According to Genesis, a marriage is the coming together of a man and a woman in a “one flesh” relationship. “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This one-flesh relationship is a welding of two wills, two personalities and two bodies into a relationship that is only as strong as the commitment to keep the vows spoken on the day of their wedding.
A good welder understands that a weld is more likely to break at pressure points. If the weld is stronger than the pressure, the joint will hold. All marriages have pressure points. Some pressure points are caused by a lack of discipline or by poor choices. But many pressure points in marriage have little to do with our choices. They come because we are a part of a world where no one is immune from hardship or tragedy. On our wedding day, there’s no way to predict or know what those hardships will be or which tragedies may visit our home.
Couples try to cover the bases with vows like “for better or worse,” “for richer for poorer,” and “in sickness and health.” Yet most couples have no real understanding of what kind of commitment those vows entail. Of course who would marry with vows like, “as long as you keep a job,” “as long as you stay thin” or “as long as you stay healthy”?
Almost all newlyweds expect far more of the marriage than the relationship is able to deliver. This is understandable. Love has a way of blinding us to the realities of the world. If we wrote our own marital scripts, none of us would write in anything related to financial hardship, infidelity, the delinquency or death of a child or the loss of health. Research indicates that all of these issues decrease the chances a marriage will survive.
It’s impossible to know how we will feel or react to life’s pressure points until we feel the brunt of what life brings our way. How we react may surprise us and our spouse. If we react in ways that strengthen the marriage, all is well. But often we don’t handle the unexpected stresses of life very well. We may become overly angry or dismally silent. We may become overly protective or surprisingly absent.
It’s difficult to predict how we or our spouse will handle life’s stresses on our wedding day. Time is usually all it takes before a marriage is tested. It’s easy to love when life’s turning up roses. It’s not until a few of life’s thorns begin to sink into a marriage that we are able to determine the depth of our love and commitment to our spouse.
We often handle the pressures of life in the only way we know how, the way we observed our parents handle crises. When a crisis is presented in marriage, we may go in a totally opposite direction of the way we once saw similar problems handled, in fear that we may repeat some of the same mistakes we witnessed. Many crises arise for which we have no one to model our behavior after, which is a crisis itself. Without good communication skills and good conflict-resolution skills, in times of crises, the marriage can be severely weakened.
The biggest mistake married couples make is believing they are equipped to handle whatever life throws their way. Most couples really want to keep the vows they made on their wedding day, but many don’t know how. Though a popular song of years ago claimed that “all you need is love,” that’s not true, at least not love in the way it’s defined by our culture. A marriage needs more than love in times of crises.
When a spouse loses a job or develops a chronic illness; when a child becomes a delinquent, suffers from a disease or accident, or worse, dies; when a bank comes calling for the car or the home; when the husband or the wife fails in some way morally, the pressure to the marriage is real. We need love but we need more than love. We need communication skills. We need to know how to verbalize our fears. We need to know how to listen. We need patience. We need to know where to find help when our skills are not enough.
Those couples who are willing to recognize that pressure points are threats and work extra hard to communicate effectively during such times, making joint decisions about how the bend in the road will be handled, have a greater chance of keeping their marriage alive. Those who view counseling as a way to combat the unforseen circumstances of life, making the marriage stronger, rather than seeing counseling as a tool of the weak and unnecessary for them, also have a greater chance of keeping their marriage alive.
Couples who live in denial that their relationship is not affected by crises, who feel the pressure but pretend all is well, who refuse to talk with each other or with those trained to listen–these couples begin to grow apart. The pressure points weaken their bond. Needs and expectations go unmet. They become vulnerable to temptation. Often one or both will begin to look to have their needs met somewhere else or with someone else. Like two ships in the night, day by day they pass by one another until they are far apart. When the pressure finally breaks the relationship, they wonder, “Where did the love go?”
If you are married and the script of your married life is filled with pressure points, you must work extra hard to keep the marriage strong. Vows are not kept by good intentions. They are kept by two people who are willing to learn how to love through tough times. Any couple can love through the easy ones. It’s in times of crises when couples find out whether they really meant the vows they exchanged on their wedding day.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column appears in The Moultrie Observer.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.