By Dawn Wilson, Crosswalk.com
As a child, I loved the game “Clue” (for a history of this game, see here). It was fun trying to figure out where the “murder” was committed, the weapon used, and ultimately, discover the suspect who committed the crime.
If we go on a search for the reasons behind many “murdered” marriages, we’ll find many clues. According to Ephesians 5:31-32, Christian marriage is meant to be a picture of the love story of the Heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus, and His Bride, the Church. But Satan loves to distort and destroy that picture.
The “weapons” that kill off marriages vary, but if we surrender to God’s wisdom and obey His Word, our marriages don’t have to die. Let’s look at some of the ways we might murder our marriages.
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1. Commitment Issues
In commitment, we devote ourselves to someone with loyalty or faithfulness. Commitment implies purposeful focus and responsibility as well as allegiance. The Christian is first and foremost committed to the Lord. This is absolutely crucial for a Christian marriage to thrive! Independence from the Lord hinders healthy growth, but in first-love commitment we find Him to be our strength, wisdom—all we need.
Similarly, when we say our wedding vows, we commit to our spouse and refuse all other loves. We don’t “keep our options open” for someone “better.” Infidelity is just as much an emotional affair as a physical one. Infidelity often begins with bitterness and anger, so deal with those “murder suspects” quickly!
If we’re wise, we won’t put anything before our spouse—even good things like church activities and other family members. As Christ-followers, the Lord becomes the glue for our relationship, and He helps us root out attitudes that undermine marriage. We steward our marriages according to scriptural principles, courageously determine to honor our vows, and set aside time to grow in unity and intimacy.
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2. A Selfish Mindset
Self-centeredness may be innate, but it spawns self-gratification and self-love. A selfish mindset acts like marriage is “all about me” instead of partners working together to bring glory to God and accomplish His purposes. Selfishness focuses on what we want and doesn’t give thought or take time to connect with our spouse.
If it is born in pride, and without the grace and direction of the Holy Spirit to uproot selfishness and make us humble, this “murderous mindset” will become a destructive force in our home. Pride will also keep us from seeking wise, godly counsel when our marriage struggles.
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3. Poor Communication Skills
Healthy communication is foundational for a strong marriage. Communication weapons we use to murder our marriages are varied and highly destructive. Poor communication can include something as simple as not listening. We don’t allow the partner to speak—or as some have described it, give “space and grace” for two-way communication. Listening is difficult when we feel we always have to have the last word. Chatterboxes must learn to be “quick to listen, slow to speak.”
We have to work to eliminate “corrupt” verbal daggers. We shoot daggers when we’re sarcastic, take cheap shots that tear down, devalue or discount our partners, use eye rolls and body language to emphasize our displeasure, belittle, demoralize, speak negatively of our spouse in public, criticize, nag, or crush the spirit with unwise criticisms.
4. Disheartening Attitudes
Some attitudes are especially disheartening in marriage. Continual negativity, pessimism, and constant bickering color the atmosphere of our homes and poison relationships. Though it’s important to discuss issues, we don’t have to express every resentful thought that passes through our minds.
When we refuse to see a spouse’s point of view, become defensive, and don’t own up to our issues, this creates a hostile environment. Not letting go of the past—bringing up past wrongs and reminding a spouse of failures—is unhealthy; and playing the blame game and justifying our own mistakes is unwise. Confession can heal, and wise partners learn how to forgive and move forward with grace.
Every marriage thrives in an encouraging, uplifting and kind environment. Aim to share 10 encouraging statements to every one statement of constructive criticism, and allow God’s goodness to lead a spouse to repentance and change. Focus on building up your spouse, not tearing down.
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5. Expecting Perfection
Every couple enters into marriage with high hopes and lofty expectations, but sometimes we have an unrealistic image of what our spouse should be or how they should behave. We need to live in reality.
Unrealistic expectations put a strain on the marriage relationship and set the spouse up for constant “failure.” It’s not fair to be overly sensitive and make a spouse walk on eggshells. Rather, offer mercy, grace and understanding. Instead of focusing on and correcting every flaw, we should consider the “plank” of offense in our own eye. None of us are perfected yet. We all have issues and will make many mistakes. That’s why we all need a Savior! And that’s why we need to give grace and be kind.
Don’t expect your mate to meet all your needs. Only Jesus can do that, and you didn’t marry Jesus!
6. Clashes over Responsibilities
Every couple negotiates unique quirks and challenges, but clashes over roles and responsibilities can undermine the marriage. Ideally, the Christian blueprint of marriage is two equals striving toward a harmonious relationship as they work together under God’s design to honor Him and draw others to the Gospel.
Clashes arise in many ways. Sometimes men work hard, but forget why they are working. Distancing themselves from their homes and wives, they then wonder why the relationship feels cold. Some women undermine their husband’s authority in the home, but then insist their spouse take full responsibility. A wife may also show disrespect for her husband’s insight and advice. Unlike girlfriends who chat things out in detail, men are instinctive fixers. If wives don’t require a solution, they need to explain their need to simply vent so their husbands won’t be upset when “fixes” are ignored.
The 50-50 marriage model doesn’t work. Partners need to be all there and all in! It hurts a marriage when partners are so busy elsewhere, they’re too tired to work on their relationship. Biblically, there are defined roles, but the relationship works best with mutual humility (1 Peter 5:5b), mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21) and devoted support (Romans 12:10). “That’s not my job” should never be the heart attitude.
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7. Foolish Comparisons
Whenever we compare our spouse to others, or our marriages to other couples’ relationships, we’re headed for trouble. With a “grass is greener on the other side” perspective, we fail to see weeds in others’ “yards.” We’ll never see the flaws in other people and marriages as clearly as the situation closer to home.
Paul says comparisons are unwise. When we examine and grade marriages, we set ourselves up for dissatisfaction and discontent. There’s nothing wrong with admiring, praising the Lord for and learning from the godly interactions we see in other marriages; but it’s not fair to our spouse to intimidate with comparisons.
Every marriage will look different, because God uses our uniqueness for His glory. Rather than constantly elevating other relationships, we need to focus on cooperating with the Spirit of God in making our own marriages a powerful testimony to His grace.
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8. Lack of Intimacy
Lack of physical and emotional intimacy can destroy a marriage. Although there are many levels of mutual need, basically wives need emotional release and closeness, and husbands find physical release through sexual intimacy. The Bible gives much helpful counsel about sexuality; but feeling connected isn’t only sex. Read Song of Solomon and see the value of devotion, purity, wonder and passion in the development of godly intimacy.
Let’s get practical. Never stop cuddling and kissing. Express your love verbally and in actions. Respect and care for spousal needs. Never make a spouse feel you’re “on the prowl” for a better option. Be careful how your spouse hears you talk about people of the opposite sex.
In the sexual realm, participation should be mutual and beneficial to both, not abusive physically or emotionally, and not causing shame. It helps to learn the partner’s love bents—how they understand and respond to us. Note to wives: Men don’t get hints. Speak clearly. Be honest and open with your husband about your feelings, and simply share what you need. Note to husbands: Women need to know they are loved. Express why you love your wife and why you are grateful for her. Both partners can sweet the pot of intimacy with appreciation and acts of kindness.
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9. Unhealthy Choices
Because we are selfish, failing humans, there are plenty of opportunities for us to wound our spouse through unhealthy choices. We must seek God’s wisdom about choices and give careful attention to habits.
Marriages fall apart over finances. Unhealthy choices can include living outside what we can afford (often with the added burden of credit card debt), different spending habits, and different or non-existent financial goals. Seek godly wisdom concerning money matters.
Any habit that is sinful or simply out of control can damage a marriage. Certainly entertainment choices—especially impure viewing habits and pornographic images or literature—can affect the relationship. But so can other unhealthy choices like uncontrolled spending, hobbies and activities that become idols, and even habitual overeating (gluttony). Dealing with our unruly habits is a powerful way to tell a spouse, “I care.”
10. Forgetting the Adventure
Sometimes we forget the early adventure of discovery in marriage—the “wow” factor when we want to know more and more about our partner and experience life together in new ways. We loved how a partner’s life complemented our own and made life seem better. But with the eventual daily-ness of life came a danger—sameness. The answer is never a new partner, but rather a new perspective and fresh wonder of the partner God gave us.
Here’s the problem: Predictability can be a good thing. We want to know what to expect from our partner. But we must be careful. Predictability—the ho-hum, everything’s the same routine—can also invite familiarity and boredom, a repeated reason cited for couples’ infidelity. Beware of leanness in the spirit of marriage. Make room for light-hearted, God-honoring moments—“planned” spontaneity! Set the stage for romance in fresh ways.
Steward your calendar and block out time just for your spouse. Keep alive the little things that spark your relationship: date nights, attending a conference together, relaxing and recuperating together on vacations. Create time together to laugh, learn and love in God’s presence. Allow new adventures to unfold!
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Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, and also publishes LOL with God and Upgrade with Dawn and writes for Crosswalk.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach.