A Deeper Look Into Making Marriage Work

What makes marriage work? Marriage works best when we don’t depend on our spouse to meet all our needs. But isn’t that what marriage is all about?
God created us to have our needs met in developmental relationships that help us learn how to do things like connect deeply, make sense of a broken world, manage our emotions, and understand who we are. This happens in childhood as we grow in the character and abilities that we need to do life. But as we enter adulthood, we are all missing some of the abilities we need for healthy relationships that weren’t fully developed when we were young. No one is complete when they get married.
We all come into marriage missing abilities needed to make marriage work. Marriage requires skills, but where do we learn these skills? We often look to our spouse to help us figure this out, but our spouses can’t fix these broken parts of ourselves. Marriage was never meant to be the place where our unresolved emotional needs are fixed. Rather, marriage should be the fruit of our fullness and growth, not the resource for it.
Where does the expectation that marriage will make us complete come from? Our culture’s view on marriage certainly influences our perception. Before the 1800’s, enchantment with a spouse was seen as a form of insanity. There was no such thing as romance. But now we operate under the mantra of Frank Sinatra:
“You're nobody, nobody till somebody loves you,
So find yourself somebody, gotta get yourself somebody.”
Our culture has created an icon of happiness in romantic relationships. Deep down we want our marriage to be the place where we will get our truest needs met. It certainly fulfills us and transforms us, but marriage isn’t meant to be the only resource for meeting our emotional needs or healing damaged parts of ourselves.
God gave us another developmental relationship in the body of Christ to help us grow and change. The Bible speaks more about oneness, intimacy, and love within God’s people than it does in marriage. The body of Christ isn’t just a group of people to hang out with on Sundays, but a tool God gives us to grow. Just like a plant can’t grow in isolation in the dark, we can’t grow alone either. When we bring our questions, longings, and the broken parts of ourselves into a relationship, we will begin to grow and change. Deep connection makes our pain more manageable and safer to explore. And our confidential and vulnerable relationships within the body of Christ will enhance our marriage and make it work.
What does this look like? One of the most powerful things you can do for your marriage is to get curious about what you’ve brought with you into your marriage. But we need other people’s eyes to do this. Our friendships or small groups are great for this. Developing deep bonds with others, who won’t fix or shame us but instead help us explore more of who we are, is life changing. Someone once said the two most powerful words we could ever hear from someone else is, “Me too.”
We need to look for these people but also become these people. Counseling is a great place to begin to learn to do both. When our hearts are known in relationship, they can heal, and God has given us the gift of one another to help our marriages grow. Marriage by its very nature has the power of truth and love to show us who we really are, which can be scary but also incredibly freeing. Real loving intimacy is about people being close and honest and real.
If you would like additional resources to explore your marriage through individual or marital counseling, or if you would like to learn how to become a safe, confidential, and open friend and confidant, please contact The Barnabas Center to connect with a counselor. The Barnabas Center offers Gospel-centered professional counseling to members at Christ the King and our community, and we count it a privilege to walk with individuals and couples seeking to enhance their relationship.
Leslie Peacock