How to Stay Married: Fullness and Friendship

A recent longitudinal study of marital fulfillment found that of those who categorize their marriage as “unhappy” that within 5 years, if they haven’t divorced, 2/3 of those very same people will categorize their marriage as “happy.” In other words, a majority of unhappy couples, if they keep at it, are able to work through it and get better—at least for a while.

You know what that tells me? One of the primary reasons a marriage ends is not because of “irreconcilable differences” but because one or both simply stopped trying. They stopped fighting, not with each other but for the relationship. That doesn’t have to be you.

From a Christian perspective, fighting for your marriage is deeper than demanding a date night or dragging your husband to a counselor. As human beings we need two things, in marriage. We need first to find our fullness in Christ and, secondly, to be friends with our spouse. (Gen. 2:23)

To find your fullness in Christ is to recognize, through faith, that only Jesus can solve your biggest problems (sin) and meet your deepest needs (to be right with God and filled with peace). To try and get this from anyone else--even your spouse--is to set yourself up for disappointment and he or she up for failure. Do your spouse a huge favor and don't expect them to be your savior and likewise, don't dive into your job, hobby or some new girl at the office as if she fulfill you either. Only Jesus can fullfil you without disappointing or destroying you. (John 10:10, John 14:6)

Friendship, on the other hand, is something your spouse can and must give to you, and you to them. A friend is someone you share life with as you travel together toward a common goal, along a common path. And marriage—according to Genesis—is meant to be the deepest form of friendship. You don’t just share a few hours together, you leave your life behind and build a new one together. You don’t just journey toward trivial things—you bare your body and soul, you hold on tight and--you walk together toward what God has said are the most important things. That’s deep friendship.

Therefore, if you are fighting for your marriage you’re going to do be doing two things. You’re constantly looking for ways to re-fill in Christ and re-focus on your friend, your spouse.

So, first things first. If you don’t have a faith in Christ as your God and King, if he is not providing your meaning and direction and sense of peace and joy it’s time to change that. To submit to him, admit you believe in Him and be baptized into the gifts that come from him and get your spouse, your job, your kids off the hook for a peace that they simply will never be able to provide.

You’re constantly looking for ways to re-fill in Christ and re-focus on your friend, your spouse.

Then, as you navigate marriage re-filling in Christ is about finding ways to regularly drink from that fountain of grace, where you can be guided by His truth and absorb the fact that you are loved, you are forgiven, and you are whole because of Christ. That’s why Sundays are critical, reading God’s Word, talking to God’s people, downloading podcasts from preachers is so important—it keeps you receiving from Christ so that you aren’t trying to get from others what can only come from Him.

A few weeks ago I was reading about the baptism of Jesus—the moment when in order to begin his work of perfectly re-living our disobedient lives he got baptized by John to repent of sins he’d never committed. And that hit me. Jesus knew no sin, yet he repented in my place. It just underscored for me the fact that Jesus did everything. He lived my life and died my death so that I could be forgiven. I said to myself, “There is nothing I can get from my work today, from my kid today, from my spouse today that I haven’t already received from Jesus. He did it all for me. I’m fine. Now I can just give my best, and be a friend to Lisa.”

On the flip side when someone says, “Matt our friendship spark is gone.” Or, “We didn’t start as friends.” I say, "Well what are you doing to change that?" Re-focusing on your spouse means understanding that deep friendship is not a feeling but a daily choice that leads to feelings. To re-focus on your spouse means that regardless of how your relationship began or how tough it's been lately you are waking up each day and making a conscious decison to say, “I’m full in Him. I have what I need, so now, how can I be a friend to her?”

Being friends in marriage is not a 'feeling' but a daily choice that leads to feelings.

If you need any inspiration to draw from then all you have to do is look at Jesus himself. After all, marriage is mean to be a picture of His love for us. Think about it: out of His fullness as God He came to this earth, He joined us here to be your friend and to do what friends do, to love us, walk with us, bless us, and if necessary die for us. That’s the Gospel. That’s the foundation of marriage.

Single or married wrestle with these questions: What are you relying on to fulfill you? Are you asking for something from others that can only come from God? Second, when it comes to marriage how high of a priority are you placing on friendship—deep friendship? And if you’re looking for a spouse, what are you doing to find it, to build it? If you’re already hitched what are you doing, if anything, to protect it and deepen in it?

One of the primary reasons a marriage ends is not because of “irreconcilable differences” but because one or both simply stopped trying. They stopped fighting, not with each other but for the relationship. Don't let that be you.

Find your fullness in Christ and pursue friendship with each other.