I’ll start off with a disclaimer. I’ve only been married for 17 years. We have been through a lot, but by no means have we seen it all. However, I do hear more about the intimate details of marriage and relationships in the confines of a psychiatry office, than most people do in a lifetime, so you do pick up on a few things.
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, there seems to be two camps. One camp buys in and joins the throngs at crowded restaurants and florists, while the other forgoes the hustle and bustle, and eases into a quiet evening at home. So which one is right? Well, it depends on who you are married to.
If you are married to the sort of person who thinks flowers “just because” are worth more than the honey do list; you might want to think about indulging in the Valentine’s Day festivities. True, it might cost more to go out that night, and you may have to settle for carnations over roses to stay in budget, but practicality isn’t always king. The men who insist that they don’t need a commercial holiday to show their wife that they love them, are the ones who often struggle to do it the other 364 days of the year. A “hallmark holiday” might not be the worst thing if it prompts you to action.
Of course, if you bring home flowers and your wife asks “what am I supposed to do with these?” you might be in the clear. Even then, err on the side of caution, since agreeing in order to avoid conflict or disappointment, may be the reason she is so laid back about this whole romance thing.
This whole Valentine’s question does shine a light on a bigger topic in general though. In talking with people with marriage problems, it’s really only a handful of things that seem to come up. We all know the statistics that get quoted over and over, that half of marriages end in divorce, but the question is why? The answer I think, is not all that complicated. Self.
Dying to self
It is our born nature to think about ourselves. We strive to be our best, meet our true potential, care for our own needs and seek to fulfill our own wants. Marriage often serves to be an extension of that pattern. Finding the person that makes you happy sounds romantic, but what happens when they do something that doesn’t make you happy?
Happiness tied to the person your married to isn’t a bad thing, but if left to chance, it’s unstable. People are prone to fluctuating emotions. Attaching your happiness to someone else means that as their emotions change, so must yours. So, if happiness depends on your partner’s joy, it makes sense to be selfless, if for no other reason than to guard your own happiness.
Again, this sounds simple, so why does it go wrong so often? Happiness isn’t as simple as emotions. It’s tied to desires. When 2 desires compete, we become defensive.
“Why won’t she just let me go out with the guys without calling constantly?!”
“Why does he get to spend hundreds on hunting trips, but we still have the same ugly dishes?!”
Suddenly the person you were so enamored with is the grinch who stole Christmas, seeking to destroy all your happiness.
But how do you love past it? If you give in to every want of the other and deny everything you desire, won’t you just get walked on?
What is yoking?
This touches on the concept of “yoking”. 2 Corinthians 6 talks about avoiding being unequally yoked. This is in reference to believers marrying or otherwise binding together with unbelievers. Being yoked implies being bound together with a fixed harness (think Oregon trail oxen) and heading in a singular direction. If the pair are not in unison, then no progress can be made. In a marriage, this is especially important. If either partner pulls too hard in one direction, no progress can be made. So often, I hear “we’ve drifted apart”. What this means, is that the couple has “unyoked” and are moving in different directions. Divorce is just a formality once unyoking has occurred.
So how to keep from “unyoking”? Make sure you’re pointed in the same direction. You can never feel slighted, if you’re both aimed at serving one another. You can never grow apart, if you’re both becoming more like Jesus. You can never resent someone you always believe the best about. Focusing on Jesus keeps your eyes on the same destination, and moves you towards it together.
Let’s get awkward
Okay . . .*deep breath* Let’s talk about sex.
I know, I know . . . this is uncomfortable. How do you think I feel? But I honestly think there’s some room to talk about something helpful here. One thing I think needs to be said is: No one owes sex to anyone . . . ever. True, 1 Corinthians 7 encourages us not to deprive each other, but this is not license to coerce anyone to do something against their wishes.
Too often, people in my office (women mostly) feel devalued and helpless because they believe they have no choice than to dutifully oblige her husband/boyfriend. She has been made to feel she “owes” him, and if she does not give in, she is being cold or cruel. No one can make you have sex.
Likewise, there is no such thing as “earning sex”. This is the other side of the coin (mostly believed by men). I’ll admit that I’ve fallen into this trap over and over myself. The feeling that if I cleaned the kitchen, took her out for a nice evening, or performed any other duty that I prefer to avoid, somehow, I have now earned a night of sex. Nope. Doing considerate things for your wife is to bless her, not coerce her. This is simply the other side of the “owed sex” paradigm. It leads to disappointment, frustration and hurt feelings. Don’t fall into this trap.
Love one another, and sex should follow. Guess what . . . your sex life may not be what you imagined. The fantasy of what you think it should be is being fed from too many sources that have nothing to do with what marriage is really like. There’s not a schedule, or minimum/maximum amount of sex you should be having. Like everything in marriage, it is unique to you as a couple. Being disgruntled about sex only distracts you from seeing the beauty of Christ in your spouse.
Whether or not you celebrate this Valentine’s Day, remember that whoever you are married to is made in the image of God, and has been joined together with you to do life together in a way that could never be achieved apart.