Part 2 of a 3-Part Understanding Marriage Series
In my first article in this three-part series on marriage, I examined Timothy Keller’s thoughts on prioritizing your relationships, and in the second article, I examined our relationship with
God and the couple relationship. In this article, I consider family, jobs, and hobbies in order to help us gain a deeper understanding of what prevents couple relationships from flourishing in the way in which God intended. I examine the traps that we face in marriage, and show how not focusing on the couple relationship can hurt us in the long run.
Your Couple Relationship vs. Your Extended Family
A common story goes something like this: My mother-in-law is tearing us apart. Or perhaps it sounds more like: My uncle won’t get out of the house … we offered him a place to stay for a couple of months after his divorce, but now he is causing us to fight all the time … and our children are displaying behaviors we have never seen before.
I firmly believe that the biblical thing to do is to help others. However, being loving also requires that you establish well thought out boundaries, and disclose those boundaries to your family. The extended family and all its needs can tear a couple relationship apart. While I am not advocating isolation, I am suggesting that couples discuss the most appropriate amount of time to spend with their families. I also recommend disclosing those boundaries when necessary. This is easier said than done, but if couples become allied together they can be more effective at maintaining these boundaries, and support one another when the boundaries are tested.
Job Commitments and Your Relationship
We all need to make a living. Unfortunately, our jobs will dominate a good chunk of our time over much of our lives. While I cannot dictate what is appropriate for each couple, I can say that overwork erodes the quality of the couple relationship. A few years ago I worked with a surgeon whose career overshadowed everything else in his life. This type of career is demanding, especially in the earlier years. However, my client noted that other things had begun to creep in that had sucked even more time away from him. In addition to his rigorous schedule at the hospital, he had been invited to do research at a local university. Then in his forties, he had realized that he was tired of the hospital and so he opened a private practice where he could make even more money with other physicians working for him. At age fifty-five he came to me because his wife was leaving him.
My client realized that his overwork was related to his anxiety about success and money. Although he disclosed that he “made more money each year than most Americans,” he was afraid of not living the life he had dreamed about. Sadly, his wife left him and the dreams he had faded. A year later he realized that money was not satisfying him. He had cut back his hours and had hired somebody to manage the private practice. But fishing and golf could not replace his wife and he found himself very depressed.
Hobbies and Recreation
Anybody who knows me will tell you that I love to go fly fishing for anything that swims – anywhere on planet earth. And I have noticed how, even within this community, there is a pull to be the most successful angler. Interestingly, as much as we need to get outside in order to recharge, this never fully satisfies us. I have heard the same thing from those who have enjoyed a lifetime of success and notoriety in sport. The danger occurs when our hobby or sport becomes the ultimate thing that defines our life and gives us our self-worth. The other danger occurs when we never rest, relax, or play – and this has approximately the same result. But one need only look around us at the time our culture spends pursuing Seahawks football. We have created a culture, or in some sense a religion, out of our sports. Sport becomes a religion – and idol worship – in the sense that we profess ultimate allegiance and devotion to it.
Often teams disappoint us and hobbies fail to nourish our souls completely. Moreover, our interest in them can shift over time. As relaxing and life-giving as they may be, they can never fully satisfy us. Good though they are, if they become priorities they will pull us away from time with our partner. Like the other things we have discussed here, they can erode the emotional, physical, and spiritual connection in our couple relationship.
Moving Forward with Hope in Your Marriage
So, what are we to do next? Honestly, it depends on us. One of the most ludicrous suggestions someone gave me was to be willing to lose out on many things in life. Yes, it sounds odd. But it is also the suggestion Jesus gives in Matthew 10:30: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Jesus also notes in Luke 14:25: “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life.” What He seems to be saying here is that we must choose what is most important to us. For in every choice we make, we will lose out on something.
Christian Counseling Can Change Your Marriage
As a Christian counselor who has worked with many couples, I am fully aware that prioritizing the couple relationship may mean that climbing the corporate ladder will not happen. If you don’t get to fish as much, you won’t have lots of pictures to show off your accomplishments. If your children only play soccer once a week, you may lose the possibility of being able to say that they play for the university. But for everything good thing that you lose, you risk gaining something more … a healthy couple relationship that will help you to grow into your future-glorified-selves.
“Rain drops on glass,” courtesy of George Hodan, All-free-downloads.com, Public Domain License; “Morning Beach,” courtesy of the author, Michael Lillie