How safe is your marriage? If you were to ask me how my marriage was doing before the marriage conference that my wife and I attended in June, I would have said: “Its good”. But after listening to Keith (Moore Theological College) and Sarah Condie at the marriage conference that Living Praise co-organised, I’m not so sure. And that’s a good thing.
Keith gave this analogy of ‘servicing a car’ to describe the purpose of the marriage conference. Just as a car requires servicing every six months in order to ensure that it continues to start, drive and stop, likewise marriages require regular servicing in order for it to be safe and strong. It may be obvious that it is not enough to own a car. A car needs to be serviceable if you want it to get you somewhere.
Similarly, the goal of marriage is not just about staying married. Some marriages can look like a parked car. They don’t go anywhere. God is not served by broken marriages. The aim, therefore, is to have safe and strong marriages for the service of God. This is what God designed marriage to be. Good marriages for God’s glory.
What does a safe and strong marriage look like? Keith taught from Genesis 2:25, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” From this and other verses from Song of Songs (5:16, 6:3) we see a beautiful portrait of marriage. Marriages that are safe and strong are marriages where couples are emotionally connected. Their marriage is intimate and secure. Keith and Sarah wisely showed from marriage researchers like John Gottman that “the nature of emotional interaction predicts what happens to a relationship”.
The couples whose marriages last are those that are based on a deep friendship. Simply put, they actually like each other and enjoy each other. They will have conflicts, but they handle their conflicts in a gentle and positive way. Also, they don’t let negativity overwhelm the marriage. Keith and Sarah Condie suggests that to cultivate a safe and emotionally connected marriage, we have to work at being friends, be careful with our speech and work at our sexual relationship. I have always thought it mysterious that before marriage, couples are often warned and rightly so about pre-marital sex. But now that they are married, we have trouble getting married couples in bed! Why? The answer is emotional disconnection. Emotional disconnection is the #1 predictor of divorce.
One of the helpful things in the conference was to be alerted of the warning signs that hinder safe and emotionally connected marriages. You really should have attended the marriage conference by Keith and Sarah to find out all the details but here are six warning signs that lead to emotional disconnection. You may find some of them familiar.
1. Harsh start-up conversations
These conversations usually begin with “You always…” or “You never…”.
2. Four marriage killers
• Criticism. There is no such thing as a constructive criticism.
• Contempt. When what you say or do make you sound superior to your partner.
• Defensiveness. Denying responsibility for the problem.
• Stonewalling. When a listener withdraws from the interaction.
3. Emotional flooding
This is when your heart rate goes over 100 and your creativity and problem solving ability decreases. You are overwhelmed by the way in which your partner raises complaints. You just want to escape.
4. Repair attempts don’t work
They just don’t.
5. The relationship becomes more negative than positive
The ratio is 5 positives:1 negative. Every positive things that you do for your relationship will be cancelled out by 1 negative. It’s that negative.
And it’s not just adultery. Couples have been betrayed by good and legitimate things like work and parenting.
All of the above six warning signs point to emotional disconnection. I saw many of them in my own marriage. How about yours? The key idea here is the concept of ARE. Here are three questions that we can ask to diagnose how emotionally connected or disconnected we are with our spouses.
Accessibility-can I reach you?
Responsiveness-can I rely on you to respond to me?
Engagement-do I know you will value me and stay close?
Are you there with your spouse? Are you emotionally connected or disconnected with your spouse? God designed marriage to be safe. Married couples are not to stray but share in the most intimate of relationships with each other.
God designed marriage to be strong. Married couples are to be shielded from the harsh realities of this broken world and hide in the strong arms of each other. It is not just about staying married. May our marriages be safe and strong for the service of God.
Marriages are like gardens. For it to blossom and grow, it requires not only the optimal natural conditions but also attention and care on the gardener’s part. Watering and pruning for healthy growth; weeding to remove the unwanted or undesirables. Left alone, the garden will be an unruly mess, an unpleasant place to be in.
Attending the recent marriage conference by Keith and Sarah Condie was like attending a gardener’s course with biblical and practical advice on how we can best water, prune and weed our marriages for it to be safe and strong, designed for the service and glory of God. I have always assumed my marriage to be a relatively strong one, but I was made aware during the conference that the little things I do or not do have a huge impact on my marriage. If left to fester unnoticed or unmanaged, the little negative things can cause my marriage to become that unkempt garden over time, unfit for the blossoming of plants or flowers which is what a garden is meant to be. On the other hand, continuing to work on the little positives provides my marriage with the necessary conditions to bloom.
One of the key ideas Keith and Sarah Condie reiterated was “small things often”. Strong marriages are built from the small, everyday moments of life. Every spousal interaction shapes the tone of our marriage. It is not the grand, romantic gestures that will turn a difficult marriage around. It is the small, everyday action of being present with your spouse that builds the emotional connection between each other. It is the comfort of knowing you can be yourself at home, with your spouse, feeling safe and secure, where it is “us versus the big, bad world”.
Marriage is such an intimate relationship where we experience great joys and deep sorrows. Yet even in our deepest sadness and greatest disappointments, there is hope. Our marriages are all works in progress. I doubt anyone, even those who have been married for many tens of years are able to confidently say that they have arrived. As two sinners living together in this fallen world, there are bound to be conflicts, disappointments and struggles. Our sinful nature causes us to want to live our way rather than God’s way, to satisfy our desires rather than look outwards to the needs of our spouse. If we were to do a thorough heart check, we can all conclude that we are selfish beings. This is why we need help. Only God can help and save us from our sinfulness.
Likewise, our marriages are always in need of help to be pointed towards Christ and His saving grace. We need to keep working at building our marriages for Christ’s sake, that they may grow to be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His church – Christ’s sacrificial love for His church, and the church’s willing submission to Christ and His headship (Ephesians 5:22-33). May we never forget that our marriages were made for God, for His service and His glory.