If you’re married, think back to all of the excitement you felt at your wedding. Most likely, as you spoke your vows before God, your friends, and your family, you had high expectations for your marriage. You also probably had no idea how difficult marriage would actually be.
When I first married Theresa, I remember how excited I felt. I had so many hopes and dreams for our marriage. I thought everything was going to be perfect. Then, only a few days after, we had our first huge fight. I got so mad that I stormed out of our apartment.
I honestly thought to myself, did I marry the wrong person? I love her, but I can’t believe she said those things to me! What went wrong?
I was livid. Then I got scared. I wondered, “Was the rest of my life going to be like this?”
The silly thing was our argument was over something as trivial as how or where to hang a picture! Now neither one of us can remember exactly what it was all about. Sound familiar?
For those of us who’ve been married longer than six weeks, we’ve discovered that our idea of marriage isn’t exactly what we thought it would be like. This is even truer for those of us who’ve been married for 10, 20 or 30 years. By this time, we’ve definitely come to realize that there’s a lot of difficult stuff that comes along with marriage!
So why in the world is marriage so difficult?
What often goes so terribly wrong after that exciting day we married our spouse with such high hopes?
We believe the myth that every movie and book reinforces: If you really love one another, it will all work out. Your love for one another will make you kind and other-centered and everything will be easy and great.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth!
The truth is all couples face barriers to intimacy, no matter how much they love one another. These barriers that come between us and God and us and our spouses are spiritual, psychological, gender-based, and historical (“our baggage”).The spiritual barrier, which is comprised of sin, shame, and selfishness, distorts all of the other barriers.
How did these barriers get there?
In Genesis 3 we learn that when sin entered into the world, it short-circuited our relationship with God, our mate, and our world. What was once the most natural relational response (other-centered, grace-giving) is now the most unnatural of responses, requiring supernatural enablement and hard work to achieve.
We learn that our spiritual barriers of sin, shame and selfishness originated in the garden when Adam and Eve first sinned. Their response to their shame and hiding has been the response from mankind ever since.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:8-10)
Most couples spend a lot of time hiding from one another. As a result of our sin and our shame, we knowingly and unknowingly put up “protective walls” that keep us from being deeply loved in ways that we are desperate to experience.
It is only through God’s grace that we can overcome this spiritual barrier.
We need to get to the point where we say, “I can’t do this… I need Jesus to remove the barrier between me and God, and me and my spouse. I need His strength and power to give my spouse what they don’t deserve.”
The greatest spiritual barrier in my marriage was that I was selfish. I wanted Theresa to change and for her to meet my expectations. Then, I realized that what I needed was God’s power and grace to forgive her and do things for her when I didn’t feel like it — like God did for me.
I came to understand that it’s only by God’s grace that we’re able to live sober and self-disciplining lives that help us to care for other people – especially our spouses.
For additional tools and resources on how to experience God’s best in your marriage, browse our Group Studies.
Founder & Teaching Pastor, Living on the Edge
Chip Ingram is the CEO and teaching pastor of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip has a unique ability to communicate truth and challenge people to live out their faith. He is the author of many books, including The Real God, Culture Shock and The Real Heaven. Chip and his wife, Theresa, have four grown children and twelve grandchildren and live in California.More Articles by Chip