Part 1 of a 3-Part Understanding Marriage Series
I think it is safe to say that we live in an age of narcissism. While this is not a new phenomenon, my observations reveal that our culture glorifies self-centeredness. Many of our television icons have become avatars of what success and relational well-being should look like. We have moved from the hero overcoming evil in order to bring about the common good and human flourishing, to the sociopath who does whatever it takes to get his or her needs met.
We see this in the case of the main character in the show Sons of Anarchy, Jax Teller. Teller’s every motive revolves around himself and his own prosperity. Whether it is sex, business, or family relationships, Teller has no problem lying, cheating, and even murdering others to get his needs met. While this is an extreme example, icons such as these shape how our culture thinks and behaves. As one who specializes in couples counseling, I would say that narcissism plays a large role in troubled relationships. While I realize that there are other reasons why people seek couples therapy, in this article I am only addressing this issue.
What is the Purpose of Marriage?
The central question we need to ask is why we are getting married to another person. What is the purpose of our current marriage? Depending on whom we ask, we could arrive at multiple different answers. But that is not my intention. Instead, I want to look at what I feel is the best schema available to us. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, notes that the purpose of marriage is for us to become our future glorified selves in relation to one another and to God. Keller writes in his best-selling book The Meaning of Marriage: “Husband and wife are to be both lovers and friends to one another as Jesus is to us. Jesus has a vision of our future glory (Colossians 1:27; John 3:2) and everything he does in our lives moves us toward that goal. Ephesians 5:28 directly links the purpose of every marriage to the purpose of the Ultimate Marriage.”
The reason I endorse this position is because I believe it is the approach that will help couples to weather the storms of life that will come. I also advocate this position because my clinical observations as a therapist reveal that many of our relational issues (especially infidelity) are the result of a self-centeredness that we have learned from our culture and from the sinful desires our hearts. We live in a culture of Us where our needs and desires become misguided, and we go from desire to demanding what we want. With that said, here is the way Keller (using Scripture and pastoral experience) helps us to think about things and to reprioritize our lives and marriages.
Marriage Requires Priorities
Keller argues that our hierarchy of priorities should look something like the following:
- Our relationship with God
- Our couple
- Our family: children and then extended relatives and members
- Our job
- Our hobbies and interests
While this ordering might cause some anxiety or even defensiveness, I feel that it is worth considering. If we become the center of our marriage, and of our hopes, goals, and desires, then we lose sight of what is called sanctification in the Reformed theological tradition, namely, the process of being molded into Christ-likeness. If we are truly seeking after God in our lives, then we must ask whether living for God’s Kingdom is a priority in our lives (even though we will never do it perfectly). Or, are our comforts the most important thing? Is sexual gratification, or having a loving, emotionally connected relationship with our partner, the most important thing? Questions such as these can go on and on, and can range from money to careers. But we need to ask what it is that we ultimately want and desire. For where the desire of our hearts is located, there our treasure will be also.
Christian Counseling Can Change Your Marriage
In this article, I have presented one Christian counselor’s perspective on what helps in marriage. If you are considering marriage counseling, I would be pleased to discuss your concerns with you so that together we can work out how you can get the best out of this process.
“Venice Boats” and “Point Defiance Beach” both by the author, Michael Lillie