Marriage - Part II: Dying to Self

“I don’t know how people got married before living together first. This is crucial to see how you get along.” – Jeni Landers, 30 year old law student in Boston, who lives with her fiancé. Quoted in an article on the continuing rise of the average age of men and women upon marriage. (The Herald-Times, Bloomington, IN, Thur., Dec. 2, 2004)

This is typical thinking among non-Christians, but unfortunately for Ms. Landers, statistics do not suggest that she has a greater likelihood of marital happiness and longevity, but the converse. Various studies put the likelihood of divorce at rates from 50-100% greater for couples who cohabit premaritally. But the question remains – how can you make sure you will get along? The answer lies not in “testing the waters” but in giving yourself to obedience to the Word of God and, among other things, dying to your own selfish interests.

At the start of our current young couples’ Sunday school class, we asked all the participants to write on a card issues they hoped we would cover. One subject that showed up repeatedly was how to deal with selfishness. I find this encouraging – recognizing our basic selfishness is a great start in being able to put it to death.

When Tim and I married we naively expected to move seamlessly into the roles of husband and wife. After dating for four years, approximately half of which we had spent talking either in person or on the phone, Tim and I were convinced we knew just about everything about each other. We were so excited about finally getting to be roommates, spend even more time together, etc, etc. We were convinced that marriage for us would not hold any major adjustment issues, but we would just beautifully step out of the church into the storybook-land of “happily ever after.”

Well, as Pastor Tim and MaryLee Bayly pointed out when they spoke as guest speakers last week in our Sunday school class, just knowing one another well isn’t enough to make the marriage transition smooth. Tim B. said that in marriage when you take two basically selfish people (that describes most of us, doesn’t it?), used to making their own decisions about everything from spending money to spending free time, friction is guaranteed.

What a shock it was for us to find that marriage wasn’t as easy as we’d expected. Our first year together we fought more than at any other time since, and sometimes over issues that were very petty. There were so many things to be decided, and though we had thought we were great at communication, we learned we had a long way to go when it came to matters of disagreement. Because we often did think alike, we somehow expected that when one of us was upset the other one could read our mind and know why. (Mind reading takes long years of marriage, and even now we make sure to explicitly ask when there is any question.) Making things worse, we did not have a clear picture of biblical roles for husband and wife.

When to go to bed, and how to furnish our apartment were two early issues of disagreement. That first year I was still a student, while Tim was working. (Later we reversed roles.) My habit was to spend time with Tim in the evening, then stay up late studying. Hadn’t I done this through most of our dating years? But Tim had to be in bed early, and he had the audacity to want his bride to go to bed with him! Not until Tim finally explicitly asked me to come to bed when he did, did this clueless wife change her ways. (After he fell asleep, I’d still often get up to study.)

Decorating our apartment provided more discord. Both of us are inherently cheap, which in the long run has served us well with a large family. Still, I wasn’t quite prepared to go as far as Tim was in home décor. I kid you not, our early living room furniture was tubular lawn furniture. We had one “real chair” which was the one visitors always gravitated towards. When we talked about this recently, Tim grew nostalgic for one particular lawn chair that he had salvaged from the dump, and with my help, sort of upholstered. I hated it, and he still thinks it was the most comfortable chair we have ever had.

Being selfish, anytime these or other issues came up, rather than die to ourselves, we fought. Learning to understand each other, talk openly about disagreements, and work through solutions took us time.

I don’t want to make it sound like selfishness died that first year. Daily in small things, and occasionally with large issues, we have to wrestle with this sin. One thing that has helped has been having children. Children, born helpless and demanding, help parents grow up and care more for others than themselves. And with a large family there isn’t a lot of free time to indulge oneself. Of course, considering others’ interests ahead of one’s own never comes naturally, but it does grow easier. As we love each other more each year, we care continually less about satisfying our own desires, and more about pleasing the other.

So, what is a couple to do? Since I’ve already been too long winded, I’ll save some practical ideas for wives in an upcoming blog, and I think I’ll ask Tim to put in a guest appearance here in case any men are reading.

Every day that a husband and wife walk hand in hand together upon this earth makes the twain more and more one flesh. The selfish element that at first formed so large a part of their attraction to each other disappears, and the union becomes so pure and beautiful as to form a fitting type of the union of Christ and His church. There is nothing else on earth like it.

- Stepping Heavenward

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
(Romans 12:10)


Anonymous said…

I love Elizabeth Prentiss and just eat up anything written by her! I'm reading Stepping Heavenward right now and so appreciate the quotes here. Thanks for posting some pearls of wisdom and experience. This is also a handy place to find out more about your life history, for example, lawn furniture huh?

Anyway, thanks again for posting.

Heidi Bayly
Anne said…
Thanks, Heidi! I've read several by Elizabeth Prentiss, too. Another I really enjoyed is *The Home At Greylock*, though the quality is not as high as in *Stepping Heavenward*. And the lawn furniture, well, it was pretty bad, but it didn't stay around too long.

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