Summary: Do bad marriages come from unmet needs? What if the solution isn’t to have every need met, but to allow God to make us less needy?
Understanding Marriage on Four Levels
Life After the Wedding, part 4
Wildwind Community Church
February 12, 2006
We’re continuing on through our marriage series. Here’s what we’ve looked at so far:
1. God wants marriages to be healthy.
2. A good marriage takes two, but all you can do is focus on you.
3. Your marriage is God’s will for you now.
Today I want to talk to you about how marriages fail for a pretty narrow number of reasons, and to start looking into some of those reasons. Quickly right now, give me some issues that can cause problems in a marriage. (Money, sex, stress, friendships outside the marriage, jealousy, children, communication issues, in-laws, etc.)
I want to give you some news this morning. For some of you this will be good news, but I expect for most of you it will not be the best news. Did you know that none of these factors leads to divorce? Did you know that healthy couples routinely argue about all these issues and more? Did you know that some of the best marriages are those where there is actually a very high degree of passion and conflict? Did you know that in other very good marriages, partners seem to almost avoid hot-button issues altogether and get along quite okay through their avoidance?
This will come as good news, even a relief I suspect, for those who thought that the frequency of fighting and conflict is related to separation and divorce. It’s not. But there’s another sense in which this is mixed news. If none of these issues is responsible for routinely breaking up marriages, that would seem to complicate the picture, wouldn’t it? We might say, “Well, if it’s not money, if it’s not sex, if it’s not my in-laws, if it’s not any of that stuff, then how do I know if my marriage is in danger?”
Marriages don’t break up for an infinite number of reasons. Money, sex, parenting, communication – some or all of that stuff may be at issue in marriages that fail. But some or all of that stuff is also an issue in most marriages that succeed. That stuff isn’t what breaks up marriages. Marriages break up for a pretty small number of reasons – in fact, precisely four according to John Gottman, our greatest expert on marriage and relationships.
John Grey says relationships break up because men are from Mars and women are from Venus. John Gottman reminds us that even in the best, most healthy marriages, there are often drastic differences between partners, yet the relationship thrives in spite of how they often come from different planets. John Grey implies that in order for relationships to be healthy, women must learn Martian and men must learn Venusian, so we can hear each other. John Gottman goes deeper and gives us what he calls the “four horseman of the apocalypse” – the factors that will usually lead to divorce if not detected and brought under control. Gary Chapman tells us we need to learn to speak one another’s “love language,” so that we are communicating love in a way the other person understands as love. John Gottman tells us that there are things that will keep us from being ABLE to communicate love no matter how hard we try. (BTW, I advocate understanding the love languages, I just don’t think they’re the sole key to marital bliss.) Willard Harley talks about His Needs, and Her Needs and how being sure to meet one another’s needs will affair-proof your marriage. With his Prepare and Enrich material, David Olsen looks at the degree of agreement or disagreement between couples in areas where couples frequently tend to fight. All of these things are good. This is all great stuff to know. After all, why shouldn’t you learn to respect the differences in your relationship? Why shouldn’t you speak your partner’s love language? Why shouldn’t you make sure not to overdraw your love bank account? Why shouldn’t you try to ascertain and meet your partners needs?
I don’t want to confuse anyone this morning. I’m not up here to tell you to dismiss John Grey or Gary Chapman or Willard Harley or David Olsen or other theorists who have contributed greatly to our understanding of marriage. The point of this morning is not that I would have you dismiss these people, it’s that I would direct your attention beyond and below all of that, to things way deeper within your own heart.
Matthew 12:33-35 (NIV)
33 "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.
34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.