Cheryl was still a teenager—19 years old. I was 21 and not yet wise to the ways of the world. So I didn’t make a reservation for that sunny August weekend. We departed Tacoma at 11:00 a.m., fully expecting to find a vacancy in one of those coastal towns like Seaside, Canon Beach, Pacific City, Oceanside, Garibaldi, Rockaway Beach, Lincoln City. But there were no vacancies anywhere on the Oregon Coast. So with the sky turning dark, we headed inland where, an hour and a half later, at 8:00 o’clock that night, I finally escorted my beautiful new bride into the Best Western Inn of McMinnville, 45 miles from the Oregon Coast.
That was Day 1 of our honeymoon. Day 2 I made reservations, so we wouldn’t have to hunt for hotel rooms the rest of the week. Then on Day 3 my bride took ill. But on Day 5, she felt a little better. So we decided to dine out at a fancy restaurant. Food poisoning, so miserable we didn’t budge from our hotel room the whole next day. But Day 7 inevitably came, and still suffering flu-like symptoms, it was time to head home, back to work, only to have my ‘69 Mustang overheat on the highway, turning a 6-hour trip into a 10-hour nightmare. And so our parents wanted to know, as we limped in the door, “Did you have a good time on your honeymoon?”
And some of us did have a good time, and others of us didn’t. But the hard reality is: Sooner or later the honeymoon comes to an end for all of us, and what will we do then to successfully manage all the changes and challenges that come to us in marriage. One major challenge is the differences we soon discover in our marriage partners. The truth is: Opposites do attract, which means anytime a man and a woman say, “I do,” there are going to be major adjustments ahead of them. In our case, we not only discovered differences in gender and personality, but also differences in communication and taste and humor and upbringing and habits of housekeeping and spending and when to go to bed at night. All of which makes life very interesting the first few months of marriage.
Marriage is difficult. The good news is that as difficult as the adjustments may be, marriage is still in way better shape than the media lets on. Consider just a few statistics. According to one survey by the Gallup organization, on average, 13,500 Americans get married every day, 175 of them age 65 or older. 92 percent say they’ve only had one sexual partner since they took their vows. 87 percent add that they’d marry the same person, if they had it to do all over again. 80 percent say that even if they were sure their spouse wouldn’t find out, they’d never cheat on them. And 75 percent add that their marriage partner is their best friend and that in their case they consider “divorce is very unlikely.” And yet, marriage isn’t not without its difficulties, is it? As someone has said, “Marriage teaches you loyalty, forbearance, self-restraint, and a whole lot of other great qualities you wouldn’t need if you stayed single.”
The truth is that marriage is a refining process that forces you to become a better person than you were before. If you doubt that, look with me for a moment at 1 Corinthians chapter 7, where the Apostle Paul gives his take on marriage. He begins by saying in verse 25: “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord.” In other words, whether or not it’s better to get married or remain single isn’t something the Lord Jesus talked about in His teaching ministry. So, in the verses that follow, Paul goes on to say, “Given all the persecution the early church is going through, it’s probably wiser to remain single than to get married.” And yet, he goes on say in verse 28, “If you do marry, you have not sinned.” And of course, down through the ages, that’s what most believers have chosen to do, because as the Lord Himself said in the Garden, “It is not good for man to be alone.” And yet, don’t miss what Paul adds at the end of verse 28. He warns, “But those who do marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you.”
All of which is to say, if you’re having trouble in your marriage today, don’t let it catch you by surprise. That’s normal and to be expected, because marriage is difficult. And yet, no matter what you’re going through, God has an answer for it. That’s my message in a nutshell this morning. Marriage is difficult, but God gives grace to help in time of need. To underscore that truth, what I want to describe, first of all, are two major sources of trouble we’re likely to face in marriage. Then I want to come back and offer God’s solution for those problems. First of all, then, let me ask the question—
I. What are the major sources of trouble in marriage?
And of course, there are many issues we could raise at this point: pressures associated with finances and debt, differences of opinion about childraising, expectations laid on us by in-laws, and stresses we suffer because both of us work and lead such busy lives. And most of these issues we’re going to deal with in our classes on Sunday morning or our small groups during the week. But that’s not what I want to focus on this morning. What I want to zero in on today are two basic, but wide-ranging sources of trouble in any marriage, the first of which is found right here in 1 Corinthians 7:32, if you’d like to look at it with me for a few moments. Let’s call it for lack of a better term—
a. The problem of neglected needs.
Notice how Paul begins. He begins by comparing the priorities of married believers with unmarried believers, and he says this: “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.”
Paul makes a distinction between married believers and unmarried believers, doesn’t he? And if you’re single, he says, you can pretty much do whatever you please whenever you please to do it, as long as it’s also pleasing to the Lord. You can work 40 or 50 hours a week, spend another 20 or 30 hours in ministry, get up early, stay up late, entertain people in your home seven nights a week, and give all your extra time and money to help people in need. But he adds, the moment you say, “I do,” you no longer have that freedom. Oh, you’re still expected to please the Lord, but you’re no longer free to do it whenever or however you want, because now you have a new priority. Now you have a husband or wife, which means the first question you must ask before you do anything is: “How will this impact the needs of my mate? Will it help her or hurt her? How will Cheryl feel about it?” And of course, Cheryl has to ask the same questions about me.
I’ll never forget the moment this hit home for me. We were still on our honeymoon. Cheryl was in our hotel room, taking her first round of medication and hoping to get some relief from what she was suffering. I, on the hand, was taking a walk on the beach, looking up at the sky and asking, “Lord, what did I get myself into?”
Make no mistake! I loved my wife. It’s just that it hadn’t really sunk in until that moment, that it was no longer about me. Now there was another precious human being trusting me to look out for her needs for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live, which sounded like a long time at that moment.
And because we all have different personalities and come from different background, I don’t want to generalize and say: “Here’s the top 10 list of our needs as husbands or wives,” because all of us are different. I might say that one very clear that need that Paul spells out in verse 3 of this chapter is—Is it OK to talk about sex in church?—because that’s what he does in verse 3. He says: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again, so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” So that’s one need we all have as married people, and we’d better not neglect it in our partner’s life or we’re going to expose one another to all sorts of temptation that God never intended for us to handle. And there are many other needs we have as well—
One need I quickly discovered in my wife was the need for me to be more responsible in the way I handled money. Cheryl will tell you that when we first met, I was making pretty good money for a 20-year old kid in his second year of college. I was a journeyman with the Retail Clerks union, taking home $200 a week with all the benefits: medical, dental, vision, and 3 weeks of vacation a year. So on Thursday afternoon, when I’d go to cash my paycheck and then pick Cheryl up from work, I would generally have about $200 cash in my wallet, which was a fair amount of money at that time. And Cheryl never really said anything, but I knew it bothered her, because there wasn’t a lot of money to go around in the home she grew up in, and it took a long time for her to earn $200.
So the moment we said, “I do,” I knew things would have to change. I was going to have to grow up in the way I managed money. Otherwise I was going to expose her to all sorts of anxiety she didn’t need to deal with. And why would I want to do that to someone I love?
So let me ask you. Have you recognized and are you working hard to satisfy the needs of your partner? Some of us are “Toys R Us” kids, and we don’t want to grow up. But Paul wrote, “When I became a man, I put away the childish things. I put away the toys.” And I suspect that some of us need to do the same. We need to come to grips with the fact that it’s no longer just about us. God has given us a precious husband or wife, made in His image with real needs just like our own, and if we fail to meet those needs, there’s going to be trouble in marriage. There’s the problem of neglected needs, and if we fail to deal with that, it’s going to lead to an even greater problem—
b. The problem of hardened hearts.
That’s what happens when we let little things build up in our marriages without addressing them—little things like unmet needs and unresolved hurts. The heart of our husband or wife, which was once so soft and warm toward us, grows hard from bitterness, hurt, and resentment, communication turns cold and cautious, and love begins to die. But you say, “My offenses are so slight and insignificant! Just a little neglect from time to time: clothes left lying on the bedroom floor, being late for dinner and not calling, a forgotten birthday or anniversary. Is that enough to kill the love between us?” And the answer is: Of course not. Not at first. But what about after 50 or 500 times? That’s how a hedge of bitterness grows up between us. It isn’t always about the big offenses. More often it’s about the 10,000 little hurts that chip away at our love and convince our partners that someone or something else is more important to us than they are.
Jesus talked about this in His ministry, you may remember. The religious teachers come to Him in Matthew chapter 19, hoping to trick Him into saying something wrong. So they ask Him in verse 3, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce His wife for any and every reason?” That’s how bad things had become by the time Jesus came to earth. Jewish men were interpreting the Bible to say that they could divorce their wives for any fault they found in them, as long as they followed the proper legal procedure and gave them a certificate of divorce. Sound anything like the no-fault divorce state we live in today? So Jesus corrects them and says, “That was never God’s design for marriage. God’s design has always been one man for one woman for life.” But they continue to press Him, and in verse 7 they ask: “Then why did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” So Jesus answers in verse 8: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so.”
Let’s think about that phrase for a moment—“the hardness of your hearts.” That phrase comes from two little words—kardia meaning heart and skleros from which we get our word arteriosclerosis, which means “a hardening of the arteries.” And I’m no biologist, but heart disease does run in my family. My father died 5 years ago from a heart attack caused by a hardening of the arteries leading to his heart, and my mother died two years ago from a stroke caused by a hardening of the arteries leading to her brain—both the result of tiny pieces of plaque building up in their arteries over the years and blocking the flow of blood. In this case, of course, Jesus isn’t talking about our hearts in a physical sense. He’s speaking relationally and emotionally, warning us that if we let little things build up in our marriages without resolving them, it’s going to lead to a hardening of hearts, the flow of love will be blocked, and our marriages will eventually die. So what’s the solution to these two great sources of trouble in marriage? Let me suggest 3 steps that will help—
II. How do we prevent heartache in our marriages?
The first of which will come as no surprise to anyone. We need to—
a. Practice open and loving communication
There are two sides to this, of course. First of all, it means, if we want our husband or wife to understand and satisfy our needs, then we’re going to have to open our mouths and tell them what those needs are. It’s embarrassing to admit, but intimacy has always been difficult for me, so much so that when we were first married, if Cheryl failed to meet my needs, you know how my mind would work? I’d say, “This is your fault! You ought to know what I need! After all, you have the Holy Spirit. He’ll guide you, if you ask Him!” Of course, what I should’ve asked myself was: Is that how I think when I fail to meet Cheryl’s needs? Do I say to myself, “Oh, I should have known that! This is my fault! After all, I have the Holy Spirit to guide me!” No. Instead, what we’re apt to say is, “What do I look like—a mind reader! If you need something, you gotta tell me. Otherwise I’ll never know!” And that’s true, isn’t it? The way God plans for intimacy to draw us together is by daring to share the deepest needs of our hearts. Otherwise, the other person will never know, because that’s not the way God made us. Instead, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we need to learn to “speak the truth in love.”
But there’s also a second side to this, isn’t there? And that’s learning to listen to the one we love, and not just to their words, but as Les Parrott puts it, we need to listen with a third ear to that emotional river flowing beneath their words. “Pan for gold,” he says. “Pan for that little emotion and hand it back to your spouse, saying: ‘Is this how you feel?’” When you do that, he says, it opens up your spouse’s spirit and helps them to begin trusting you in ways they’ve never trusted anyone before.
Some of you may remember the prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon, where there is discord, harmony, where there is doubt, faith…Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we’re born to eternal life.” I think that’s a good prayer for marriage: To seek not so much to be understood as to understand the one we love. So how are you doing in this area? If you say, “Not so well at the moment,” then let me ask you: Why not? What is it that’s getting in your way?—DVD Clip #2—We need to take the time and make the effort to communicate openly and lovingly with one another. And step #2—
b. Practice forgiveness and grace.
Ruth Graham, the wife of Billy Graham, describes a good marriage like this: “A good marriage is the union of two forgivers.” Or as a Jamaican proverb puts it, “Before you marry, keep two eyes open. After you marry, keep one eye shut.” And I think that’s good advice. After all, isn’t that what the Bible says? Later in Ephesians 4:31, Paul commands us: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you.”
On her golden wedding anniversary, a bride of 50 years described what this meant in her marriage. Asked by a few of her guests the secret to her long and happy marriage, she explained: “On my wedding day, I decided to choose ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook.” One of the guests asked her to name some of his faults. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “I never did get around to listing them. Whenever my husband did something that made me mad, I would say to myself, ‘Lucky for him, that’s one of the ten.’”
I suspect that’s why our marriage has also lasted a long time too—40 years at this point. It’s because I married such a forgiving person! I just wish I’d learned a lot sooner to forgive the little things she does to hurt or annoy me, because I’ve not always been a very gracious or forgiving person. But I’m learning. I’m learning from my wife that one of the most important things we can do for our marriage is to communicate openly and lovingly with one another and to forgive each other when we fail. And finally, step #3—
c. Pray with and for one another daily.
Do you still have this card in your Bible? If you’ve been with us the last few weeks, you’ll remember we passed these cards out as a way of encouraging one another not only to pray for our study of marriage, but as a reminder to pray with one another at least 6 minutes a week for the next 6 weeks, because for some of us, this is one of the most difficult things we do, and you can be sure that the enemy will do everything in his power to stop us. The truth of the matter is, no one—not even your spouse—can meet all the needs of your heart. Only Jesus can do that. That’s why one of the most important things you can do to encourage one another and strengthen your marriage, especially at those times when our human resources fail, is to spend time together in prayer, telling God what you need. Solomon writes, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” And in Christian marriage, that third strand is God, who not only meets our needs when we call upon Him, but binds our hearts together in love.
So, if you haven’t yet made this commitment, or you’ve made it, but you haven’t yet followed through on it, determine right now that even if you get nothing else done this day or week, you’ll do this. You’ll communicate with one another more openly and lovingly, you’ll forgive one another’s failures, and that you’ll take time to pray with and for one another every day.
And again, I confess that that hasn’t always been the pattern of our marriage. In fact, if I had to graph the history of our marriage, it would probably look something like this: 3 years of constant fighting so bad we would have thrown in the towe, if we hadn’t made an unconditional commitment to one another in name of Christ. Talk about irreconcilable differences, we had ‘em all! And yet, we hung in there, and for the next 22 years, it was hot and cold: raising children and facing challenges together, but not always liking each other as much as we should. But the last 15 years has been all joy in spite of Cheryl’s battle against cervical cancer and my recent diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease.
Somewhere around year 25, I finally got my act together, started making Cheryl more important than anything else in my life, forgiving and asking forgiveness when necessary, and sharing more openly and lovingly with her in conversation and prayer. Marriage hasn’t been easy for us, but it has been completely worthwhile. And I pray that you too will soon experience a breakthrough in your marriage and begin to enjoy all that God intended it to be. I finish with this testimony from Tom Anderson, a writer for Guideposts magazine—
“I made a vow to myself on the drive down to the vacation beach cottage. For two weeks, I would be a loving husband—totally loving. No ifs, ands, or buts. The idea came to me as I listened to a speaker on my car stereo. He quoted a verse about husbands being considerate toward their wives, and then he went on to say that love is an act of the will, that “a person can choose to love.” I had to admit that I’d been a selfish husband—that our love had been dulled by my insensitivity. In petty ways, really: chiding Evelyn for her tardiness, insisting on the TV program I wanted to watch, throwing out day-old newspapers I knew Evelyn still wanted to read. Well, for two weeks all that would change.”
“And it did. Right from the moment I kissed Evelyn at the door and said, “That new sweater looks great on you!” “Oh, Tom, you noticed,” she said, surprised and pleased, and maybe a little perplexed. After the drive, I wanted to sit and read. Evelyn suggested a walk on the beach. I started to refuse, but then I thought, ‘She’s been alone with the kids all week, and now she wants to be alone with me.’ We walked on the beach while the children flew their kites. And so it went—two weeks of not calling the Wall Street investment firm where I’m a director, a visit to the shell museum, though I usually hate museums (but I enjoyed it), holding my tongue when Evelyn made us late for a dinner date. That’s how the whole vacation passed—relaxed and happy.”
“One thing did go wrong with my experiment, however. Evelyn and I still laugh about it. On our last night at the beach, preparing for bed, Evelyn stared at me with the saddest expression. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked her. ‘Tom,’ she said, voice filled with distress, ‘do you know something I don’t?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, that checkup I had a few weeks ago. Did the doctor tell you something about me? Tom, you’ve been so good to me. Am I dying?’ It took a moment for it to sink in. Then I burst out laughing. ‘No, honey,’ I said, wrapping my arms around her. ‘You’re not dying. I’m just starting to live.'”
Pray with me. Heavenly Father, we’re thankful for the gift of marriage and sorry for what we’ve made it at times. Help us to begin again this morning—meeting the needs of the one we love, forgiving and asking forgiveness when necessary, and communicating with both you and one another in a more open and loving way. We ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen
Download the message by clicking – “When the Honeymoon Ends”