Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a very long journey passing through a great many twists and turns. To make it to the end with love and joy intact you will almost certainly have to pass through each of the following marital crises.
The Crisis of Sin
Dating is all about seeing and loving the best in each other, and so it should be. Dating is about discovery and delight but marriage is about disclosure and reality. It doesn’t take too long together under the same roof and under the same covers before we discover the imperfections in our partner. It can be devastating to learn that your loved one is a sinner.
Mark this down: Your husband will sin. He will not live up to his own best intentions.
Note this: Your wife will sin. She will love you less than she should, and she will love other things more than is good for her or for your marriage.
You married a sinner. Now deal with it.
Don’t let the sin you should have known was there steal your joy or rob you of commitment.
The Bible is very clear: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “All” have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
If that verse is true, and it is, then sooner or later you will discover that it accurately predicts the behavior of your loved one. He or she will sin. You will be disappointed. You will be hurt. But you can forgive.
Jesus said: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3–4 ESV)
Before you are husband and wife, you are brother and sister in Christ. Your brother will sin. If he repents, you must forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in the day and turns to you seven times saying, “I repent”, you must forgive him.
That verse is theoretically difficult when you are single; it is a full-blown crisis when you deal with it in your marriage.
Sin will come. You will face it in your marriage and to get past it, you must learn to forgive.
The Crisis Of Conflict
Dating is all about discovering and enjoying your commonalities and complementarity. You love how she gets your sense of humor, you like how he is good with the little details. This is as it should be, but marriage brings you inevitably into the realm of conflict.
There are no perfect people and there are no perfect matches—there are only marriages made out of two sinners at various stages of growth and rehabilitation. Therefore, there will be conflict. There will be places where sin rubs up against imperfection. There will be times when sin is exposed by new challenges, new deprivations and new responsibilities.
Don’t panic, and don’t beat each other up.
This isn’t proof that you married the wrong person. This is just proof that you aren’t a perfect person. You are in process, your partner is in process; therefore, conflict is inevitable.
Don’t let the conflict that you should have anticipated steal your faith or threaten your commitment. The Bible says that conflict can be a good thing: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:5–6 ESV) and “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17 NIV11).
The Bible is not conflict averse. It recognizes that conflict – in the context of a committed loving relationship – can serve to refine and sanctify both parties. Conflict reveals our hidden idols. James 4says:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1–2 ESV)
When we get angry at each other and when we yell and stamp our feet, we reveal the things we love too much. Perhaps it is our own dignity. Perhaps it is our possessions. Perhaps it is getting our own way. Perhaps it is our kids. Perhaps it is sex. Perhaps it is our career. Perhaps it is privacy.
One thing is for sure, if you live in close confines with another human for any length of time you will find out what it is. You will get angry. You will become irrationally upset and you will lose your temper. That can be a good thing. It tells you where the bodies are hidden and it shows you where to dig.
When conflict comes, and it will, work together to uncover and break down your hidden idols.
The Crisis of Children
Children are a blessing from the Lord, but they begin as a burden on the marriage. There is no way around that and there is no embarrassment in admitting that.
Children are a load.
They are very demanding. They require constant attention and they will not be ignored.
If you were selfish when you got married (and you almost certainly were), children will fix that in a hurry. You will be pushed to the curb of your marital world faster than you can say ‘dirty diaper’. That will be a crisis.
But you will recover.
It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have had kids. It just means that you have to stop being one.
Don’t let the children you prayed and longed for steal your intimacy or rob you of your commitment.
Receive any child that the Lord brings into your marriage as a gift and a blessing from God’s hand – but take care that they do not become your idol. The Bible says: “Children are a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3 NLT)
Receive them as such; treat them as such. But do not let them become an idol. The Bible also says:
“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6 ESV)
Children should never be allowed to threaten the primacy of the one flesh relationship of marriage. Children come from that union, but they must not be allowed to come between it. Neither should they be allowed to come between you and the Lord. Jesus was equally clear about that. He said: “whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37 ESV).
The gift of children can create a crisis in your marriage and a crisis in your spiritual life. If you receive them as they were given, they will bring a blessing – but if you allow them to become an idol, they will bring a curse.
Work together to keep your children in their place.
The Crisis of Loss
The morning of your wedding day will likely represent the high water mark in terms of optimism and hope – and so it should! So much lies before you on that day – the possibility of children, the anticipation of a new home and the prospect of life, mission and work with the one you love and adore. You should be excited and you should be giddy with hope and possibility! But be prepared for loss and disappointment.
It will come.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). That is a disturbingly unqualified statement. You will have. Not you might have. You will have. You will have tribulation, loss, frustration and hardship. Unless Jesus comes, loss, hardship, suffering and pain surely will.
When it comes—and it will—it doesn’t mean that God has stopped blessing you; it doesn’t mean that he has stopped loving you. It just means that you live on planet Earth.
Don’t let the loss and pain that you prayed wouldn’t come rob you of hope and commitment.
In the Old Testament, Job faced the worst pain and loss that any human could imagine. He lost all of his children in a single day. All 10 of his children died in a natural disaster, and when Job got the news the Bible says:
Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20–21 ESV)
I have heard parents quote this passage from memory at the funeral of their teenage son. I have heard it sobbed out in faith, through tears by a husband and wife whose baby died in the delivery room.
There is no greater loss than this and no greater crisis to be faced in your marriage.
Whether it is the loss of a child, or the inability to have a child, or the spiritual death and apostasy of a child, or whether it is the loss of health, the loss of a job or the death of a dream—sooner or later the crisis of loss must be faced in your marriage.
When it comes, don’t turn on one another. Don’t blame one another and don’t pull back from one another. Come together. Find comfort and shelter in one another.
This is what friendship is for! This is what marriage is for, most of all!
though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12 ESV)
I love what Matthew Henry says about this verse: “Two together he compares to a threefold cord; for where two are closely joined in holy love and fellowship, Christ will by his Spirit come to them, and make the third.”1
When crisis visits your marriage; when you are assaulted by sin or conflict or change, or children or loss – do not surrender your bonds of holy love and fellowship! Hold on! Hold fast and wait for Christ by his Spirit to come and make the third!
A three-fold cord is not quickly broken. You will endure. You will pass through and by his grace you will give him glory when you reach the other side.
Even still, come Lord Jesus.