Jim got sick and had to forsake his climb up the corporate ladder, bringing a stress he never anticipated into his marriage to Jen. Brad and Savannah got so busy they quit communicating as they should, and their relationship paid the price. Brent struggled with a secret sin for years, and when Liz discovered it, it almost ended their marriage. India and Frank always seemed to be battling for control. Alfie and Sue never seemed to be in the same place spiritually. And while Jared and Sally had an infectious affection for one another, their financial woes brought tension into their marriage.
None was a bad marriage. No one was about to walk out. But all these couples were surprised by what they were facing. What essential wisdom perspectives in Scripture can enable us to have realistic expectations for marriage?
You are conducting your marriage in a fallen world
Our marriages live in the middle of a world that doesn’t function as God intended. But one thing’s for sure: It’s no accident you’re conducting your marriage in this fallen world. It’s all part of God’s redemptive plan. Even though you face things that make no sense to you, there is meaning and purpose to everything you face as a couple. Understanding your fallen world and God’s purpose for keeping you in it is the foundation to building a marriage of unity, understanding, and love.
There is no better window on the here-and-now world in which we live than the descriptive words the Bible uses: grieved, trials, and tested (1 Peter 1:6-7). Grief touches everyone. We all face trials. We’ll deal with things we never would have planned for ourselves or inserted into our schedules. The final word tested brings together the portrait of life in this fallen world. It doesn’t mean tested as in an exam. It means “tempered” or “refined.”
With this one word, tested, God tells you one of the most significant things you’ll ever understand about marriage in the here and now. God decided to leave you in this fallen world to live, love, and work, because he intended to use the difficulties you face to do something in you that couldn’t be done any other way. Most of us have a personal happiness paradigm. The problem is not that this is a wrong goal, but that it is too small a goal. God is working on something deep, necessary, and eternal. God has a personal holiness paradigm. God works through your daily circumstances to change you.
When you begin to get on God’s paradigm page, life not only makes sense (the things we face aren’t irrational troubles, but transforming tools) but immediately becomes more hopeful. There is hope for you and your marriage because God is in the middle of your circumstances, and he is using them to mold you into what he created you to be. As he does this, you not only respond to life better, but you become a better person to live with – which results in a better marriage.
You are sinner married to a sinner
You both bring something into your marriage that is destructive to what a marriage must do. That thing is called sin. Most of the troubles we face in marriage are intentional or personal. Most often, what is really happening is that your life is being affected by the sin, weakness, and failure of the person with whom you live. So if your wife is having a bad day, that bad day splashes up on you in some way. If your husband is angry with his job, he may bring that anger home with him. You’re living with a sinner – so you’ll experience his sin.
God loves your spouse. He’s committed to transforming him or her by his grace, and has chosen you to be one of his regular tools for change. God will cause you to see, hear, and experience your spouse’s need for change so you can be an agent of his rescue.
Often, in these God-given moments of ministry, rather than serve God’s purpose, we get angry because somehow our spouse is in the way of what we want. We then become adversarial in our response. This actually escalates the trouble the other person splashed up on us. Rather than searching for ways to help, we tell the other person to get a grip, attempt to threaten him into silence, or get angry and turn a moment of weakness into a major confrontation. Then we tend to settle for quick situational solutions that don’t get to the heart of the matter.
This is where the Bible helps. The world of the Bible is like your world – messy and broken. The people of the Bible are like you and your spouse – weak and failing. The situations of the Bible are like yours – complicated and unexpected. The honesty of God about where we all live is itself an act of love and grace. He sticks our head through the biblical peephole so we’ll be forced to see the world as it really is, not as we fantasize it to be. He does this so we’ll be realistic in our expectations, then humbly reach out for the help he alone is able to give us
God is faithful, powerful, and willing
Not only must you consider the fallenness of the world you live in and the fact you both are less than perfect, but you also must remember you aren’t alone in your struggle. The Bible says God is near, so near that in your moments of need, you can reach out and touch him because he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27). The God who determined your address lives with you there and is committed to giving you everything you need.
The empty tomb of Christ’s resurrection reminds us that God is powerful. By God’s awesome power, Jesus took off his grave clothes and walked out of that tomb. But why would God ever sacrifice his own Son? The empty tomb points to an amazing thing: God is willing to notice us, to rescue us, to help us out. He is the definition of mercy. He is the source of love. He is full of amazing grace. Even when we are full of ourselves and want our own way, he is still willing. He delights in transforming us by his grace. He delights in rescuing us by his powerful love.
So when you are sinned against or when the fallen world breaks your door down, don’t lash out or run away. Stand in your weakness and confusion and say, “I am not alone. God is with me, and he is faithful, powerful, and willing.” You can be realistic and hopeful at the same time. Realistic expectations aren’t about hope without honesty, or about honesty without hope. Realism is found at the intersection of unabashed honesty and uncompromising hope. God’s Word and God’s grace make both possible in your marriage.
Content adapted from What Did You Expect? by Paul David Tripp, ©2012. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.