They have the best view when a couple exchanges vows. They may also have a close vantage point when a couple is struggling.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, the Daily Reporter turned to a panel of local pastors for insight into what makes relationships challenging, what makes them successful, and who is likely to go the distance.
As you have observed or even counseled married couples over your years in ministry, are there common themes you have noticed in what couples struggle with?
Brett Crump: Yes. Common struggles for married couples include communication differences, bitterness, trust (including infidelity), substance abuse, disagreements over finances, parenting and help overcoming traumatic experiences.
Mark Adcock: There are many common themes that challenge those who embark upon God’s plan of marriage. Most of these challenges seem directly related to our failure to achieve God’s purposes for marriage. When we fail at companioning each other, we feel lonely; when we fail to have intimacy, we feel rejected and uncared for and our communication falls apart; when we fail to help each other to grow we can become isolated, bored and stagnant.
David Barnett: The area of greatest concern in most marriages is the communication. What I see more than anything, and even counsel in our pre-marital sessions, is how to communicate effectively. Learning how to share your desires, concerns and even disagreements in a healthy way is instrumental in any relationship. Know what works for you and stick to it.
If a couple came to you for advice on improving their relationship, what would you say to them?
Adcock: When we “do marriage” God’s way, God blesses us. And when we “do marriage” by applying the ways of the world, it usually ends up a train wreck. Therefore, I suggest to every couple, spend time searching the Scriptures to find out what a Godly marriage looks like. Of course, study the passages that specifically speak about marriage like Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3. But also look at passages about loving one another, like 1 John.
Barnett: When you are together, remove the distractions that are around you. Don’t just put your phone down, but turn it off and place it in another room. Be intentional about being present. Go for a walk. Do a puzzle. Do something that isn’t competitive in spirit.
We have a set of ice-breaker questions sitting on our coffee table for friends and family. Sometimes, my wife and I will just pick a few random questions out of the box and see where the discussion leads!
Crump: It would depend on their struggles. However, the core advice would be for both of them to anchor their lives and their relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. When two people become one, there is a lot of opportunity for struggles. Sharing a common worldview (one from their Creator) that provides answers to life’s most important questions, direction for how to live, and the empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit to live it out, is essential.
Colloquially, and in studies such as one by Barna Group on romance trends (https://www.barna.com/research/trends-redefining-romance-today/), it’s been said that Christian couples divorce at the same rate as society in general. What do you make of that?
Crump: Perhaps they do. However, according to the above study and others I have seen, Christians choose marriage at a higher percentage than society in general. Christians are not immune to the sins that lead some couples to divorce. I have counseled Christian couples who were considering divorce who ultimately did not choose divorce as well as those who did.
Adcock: We have been immersed for most of our lives in a systematic process that looks at life and marriage through the lens of self. The secular world view teaches us that we should always be happy, always fulfilled, and always get what we want. The Bible teaches that if we want to be like Christ, then we must “deny ourselves.” This is not popular, even in the church today. A marriage that soars and sings is a marriage of two people who both live selfless lives.
Barnett: No one ever steps into marriage with the goal of getting divorced. Divorce is hard. It’s heartbreaking. It’s defeating. However, in 2014, Shaunti Feldhahn wrote a fascinating book called “The Good News About Marriage.” Feldhahn was an analyst on Wall Street before becoming a social researcher. In her book, Feldhahn debunks several rumors concerning divorce rates both in and out of the church. She goes into great detail to explain that couples who attend church on a regular basis have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who do not.
Think of a long-married couple/couples in your congregation, past or present. What stands out about such couples?
Barnett: Laughter! The couples that seem to make it “until death do us part” tend to laugh together!
Crump: Agape love. Strong faith. Commitment. Forgiveness. Kindness. Patience. Humility. Selflessness. Being purposeful about their relationship. Date nights. Having fun together. Being teachable. Realizing we are all imperfect.
Adcock: My parents celebrated 65 years of marriage in September of 2019. They did so in a nursing facility that cared for them through some very hard days. Their health faltered, but their love for each other never did. My dad died on March 29, and when I broke the news to my mother by telephone, she cried and said, “We always planned to go together.” She died 10 days later on what would have been my dad’s 87th birthday. What was it that carried them to the finish line still in love when everything else was gone? It was their commitment to love each other until death. It was a vow they made before God. What gave them a great marriage? Their loyalty to God and to each other.
MEET THE PANEL
Mark Adcock is pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship in Fortville.
David Barnett is teaching pastor at Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield.
Brett Crump is senior pastor of New Palestine Bible Church.