Practical Issues for Kyle-n-Christina Marriage
I spend the bulk of my time on “practical issues in love and marriage” to prepare couples for the early adjustment stages of marriage. I want them aware of some of the complexities, conflicts, and struggles. I ask each person to pick a section of this topic, and I begin with the one the least-verbal partner selected.
I try to fill these moments with humor and anecdotes, employing hypothetical situations to watch for their responses. I might say, “The basic approach to money in my family, growing up, was to save. We never had much, but out of our meager resources we were disciplined to save something. The problem was, we never knew what we were saving for. The terms ‘rainy day’ and ‘emergency’ were used frequently but never defined. We were glad we weren’t like neighbors across the street who ‘always fought about how they would invest.’ Does this ring any bells with you?”
Another goal of mine is to model openness on topics that have been taboo previously, such as sex, money, or anger.
If they respond strongly to any one point, I concentrate on that area. I draw them out, ask if they would like more information, listen actively, give feedback, point out resources in the church family to help them.
• Affection and sexuality. I spend a lot of time on affection and sexuality. I start by sharing a statement by David Hub-bard that I have found to be true: “Remember, men and women, because of Genesis 3 and the sin in the Garden of Eden, everyone you meet will be confused sexually and have a problem with idolatry.” I point out I fall into that category, as do family members, doctors, parents, and friends. We all struggle to find accurate sexual information. So, where do you find information on sexuality? What is sexual love? What will you do if one of you is more highly sexed than the other? I ask lots of questions and hold back information until I perceive eagerness or receptivity on their part.
I find the affection and caring/intimacy side of sexuality is often neglected and misunderstood. An area of tension even among Christians (perhaps especially among Christians) is the issue of what is one person’s right to know about the other’s sexual past. I don’t try to press my ideas on them. My greatest concern is that they agree about how much candor they can expect from each other.
Another factor increasingly affecting sexuality today is traumatic sexual experiences such as rape or incest. Gently raising that issue and reassuring them that professional help is available may be my greatest contribution to their sexual compatibility. I hope to lead them into a deeper level of communication than they have previously experienced.
If the couple is new to the church, I ask them to articulate their formative church’s views on marital roles. Role expectations — the meaning of headship and submissiveness, the need for increased emotional support, the level of financial support expected — are being debated fiercely in the Christian community today. I find this a major area where modern marriages are exploding. Who determines the roles? How well are they articulated? What happens if roles change with the coming of children or sickness? I try to be pointedly practical.
• Values. To break the question-answer pattern, I treat the values area more creatively. “Draw your family crest,” I tell them, “selecting symbols that represent what was important to you growing up.” In another exercise, I give them colored cards and ask them to write their values on them, red for nonnegotiable values, yellow for important but modifiable ones, and green for flexible ones. The values deal with such issues as types of occupation, whether and when to have children, and family life.
“I must have passion in marriage,” one woman said, leaning forward with her jaw firm.
“What constitutes passion for you, and what are some things that arouse it and things that kill it?” I responded. “Do you know where that need comes from and why it is so intense?”
When she answered, I asked her fiancé what he heard her say. I then asked, “Are you both willing to commit money, time, and energy to that value?” These understandings or misunderstandings prove crucial to a marriage.
• Religious faith. If they don’t select the religious faith section, I do. I spin life stories of how different religious journeys develop or clash. I encourage them to share their faith adventure with me. This is an area where couples are often vague and mystical. They tend to romanticize. So I press for concreteness: “How often do you expect to go to church?” “Tell me about the last time your fiancée said, ‘I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?’”
• Power and freedom. This is the area in which I have made the most misjudgments. I send couples to a Christian counselor, saying, “The man is a tyrant.” Then I’ll sit in on a session with the couple and the therapist, and he’ll say, “She is in total control. Did you see the way he jumped when she coughed? Did you see him stop talking when she frowned at him?”
I’m not hesitant to admit inadequacy in any section where I’m weak. I’ll give them names of Christian counselors as resources. I can’t do all things for them, and it is wise to tell them that.
• Communication. This is one area in which I try to secure a promise from them. I say, “You promise God in the wedding service that you will love each other. To preserve communication, will you promise each other you will have a weekly business meeting to check out your calendar and emotional well-being? And will you commit to two mini-honeymoons yearly, even if they are only overnight?”
• Nurture. Mutual nurture is my special emphasis. I am amazed at how few people have articulated how they want to be nurtured (even those married ten and twenty years). We tend to nurture a spouse in the way we want to be nurtured. But our approach to nurturing can aggravate the spouse we intend to lovingly support. The wife, who might be nurtured by exercise, may be always buying jogging suits, stationary bicycles, tennis shoes, and racquetball equipment for her spouse, who hates athletics and loves his night at home by the fire with a good book. My aim is for couples to respect each other’s nurture needs, even if they don’t understand them.
I know I can’t resolve all these practical issues for a couple, but I can raise their awareness of them. I can open the issues and tell them help is available. Later, if conflicts increase, I hope they won’t be paralyzed and do nothing until the problem reaches a catastrophic level.
I give homework assignments to check a couple’s motivational level. Outside assignments also help information move from their heads to the gut. I assign couples the task of looking up some Bible passages that teach about marriage and writing one sentence about each passage. I intend this launching into the Scriptures in a general way to impress them with the reality that God designed marriage for specific reasons and has exciting things to say about how marriage works best. We’ll talk later about the passages. One of my goals is for them to experience God’s love and presence in their relationship.