While we were engaged, Matthew told me, "Honey, we are experts at dating, but we're gonna be novices at marriage. Don't let that discourage you. We will learn to be experts at marriage."
I didn't pay much attention to his statement at the time, but it came back to me just a few months into our marriage.
Boy was he right.
I don't know a whole lot about marriage.
I've only been doing married life for 6 months.
But I do know I need help.
Relationships are hard work, which is part of the reason they are so beautiful!
You get to choose each other over and over again.
You get to heap giant amounts of grace on the people you love.
While we are learning a lot about each other and a lot about the hard work of marriage, I've stumbled upon what I believe to be the three most essential relationship needs.
- We need Jesus
- We need each other
- We need trustworthy friends
1. We need Jesus
Who is the author, the epitome, and the sustainer of love?
When navigating the complicated process of trying to define roles and responsibilities in marriage, or dating for that matter, where do you look for answers?
How do you determine what sources are reliable?
When you're seeking guidance in your next steps, or learning how to love someone else, whom do you trust to lead you in the right way?
I am confident that none of my relationships would be successful if I wasn't looking to Jesus to show me what true love is.
Without His life as an example, how would I know the gift of grace?
How would I have any confidence that marriage, though challenging, is worth it?
If we are being real, why would I even believe relationships and community were worth investing in if Christ hadn't shown us their purpose?
I need Jesus to lead me in all my relationships because I am broken and because the people I am in relationship with are broken too.
That means our relationships are broken, yes, but those broken relationships are opportunities for Christ to be glorified.
Think about the couple you know whose marriage is enviable.
The couple who lifts one another up, whose children respect them (most of the time), who so obviously have each other's back, and speak highly of one another instead of tearing one another down.
It's easy to look at couples like that and assume they are perfect, or they don't have any struggles.
Humorously enough, I've had a few people say that about Matthew and I!
Now that one makes me chuckle.
Don't be fooled. We aren't perfect. Our marriage isn't perfect.
No marriage is without its complications and flaws, because, remember, we are fallen people.
But those couples who are making it look fun while doing the hard work of relationship, they are looking to Jesus.
How do you do that?
Talk to Him! Pray about it! Journal! Just get the conversation going between you and Him.
Our individual relationships with Christ must be met in order for us to have a healthy (not perfect) relationship.
If that relationship, the most important one, isn't nourished, then we will begin to place undeserved pressure on the other person to completely fill us.
Rely on Christ to give your life purpose first, then you will be free to love others without making them responsible for your ultimate happiness.
Not sure what God says about relationships, dating, and marriage?
Here are a few of the sermon series Matthew and I have found to be most helpful:
Those sermon series really helped me lay the foundation for a healthy marriage.
Because God created marriage and talked about it in His Word, we have a starting point, a destination, and all the bumps in-between can be used to glorify our Father.
Here are some other resources we have found especially helpful for nurturing a healthy relationship:
Do you have any resources that have been beneficial to you?
I can't get my hands on enough and would love to hear your recommendations!
I'd also like to say, you don't have to have any or all of those resources.
Most of the time, the best thing you can do is simply read right out of the scriptures.
2. We need each other
It takes two to tango!
A healthy relationship takes two people who are ALL IN for each other.
It's not 50/50, it's 100/100.
We had only been dating 6 months when Matthew got the news he would be moving to California for his new job.
That was a really scary and uncertain time for us.
Did I ask him to stay?
I wanted him to be successful in all that he did and I knew when the time was right, if California was where he was going to be, I'd follow him there.
He was "all in" by showing me he would do whatever it took to provide for our family.
I was "all in" by giving him the freedom to do so.
Something deep within both of our hearts had already said, "This is the one" and that helped a little, but it was still a very challenging time.
That's just one example of how we displayed our commitment to our relationship.
There have been countless other challenges that have sprung up, mostly at inopportune times, that force us to either choose one another or bail.
I am totally confident that Matthew will always choose me and our marriage.
This kind of confidence is only possible because of the discussion in point 1.
We both hold fast to the truth that marriage is a gift to us and a means of glorifying our Father.
We are more committed to Him than to each other and that's why I have peace about our relationship.
When things get hard, and they have gotten hard, I know Matthew is "all in" for God's purpose which means he is "all in" for me and for our marriage.
We also need each other in the sense that, God is using our marriage as a refining tool to make us into the people He always intended us to be.
No one else knows me like my husband.
No one else knows my husband like I do.
We get to see the rawest, most authentic version of one another.
We are there for all the really bright moments and for all the really dark ones.
We encourage one another in our gifts and are there to help the other see the flaws we have previously been blind to.
And that's a good thing!
Because I desire more than anything else to grow into the woman God intends for me to be, but there's no way for me to do that if my flaws aren't brought into the light.
Sometimes y'all, that growth is really painful.
But we get to choose every time.
Do we receive our spouse's insight with grace and dig into what God is teaching us through marriage?
Or do we throw up our defenses, refuse to believe we still have broken places, and run away from the wisdom of the spouse He gave me?
I'm trying to choose that first scenario. Some days it's easier than others.
In his book Scary Close, Donald Miller describes it like this, "I have to trust that my flaws were the ways through which I would receive grace. We don't think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are...God is going to reveal me as a flawed human being as fast as he can and He's going to enjoy it because it will force me to grapple with real intimacy."
And Timothy Keller weighs in on the refining work of marriage like this, "Marriage is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the person God designed them to be."
We truly need each other.
We need each other to be "all in" and need each other to help us become the person God designed us to be.
3. We need trustworthy friends.
In the sermon series One that I mentioned above, teaching pastor Chris Curtis says, "Marriage is a communal project. If you go alone, you are risking your marriage".
We should always be praying about issues more than talking about them, but sometimes a long talk with good friend does wonders.
Now I'm not talking about spouse bashing or trashing.
I'm talking about a hard conversation with someone you trust where you flesh out an issue in your relationship with the understanding that you're "all in" and you are doing whatever it takes to figure that issue out.
These kinds of conversations are dangerous unless the friend whose advice you are seeking is trustworthy.
How do you determine who these friends are?
I think they have to be 2 things.
First of all, they should be followers of Christ and believers in the redeeming work of marriage (see #1 and #2).
If they are, you can be sure the feedback or advice they give you will always be for the good of your relationship as a whole.
Their advice should fall under the standards of the Gospel, not the world.
They won't be taking sides. They won't just tell you that you're right and your significant other is so wrong. (Honestly, when I have these conversations I often walk away with new insight into what needs to change in ME.)
They will explore all those hard places with you and ask the tough questions without teaming up against the other person.
If the friend you are seeking advice from is on the same page as you about a Christian marriage, their feedback is most likely healthy.
The friends whom you trust to discuss your relationship should also be few in number.
This was advice I heeded from my Momma.
Keep your circle small.
It's a slippery slope when you start including everyone, because that changes the situation from seeking wise counsel to simply complaining.
Pick a few friends whose relationships are built on the same foundation as yours and who you know will not be discussing your personal issues with others.
I think you go to those folks whose marriage is enviable.
Once the curtain is drawn back and they share with you their own relationship struggles, you won't feel so alone.
I think transparency is one of the most encouraging things gleaned from talking with a friend, because people can tell you relationships are hard, but that's not really helpful until you fully know what "hard" entails.
I am grateful that God intended us to be in community.
I know that it has been a tremendous help for me and our marriage to have the friendship of women who always point me back to Him during the hard stuff.
That's important because in the end, it is in Christ we should be placing our trust, our hopes, and our dreams.
Trustworthy friends are absolutely helpful, but we should always be taking our problems to Him first.
I don't know where you currently are in terms of the relationship spectrum.
However, I think these 3 essential needs apply to all stages, dating, single, or married.
I'm sharing them with you because Shalom Sisters is a safe place for community.
I want you to know that it's not only normal, but it's good, to be working hard in your relationship.
I don't have all the answers and there are plenty of things we work on every day in our marriage, but I do know that if I remember these 3 needs, especially our need for Jesus, this relationship will be a lasting one.