My husband and I often don’t see eye to eye. After 31 years of marriage, you’d think that we would have figured out how to navigate our differences. We do love each other. We both have come to understand, by God’s grace, that love is not a feeling but a choice. People who don’t have that figured out don’t last 31 years.
My husband is a kind and generous man who I admire and love deeply. He is absolutely “respected at the city gate” (Proverbs 31:23, NIV). He and I are just wired so differently that our wires seem to cross more than they connect.
I’m an extrovert. When I’m stressed, I become re-energized by a good game night with the family, or a night out with friends. My husband is an introvert. When he is stressed, he re-energizes by catching a good documentary alone in the basement, or getting out of the house by himself for a while.
My husband is mindful of money, watching our spending closely, providing the checks and balances we need to keep from going into debt. I tend to see money as a means to bless others and enjoy new or interesting experiences. I’m the reason for the checks and balances.
The Greatest Challenge
Our differences seem endless at times. He likes a skinny Christmas tree; for me, the fatter the better. He is tidy; I am not. He is more formal; I’m more comfortable in jeans and a hoodie. He comes from a family of seven children; I have one sibling. His love language is acts of service. Mine is words of affirmation.
Perhaps the most challenging difference between my husband and me, though, is the way we handle anger. When I am angry, I need to talk about it. Often passionately. My husband goes inward with his anger. He becomes quiet and sullen. I run him over with a bulldozer of words. He shuts me out with a wall of aloofness. This has often resulted in a maddening cacophony of yelling and silence, resulting in resentment that compounds the conflict.
Still, we remain steadfast in our resolve not to divorce. In the moment, when tensions and emotions are running high, and frustration threatens to undo us, the temptation to split feels enticing. What stops us from making our lives easier (albeit temporarily) by parting ways?
In a word, Christ.
Would Divorce Be Better?
Divorcing my husband, apart from the pain it would cause us and our family, would only serve to remove the largest indicator and brightest illuminator of my principal sin: pride. Choosing the easy road removes challenge. The removal of challenge removes the opportunity for growth. A lack of growth causes stagnation in our walk. Stagnation in our walk keeps us from Christ and everything he still has for us in this life, including in our marriages.
Romans 14:1 tells us not to quarrel over disputable matters. Here, God is speaking about the church. But this principle can be applied to marriage, as well. If God used marriage as a type of Christ’s church, should we destroy it for the sake of issues that have nothing to do with salvation (and everything to do with our selfish ambition and pride)?
God also admonishes us in 2 Corinthians 6:14 to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Unequal yoking of oxen leads to a lack of productivity and a lot of frustration.
Though my husband and I are equally yoked in Christ, we have felt unequally yoked in lesser things. We have more than once almost allowed ourselves to be ripped apart over opinions. However, we do not get a free pass to unyoke ourselves from each other for lesser things. We both have submitted to the easy yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:30). We are believers and, as such, we have no right to tear apart what God has joined (Mark 10:9).
What, then, do we do with our jostling and bumping within the yoke Christ has fitted us with? Christ’s yoke is easy in the sense that we can put to rest our confusion and uncertainty about our future in him. We are saved, secure, and bound to Christ eternally. But we’re still here on earth, tilling the rocky, seemingly impassable soil of our marriage.
How do we learn to walk in step with one another as sinners within the yoke?
One Love Language
Burk Parsons said, “The love language of all marriages is self-denial.” In my marriage, I often feel frustrated, hurt, tired, angry, and sometimes unloved. I know my husband feels the same at times. We regularly react to the other person’s failure to meet our expectations. He didn’t affirm me. I didn’t serve him. We have corroborated with ourselves instead of denying ourselves. And now we are unhappy.
I know what the world’s wisdom says about marriage. If I am unhappy, I should leave and find someone who will make me happy. Or I should just “eat, pray, and love” my way to happiness by pursuing endeavors that would help me find myself.
Christ, though, would have me carry my cross right up to the top of the hill of my marriage, loving my husband with no conditions, through the fiercest of storms. Why? Because my husband is my brother in Christ. He is a fellow believer, who came to Christ in 1997 right alongside me, entering into the covenant of grace, which binds us together even more than our covenant of marriage.
Reminders for the Married
In marriage counseling, Christ would have me obey Ephesians 4:29–32, which admonishes me to use my words to build up. It tells me to put away bitterness, clamor, and anger. It tells me, instead, to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.
Christ has told me in John 15:12 to love my husband as Christ has loved me. And in Luke 6:31, he instructs me to treat others, especially my husband, as I would want to be treated.
Shouldn’t I be considering Colossians 3:14, which exhorts me to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony”?
Why do I forget these marvelous commands when I come in my front door? Why can’t I keep 1 Corinthians 13 in front of me in marriage?
I love Christ, I really do. And I love my husband. Still, I fall into sin in my marriage more times than I care to admit.
But I serve the God who calmed the storm with a word (Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:39). I love the Savior who brought this world into being, watched it fall, then suffered and died to redeem it. I believe in the God who saved me while I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8). And he did these things for my husband, as well.
Last summer I typed out the words of 1 Corinthians 13, and I keep them in a frame above my desk. When I am tempted to keep a record of wrongs (see verse 5), I go to these framed words. I pray for God to remind me how much he loves my husband, and how much Christ suffered so that I could have a godly marriage. I am still very far from conquering my relentless regard for self, and I am still adamant about a fat Christmas tree, but I know that our yoke is held firm by the One who put it there.