This is not what you signed up for. The things you expected marriage to be turned out to be wrong, leaving you profoundly disappointed. Was this really what He had in mind when God created marriage? You know that marriage is hard. But it would help if you could understand something of God’s purpose for marriage in the first place.

Consider this whole “human experiment” that God embarked on thousands of years ago. Since nothing is a surprise to Him, He well understood the effect evil would have on humankind. He could see the harm humans would do to each other and the way our whole being would be damaged, corrupted, marred.

So in eternity past He made a plan through which humans could have a way out. This was not just an “escape plan” from bad circumstances but a means by which human beings could become who He originally created them to be. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).

This is so much more than forgiveness for specific sinful acts. God is love. His Son is love. And there’s no way we can become like “the image of his Son”, fully characterized by love, simply by trying harder. We need a means of transformation, a way through which our very “DNA” becomes different, a place where we become love like God is.

And then God created marriage.

In God’s economy on earth marriage is a primary means (not the only means) by which we experience that transformation process.

Marriage is a laboratory in which we learn to love well.

You learn that the myths you’ve come to believe about marriage are false. You can no longer cover up the prickly or ugly parts of you. Oh, you can try to hide, but hiding doesn’t make for intimacy. Your spouse soon sees you not only at your best but also at your worst. And you also see them at their worst.

Author, therapist, and relationship expert Jay Stringer says, “A committed relationship is doing what it’s designed to do when it flushes out the relational and sexual difficulties in each partner. Sometimes we think the relationship is broken when in reality the marriage system is working flawlessly.”

Marriage proves that window-dressing won’t cut it. You have no choice but to look under the surface and deal with the hard stuff. (And if you don’t, the marriage either becomes more miserable or ends.)

There’s a sense in which marriage makes the status quo impossible. If the sinful person you have been tries to get closer to your spouse you only push them farther away. You try to demand they come closer to you and both of you get wounded even more. You give up trying to get close and your heart shrivels away. You’re sure you can’t win!

That’s what marriage was designed to do; demonstrate to you that the pain of remaining the same will be greater than the pain of changing, as hard as that will be.

Why Covenant is Necessary

When culture looks at marriage as a contract it becomes easy to leave; you hurt me or don’t meet my needs as I wish, so I’m gone. But a covenant means I’m committed to staying not if you do this or that, but because that’s who I am choosing to be.

God is love. God’s plan is that we become like Him. He relates to us with covenant, not contract. He extravagantly loves us not because of anything we do, have done, or could do. There’s nothing we can do to make Him love us any more or any less. He just loves us. Period. That’s covenant love. Becoming like Him means we are to love like that.

And because marriage is always the union of two sinners covenant love is the only way it ever works. Your spouse will let you down. You will let your spouse down. Covenant means I am for the relationship, whatever it takes, even when you let me down. (There are times God releases someone from a toxic marriage.)

Making Transformation Possible

That kind of covenant makes deep and lasting transformation possible. Here are a few of the outcomes when covenant love is the foundation of marriage.

Healing. Truly being seen and known and loved anyway brings profound healing to the deep wounds we all have received. Those wounds come from sins I have done and sins that have been done against me. My prickliness has come from my wounds, and healing them makes it possible to begin to relate in new ways.

Intimacy. You don’t experience intimacy by taking the clothes off your body. It requires taking the coverings off not only your body but your mind and heart also. Covenant love means I’m not going to leave when you come out from hiding and I see you at your worst, and you won’t leave when I do the same. Truly being seen and known profoundly changes the neural pathways in your brain.

New Skills. You learn best when it’s safe to fail. And you will fail along the way of learning to love well. That includes things like learning to communicate in ways that find solutions, pursuing healing for old wounds when it’s scary, becoming the person my spouse needs me to be, trusting God with the outcome of my marriage, and investing of myself without demanding something in return.

None of those things are easy or automatic. God doesn’t “dump” healing or intimacy or mature skills on you when you say Yes to Jesus. That’s a large part of why God created marriage–so you would have a laboratory in which to learn these very things so you can begin to love well.

Do the laboratory work necessary to learn to love well. It will be worth it.

Your Turn: How has your marriage demonstrated where you have not loved well? And how are you investing in the process of learning to love well now? Leave a comment below.

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Get Help to Learn to Love Well!

You didn’t grow up knowing how to love well. But you can learn now!

I’ve taken the things I’ve taught individual couples over many years and put it all in our new online course Fully Alive Marriage. This course is not marriage enrichment; it’s helping you learn the mindsets and skills to solve problems that sabotage your marriage and build the kind of relationship that nourishes you both for the long haul.

Don’t remain languishing in marriage misery or walk away before seeing what God may yet do for your relationship.