Overview of marriage

Originally published 19 December 2011
See details of the free ebook version of this post here

Well this week, I had planned to write a blog post that was titled “Just because he loves you does not mean you should marry him” – last week I wrote a post where the gist was that just because a man marries you does not mean that he loves you in the way that you should be entitled to expect – and then today’s post was going to say that even if someone did love you this way, that in itself does not mean you should marry them. So I guess in a way, it’s like you just can’t win.  I am not after all going to write that post today, but just to avoid any confusion my point was going to be that as well as love, you also have to demand a certain level of responsibility and maturity from your husband or spouse etc  – otherwise their “love” might simply prove too costly in your life.

However, over the course of the week, some thoughts occurred to me which are thankfully a little more positive about marriage in general and which I am so happy to be able to share with you all.

In short, I started thinking about a kind of overview or “schema” in thinking about marriage – which might hopefully make it easier to plan towards it, as well as look for the correct characteristics, and use this blog!

As the writer of this blog, sometimes I am just expressing my thoughts, sometimes there are some things that I am very confident about, other things I feel totally clueless about. Either way, I have often been conscious that the format of information or thoughts in this blog has not really been structured into a format that others might find easy to use – but I’m hoping that that will change!  I still don’t know everything of course, I hope it is not true to say that I don’t know anything, although that is sometimes my fear…
So my thoughts were to think of the basic parts of marriage that fit together, and how  they  fit together, and to think of what would constitute excellence in each of the individual parts, and also in how they fit together, to see how the whole marriage could be improved.  I hope then that this would also be of use to married couples  – unless you probably all know this already!  That is, you don’t necessarily have to agree with any of my own top criteria or necessary characteristics for each area, or even what the different aspects of marriage are, but perhaps it might be useful to think in terms of a general overview, and consider how you might work on each thing…
What I was thinking over the week is that a marriage is like a human body in that it has lots of interconnected parts and processes which all mysteriously work together to produce this whole thing, a body. Thinking of an actual human body you have the internal organs such as the heart, the brain, the lungs, the kidneys.  Then you also have the limbs such as the hands and the legs and the feet which accomplish action.   Then you also have the sense organs  – eyes, ears etc – and obviously so many other things in an actual human body. There is a complex interplay between each of these aspects which all work in sync to make the whole thing beautiful.

Each of these parts can be more or less healthy, which could affect the working of the whole body.  These processes all work together, but they also all impact on one another.  That means, for instance, if there is a limited amount of nutrients available for your body, and you invest 50% of your calcium into your hair, then that means that there is going to be less calcium available for your bones to help you move around properly, or for your teeth to help you eat and speak.

Sometimes, there will be a fatal malfunction in one of these parts which will stop the action not only of the specific body part concerned, but could even cause the whole body to stop working, resulting in death.

I think that there are many parallels between this and marriage.  I can never get my head around the complexity of the human body (or any animal body, admittedly – however the human body is the one that literally surrounds me 24-7, so that is the one that I see to  marvel at most!) – and the Bible calls marriage a mystery.

So now the challenge for me, and for anyone reading this, who can agree with this analogy or this metaphor, or even just the thought of the parts generally, is to try to work out what the main parts of marriage are and how to best promote health in each individual part, and in the whole unit of marriage.

As someone looking into marriage from the outside, whenever people talk about “working on their marriage”, that has always seemed so mysterious to me – I’ve always wondered just how they were going to do this – were they going to make an effort to be nicer to one another?  This has always seemed to be what it “boiled down to”.  And Christian women  (in failing marriages) always seem to be encouraged to submit more to the leadership of their husbands, to lavish them with respect and to do everything necessary to make them happy.  However, that has never rung true with me.
I do think that all this is necessary in marriage, and I hope that my “whoever-he-will-be” husband knows that despite all my questions about marital submission I definitely plan to do this – that is why I am so careful about finding someone I can submit to!  However, I have never really understood how this could save a failing marriage, or how it could rectify any serious structural weakness.  Applying it to myself and the thought of a future marriage, I have always wondered how I would work on my marriage, if the need arose -would I be more open about my thoughts etc?   However, I hope that the thoughts expressed in this post can act as a little blueprint for me and possibly for others in having a practical way to think about the different parts of marriage and practical actions to take to improve each of the different parts and the whole thing.
I also think that it is so powerful to develop an understanding of the different parts of marriage and what action you could take to improve each part equating to a stronger whole BEFORE you get married, as that could help inform your choice of a suitable partner.  For instance, for me, after thinking about these things, one really really obvious characteristic for my husband that I know I cannot afford to compromise on is that he has to be absolutely committed to doing everything it takes to make his marriage work.  Otherwise, if it so happens that we do hit difficulties x years into our marital enterprise, I would hate to be investing everything I could do to salvage the relationship, while he just shrugs indifferently. Marriage takes two. Three, including God.
What I would love is if I had a man who was as committed and as concerned as I am, to identify whatever the problem could be, to get counselling, to talk it over at whatever length could be necessary, to read books, to take possibly difficult action to remedy the situation.  To pray and pray and pray and pray.  A man who would not just sit back and wait for me to do everything, but who would proactively exercise his leadership in making sure our marriage works. Can I get an Amen?!
I often think that in marriage it must happen that a couple develop a growing awareness from a few weeks after the wedding, that actually, they are perhaps not the best fit for one another after all. However, part of being committed means saying: “Because I have taken that step of commitment, even if I know from the outset that this was possibly not the best choice I could have made, I am going to invest absolutely everything I can into THIS marriage (not the marriage I should have made) to make it the most excellent marriage it could be.”  I am emphatically not going to sit around and dream about how things could have been if I had made the “right” choice.
Once I am married, that is the right choice, period!  I also absolutely  insist on a man like this, who is not just going to mentally give up on the whole thing just because it was the “wrong choice”, but is going to invest his 1000% effort and determination all the same, even if he has realised that it was the worst choice he could possibly have made. I am obviously not planning to make the wrong choice. However, by the grace of God, I am planning to invest absolutely everything into it so that whether it is the best possible choice I could have made, or merely an OK one, no-one would be able to tell the difference – not even I myself.
OK, I have actually made it thus far without actually telling you what the different parts are, or could be. With this you could go on forever, dividing and subdividing to identify different parts of the marriage, but I believe that what is useful is to have an overview that you can work with. If you agree that all Christian marriages will have some parts that are common to them, no matter what, and you have an understanding of what these different parts might be, then you could keep a mental account of each part, to see how you are doing in that area, and what you could work on. If you cultivate honest and open communication with your spouse, then they could tell you what they think of each area, and how they think the marriage is doing on the whole, then together you could work on different parts, identify priorities, etc. ALSO if a crisis arises then you could try to diagnose which part of your marriage it has arisen from and invest extra effort into that.
I don’t want to bounce too hard on this “body” analogy but it also occurs to me that there are some aspects of your body which are common to different parts. Like for instance your hands and feet do different things, but they are both made of muscle and bone, as are other parts of your body. Similarly, blood flows to every single living cell of your body. I think that in a marriage “communication” acts like the blood of your body – or could communication be like your muscles? I think this because it is not a limb that you could lose like a foot and still carry on living, if a little “impeded”. If your blood stops circulating then your body will fail very quickly. So it is with communication in marriage, (although it might take longer than 3 minutes for your marriage to fail and die!) So my point is that there will be some distinct parts of your marriage, which might be like limbs, or organs, and then there are some parts or systems which undergird them all, which in a way are more crucial.
As in a human body all the living cells need blood, so then, in a marriage you might need to deliberately plan (and practise?) communication about all the important parts, if you want them to stay alive. Another important point about this is that something like “muscle tissue” might be crucial to all your organs, but might play different parts in all your organs. For instance, your heart is essentially 100% muscle, with valves etc, but your hands are muscle and bone. So for your relationship you could say that “Communication is essential to every part of our marriage, but some parts consist entirely of communication, but other parts need communication and time – or whatever! (I know I said communication was like blood, but perhaps it could also be considered like muscle!)

The reason I don’t want to overstretch this analogy is because I don’t want to make it seem as if each part of your communication has to correspond to a specific characteristic of your blood flow, for instance, or that you have to painstakingly find a part of your relationship to correspond to every part you can identify in a human body. It is an analogy; I believe a useful analogy, but all the same  an analogy.

So anyway, finally, a few of the different “body parts of marriage” then!  This list is sure to grow, and definitely deserves a blog post all of its own.  However, I definitely wanted to at least refer to some of these in this post.

1. Cosmic Connection:  this consists of the sparks, or that emotional intimacy that makes me feel as if I am on the same wavelength as someone, or as if he is my soulmate. For me this has always been the part that I think of most when I think of marriage.  This also corresponds to romantic feelings for me
ii Friendship –  Working to build a great friendship even into our great romance.  Thinking of what would make an excellent friendship: being there for one another, making time for one another, letting the other person be, accepting them no matter what…
iii.Agape – the Christian New Testament word for unconditional sacrificial love, wanting the best for the other person (which is for them to be like Christ) and working in every way to cultivate that…
2. The Practicalities of Living together, or making one life from two: there are two further distinct parts that I can think of within this:
i. Trying to merge and synchronise your life goals together, your careers, different dreams etc
ii. Practical logistics of living together – managing time, space and other co-shared resources.  For instance, I am VERY  messy.  (Very clean in terms of soap and cleaning kitchens and plates etc – but untidy in terms of things being everywhere!) I’m trying to shout out as loudly as I can about this, so that no-one will be surprised.  However, I know that this is one of the things that can quickly irritate someone else, especially if he is very tidy

3.Big Events: Managing emergencies or crises that could arise that you might have to face together.  It is often here that characters and strengths are revealed.

4. Money – interestingly, I don’t think that this is like a “limb”, but rather like another “lifeblood”, because at least in the Western world it is seemingly necessary for every part of life, and therefore an important consideration for every part of your married life

5. Sex – I can’t imagine how embarrassing it might be to try to discuss this with your fiancé before you get married, for instance what you think your needs might be within marriage. Blush blush!  😉

6.  Children – this one is very interesting, as children are  not in any way really essential for marriage, although different cultures might dispute that. However, once you do have them, then it’s like they become a whole other ecosystem within the existing ecosystem of your marriage, or another body within the body of your marriage, and sadly very capable of breaking your marriage

7. Time – once again, another lifeblood

8. Communication – as already discussed at length!

9. Prayer – if communication with your husband is the lifeblood of your marriage, then what could prayer to God be?  An even more essential lifeblood, needed for every part of your marriage, both as an individual, and as a couple together

10. Inlaws/family interaction – beyond your immediate family

11. Wider community involvement

12. Wider social involvement.

This list is quite long, but there are probably a number of other very important aspects that I cannot think of right now. If it seems too daunting, why not try to think of the 5 or 10 most important aspects to you to focus on, and then actively work on those? If you are married then it would be great to have the agreement of your spouse on this. Any marriage is a continued work in progress so I think you are allowed to keep changing the aspects of your marriage that you focus on.  Some aspects though like communication and prayer are going to remain essential.
Here once again I believe that it is clear that the most important time to build towards your marriage and establish what you want is BEFORE YOU GET MARRIED! If like me you are not married, then please do not squander this time!  Running around trying to get married to “just any spouse”, is definitely a sad waste of this opportunity. Rather, use it carefully to establish the foundations of the marriage that you would like. The fact that we have the chance to sit down and think through all these things is perhaps something that would be lacking in the marriages of people who got married while they were still young and generally inexperienced about life. Who knows, perhaps many married people would be looking on in envy wishing that they had had the chance to carefully plan and choose towards different aspects of marriage.  Perhaps they might think that this would have influenced their marital choice.  So for those of us who do have this opportunity, let us appreciate it for how powerful it is, and let us use it wisely!
How to think through this before marriage: If you have identified the parts of marriage that are most important to you, then something very important is to find a spouse whose views are compatible. For instance, if you are a woman who dreams of achieving your own career success in life then it would be important to find a husband who is prepared to make the effort to synchronise life goals, and who might even be willing to make a few compromises in his own career for the sake of this (for instance working in his second-choice locality if there are no jobs for you in his first choice locality.) I know that many men are not at all geared towards this, and I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that. In the same way, I know that there are many women who dream of not having to work outside at all but of having a man who would shoulder all the financial responsibility while they the women build comfortable and appealing homes and devote lots of time and care to bringing up children. Equally, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that, either. I think that the most important thing for you and your spouse is that you are in agreement.
Then you could also work out what it would mean to you for your marriage to be excellently healthy in each area.  This is where self-awareness comes in.  Sometimes we might think that something is what would be important to us, or what might make us feel cosmically connected, for instance, whereas the reality might be totally different. However, there are some characteristics that are definitely going to be important.  Like patience, as inevitably one or both spouses might change their minds a number of times about what they want, or what they need in a particular situation, or someone might think that they have communicated something clearly, and might start to feel upset, when the truth is that they did not actually communicate it at all, but were only thinking it.  And then patience also with a clear inadequacy or weakness on the part of your spouse, like messiness, for instance!  And then maybe you could think of ways you could work around different issues.  Like for instance, I’ve always thought that it would probably save so much stress if I just had my own room, even after getting married!
And then you have to talk and talk and talk and talk!  In marriage you have to be constantly reassessing each area, and your interaction, and the quality of that. And communication is the means where you can get feedback from the other person, so it is not just your own opinion. And it also gives you a basis to move forward together for united action.
Look how long this blog post is!  And see how many posts I have already written for this blog!  I hope it is clear that I am someone who is committed to marital communication.  However, it is not a mistake that these are written, rather than expressed any other way.  I suspect that I might be a little shy to talk about some of these issues face-to-face, so I suspect that I might have to actually write letters to a fiancé or husband, if only to “set the scene” before struggling through very embarrassing face-to-face conversations. (Look, I am subtly issuing a warning here for the benefit of my future husband, and the relevant “someone” out there might think I’m joking…This is another reason why it is important that he’s a reader.  Imagine receiving a letter like this once a month – or even once a week!  Further patience. I’m starting to think that I might need a man with the patience of a saint – which is handy because I’m coincidentally planning to marry a saint anyway! But not one of the….dead ones…)  And I hope that that is ok – to identify what works for you, and to work with that.  So even though I have a (surprising?) history of shyness, I am using this blog to get a “head-start” on communication within my marriage!  😉

This topic has so many parts, and I hope to be able to speak about them at greater length, but I will finally end it here for now!  😉

Bible Verses:
Matthew 7v24:
24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:…
Matthew 7v25:
25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
Matthew 7v26-27:
26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

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