A woman I counseled shared with me that she went with her husband and children to the library one day. They decided to go their separate ways, get one book each, and then meet to check out their books. As the kids ran off to their respective sections and her husband went off to his, the wife just stood there, paralyzed. For years her choices had been dictated by either the needs of her husband or those of her kids. Her preferences had been shaped by how she could please her family or become what they needed her to be at any given moment. Standing in the lobby of an enormous library with thousands of subjects to choose from, she didn't know which book she wanted to read just for her own enjoyment. Without personal choice and preference, a spouse can feel lost.
Some couples enter into marriage with a distorted view of unity, and their unrealistic expectations contribute to future disappointments. I see this at times when I perform wedding ceremonies. Often a portion of the ceremony includes two candles, which are joined together to light a third candle, thus symbolizing the unity of marriage. But I think it's a mistake when the bride and groom then blow out their individual candles.
Unless there is an intentional protection and respect for each other's unique identities, purposes, talents, skills and callings, a couple is prone to fall prey to a marriage that consumes them rather than compels them both to greatness.
The healthiest marriages I've seen are those in which both parties maintain separate identities and purposes as they unite under the shared purpose of fulfilling the dominion rule of God in and through their partnership.
This understanding of unity offers each person in the marriage the opportunity to experience the maximum freedom that God intended for His creatures to enjoy. Within the boundaries of the marriage relationship, both the husband and wife are to fully pursue their calling under God — utilizing their giftedness to advance the potential of the other in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, so long as biblical priorities of the unity of the family are not being compromised.
Maintaining your personal space, preferences and identity just might be the biggest challenge in your marriage. It's possible that you may not even realize it. When so much of life converges with another human being, it's easy to lose who you are and to let your own candle blow out. But the greatest gift you can give your unity is to maintain your individual uniqueness. Because when two strong and sure people come together under the Lord, utilizing their gifts, minds and spirits according to His plan, a greater kingdom impact will occur.
The primary work for us to do to achieve unity in our marriages is the work of preservation. To do this work well, we need to activate our spiritual monitoring system to give us a good read on our marriage atmosphere. How do we read this gauge of the unity of the Spirit?
In Ephesians 4:2, Paul listed the primary indicators of this unity: humility, gentleness, patience and tolerance in love. If you want to see how well you are cultivating a spirit of unity in your marriage, take a look at how these four virtues are functioning in your marital relationship. Here are some key diagnostic questions to ask:
- Are you willing — in the interest of unity — to submit your desires, no matter how good, to God's purpose in your marriage?
- Are you willing to serve your mate, looking out for his or her interests above your own? (See Philippians 2:3–4.)
- Are you argumentative with your mate?
- Do you find yourself responding with anger when your agenda is challenged?
- What is your first, unfiltered response when your mate wrongs you?
- Are you willing to wait for God's work through His Spirit in the life of your mate?
- Do you find yourself impatient with the slowness of change in your mate's life?
- Can you wait for the Spirit and the discernment of your marriage partner before making a change?
4. Tolerance in love
- Do you insist on things being done your way?
- Can you allow for the diversity of ways that the Spirit works through other people?
- Do you work well when your mate's preferences conflict with your own?
I'd like to propose that each of these indicators point toward one primary threat to unity. (There are, of course, other threats to the unity of a marriage, but many of them can be traced back to this primary one.) The presence of this threat should sound the alarm that the unity of the Spirit is under attack, and as a result, your marriage monitoring system should activate some unity preservation practices that will counteract the threat.
What is this foundational threat to the unity of the Spirit? It is the tendency to elevate our personal agendas over the Spirit's agenda in our marriages. Each of the four indicators in the previous list reflects a life that is willing to submit to the reality of God's work through His Spirit. Do we as individuals and as teams working together possess the humility, gentleness, patience and love to submit our wills and agendas to God's agenda?
This article was adapted from Kingdom Marriage by Dr. Tony Evans.
If you or someone you know needs marital help, Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to assist. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com.