I have been blessed through my time in ministry to officiate a great number of weddings. They are some of the truest joys of ministry, to be able to stand with a couple as they unite as one, that’s a truly beautiful thing.
That said, the time that we spend together before the ceremony talking may be even more important. In a marriage, if we aren’t careful, we spend all our time preparing for the 20-30 minute ceremony, forgetting about the lifelong commitment that follows. For me as a pastor, the meetings before-hand where we talk about marriage is so, so important. My wife and I were blessed to have amazing premarital counseling, and I know that has made a huge difference in our marriage.
I was thinking about this as I was working through some notes for an upcoming wedding, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things that we talk through in premarital counseling. I think these truths are good not just for newlyweds, but for all of us!
I have found that there are 3 main areas of conflict in marriage. I call them the 3 F’s
By family, I mean two main things. First, the family that is formed. Jesus quotes from Genesis when He says in Matthew 19:5:
and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
When a couple is married that new family becomes the primary family for them. So, questions are raised. Will we have kids? If so, how many? How will we raise them? These basic questions of marriage loom large. Conflict can come from here.
But for many of us, that is not the primary source of family conflict. For many of us, the primary area of contention is the family of origin. How were you raised? What was your expectation of family? How did your parents live? This answers set the tone for what you expect of marriage and family. And so many conflicts can come from here.
I’ll give you an example from our marriage. My wife’s parents had jobs based in her hometown. They worked scheduled (though sometimes odd) hours. So when they had vacation time, they enjoyed traveling everywhere. Perfectly normal experience. I was raised by my grandparents and my grandfather (I call him daddy) was a truck driver. So when daddy had time off, what is the last thing he wanted to do? Drive somewhere.
So, my wife was raised taking regular vacations. I was not. She loves to travel. I do not. So, we see here the beginnings of conflict. What do we do? The main thing in marriage. We communicate and compromise. We talk about it. Sometimes we go. Sometimes we stay. But we work hard (sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t) to communicate and stay on the same page with each other. We communicate and compromise.
The second “F” is finances. My wife and I try to live conservatively. Spend less than we make. Save. Tithe. Very careful with credit cards. Debt is bad. These are our rules. They work for us. What matters is not that everyone lives by our rules. What matters is that both husband and wife are on the same page. They are not pulling against each other. They are working together. No matter what the financial plan is, it is a shared plan upon which both individuals agree. Once again, communicate and compromise.
The last “F” is faith. Faith is a choice. It is easy to drift away. I don’t just mean worship attendance, but daily acts of devotion to God. I mean both personal and family spirituality. Paul says in 1 Corinthians that “love never fails.” He doesn’t say people, but love. We fail. Our love for each other will never fail, as long as our love of God remains steadfast. It’s easy to either put the things of God on the backburner or conversely, do nothing but dig our heals in about them. We have to communicate and compromise, even in matters of faith.
Finally, I have a few rules for marriage that I have found to be helpful.
First, fight fair – no hitting below the belt. Every marriage will have fights (yes, even Christians ones.) You know what hurts the other. Don’t go there. You may win the fight. But you lose in the long term. We hurt the ones we love the most. Fight fair.
Second, you have to love your spouse more than you love being right. Sometimes, you are right. You really are. And you will have to say you are sorry because you love them more than you love being right.
Third, having a “Christian marriage” doesn’t mean that there will not be problems. It means that you have a place to return to after the storm.
And remember! Above all else – communicate and compromise, communicate and compromise, communicate and compromise! If one side does all the giving, in time they will resent the other. Communicate and compromise. That’s the key in all things.