We tend to believe that our spouse "completes" us. We're wrong.
A lot of people think the answers to their marriages lie solely with their spouses. When I talk to couples in conflict, most of them—no, all of them—tend to do this: They want to give me all the details about the issues they are having in their marriages. She will say that he spent 100 dollars more on golf clubs than they had agreed to spend. He will say that he made that 100 dollars back by not buying top-of-the-line golf balls for three months. He will say she was 45 minutes late getting home from work. She will say she was only 32 minutes late. She will say he agreed to paint the garage before summer. He will say he said no such thing.
In the same way, when I talk to couples who have turned their marriages around, they also want to give me all the details of the things they are now doing to make their marriages work. He will say they have started spending a lot of time together. She will say they have learned how to communicate. He will say the sex is better than ever. She will say she’s glad he thinks the sex is better than ever. But whether married people are sharing the bad or the good with me, they seem to think their marriages depend solely on their relationships with each other. And they, like many of us, think this plays itself out in a couple different ways.
For some of us, we have been convinced that great marriages are made up of two people who just have great chemistry. In other words, we think a great marriage is made of two people who have found the right one. Or, we think great marriages are made of two people who have somehow mastered the art of give-and-take or negotiations. Or we think great marriages are made of people who have learned some special communication skills. And while all of those things may be true or helpful for marriages, the fact is, when we think marriages are just about our relationships with our spouses, we miss out on what happens when we realize there is another relationship that impacts our relationship with each other just as much, if not more. I’m talking about our individual relationships with God.
Yes, your individual relationship with God greatly impacts your relationship with your spouse. Now, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that the mention of bringing God into the equation of your marriage brings up many different thoughts and feelings. Maybe you don’t know how you feel about the whole God thing, and this feels like preacher talk. Or maybe your relationship with God isn’t where you want it to be, and you don’t know what to do about that. Or maybe you already know how much your individual relationship with God impacts your marriage. Regardless of what you think about God’s role in your marriage, we are going to take a look at something I believe is great for every marriage.
What I want to share with you is scattered throughout the Bible and comes out of Jesus’ mouth several times. When Jesus said these words, they were typically his response to the religious leaders who were trying to corner or trick him into giving a bad answer so they could discredit him. Jesus was making quite a stir, and they wanted to stop him. One of these accounts is in Mark 12, verses 28 through 31.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
What I want you to notice in these verses is the order in which Jesus commands us to love. As much as He wants us to love people, He wants us to love Him first. And why would He want this to be the case? Because loving God empowers us to love others, and this of course includes our spouses. When our connection with God is growing, it postures us to love others better than we could ever love them on our own. And when it comes to marriage, when we are genuinely growing in our connection with God, we are filled with the things we need in order to love our spouses; the Bible calls those things fruits of the Spirit.
In other words, there are fruits that come when our connection with God is growing. These fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). Think about it: Those words describe a pretty great spouse. Growing in our connection with God also keeps us from expecting our spouses to meet needs that only God can meet. So many of us go to our spouses with God-sized expectations. We expect them to validate who we are, to nurture and understand all our feelings—to be our everything.
In all fairness, it’s no wonder many of us think this way. Everywhere, our culture is shouting it. Magazines, song lyrics, movies. What does Tom Cruise say to Renée Zellweger in Jerry Maguire? “You complete me.” The problem with that approach is that we are going to another broken person to fix our brokenness. That’s what I was doing around year five of our marriage; I was going to Nancie to complete me, to fix my brokenness. And that was what all the arguing was about, me telling her she wasn’t living up to my expectations and meeting my needs. But I now know that is not how God has designed marriage. God wants us to take our brokenness to him. Only God can mend what’s broken. And there is nothing better we can do for our marriages than allow God to start to mend those broken places. There is nothing wrong with having these big needs; we just need to make sure we are expecting God to meet them, not our spouses. Bottom line, there is no better way to love your spouse than to love God first. Loving God empowers us to love our spouses more than we could love them on our own.