could it be that you have unwittingly embraced the consumerism of our culture and applied it to your precious wife? Your precious husband? Such that you began to think of that person as a commodity? That's exactly where Mark and Rene were when they came to see me. (I should mention that there are times couples are counseled by me and my wife, Aileen. We do this on an as-needed basis.)
Mark and Rene, a 40something couple with 15 years of marriage under their belts, spewed venom back and forth at each other during our marriage coaching session. The verbal onslaught was tough to listen to, even though I've worked with hundreds of couples and heard it all.
Mark furrowed his brows, glared at his wife, and then looked at me. "You know, Dan, I can't stand being married to Rene any longer! If I had known this marriage was going to be like this, I never would have gotten married. Now we have four children and I feel like I'm trapped!" Mark's rage bubbled over. It was obvious he was purposely trying to hurt his wife with his words.
Rene looked disgusted. "Married? Really? You really believe we're married? If that's true, you don't act like it at all!" She spoke with contempt in her voice. "For starters you have a girlfriend in New Mexico. If you think you can continue to carry on with that woman, I want a divorce."
Mark escalated the attack. "Well, you drove me to her. She pays attention to me when I'm around and actually cares about what I do. All you do is gripe at me for not being enough. Besides, you kicked me out, so what am I supposed to do? Just wait around until you feel like inviting me back home?"
I was silent and let them duke it out with their words for a bit. I knew exactly where this conversation was going.
In a soft voice, as tears dripped down her cheeks, Rene turned to me. "Dan, I just got tired of waiting for him to do the things he said he would do." Then she whipped her head around and faced her husband. "When you were home with us, you would get up early in the morning and go to the office, where you worked all day with women. Then, while I was stuck at home with the kids, you would go out to dinner with them. I got tired of feeling abandoned and so I decided since you were never home and always out with other women, we might as well make it official. That's why I kicked you out. I hoped that you would soon realize what you had lost and begin to court me again. That never happened. You seemed glad to have left. Anyway, even while you were here, there wasn't an ounce of romance left in our marriage! How do you think that makes me feel? I want a man who will put me first in his life. Honestly, Mark, when we first met 20 years ago, I believed you were that man, but now I don't even know you."
Mark bristled and took a deep breath, doing his best to maintain some semblance of composure. "Dan, I'm in the fashion business. Most of the people I work with are either gay men or women. I can't help that! Why can't Rene support me? After all, I'm the one who provides a great home and pays for the kids' private school, the medical care, food, clothing—geez, nobody has had to go without anything. I wasn't seeing anybody until I realized that I just couldn't go on like that any longer. I was beginning to feel like a hermit. All Rene was doing was getting back at me for what she felt I owed her. When she kicked me out, I got an apartment and, sure, a girlfriend on the side. But I needed a companion, somebody who made me feel like I mattered. I just couldn't take the nagging and complaining anymore!"
Rene turned away so that Mark couldn't see her cry. Then she said something I'm sure many of you either say yourself or hear from your spouse.
"But what about me, Mark? What about my needs?"
It was the classic "I-need-I-need-I-need" complaint. Yet each one was only listening to their own needs.
The frustrating part for me was that Mark and Rene had the tools they needed to turn their marriage around. It wasn't like they didn't know what they needed to do. Though I had worked with them for about two years, they were not getting anywhere. If there was any chance of this marriage not ending in divorce, one thing needed to happen.
They needed to renew their thinking.
Specifically, Mark and Rene had to come to a transformation of how they viewed their marriage. It had nothing to do with changing their behavior or actions toward themselves and each other. Change in that sense is superficial and many times it is temporary. God has called us to rely on him, not for changing even what we consider "wrong" with us or bad, but in how we relate to God, ourselves, and each other, as well as what we cannot change. We don't need to change, fix, or better the bad stuff about us; we need the kind of change we call transformation—changing how we view ourselves, our spouse, and our marriage. In other words, the way you view your spouse or a particular situation you are in—whether you are fighting again about the same thing you fought about yesterday, or your kids are rebelling in the worst way, or there has been betrayal—is what determines the quality of your life together.
This is what Mark and Rene needed to do. They had to look at their union in a completely new way. If this didn't happen, all the tools and applications and skills they had learned to save their marriage would be useless. Why? Because they had begun to view one another as products—something they thought needed to be different or better. Therefore they would use those tools, applications, and skills to try and "fix" what they thought needed to change, like a defective product, radically distracting them from what could be new without having to fix anything. In fact, if you pay close attention to the language they use, it is not much different than the language we might use when researching a purchase. It was time for them to stop tallying their expenses and start counting the cost.
Luke writes how Jesus was once followed by a large crowd. Jesus tells these folks something very powerful about what it really means to follow Christ and his kingdom.
Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can't be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple. Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you're going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: "He started something he couldn't finish" (Luke 14:25-30 MSG).
Jesus was saying that before we even consider getting into relationship with him, we need to count the cost. He clarified his statement by specifying that the potential cost could be loss of familial affections and those close to us, as well as the death of the traditions and habits that are a part of these relationships. Jesus pulled no punches. The cost is great.
Marriage is one of God's tools for building his kingdom, and if we are to pioneer the possibility of a kingdom life together, we must prepare to make life-defining sacrifices. We must prepare to change the way we view life or change our purpose for living together.
This call doesn't make any sense when it comes to our culture. Why? Because we live in a "consumer"-oriented culture. It is a part of who we are because it is what we were born into. Our relationships in particular, are immersed in consumerism.
A consumer views marriage as if it exists for individual fulfillment. If a spouse isn't being fulfilled, then that "consumer" looks for another relationship or even falls into an addiction to fulfill their particular needs—whether to look good, feel good, be right, or be in control. Mark and Rene's marriage is a prime example of a consumer marriage. Remember some of their complaints?
Mark talked about his reason for dating a woman in New Mexico. He said, "I needed a companion, somebody who made me feel like I mattered. I just couldn't take the nagging, whining, and complaining!" Mark wanted to feel good by being appreciated and not be asked to live up to what he had promised. He also wanted to be right and in control, so he used his interpretation of Rene's asking him to move out as a way to justify his going out with the other woman.
Rene remarked, "I got tired of feeling abandoned and so I decided since you were never home and always out with other women, we might as well make it official. That's why I kicked you out. I hoped that you would soon realize what you had lost and begin to court me again." She also wanted to feel good and be in control. She longed to be romanced, and her way to control that outcome was to kick her husband out.
Notice the price Mark and Rene were willing to pay to manipulate the other to get what they wanted—the looming dissolution of their marriage. Many Christian couples approach marriage this same way, as a consumer, because they don't know or understand what God intended marriage to be.
And now for something completely different
Mark and Rene had entered the death spiral of the consumer marriage. For all their talk about their "needs," they were missing their real need: a new way of understanding what marriage is all about for them as citizens of the kingdom of Jesus.
Jesus steps on the scene and says, "Where's my kingdom in all of this? Your personal fulfillment and satisfaction are the means to the end. There's nothing temporary about your marriage, and it is not disposable. You stick with each other and work diligently to develop your oneness, even if it is deeply dissatisfying and unfulfilling for long periods of time. Abandon your consumer-marriage mindset and come and follow me. I will train you in how to stick with something and not be stuck with it!"
I don't have a program to prescribe, or a list of marriage pointers to post on the fridge. I want you to enter something completely new, together. Set the past aside. Don't even look back there, not even as a frame of reference. What I'm offering is total transformation, something truly, completely new. Something unprecedented, unparalleled.
The question before us is, will we take Jesus up on his offer or will we allow our precious marriages—our families for generations to come—to go down with the ship of the consumer mindset? Let's focus in and look at the difference between the two types of marriages in greater detail.
The consumer marriage says, "I will be who I ought to be as long as, and to the degree, that you are who you ought to be." The kingdom marriage says, "I will be who I ought to be whether you are or not."
If you are anything like me, you're probably asking, "Why would I be who I ought to be if the other person is taking (or may take) advantage of me?" or "Why should I change if my spouse doesn't (or may not) want to change?" or "Why should I do all the work if my spouse doesn't (or may not) want to work just as hard as I am?" These questions are all grounded in the fear of the unknown, which is a huge part of consumer thinking.
Here is what I mean: The one thing we as consumers want from products is predictability. We want to know exactly what we will get, how they will work, who will be delivering them, when they will arrive, and how much they will cost. In short we want to have as much control as we can possibly get, with the most efficiency and convenience possible. Anything outside of that is unknown, uncertain, and definitely uncomfortable. Therefore we strive to maintain control at all costs and eliminate any risks of encountering or dealing with the unknown.
Surely it is no accident that because of our innate need for this type of certitude, God calls those of us who desire to be united with another to be married. This union, in his eyes, depends on submission instead of control. In marriage, when we submit to the unknown, we become open to the rewarding depths of its mysteries. One of my favorite passages about this concept is found in Ephesians and is a pictorial example of a kingdom marriage that counters the consumer lifestyle.
Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.
Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already "one" in marriage.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That's how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become "one flesh" (Ephesians 5:21-31 MSG).
What strikes me most when I read this Scripture is the way Christ treats the church—through loving, honoring, respecting, and giving. This illustrates for us the manner that each husband is to treat his wife and how each wife is to honor her husband. Paul's commission to us powerfully aligns with Jesus' words in Luke about counting the cost. In both passages we are called to submission. If we want to be Jesus' disciples, we must submit to him and follow his example. If our marriage is to be a blessing to us and our community, we must submit to each other.
While our culture has taught us that the highest reward is to be served and be the master of our own destiny, we are told something contrary in the Bible. God reminds us that the greatest value in life is to submit and give ourselves over to God and one another. Becoming a servant will bring forth a greater blessing than this consumer world could ever give us. As it relates to marriage, submission is an opposing force to certitude, our need to be in control, and our belief that we know everything. The bottom line is that being a know-it-all is an obstacle to embracing mystery in marriage.
Think about this: Do we know everything about God? Of course not. Actually, the one thing we can be certain about is how inexhaustible the mystery of God is, as declared in the book of Job.
Do you think you can explain the mystery of God? Do you think you can diagram God Almighty? God is far higher than you can imagine, far deeper than you can comprehend, stretching farther than earth's horizons, far wider than the endless ocean. If he happens along, throws you in jail then hauls you into court, can you do anything about it? He sees through vain pretensions, spots evil a long way off—no one pulls the wool over his eyes! Hollow men, hollow women, will wise up about the same time mules learn to talk (Job 11:7-12 MSG).
The foundation of life is God, and he has revealed himself as mystery. This characteristic and the way he has invited us to discover and experience who he is reflects the very nature of mystery inherent in marriage. When we abandon our certitude and instead submit to God and then to one another, we open the door to the possibility of continual renewal. We stop pigeonholing ourselves, our spouse, and our marriage into what we think we know about them. And it is only by embracing mystery that we can begin to experience a transformational kingdom marriage.
I know this because this is what saved my marriage. I gave mystery a chance. The second I was able to allow mystery to seep into my thought process about my wife … the second I was able to admit that perhaps I didn't know what she was thinking or the reasons for how she would react to particular things … the second I was able to allow God to intervene and transform my heart to give without expecting … was the second that the possibility opened for transforming our relationship.
Excerpted from Us by Dan Tocchini. Copyright © 2010 Dan Tocchini. Us published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce in any way. All rights reserved. Used by permission.