I’ve been pondering lately what it takes to to make a marriage last and avoid the pitfalls of adultery, apathy, or complacency. Whether in the news or down the street, it seems like marriages are dropping like flies all around us. It’s easy to feel hopeless and wonder if a couple has a fighting chance to make it anymore.
At first, I wondered if the answer was to just be intentional about your marriage—date your spouse forever and that kind of thing.
As I dreamt about date nights, ways to nurture shared hobbies, or special trips Joel and I could take together, I realized those things weren’t enough, though certainly helpful in their own ways.
The successful, lasting marriages I knew of all had one thing in common: both spouses were sold out to following Jesus Christ, committed to sacrificing for one another, dying to their own selfish wants and needs and purposefully learning how to love and serve as Christ does.
What is the purpose of marriage?
In almost every affair or divorce I have witnessed, I have heard the same refrain, “He just doesn’t understand me anymore. He isn’t meeting my needs. I don’t [feel like I] love him anymore.” The assumption is that marriage exists to meet my needs first and foremost.
By and large, we have bought this secular view of marriage rather than a Christian one. Marriage doesn’t primarily exist to meet our needs, though it often does by God’s grace. Instead, God uses marriage to mold and shape and sanctify us evermore into the image of Christ. That perspective makes all the difference in the world.
What does martyrdom have to do with marriage?
In the ancient Christian tradition, and to this day in the Orthodox Church, the sacrament of marriage involved a “crowning ceremony.” The crows symbolize the glory and dominion a husband and wife have as king and queen over their domestic realm. The crowns also symbolize martyrdom as they recall the crown of thorns worn by Jesus himself on the cross as he laid down his life for us.
At first glance, the idea of martyrdom and death sound about as unromantic as it can get. And yet, the idea of laying down ones life isn’t as morbid as it seems.
Martyrdom, as it relates to marriage, is the willingness to die to those sins that promise in vain to give us “life” but can never deliver—our own urges, selfish desires and impulses—so that we might be free to experience true life in Christ and all that goes with it—real joy, intimacy, communion with one another, etc.
Why we need spiritual exercise
If we want our marriages to last, I wonder if the answer isn’t to stop thinking so much about our marriages and instead, pursue holiness as we pursue Christ.
We must learn to say no to ourselves, so when the moment of temptation arises, and it will, we have trained ourselves—spiritually speaking—to say no. To die to the flesh. This is why the church, in its wisdom, has always prescribed spiritual disciplines like fasting, confession and prayer.
Spiritual discipline is not about earning salvation or approval from God. Spiritual disciplines are like a daily exercise regimen for our hearts, giving us a reservoir of strength to draw from when we find ourselves under spiritual attack. We must ready ourselves for the fight because the fight is coming.
As we submit ourselves to the sanctifying work of Christ in our lives, the sins that entangle our hearts are cut away bit by bit. We are freed to love one another in the way God intended—selflessly and wholeheartedly—in marriage, and everywhere else.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot more encouraging (albeit, harder) than, “Ten Ways to Keep the Spark Alive” or “Five Strategies for Fighting Fair.”
What do you think it take to make a marriage last?