Weddings. Who doesn’t love a good old fashion wedding? They’re the best. Love is in the air, great people. great food, great drink. And the dance floor. Come on. It’s the greatest. But let’s be honest, the wedding is the easy part. Once you’ve made the exciting choice to marry, then you’ve got to learn how to do the dance. This is the idea of cooperation. A great marriage is one that is able to move from being all about ‘me to being about ‘we’. It is two individual people working together to become one. This is the view the Bible portrays of marriage. Before the first-ever marriage in Genesis 2, God outlined marriage in this way.
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Gen. 2:24-25
Jesus likewise confirmed this view
5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matt. 19:5-6
The word ‘one flesh’ Hebrew אֶחָד (echad) and Greek εἷς (Heis) are used to describe God in Deuteronomy 6:4 which says “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The picture is of one unit. A word you may be more familiar with is ‘shalom’, meaning peace and harmony. As God, Father, Son and Spirit is one, a husband and wife are to be so united to one another that it’s like they are one. Working in perfect harmony. What an incredible privilege we have as men and women to reflect the image of God through our marriages. Now for God ‘echad’ comes naturally, it’,s simply who God is. For us, it’s not so natural. Our natural disposition is to compete against each other rather than cooperate with each other.
Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. These two are very different from one another. A contract is built upon mutual distrust whereas a covenant is built upon mutual commitment. A commitment to cooperate. We commit work together to make each other more beautiful, more wonderful, more glorious and more holy. It is a daily choice to keep that commitment. As a wise person once said, ‘In the beginning, opposites attract but later opposites attack’. What often intrigued us in the beginning about our spouse can actually become something that leads to conflict later. It is important to identify and clarify these differences and learn how to make compliment each other rather than compete.
Below are 4 common areas of difference
HOW WE ARE ENERGIZED
Every person is energized differently and energy levels matter. When your emotional tank is low it has a significant impact on the way you communicate. Nothing affects your ability to cooperate more than energy. When you are well rested and your emotional tank is full, you are kinder, more patient and less selfish. You consider your words more carefully and are less tempted to respond out of frustration. Therefore understanding how each other is energized helps to create an environment where we are running on a full tank rather than on fumes.
HOW WE GIVE AND RECEIVE LOVE
Gary Chapman wrote a helpful book called “The 5 Love Languages – The Secret to Love That Lasts”. Its practical, filled with humour and stories to convey with clarity the simple idea that everyone gives and receives love differently (check out 5lovelanguages.com). In it, Gary highlights what he labels the five most common love languages – words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Our natural tendency is to love others how we ourselves receive love. This is not a bad thing, Jesus told us to love our neighbour as ourselves. What separates a good marriage from a great marriage is the ability for a couple to give love in the way the other receives love. This is much harder than it seems. It’s unnatural and goes against our instinct. But it matters. In fact, this is one key to keeping those emotional energy tanks full. Life is so much more enjoyable and easy when you feel loved, respected and valued by your spouse. And it takes two to tango. Both spouses need to find ways to love the other in a way that actually hits the mark. Additionally, you need to learn how to receive love in the way your spouse naturally gives it. Because it will be more natural to them it will be a joy to love you in their own special way. So learn to accept it, rather than demand to be loved a certain way. Great marriages learn this dance.
HOW WE USE WORDS AND PROCESS INFORMATION AND EXPERIENCES
Some people are expanders. Others are condensers. An expander is self-explanatory, they expand … everything. They talk. A lot. And then talk some more. Expanders dominate a conversation. Provide all the unnecessary detail you don’t even care about. While you’re telling your story, they’re not listening. They’re thinking up a better story to trump your story. Expanders believe words are powerful and unlimited. So they use them. All of them. They tend to process verbally and need to talk things out
A condenser is straight to the point. No fluff. No bubbles. Just the point. Condensers believe words are powerful but limited. So they ration them. Just in case they run out. They tend to process internally and need to think things through.
One word really matters here. TIMING. You have to learn the skill of knowing when to use words and when not to. More on this in our next post.
HOW WE APPROACH CONFLICT
Nobody likes conflict. It’s the worst. But to have a great marriage you have to learn how you and your spouse will approach it. Two approaches are most common. The engager and the withdrawer. An engager is someone who always wants to fix everything and make sure everybody is ok. One of my favourite leadership axioms by Bill Hybels is, “when something smells funky, engage.” The big idea is to not let stuff fester. Unresolved issues can poison a relationship. Therefore they engage and go head on in, even if it’s the most inappropriate time. The engager wants to move toward their spouse in order to quickly resolve the conflict in which they hate. A withdrawer is someone who also wants the problem resolved but is fearful that engaging will only make it worse. Talking about it is like pouring fuel on the fire. Therefore they withdraw in an attempt to let things settle. The withdrawer wants to move away from their spouse in order to avoid increasing the conflict unnecessarily.
By now you’ve probably identified some of your relational differences. So what’s the secret sauce to cooperating? How do we cooperate when we are so different? It makes no difference knowing these differences if you don’t apply this last principle. This is the key to cooperation. This is the key to experiencing echad.
JUDGE YOU SPOUSE ACCORDING TO THEIR INTENTION, NOT THEIR ACTION.
Due to our differences, we instinctively judge each other by actions not intentions. Yet the intentions of the heart make all the difference in the world. When we understand the reasons and motivations behind the behaviour of our spouse it helps us to not only extend grace but also to receive those actions for what they really are – love.
Go ahead. Why don’t you sit down with each other and talk some of these differences through and ask the question, ‘when you do this what is your intention?’ Then listen and seek to understand and receive their love. Decide to begin to cooperate with each rather than compete against each other and experience God’s joyful design for your marriage to be echad and experience shalom.