It was 1983. Nancy & I had been married for ten months. As I was coming down out of the attic that winter evening, a friend of my wife’s called her with the good news: they were “engaged.” My wife held the phone out for a moment so the engagee could receive my blessing. Feeling the urge to “Say something” I gave it my best shot. “Squeeze your toothpaste from the bottom!” I blurted out. I stunk at counseling.
In retrospect, it would be nice if handling the toothpaste was indicative of how we handle our marriages. We could call it Righteousness by Colgate™, or Pepsodent Paradise or something meaningful like that. Yet a good marriage isn’t that simplistic, and I’d like to talk about how to have a good one.
First, I dug up an old word for you—matrimony. I’m a big fan of matrimony (referring to marriage, not your eccentric aunt’s secret pile of cash under her bed mattress). Marriage is one of the more meaningful things that you can experience on earth, outdone by, and linked to our relationship to the Godhead. In other words, marriage is good stuff. So why do people get married? I believe there are several reasons.
First, people get married because they want what the other person has. I know. I just ruined thirty percent of your romantic stereotypes with one blunt statement. But on a very basic level it’s true; people get married because they want what the other person has. They want their good looks, they want their company, and they want their bank account or their lasagna. And they want their love and their time.
Nancy has various qualities that I don’t have, and I have talents that she lacks. We benefit from each other, and more importantly, we need each other. We also absorb each other’s qualities to a degree. So choose wisely, young people. You could also absorb their negative traits (Proverbs 22:24).
In 2004, I went out to eat with a young fellow. The chips & salsa had barely arrived at our table when he asked my advice on dating. I told him, “For starters, pick someone you want to be like.” Over time you will slowly become like them.” I didn't mention toothpaste this time around. I am happy to report that after dating a couple not-so-great choices, this young man married a fine Godly young woman and today they are happily married with two lovely children. That really is great.
Secondly, people get married because God has placed within them a desire for a spouse (“It is not good that man should be alone, I will make a helpmeet for him…”). True to this desire, they seek a member of the opposite sex to spend the rest of their life with. This union is often blessed with children, and their family becomes a container through which God’s blessings flow to others. Or, if we don’t resolve the issues that each of us potentially bring into the marriage relationship, our family becomes a shared cup of pain. God is in the business of changing lives and He has made a way for each of us to resolve those things, and find joy again. But I digress.
Here’s some advice for young people. We’ll call it GAfYP (Gerry’s Advice for Young People), a measly shadow of and widely outdone by MYP (Messages to Young People). Guys often marry thinking that marriage will be a sexual paradise with pleasures at their right hand forevermore. Now there is a physical aspect to marriage, and I’m a big fan of that. And God is too (Proverbs 5:19; Hebrews 13:4). But let’s bring some reality into the picture. Marriage isn’t all about sex.
There are three kinds of intimacy. How many? Three. They are, in their Biblical order:
- Physical (or sexual)
Spiritual intimacy is the husband praying with the wife, or praying together. When you pray for your partner (spouse) it reinforces your commitment to that person. It opens up a new dimension in the relationship, and is the basis for all other intimacies in the marriage. This should begin during the dating relationship. Pray together. The guy needs to lead out in this, too. Why? Because a woman cannot respect a man who isn’t the spiritual leader of their home, and God has called her to respect him in Ephesians 5, and Colossians 3. Time to step up, guys.
Emotional intimacy is two people opening their hearts completely to each other. No hidden closets. No secrets. That is scary to some of you (probably most). “If I let them know exactly who I am inside—the fears, the struggles, the regrets—they won’t love me anymore.” But just the opposite happens, friend. When you open your heart to another person and they open theirs to you, that gives both of you an opportunity to care about each other’s fears and pain. Just accept them. And care. This will draw them to you in ways that few couples experience. You will be one in a thousand.
And people will notice. As you continue in spiritual and emotional intimacy, people will come to you and say “How did you it?” or “What happened in your life?” You know why? Because everyone wants that, and when they see it—it is attractive to them. Then you can help them.
GAfMP (Gerry’s Advice for Married People). Physical intimacy. Sex. This intimacy is at least ten times better when spiritual and emotional intimacy is working in the relationship. It’s good stuff. The sexual side of your marriage will be 10–100 times better if they connect on the spiritual and emotional level first. Several years ago, I received an email from one fellow after they had spent a week at our place for counseling. The email said “73.4.” It took me a while, but then I remembered the "10–100 times better" statement. I don’t know how he/they calculated the improvement, but it sounds like a healthy return. I like that sort of report.
So that is God’s intimacy list. Spiritual, Emotional, and Physical. Now, do you know what the worldly system does to this list? Turns it upside down! Sexual intimacy is third on God’s priority list, and it’s first on the world’s list. In our world, sex dominates entertainment, culture, music, advertising, literature and empty, intimacy-starved lives. Away with the world, let’s keep God’s order in our lives! Married people have much better sex lives than single people. Single people don’t even know what they are doing—for crying out loud. And shouldn’t.
Time for another dose of GAfYP. Girls often grow up thinking that dreamy Mr. Right will meet all their emotional needs. And then they date Mr. Wrong, who comes in all shapes and sizes. Best way to have a good marriage? Choose wisely, while dating. I mean—girls—if the guy is an axe murderer, you should probably move on.
“Oh he’s not nearly that bad, Mr. Wagoner!”
How does he treat his mother?
Does he talk about himself a lot?
Is he defiant towards authority?
Does he get angry quickly, without much provocation?
Is he flirtatious with other women?
When he is in a bad mood, does he stay there a long time, sulking and brooding?
And for the guys:
Is she impulsive and/or self-focused?
Is she immodest? Does she show the whole world aspects of herself that only her husband should see?
Is she a jealous person?
Does she try to control you (dominating)?
Is a career more important to her than being a wife or mother?
Is she a depressed person, on medication?
If you answered yes to 50% of these two sets of questions, you have latched onto a MWG (Mister Wrong Guy/Girl), and you could be an NNG (Naïve Nice Girl/Guy). Move on. Choose wisely, and treat kindly
More GAfMP. Lightheartedness. A sense of humor can help your marriage. As lighthearted is the opposite of depression, Godly joy is the opposite of discouragement. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. Have fun together and smile often.
Illustration: Tonight my wife made six lemon poppy seed muffins. I immediately ate one—for research purposes, mind you. She took two of them into the living room and remarked as she left the kitchen, “There should be enough for three apiece.” Translation, “Keep your mitts off of my remaining muffin.” My built-in translator deceived me and all I heard was “You can have the remaining three.” Glom.
When my dissipation was discovered, she, with hands on hips said “You ate all the muffins!” I thought for a moment…and said “Honey they were really good. I’m surprised you didn’t want more of them.” She stared at me for a moment, trying to muster indignation. Then we both burst into laughter. I put my arm around her waist and said “After Sabbath I will take you down to DQ and buy you a treat.” And so I did. The ability to smile and forgive is a big asset in marriage. Without it, you become two lawyers pleading your case.
Lastly, most of us believe in evangelism. Two converted married people walking in oneness IS evangelism, friend. There is a whole world waiting to see the love of God demonstrated in people.
What would our church look like if husbands loved their wives like Jesus loves the church; if wives respected and responded to their husbands in a way that honors the Lord? What would our church look like if parents loved their children and taught them according to the Word? What would our church look like if we each resolved conflict in a positive way? I’ll tell you. We could not contain all the people who would flock to our Movement. The beautiful biblical truths that we hold will radiate with great luster and meaning. Let it start with repentance and revival in our marriages—and oneness. Our world is dying to be a part of something that will last.
As believers, we have it. And it’s even better than toothpaste.