Building Biblical Expectations for Marriage

Christian marriage preparation is becoming more of a priority as startling statistics reveal the failure of so many marriages.

QUESTION: The following article was written in response to a question about expectations in marriage. (The name of the correspondent has been withheld.) The original question was: "Should there be expectations in a marriage? Example: The husband has expectations of the wife. They are not met, and the husband wants a separation."

ANSWER: Thanks for the question. I will try to give you at least the beginning of an answer–though you need to understand I am a Bible teacher and a hymn historian, not a marriage counselor. Beyond stating some general principles, marriage issues are not my area of expertise, and I must leave the rest to others.

Before we talk about actual Christian marriage preparation, and our expectations for the partnership, we need to look at the Bible and marriage. What does the Lord think about marriage? We know from the Scriptures that the Lord approves of marriage. He invented it, for one thing. The first thing in creation that He called "not good" was the aloneness of Adam (Gen. 2:18), and the Lord gave him a suitable partner named Eve. One whole book of the Bible (The Song of Solomon) deals poetically with romance and marriage.

In New Testament times, when the Lord Jesus began His earthly ministry, He performed His very first miracle at a wedding (Jn. 2:1-11). And later still, the Apostle Paul compared the love of Christ for His church to the love between husband and wife (Eph. 5:25), indicating a high respect for the marriage relationship.

So, it is clear that marriage is a good thing. "Marriage is honourable," says God's Word (Heb. 13:4). But the question we need to look at is: How does a marriage become what it should be, and function in the way God designed and desires? Here are some thoughts on the subject. And the subject of marriage expectations is closely connected with that of marriage preparation. What is involved in the latter? And when does it take place?

The time to start learning the basics about marriage is as soon as you are born--in other words at home, when you are young. If a godly Christian couple models God's pattern for marriage and parenting, day after day, in the home, their children will learn much by observation.

And as the children mature, and are able to understand more, the parents can talk about what God's Word has to say concerning love, and patience, and other matters important to a good marriage. These values should be reinforced by the family's regular attendance at a good, Bible-believing church, where they are taught. As the Bible says, "Train up a child in the way he [or she] should go, and when he [or she] is old he [or she] will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6).

The teen years are critical times for Christian marriage preparation. Among other things, young people should learn at home (and at church) the importance of setting a godly standard when choosing a marriage partner. In their teen years and beyond, this will give direction to their choice of fellows and girls with whom to form close friendships, whom to date, and ultimately court.

Even though, obviously, each teen date will not lead to marriage, that potential needs to be kept in mind. Most fundamentally, Christian teens should date only Christians, since Christians should marry only Christians (II Cor. 6:14). A young guy or gal should look for a godly friend who has clear spiritual goals. One who, if marriage is in God's plan for them, could help to build a strong Christian home.

There is a sad and dangerous trend in our day for young people to evaluate others, and decide whether to date them or not, first on the basis of physical attractiveness. If he is a "hunk," she is interested, and if she is a "babe," so is he. Magazines, movies, music videos, and so on preach this warped philosophy. Because teen hormones tend to run wild, this emphasis on the physical is playing with fire. And it is an upside-down way of looking at things.

When we turn to God's Word, we see that human beings are made up of "spirit, soul, and body" (I Thess. 5:23).

¤ Our spirits are energized by the Holy Spirit when we put our faith in Christ (Eph. 2:1). They give us an awareness of God, a sensitivity to His will, and the power to do it.

¤ Our souls are the mental-emotional part of our being. (The Greek word translated "soul" in the New Testament is psuche, from which our word psychology comes.) Our souls give us self awareness. And it is in our souls that we develop such things as knowledge, interests, goals, and priorities.

¤ Our bodies, through our senses, give us an awareness of the world around us, and the sensations of pain, pleasure, and so on.

I have purposely listed them in that order, because that is the order given to us in the First Thessalonians text. And it is the way in which relationships should develop. A young man's first interest in getting to know a girl should not be in her physical attributes, but in her spiritual character. And she should have the same priority with him.

Is this a person with a godly standard of living, godly habits, and godly goals based on Scripture? Then, as that is established, the dating process can help them learn "soulish" things. What hobbies does each have? What makes him or her laugh? Or cry? Are there common interests they can enjoy?

For the most part, the physical knowing–at least at an intimate level–will come after marriage. It is what God's Word describes as becoming "one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Interestingly, the Bible uses the word "know" of the intimacy of the sexual relationship (Gen. 4:1, 25). It is sad that teens are being told they can have "safe sex" outside of marriage. The Bible calls that fornication (or adultery, if one or both are married), and either is a sin (I Thess. 4:3-7; Heb. 13:4).

When we think of Christian marriage preparation, we often think of pre-marital counseling. Of course, as we've seen, ideally the preparation starts long before that. But more than ever, in our day, pre-marital counseling is absolutely essential. (In part because of the twisted values, mentioned above, that are promoted by a godless society.) If they get to the point of contemplating marriage, a couple should have at least a half dozen hour-long sessions with a pastor trained in the area, or with a Christian counselor.

There is a program called Prepare-Enrich in which the man and the woman fill out a long questionnaire, each independently, without consulting the other. It consists of about 165 opinion statements to which they are to respond with agreement or disagreement. For example:

#74. If the wife works outside the home, she should still be responsible for running the household.

#135. When we argue, I usually end up feeling responsible for the problem.

(To visit their official website to learn more about this tool, click on Christian marriage preparation)

After this inventory is completed, the pastor or counselor is able to see areas where there is disagreement, and a difference of expectations. These can then be thoroughly discussed with the couple. If there is a satisfactory resolution of the differences, they can move forward. If not, it may indicate they are not meant for each other. "Can two walk together unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3). Discussions starters like these can be a valuable part of Christian marriage preparation.

This is the time to discover any unrealistic or unloving (selfish) expectations–not after the wedding! If they each expect certain things (whether in finances, sex, child-rearing, relating to in-laws, etc.) that the other is not comfortable with, or not ready for, this is the time to learn it.

Chief among the skills that a trained counselor can assist the couple in developing is the ability to communicate well. It is so important for each partner to share feelings and aspirations, and to truly listen to the other's response. Sometimes a compromise can be worked out within the bounds of what God's Word teaches; other times, perhaps it cannot. Christian marriage preparation focuses on facing these important issues head-on.

This is the next step in the process. And I believe it is important for Christian couples to have a church wedding, witnessed by family and friends. For one thing, it emphasizes to everyone that marriage is a sacred bond, in which God must have an ongoing part. The most important help in Christian marriage comes from the Lord Himself!

Unfortunately, it is popular today to skip a formal wedding completely--to simply live together, to see if the relationship "works out." But since family life is so important to the strength of a community and a country, and since God wants marriage to be considered a permanent bond (Matt. 19:4-6), "shacking up" is not a godly option.

Deciding on the wording of the wedding vows is a significant process, since these will vocalize what has been learned about expectations. The pastor can offer some insightful help here. He should carefully review the wedding vows with the couple beforehand, and discuss their implications, so each person knows what he or she is committing to.

In the ceremony, the two will make those vows to one another before God. That is a serious matter. God holds us responsible for the pledges we make (Deut. 23:21; Ecc. 5:4-6). That is the vertical dimension of it. But the vows have a horizontal value and influence too.

In a wedding ceremony, the individuals are making promises, not only in the sight of God, but before human witnesses. One of the reasons I say a church wedding is important is that those present can then commit themselves to pray for the couple, and encourage them to fulfil their vows.

The book below will augment what has been said about the subject of Christian marriage preparation. You can purchase it from Amazon by clicking on it. And now that we've laid the groundwork in talking about Christian marriage preparation, let's move on in the next part of this article to discuss what comes after the wedding day. Please click on Christian Marriage Help.