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Over the past few days, Churchmouse Campanologist has covered the sensitive topic of sexuality in marriage.

However, there is more to marriage than sex.  When I was growing up, like many over-40’s, I had the opportunity to visit many souvenir shops in the US, with all their many kitschy trinkets and small wall-mounted plaques.

One of these — available everywhere then — was a small square of wood on which was appliquéd the saying ‘Kissin’ don’t last, cookin’ do’.  Today, many people find this offensive, yet, those who have been married for any length of time find, to their amazement, that they are not always in the mood for romance.  The frequency of sexual congress might well decline occasionally with the pressures of work, children or crises involving extended family.  It’s at that time when a couple’s friendship and emotional attachment keep them together.

General advice

After nearly 20 years of marriage, this is why the most important advice I can give a couple is to marry your best friend.  You don’t have to agree 100% on everything, but you do need to view life in the same way and find the greatest pleasure in each other’s company.

Have you had the same type of upbringing as your future spouse?  A similar type of schooling, religious upbringing, personal standard and level of intelligence put us on more of an equal footing.  There are always exceptions, but, by and large, the chances for conflict are considerably fewer.

Are you ready to honour your spouse and to build a life together? Often, people who are too tied to their parents or their siblings find that they cannot focus on their spouse.  Naturally, the neglected spouse says, ‘Remind me again why we got married.’ One’s spouse comes first.  Yes, we still honour our parents, but, in general, our own household responsibilities take priority.  As for siblings, there might be times when we have to say ‘no’ to certain family requests if they have the potential for creating conflict in our marriages.

Do you want to remake your spouse into something s/he isn’t — and never will be? This tends to affect women more than men (although some men are also guilty of indulging certain habits before marriage then work hard later on at getting their wives to change).  We cannot change our partner, so if they’re sloppy, inelegant or unsuitable in some way before marriage, they’re likely to be the same after we tie the knot.  If we are preoccupied with their personal habits or characteristics during courtship, let that be a red flag to gently break off the relationship.

Do you share the same perspectives on children and money? Some couples marry without thorougly discussing these topics.  I have known a few where I could see right away that problems would not be long in coming: one wants children straight away, the other doesn’t; one is concerned about financial security, the other isn’t; one likes to plan in advance, the other prefers to do things on the hop.  In each case, they said, ‘We never really discussed it.’  Yet, a proper church-sponsored course before marriage will get couples asking the difficult questions.  I remember a young couple from New England who said they were amazed at the depth of their Roman Catholic Pre-Cana course in the 1980s.  The woman told me, ‘The arguments people had! My husband and I sat on the sidelines watching them unfold.  We’d already talked about family planning and money management.  Yet, it turned out that some of the men had gambling problems their fiancées were unaware of, some women were shopping addicts, some couples disagreed on child-rearing.  It amazed us that they hadn’t thought to explore these topics before they got to the course.’

Advice for women — true stories

The overbearing mother-in-law.  About 30 years ago, I knew a young couple who had been married for just a few years.  Both had good jobs.  It was the second marriage for him and the first for her.  Although the wife loved her husband very much, she and her mother had perhaps too strong an attachment to each other.  Her mother travelled cross-country to visit for a week every few months.  Naturally, she stayed with the couple.  Being rather chatty, she said whatever came to mind.  One evening, after the husband returned home from work, the mother started a polemic on which of them her daughter preferred.  The husband asked, ‘Why are we even discussing this?’  His mother-in-law replied, ‘Because, if push came to shove, my daughter would choose me over you any day.’  A year later, the couple divorced; he had found someone else.  Ladies, understand that men prefer to keep a certain distance from their mothers-in-law, no matter how nice, so please limit their visits to your marital home and try not to ‘go home to Mother’ too often!

Evenings are for your husband — not your girlfriends. When your husband gets home, he is looking forward to being with you, not enduring a load of phone calls from your mates!  Set a rule with your friends that, unless it’s an emergency, you don’t take calls after 6 p.m.  See them on a Saturday or make arrangements in advance — with prior agreement with your husband — to go out one evening every now and then.

If your intended isn’t ‘man’ enough for you, don’t marry him.  I knew a woman who had been ‘on the shelf’ for a long time.  She and her sisters grew up in a culture where marriage and children were expected, yet she was pushing 40 with no prospects.  I knew her husband only through conversations she had with him while she was at work.  This guy couldn’t do a thing right, whether it was cutting a sandwich in two, picking up the kids from crèche or getting dressed in the morning.  ‘He’s hopeless’, ‘He has bad taste in clothes’, ‘He just doesn’t think’ — the list went on and on.  She bawled him out on the phone every afternoon.  Finally, we saw a photo of him: ‘Just ignore him, he’s not very handsome — just look at me and the kids’.  (Not that this woman was any oil painting — or genius — by the way.) He was perfectly normal and pleasant looking.  Much to our surprise, he was twice her size.  If his temperament had been different, he could have biffed her and knocked her unconscious.  I wanted to say, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are, missus’, but didn’t.  It seems to me he’s staying with her for the sake of the children.

The unexpected pregnancy.  I knew one husband who really did not want children for the first few years of his marriage because of job insecurity.  His wife really wanted them, but to please him and tie the knot, she agreed to delay childbearing.  Her family planning measures were working out for them until, suddenly one day, she joyfully announced the positive result of her pregnancy test.  He was floored — words failed him.  ‘Aren’t you happy?  I’m thrilled!’ she said.  Their son is now ready to enter university, and, of course, his father loves him dearly.  However, he still wonders how it happened.  A fluke?  Or did she stop the contraception without telling him?  ‘I knew our lives would change dramatically and they did. It’s meant a lot more worry for me financially.’  Ladies, be honest with your man.  If you really want children immediately, discuss this matter thoroughly beforehand.  Don’t leave your husband questioning your integrity.  He might wonder what else you’ve concealed from him.

Remarrying too soon after widowhood.  Another woman I knew became a widow in her 50s.  Her children were grown. She’d always spoken of her late husband in glowing terms yet, less than a year after his death, she was already planning her second marriage.  It seemed the physical side of things was extraordinary.  She could hardly wait for the big day.  Unfortunately, things went pear-shaped for her soon after they took their vows in a registry office.  Husband No. 2, a charmer during courtship, turned out to be physically and emotionally abusive.  That marriage lasted less than a year.  The third time around, she was more prudent and has been married to Husband No. 3 for over 20 years.

Conclusion — with some words to live by

Bottom line — self-discipline, discernment and quiet reflection will help us make the right choice in marriage.  Yes, there are different stages — the youthful honeymoon period, the stressful working years, the family illnesses and deaths and the subsequent reawakening of one’s love for each other.

What follows is advice from pastors and Christian authors on the ordinance of Holy Matrimony:

Husbands and wives, recognize that in marriage you have become one flesh. If you live for your private pleasure at the expense of your spouse, you are living against yourself and destroying your joy. But if you devote yourself with all your heart to the holy joy of your spouse, you will also be living for your joy and making a marriage after the image of Christ and His church. — John Piper

Marriage itself is consummated with the literal bodily union of husband and wife. From that point on, the husband should regard the wife as his own flesh. If she hurts, he ought to feel the pain. If she has needs, he should embrace those needs as his own. He should seek to feel what she feels, desire what she desires, and in effect, give her the same care and consideration he gives his own body. — John MacArthur

As God by creation made two of one, so again by marriage He made one of two. — Thomas Adams

Also:

The ultimate thing we can say about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory. That is, it exists to display God. Now we see how: Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to His redeemed people, the church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and His church on display. That is why marriage exists. If you are married, that is why you are married. If you hope to be, that should be your dream. — John Piper

The first negative judgment we find in Holy Writ is a judgment on loneliness. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” — R C Sproul

Marriage has all kinds of purposes: it provides the environment in which children may be born and properly reared. It provides the context in which the sexual instincts can be exercised in a God-intended way. But first and foremost, Genesis teaches us, it provides a very special friendship. In marriage a man and a woman can become the best of friends, knowing each other to such a depth that only God knows them better! This, too, is a gift from the Creator. — Sinclair Ferguson

And:

To take an unbeliever to wife, to bring into that family circle, in the key role of wife and mother, a woman who does not love God or know his salvation, who does not reverence his Word and law, is to violate the very purpose of a family and render it incapable of being and doing what it has been created for… He made the family, the godly family the instrument of his grace in the children’s lives. But a spiritually mixed marriage injects poison into the children’s milk. — Robert Rayburn

A Christian is bound, by virtue of his oath of allegiance to God in baptism, not to have intimate converse with such as are God’s sworn enemies…The bad will sooner corrupt the good, than the good will convert the bad.  Pharaoh taught Joseph to swear, but Joseph did not teach Pharaoh to pray. — Thomas Watson

When we claim to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and then willfully choose to unite ourselves with an unbeliever in the most intimate personal union on earth we profane the holiness of God. We act as though our emotional drive for human intimacy is more important than affirming the preciousness of God’s holiness and nearness. — John Piper

Finally, in case things go wrong:

1/ First, make a full list of all the things that you have been doing wrong in your marriage.

2/ Second, confess your sins in repentance to God.

3/ Third, determine to change according to Biblical precepts and examples, and write out specific proposals next to each item on the list.

4/ Fourth, go humbly to your husband or wife…and admit your sins against them, telling them that you have sought and found God’s forgiveness and now desire theirs.

5/ Fifth, having received forgiveness, seek to rectify any wrongs immediately whenever that is possible.    — Jay E Adams

Remember still that you are both diseased persons, full of infirmities; and therefore expect the fruit of those infirmities in each other; and make not a strange matter of it, as if you had never known of it before. If you had married one that is lame, would you be angry at her for [limping]? Or if you had married one that had a putrid ulcer, would you fall out with her because it stinketh? Did you not know beforehand, that you married a person of such weakness, as would yield you some manner of daily trial and offense? If you could not bear this, you should not have married her; if you resolved that you could bear it then, you are obliged to bear it now. Resolve therefore to bear with one another; as remembering that you took one another as sinful, frail, imperfect, persons, not as angels, or as blameless and perfect. — Richard Baxter

In every marriage that ends in disaster, some stupid decisions were made with respect to God’s regulations. If God’s regulations were followed scrupulously, not only would there be no divorces; there would be no unhappy marriages. To violate the regulations of God is not only an exercise in disobedience but also an exercise in foolishness. If you want a happy marriage, the most intelligent thing you can do is to submit to God’s regulations. They are designed to promote and protect your full happiness. — R C Sproul

For those needing further resources, see:

‘Biblical principles for successful marriage’Abounding Joy

‘Practical tips for marriage enrichment’Abounding Joy

‘Why older couples break up’Daily Mail

Marriage Builders® Forms and Questionnaires

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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