Why Christian Marriage is More Radical Than You Think

By July 4, 20128 Comments

When Ike and I were engaged we read a book that my dad had recommended to us called His Needs, Her Needs. Similar to the premise of The Five Love Languages, this book helps couples identify the ways that they feel loved (ie. felt needs) so that they can show one another love accordingly.

In many ways we found the book to be extremely helpful. From a purely practical standpoint, it equipped us with tools to serve and love one another, as well as better understand one another. Three years later, we still refer back to it, and I am grateful that my dad gave it to us.

However, to anyone who reads this book I would offer two cautions. First, the book is written by a marriage counselor whose goal is to stave off marital infidelity. In his experience, spouses often stray when their core needs are not met and another person can meet those needs. And while this cause-and-effect might be true from a descriptive standpoint, it should in no way legitimize infidelity. Just because a spouse cheats, he or she is never justified in doing so. It is not the fault of the other spouse for not meeting his or her needs. The author wouldn’t make this case either, but it is a point worth stating explicitly.

Second, if interpreted incorrectly, one can use this book to justify a false understanding of marriage. Namely, that marriage is about meeting one another’s needs. That is not to say that couples should not try to meet certain needs. On the contrary, we should do our best to love one another in ways that the other finds meaningful. Failing to do so is a sign of either apathy, selfishness, or callousness. However, the marital covenant does not rest on what we do for one another. Neither does Christian love.

Building on this second point a bit further, most of us know on some level that true love, a love that reflects the heart of God, is not based on what we do. I know this in my head. However, pregnancy has tested the integrity of that belief in me. In fact, it has challenged me to acknowledge that I don’t really believe Christian love is so unconditional. Not really.

This first became obvious during my first trimester when I was tired all the time and was utterly useless around the house. Usually Ike and I split the chores pretty evenly, but once I became pregnant the bulk of the work fell on his shoulders.

Over time, I noticed a subtle sense of guilt creeping into my heart. The more I watched him cook dinner, do the dishes, pay the bills, and take care of the laundry, all while I lay on the couch like a sack of potatoes, the worse I felt. I wasn’t bringing anything to the marriage. I wasn’t carrying my own weight. And I was sure, over time, that he would soon resent me for it.

Eventually I entered the second trimester and my energy rebounded. I jumped back into life with a renewed sense of commitment, determined to make up for all the work Ike had done. I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone in taking care of our family, so I was extra intentional about carrying my own weight again.

Enter third trimester. Though not as intense as the first, I now find myself feeling tired again and napping more often. Yesterday around lunch time I slept for 2 hours, a habit that interrupts my day and throws off my entire schedule. Once again, small chores require a lot more than they did before, and although a simple nap re-energizes me enough to bounce back and take care of some things, that old sense of guilt is also creeping in. I can’t keep up with Ike. Plain and simple, he is doing more.

Now if you asked Ike, he would tell you that I am doing a lot. In particular, I am carrying his baby, which is no small thing. Yet regardless of what we both bring to the table, the fact remains that I measure my worth to Ike based upon what I can do for him. Rather than accept his love and service as a gift, I feel guilty and ashamed. I feel a pressing urge to reciprocate.

I think that inclination is a symptom of my broken human nature. In spite of Christ’s sacrifice for me, and in spite of the love I experience in Christian community, unconditional love is still tough to swallow. Something in me is suspicious of a love with no strings attached. That, or I simply feel I don’t deserve such a love.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that I don’t deserve such a love. Not from God, at least. And that is the beauty of His love for all of us. It is based not on what we’ve done or how good we are, but instead upon what He has done and how good He is.

Perfect love is founded upon the perfect character of God, a truth that can comfort us in our faith, but also in our marriages. When tempted to believe that my value in my marriage or my value to God is based upon what I do, I can remember that it is not about me at all.

What makes Christian love Christian is that it reflects the character of God. This means that Ike’s love for me isn’t about me, or even his own will to love and serve me. It is all about seeking after God. When Ike serves me, and when I serve him, we both do so out of love for one another, yes, but we also do so to reflect the person and work of Christ. Our love and our desire to serve one another may change and even waver, but God’s love does not, and that is what enables Christian love to persevere.

In a world where love is rarely unconditional, and in a self-esteem culture that preaches acceptance based on who you are rather than what you do, the gospel is actually an alternative to both. To some extent, it’s not about who you are OR what you do. It is all about God, and that is a more unshakeable foundation than any other.


  • Andy Rowell says:

    I like the two cautions about the marriage book–good work.

    But more importantly: Keep napping. Drowsy and grumpy or refreshed and alert. Nap. You’ll be glad you did the night you go into labor and are up most of the night. And you’ll need to nap (while the baby naps) to get your 6 (but ideally 7 or more hours of) sleep om after the baby is born: your body is getting ready for that.

  • Sharon says:

    Haha thanks, Andy! It’s always nice when people encourage you to nap MORE. 🙂

  • Sarah says:

    We read this one, along with “Love and Respect”. Found neither of them particularly helpful, mostly because my husband and I are almost completely opposite what a “typical” couple are like. The books’ descriptions of his needs were mine, and my supposed needs were his, but the tips to meet those needs didn’t reflect our reverse roles of husband and wife.

    And I 2nd the opinion of sleeping whenever you can. They say you can’t store up sleep, but enjoy the luxury of sleeping whenever now, because it will soon disappear. Babies don’t necessarily understand about sleeping all night long right away, and it can take years!, until they figure it out. I’m still waiting on my almost-4 year old to figure it out.. Nevermind my 2 year old and 9 month old babies. A full night sleep is a luxury reserved for vacations and grandma’s babysitting!

  • Tim says:

    I’m with Andy and Sarah: don’t feel guilty at all about napping. Remember, you’re doing it not only for yourself, but also for your baby and for Ike. And besides, personally I love me my nappy time!

    I’m with Ike too on that whole what-am-I-bringing-to-this-marriage thing. (You said “I wasn’t bringing anything to the marriage. I wasn’t carrying my own weight.” No, you weren’t. You are carrying your weight plus the weight of that baby!) Take it from a husband who’s gone through this twice, any man worth his salt is not looking for parity in carrying out chores around the house during pregnancy.

    Your conclusion to all this is what really resoanted with me, though, Sharon. “It is all about God, and that is a more unshakeable foundation than any other.” The marriage, the pregnancy, your baby, the household chores, these are all meaningless if they are not all about God.

    Blessings to you and Ike and Baby Miller,

  • Sharon says:

    Thanks for all the encouragement, y’all! I’ll keep that in mind the next time I lie down for a marathon nap in the middle of the day. 🙂

  • Katy says:

    Hi! My husband and I have been married for a little over a year, and we have read a few marriage books. But like the book you read, they focused more on infidelity. Since we were/are still in our honeymoon phase, all we wanted was each other. Infidelity was not applicable to us. We recently found a book we really enjoy, and are reading it with a group of young marrieds from church. It’s called “Sacred Marriage” by Andy Thomas. Like you said at the end of your post, it proves that God didn’t make marriage just to make each other happy, but to make each other holy like He is. It is revolutionary to the typical thoughts on love and relationships. It is all about grace and creating a safe environment where trust in each other, through good and bad, is paramount. Hope you check it out!

  • Sharon says:

    Katy, I am familiar with Sacred Marriage and highly recommend it also. Thanks for mentioning it!

  • Teresa says:

    Sharon, you are wise beyond your years. Remember the wisdom you are sharing with us in the future when there isn’t enough time or energy to take care of everything you want to… life can become complicated! But if you can really and truly believe your own words…

    “Our love and our desire to serve one another may change and even waver, but God’s love does not, and that is what enables Christian love to persevere,”

    then you’ll be able to deal with the inevitable ups and downs which are certain even in believers’ lives 🙂

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