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About this series
Broken Hearts Broken Dreams
Why Marriages Don't Work Anymore, and How to Make Yours the Exception
Divorce is a disastrous part of our society today. So, if you’re in a committed relationship or want to be someday, how can you avoid becoming part of this depressing trend? In this short series, Chip’ll share some practical step-by-step instructions to protect and enrich your relationship. Learn about the common problems that plague marriages and the biblical solutions to make your relationship the exception. Discover how to have a marriage that can endure anything!More from this series
Dwight Eisenhower said, "The urgent is rarely important and the important is rarely urgent." I've met very few people unless they're in a crisis in their marriage, that are seizing the day in terms of building the kind of relationship with their mate and with their kids and with their family. It's one of those things where "Yeah, I know it's really important, it really, really matters, and you're doing enough to get by," but we're not talking about an okay marriage. Not even a good marriage.
God wants you to have a great marriage if you could grasp what God wants for a marriage and how He's designed it, and what He wants for us compared to what most people even followers of Christ experience, you would seize the day. You would say, "There's nothing more important in my life and in my lifetime."
You're setting a trajectory about what matters. And other than your relationship with God Himself, work, school, hobbies, looks, success, money, they will pale. They will fade. It will make no difference if you don't have a marriage that works.
And if you were just ruthlessly honest with yourself and said, "Where does my energy go, and where do my thoughts go, and where do my dreams go, and where does my money go, and what do I think about ,and what do I really have a plan for, and what really matters, and what do I have a strategy to achieve,” and if marriage isn't up there, then something's fundamentally wrong.
Most marriages don't work, primarily not just because of communication, not because a lack of commitment, not because of ongoing conflict that doesn't get resolved. Those are symptoms. Most people don't even know the design. God made marriage.
On the front of your notes is a review of that design. God is at the top. It's equilateral triangle. The man is on the left-hand bottom side, the woman on the right-hand bottom side and the arrows point to one another. And the key marriage verse in all of Scripture is Genesis 2:24. For this reason, after God made man, made woman, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother. He will cleave to his wife and the two will become one flesh. Jesus would quote that verse twice, the Apostle Paul in the epistles, every time marriage comes around, it's about two people becoming one. Intimacy. Oneness.
He's created this relationship, so you need Him because He loves you. He wants to experience you. He wants to talk to you. He wants to bless you. He wants you to have a great marriage and not an okay marriage. And He wants your marriage to be the kind of thing that would reflect what Jesus’ relationship is like with the Church.
He wants your marriage to be something that people would stop and pause and go, 'You've been married ten years or twenty years or thirty years or forty years and you're really in love? You're not in a rut? You don't just go through the motions?" That's God's plan.
His plan is that your kids, when they're twenty or twenty five or thirty, would be sitting around with other people talking about the kind of home that they grew up in. And it wasn't perfect, and you didn't have it all together. They talk about a mom and a dad that made time for one another. They went on dates. They loved one another. I watched them pray together. I'm sure they shared hard stuff, but there was a solidity. There was a security. All my friends parents were getting divorced, but I never thought that that would happen in our home.
You notice that on the top of our little diagram, we'd looked at the picture but the problem was, genders have a hard time figuring out how to love each other. We have past baggage. We have different personalities. We have work demands, time demands. Kids come. There's a lot of challenges, so it takes a lot of work.
And then the process. You have to leave. Cut the emotional and financial ties with parents, you have to cleave and make each other the number one priority, and then you have to become one flesh. That's a lifelong journey.
I want to show you four specific ingredients that every great marriage has. You find a great marriage, from God's perspective, they'll have these four ingredients. Four non-negotiables. Four things that I need, you need. You're always growing in them. But if you recognize these four things and say, "We are going to build..." See, you can have a house but these are like four pillars that will make it a home.
Number one is commitment. It's a lifelong choice of unconditional love. Would you circle the word choice and would you underline lifelong? A lifelong choice of unconditional love. Unconditional means you love them when they're nice and you love them when they're not. Remember those vows in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, no matter what til death do us part? See, when you stand before God and you come and you're married, it's called a covenant.
If you'd look up the word covenant, it is a holy and sober commitment that you make with another person or with God that is unbreakable. Most people think of their marriage as a contract. I'll do this, you do that, we hope it works out. If it doesn't work out, then we’ll renegotiate the contract. That singular mentality is the downfall of many marriages.
When it's a covenant, when you make a commitment, "I'm going to love you. I'm going to choose to stay in this. I'm going to choose to work through it. I don't know what we have… but will you go to counseling? We'll go to counseling. If we need to move to a less expensive area, if someone needs to change jobs, whatever we have to do, apart from our relationship with God, I've made a covenant we'll do whatever we have to do." That mentality builds a security and a foundation that allows you to make it through things.
See, even in the back of your mind, "Well, if it doesn't work out or this might work out or I'm not very happy right now, or I'm not very fulfilled right now, or I thought our standard of living would be better by now, and we're getting older and it feels so dull, and if I'm ever going to..." Those thoughts are the beginning of how this happens. It's a commitment. It's a covenant.
I'm going to ask you to turn in your Bibles to Hebrews. And Hebrews was written to a mixed group of people, and they were fading in their faith. Persecution was coming and they'd started really well and a number of them were starting to bail out in their relationship, not keep their commitments.
And so in chapter 13 as he's closing the book, notice what it says in verse 5. “Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” Few things will destroy a family or a relationship like the love of money. Few things will destroy a marriage or a family like being not content with what you have. You got to have the next new cool thing, you have to have a bigger house, you have to have a second house, you have to have this kind of car. That puts all kind of pressure.
But notice the reasoning here. For He has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you. In fact, in the original languages, there are five negatives. I will never ever leave you nor forsake you. It's God saying, You don't have to try and find it in money. You don't have to find your contentment anyone else. You can keep your commitment because I will never leave you. In fact, he then quotes the Psalmist. He says, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" That's the model for our marriages.
God says, I'll be there for you. When you communicate to your mate by words and by actions, I'll be there for you. Not anything, not anyone can come between us. It produces a foundation and a security for the kind of relationship that you long to have and that I long to have.
Commitment says I love you. See, love is not an emotion. It's a volitional choice. When Jesus was in the garden, being fully human, He was wrestling with what we do. I know this is the right thing to do. I know from the foundations of the earth, Me going to the cross and dying for the sins of all people. I know that's the game plan. But He was fully human and He knew that the moment that He was on that cross and your sin and my sin and the sin of all people were placed upon Him, the Father would turn away. And that's why He cried, My God my God why have You forsaken Me? For the first time in eternity, there would be a division in the Godhead and He would absorb - the theological word is propitiation - the just wrath of God was placed on His Son to pay for your sin and mine. And in that garden, three different times, "If there's anyway, if there's a plan B, nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done.”
He emotionally did not want to die for you or me. He chose, despite the screaming of his emotions, knowing that He would be flogged, knowing that He'd be humiliated, knowing He'd would be stripped, but He chose to endure that. That's love. And that's what God calls me to do with my mate, and that's what God calls you to do with your mate. Love is giving another person what they need the most when they deserve it the least. A great personal cost. And that's what Jesus did.
Now the reason I put that picture of the equilateral triangle, I can't do that in my power. Left to myself, I want my will. Left to myself, I want Theresa to meet all my needs and I want what I want when I want it all the time. It's only when I'm crucified with Christ when I'm in the Scriptures and when God's Spirit is filling me that I can love her the way God wants me to because Jesus actually lives inside of me. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. That's a promise.
Question: Is your view or emotional attitude more like a covenant or more like a contract? Do you think about, Yeah, I'm in this as long as it's going good. But when it gets difficult, do you allow those little thoughts to play in your mind like, Oh, I don't know how much longer I'm going to... You have to eliminate those. The word divorce should never be said out loud in your home or to one another.
Now, I do understand there are times where people break the covenant by sexual immorality, but for the great majority of time, I will guarantee you there's going to be times in your marriage at every season that everything in you will say, This is just too hard. I want out, and you choose, God give me the strength to do whatever we need to do.
Unfortunately, for Theresa and myself, that came really early. We didn't have any premarital counseling. We didn't know anything about baggage. We didn't know about children of alcoholism. We didn't know what it was like to be a blended family. I didn't know anything about being a dad and I became an immediate dad. And we're like a year in and she's awesome, but she was making me nuts. We couldn't communicate. We couldn't resolve anger. I'm in seminary preparing to do what I'm doing right now and we don't get along at home.
And I remember a very godly professor saying, "You know, Buddy? There's no use learning a lot of the Bible if it's not working in your house, don't export it.” And so we were broke, but we went for about $95 a session to marriage counseling. Twelve sessions. And as life would go on, we started reading books and working at things and God worked and God worked. Then you know what? A little bit later, we got stuck again and went back for some counseling. What do you need to do? But that started a lifelong journey of realizing we're going to really have to work at our marriage.
The second non-negotiable ingredient is communication. It's a lifelong skill of learning to understand each other. Communication isn't talking. Communication, literally, is the meeting of meanings. It's a skill. Only about eight to ten percent of communication, experts tell us, is words. Somewhere between sixty to seventy percent is tone of voice and body language. It's a lot different to say,
• "I love you.” “I love you too." Oh man, that's deep – right?
• "I love you." "Well, I love you."
• "I love you." "Boy, I love you too and I can't believe God let me marry you."
Those are three really big different messages and I said the same three words. Communication is the meeting of meanings. And for most of us, we don't do it well. Some of us don't listen very well. Some of us don't know how to communicate our feelings. Feelings that really matter that help you really get connected often are very scary to share, so you don't know how to do it. I'm going to give you a tool to help you.
But our model is Ephesians Chapter 4:15, 16. The context, Paul is talking about how the Church works. And after he tells us in :13 that the Church’s goal is that there are leaders to equip us so that we grow to maturity, he gives some evidence of maturity. He says, “But speaking the truth in love, we're to grow up into all aspects into the head who is Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by that which every joint supplies according to the proper working of each individual part, makes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
He's talking about when you're immature you get carried away by false doctrine, you get carried away by stuff and junk. He says, “But we, in maturity is speaking the truth in love.” Either one is easy. Doing both is really hard. Speaking the truth, being honest with each other, but being honest with each other in love. And I will tell you that is difficult.
Communication says, I trust you. I trust you. I trust you with my inner thoughts. I trust you with how I really feel. Communication makes direct request. It doesn't use satire and jokes to talk about serious stuff. It's mature.
I’m going to give you a tool called "The conference." And The Conference has three questions. And I'm going to use this chair to pretend I'm sitting over here. There are three questions...
And guys are you ready? I'm going to give your wives an assignment a little bit later, but I want you to initiate this one.
There are three questions. It's a really safe deal. So, men, you sit down – video, TV, papers are gone, distractions are gone - and guys this will sound funny but lean forward - it actually means something - make eye contact, and then you look at your wife and you say, "What are you concerned about?” Now I forgot one small thing, and some of you need to do this literally. There needs to be a small piece of duct tape about this wide. And what you do is you say, "What are you concerned about?”
And then you put it on your mouth and you don't say anything no matter what. You don't fix it. “Why are you concerned about that? Well, if you would have said that, blah, blah, blah.” I'm trying to help you guys. Okay? “What are you concerned about?” And here you can say, “Anything else? Oh, wow. Boy, that's hard."
And she might say, "Well, I'm concerned about the guy that our daughter is dating. And then you take the duct tape off and then ladies, you lean forward and you say to him, "What are you concerned about?” And you take the duct tape. And guys, by the way, ladies, don't be shocked if it takes him like...there might be a little bit of silence, “Hmmm, I ain’t concerned about not’in’…” And men if you'll do this, it cost me $95. I'm giving this to you for free. And when you think about what $95 was about thirty-something years ago. This was like probably $400 or $500 deal that you're just getting right now for free.
And if you would just have the courage say, "You know, I'm concerned about that guy too. I don't like him very much, but we've never talked about it.
Do you realize that probably ninety-seven percent of all that a married couple talks about is usually about what happened at work or logistics or kids or getting them to school or who picks this up or what are we going to do? And then anything that's delicate, anything that's money, or sex, or in-laws, you argue about that. You don't talk.
And so all you've done is "What are you concerned about?" You didn't fix anything. No one can talk when the other person is talking.
Second question is, “What do you wish?” What do you wish? And again, we don't have to keep this super spiritual. “I wish we would have won that lotto of $1.5 billion dollars. We could buy someone to date our daughter that we like. I wish I could lose five pounds. I wish just the two of us could get away for a weekend and really talk. I wish …. whatever is on your...what do you wish? I mean, like here’s a genie in a bottle. “What do you wish?” And then you take the duct tape off and she asks you, "What do you wish." And anything that comes to your mind.
And then the final question is, “What are you willing to do?” But there's a rule. You don't have to do anything. What are you willing to do? And what I want you to do is this will take fifteen-twenty minutes, it might take a little bit longer the very first time, your assignment, men, is to do one of these this week. And I'm not kidding. Do it. If you do it, I will tell you, something will begin to happen in your relationship. You know what those do?
Number one, you can't talk back so you can't argue. That's a good deal. But when you say, "What are you concerned about?” Every human being has things that weigh them down. "I'm concerned about I threw out my back. I'm concerned about this. I'm concerned about the future. I'm concerned about that. I'm concerned about this. I'm concerned about one of our kids. I'm concerned about..."
Everything that's weighing me down or everything that's weighing Theresa down, now without an argument, and it's all been laid on the table. I know the burdens or the weights in my wife's life. I also know that if I would choose to - and I don't have to because if I have to then it's manipulation.
The first time we did this, you know what was I was going to do? I just heard all this stuff that was really hard to hear and just not getting mad and feeling defensive. I remember what I said, "I'm willing to have another one of these.” I'm willing to have another conference.
Actually, I think we must have been a needy case. We were assigned like two or three a week from our counselor. But you've heard the burdens. And you know what you could do? You could lift one off if you wanted to. And you know what you've heard? You've heard what would put wind in her sails or wind in his sails. Something that would help them. And you could choose to but you don't have to go, "Whoa."
Maybe she says, "I just feel like we've drifted apart and I miss you and I love you. I understand work, I understand all the things, but I wish we could just get away." And what if you said, "You know what? I'm willing to plan a time away with you in the next eight weeks. Let's get out the calendars as soon as we get done with this."
I still remember sort of the early ones. Our kids were doing homework and of course, they got home early and Theresa was doing English, and this, and this, and this and that, and it was like she was really frustrated over all the math. And I remember we had a conference. I said, "Well, I will do the math for all of our kids. I like math. I'm good at it." And I member later she was, "Oh, man. I just felt like you love me so much." And I thought, I really don't know how to communicate because I would have never...right?
And so what you'll find is you might do one of these a week at least or a couple. And in this tool, you'll start to have the meeting of meanings. Even if you do one, you will talk about some things or hear some things that you haven't talked deeply about in ages. And the more you do it, the more you'll feel free. And by the way, you don't use this to come back at him. It's just your honest. “This is what I'm concerned about. This is what I wish. This is what I'm willing to do." You got it? Gentlemen, your assignment is to plan a time and have a conference at least once with your wife.
Pillar number one, commitment - A lifelong choice of unconditional love. Pillar number two, communication - a lifelong skill of learning to understand each other. Pillar number three, caring - An adventure of lifelong friendship, fun, and mutual fulfillment. You might circle the word adventure here. I mean, marriage ought to be an adventure. There ought to be excitement in it. Jesus, in Matthew Chapter 11, this is a phenomenal passage where Jesus is talking to a group of people that are just feeling overwhelmed with pressure and He makes this phenomenal offer. And I think about how part of being married, is this is what we do for one another.
Jesus said, “Come to me” - verse 28 - “all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Those are old time terms. Hear: All of you that are stressed out, burned out, overwhelmed, come to Me. Don't do life on your own. Don't stuff all that stuff. Don't try to be the strong one. Don't be that individualistic: I can make this happen. I'll prove myself blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Come to Me. Come in your weakness. Come in your hurt.
And then notice the reason. He says, first, take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls.
It's an agrarian picture of a couple of ox that you would yoke together, and He's actually saying, Here's that yoke, I will stick My head in here, I want you to stick your head in here and let's walk together at the pace. And I won't walk too fast, and I'll pull more of the weight, but let's get connected, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light. That's our model.
You know what your wife wants to hear? You know what your husband wants to hear? "Come to me and I'll be your resource. I'll be your rest. I'll understand. I'll listen. We can go through this cancer together. We can go through the job change together. We can go through the financial downfall together. We can go through the crisis with one of our kids together. We can go through the rehab together. We can go through the stressors and the pressure together."
And the way you do that is you have to become best friends. Caring says, I like you. I like you. So there's a lot of couples, "I love her. I told her so. Right when I said “I do, we got married, I love you," but you don't treat her like you like her.
The kind of activities that say that I like you are walks and talks and weekly dates and hobbies that are fun, gardening, doing stuff around the house, planning a weekend away just the two of you.
Why do you think romance dies in a marriage? Because you stopped doing the things that made you feel romantic and close to one another. When you were courting and dating, you sent flowers, you jot a note, you called for no reason, right? So are you doing any of that stuff?
This isn't mumbo jumbo magic. Start caring. Go on a hike. Go on a walk. Plan a weekend away. Jot him a note. Surprise her. This is not rocket science. You all did it early on when you were trying to catch him or catch her. Correct? That's what caring is all about. It's saying, I love you. I'm going to make these choices. I trust you. I'm going to share open from the heart, but I care. We need to have fun. We need to enjoy one another.
I mean, just Theresa and I were talking, I think it was early this morning and we were uhm, because we like to drink coffee in the morning and talk. And we were just sitting there and she said something like, "So what are you thinking about?" Then she just made this comment. She goes "You know, I just like sitting in the same room with you." And I thought, You know what that is? That's years and years and years and years of caring of becoming really good friends.
God doesn't want you to have an okay marriage. And here's the thing. Would you stop believing the lie that all the romance novels, and all the TVs, and all the movies are telling you that there's some hot, great, wonderful thing out there with someone else? There's not. These four things are in a relationship, they work, they're great or they're not. And starting over with someone else… Now, for some, yeah, you're in crisis, yeah, you need to go to counseling. For some, it's major repair. I have been there, done that. Here's the deal. It's worth it. It's absolutely worth it.
The fourth and final one is commission - A shared vision to impact the lives of others for Christ. Circle the word shared vision. For those of you that are single, everything about this applies. You can have a conference. Conference, that's a great communication tool with two ladies or two men. If you're dating someone and you're getting serious, make sure you have a shared vision. Of all the things that break people apart, make sure your relationship is more than just: How fulfilled am I? and How do I feel? because that's going to wear off.
Our model here is Matthew chapter 28. It's the very last thing He says to the disciples. All power and authority has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of every ethnos, every ethnic group on the face of the earth, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to observe, to actually do everything I taught you. And never forget I will be with you always til the end of the earth. It's sandwiched with all the resource and power you need - it has been given to Me, and I'm giving it to you and I will never leave you or forsake you. Go make disciples. Serve.
Commitment is to love, communication is to know, caring is to share, but commission is to serve. There's something amazing that happens, there's a synergy that happens when you two, together, are doing something that's bigger than you two to care about other people. It just draws you together.
We've come to believe that the whole purpose of marriage is, "Am I fulfilled? Is everything okay with me? Am I happy?" You can have everything in the world but if you don't come together to love people, serve them, care for them, take them food, serve together, go in the nursery together, be ushers together, go on a short term missions trip together, find a family that's in need and say, "We're going to help them," it's in doing those things together that synergy is built. The commission says this, "I need you. I need you." I have gifts. She has gifts. He has gifts. She has gifts. God brought us together and He sees us as one, and we can do something together for the cause of Christ. And as we do that, we're forged together.
Theresa and I have done tons of different things together. One of the things that is really fun that sort of uses both is we'll do Bible studies in our house. We've done all kinds of other things, but especially we like to do it with twenty-somethings. And we just started another one where we get to be the host. And she's the hostess and fixes all the stuff up and then pretty soon we just hang. And we're at the age where other people do the teaching and stuff and then you get to know them.
And having done this now, I remember the early ones when we first came here and they were all single and blah, blah, blah, and then Theresa ends up coaching and counseling some of the gals, and I get to know some of the guys. And then now it's nice to see they're married. They've got a couple of kids. And you watch their journey.
And then we get to talk about them. And our conversation just isn't about me or just about her. It's about us and how do we serve. That something powerful.
Final point I want to make is that some of you are very conscientious and I think that is awesome. Some of you are not and so you need a good swift kick - I'm serious - in the posterior.
I'll tell you what? The people in this room on this day, who walk out of here and say, "I'm going to seize the day. And we have a great marriage. It's more important than work, more important than kids, more important than anything," you do that, your life will change and your kids will have a different world. But unfortunately, the great majority of people hear truth and walk away. We're too busy right now. I'm not sure about this. I'm not sure about that. He never really opens up. She's not very affectionate blah, blah, blah, and all your focus is on the problems.
Commitment is just saying, before God, I'm in. Communication is, Okay, I'll do these conferences. Caring is, I guess we can take a walk. It's pretty inexpensive. Take a walk twice a week. A guy emailed me said, "I started walking with my wife every day. We walk a mile or two,” or whatever it was, “…and you know what? I listen most of the time but it's been the greatest thing that ever happened to our marriage.” And minister. And you can only watch so many football games on TV? Serve. That's what most of us need to hear. But for just the small group, I call them the overachievers, that are going to bust it and give, give, give, give, give, here's the warning. You need to make sure that you get filled so that you can give. At the very bottom, personal time for you, supportive friends, renewing activities, a fully alive you, produces a full battery to be a giver.
Sometimes in our best efforts to really work on our marriages and make them great, one of you can unconsciously become this martyr. I'm giving to him, I'm doing this. Or you're the guy, Okay, I'm going to be committed. We're going to be together as a family. We're going to pray together. We're going to do these conferences, and pretty soon you realize, Oh, man, I don't hang out with any guys anymore, I don't have a good friendship with a woman anymore, if you're a woman, and I don't do anything. I stopped working out. You need to understand you need to do what you need to do for you to come and show up so that you can give. And the very first thing I would say is get in God's Word and have at least one great same sex friend that you can process life with.
At the end of the day, love is giving. It's giving time and attention and grace and patience and forgiveness. And the only way we can do that, I get closer to God, and then I give this other person, especially when they don't deserve it, what God has given me - forgiveness and grace. And then a new system starts where you begin to reinforce and marriage is going in a positive direction. You can have a marriage that works if you seize the day.