As a pastoral counselor, I have noticed that not all married couples are fulfilled. “Really”? You reply. I guess that’s kind of obvious considering the divorce rate, and percentage of husbands and wives your are having a tough time persevering. Someone wryly observed, “Marriage is kind of like a fly bumping against a window pane. The ones outside want to get in, and the ones inside want to get out!” Exagerrated, but too often the case.
Thankfully, God has a solution for fulfillment in marriage. If you’re motivated to search this out directly, I suggest study of the New Testament books of Ephesians and Colossians. There you will discover the connection of the Christ-centered life with practical marriage and family matters. In this article, let’s consider three popular tactics people use today to seek fulfillment while married. Then I will present three principles from the Bible that point us to God’s best solution.
Option 1: Find and marry the perfect spouse
How about looking for fulfillment by finding and marrying the perfect spouse? We think, “If I find Mr.. or Miss Right, won’t that bring total happiness? This may have been our young, idealistic dream. (Admit it; the relationship still wouldn’t be perfect because you would be in it!) But even in the best match, the excitement of the early months eventually gives way to some disillusionment. Prince charming falls off his horse; the princess can’t sleep because of a pea under the mattress. It seems that some pages have been torn out of the fairy tale book of the “happily ever after” vision.
If anyone had a chance at this solution for fulfillment, wouldn’t it have been King Solomon? With a strategy of establishing treaties he married 300 wives, not counting the concubines. (Imagine his challenge of keeping dates straight for all the birthdays and anniversary cards!) But in Ecclesiastes Solomon concludes “Meaningless, meaningless; all is meaningless” (Eccl 1:2). In that context he was saying that, apart from God, life is fleeting and unfulfilling.
So I think we can all agree that marrying the perfect husband or wife is not a viable option since there is no perfect person on earth; none of us measure up to that standard!
Option 2. “I can change him/her”
Another tactic in the search for fulfillment when married is to try to change one’s spouse. The wife wonders, “How can I get him to be more considerate, more romantic, and to pick his socks up off the floor?” The husband thinks, “How can I get my wife to respect me, to improve our sexual relationship, to organize the household better? On and on our selfish desires go in plotting how we could improve on our spouse’s character, body, attitudes, and actions.
But wait a moment. When has nagging changing a husband? And when has dominance ever drawn out the full potential of a wife? The fatal flaw in this attempt for fulfillment in marriage is that it flows from selfishness and comes across as performance-based acceptance at best or obvious rejection at worst. We fail to realize that no one’s heart is not changed through criticism and control.
Now consider the perfect union: Christ as the Husband and the Church as His bride. How does God deal with us? No amount of law and dominance bring us into a life-changing relationship with Him. Instead, God took the initiative though His sacrificial love. He gave His best at Calvary so we could be reconciled to Him. As we repent and believe, and welcome His presence, His Spirit of love proceeds to change us from the inside out. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! ” (1 John 3:1; See 2 Cor. 3:18)
Now I am not saying we have to ignore our spouse’s faults or be passive regarding our disappointments. But here we are looking at the heart of the matter, which is a matter of the heart. Paul admonished, “Welcome and receive [to your hearts] one another, then, even as Christ has welcomed and received you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7 Amp). When we accept one another by grace, healthy communication can be constructive.
Option 3. Opting out
The third strategy many married people turn to is to look for fulfillment in the arms of another woman or man—literally or through fantasy. What the Bible identifies as adultery our culture calls “an affair.” When it is not an actual sexual relationship outside of marriage, it may be unfaithfulness at a mental or emotional level. For men, there is a pervasive temptation to be seduced by pornography on TV, magazines, and the internet. We know Christ warned that to look at a woman lustfully is to commit adultery in the heart (Matt. 5:28), but it is often minimized or rationalized. A coworker at a secular job, wanting to excuse his perpetually wandering eyes, said to me, “I can look as long as I don’t touch.” Such self-delusion is like playing with matches. It’s just a matter of time until lust escalates to an inferno of destruction—unless God’s deliverance is received. Apparently, women are more vulnerable to unfaithfulness at the emotional level, sometimes through imaginary relationships in movies, novels, or texting/internet chat rooms. The Bible warns, “Therefore, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12 HCSB).
Friends, let’s be honest and call unfaithfulness at any level, “sin.” These roads are dead-end streets. On the road of Christian discipleship, Jesus calls us to make a u-turn. We can turn to Him and experience cleansing as well as a God-intended provision for personal and marital fulfillment. It should not surprise us that this answer is centered around the person of Jesus Christ. He is the One who promised, “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
This fulfillment is available for the unmarried as well as the married. Believers are “complete in Christ” (Col. 2:10).
When Jesus was at the temple in Jerusalem He shouted this invitation: “‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive…” (John 7:37-39). This reminds us of an earlier promise from the Lord, after he had fed the 5000: “Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
Could it be that disappointments in marriage are meant to refine us and to point us upward to the One Who deserves our full devotion? This path to spiritual fulfillment not is only for “ultra-spiritual mystics”; it is God’s design for everyone.
In part 2 we’ll turn our attention to three biblical principles that point the way to fulfillment.
Part 1 of 2
Copyright 2011 by John B. Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint
this article in its entirety for non-commercial use with credit given.Biblical quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from the New King James Version, Copyright 1982by Thomas Nelson.