Let's Be More Honest About Marriage

Marriage is a beautiful, precious and wonderful gift and yet it is also costly, deeply painful at times and hard work! Why is it that the more difficult aspects to marriage are rarely talked about? 

Marriage can be set up as the ideal within churches, making single people feel isolated and those in less-than-perfect marriages (i.e. all of us!) ashamed. This can cause us to hide the very difficulties that we desperately need help and support with. That is something that we did as a young married couple, and ended up reaching a crisis point in our relationship (which you can hear more about in our Life & Leadership podcast episode: http://newgroundchurches.org/podcast/27/grace-filled-marriage).

We have been married for nearly 30 years and know only too well both the intimacy and the loneliness, the joy and the pain, the running together and the running away from each other that, if we are honest, most marriages experience in different seasons of life. We have read many books on how to have a better marriage over the years. Some have been incredibly helpful, but what we missed was learning from marriages that weren’t just models of perfection, but models of God’s grace – his undeserved favour – in the messiness of real life.

We attended a marriage course led by a lovely older couple many years ago. However when they admitted that they rarely argued and their one example of a ‘painful period’ was when one of them spoke in a tone that upset the other, we began to think: ‘What hope have we got?’ That hopelessness sadly got in and pervaded our relationship. 

Yet part of the beauty of marriage is that God brings imperfect people together in such a way as to reveal his love to the world – in sacrifice, in intimacy, in redemption and in partnership. Yes it is messy, yet it can also be one of the most powerful visual demonstrations of God’s grace, as we allow him to change us and mould us together – often using the very challenges and difficulties we face to do so.

You are not alone

We now feel very passionately about opening up conversations within churches about the realities of marriage. Yes it is an incredible gift that we mustn’t take for granted, but there is no shame in admitting when things are tough between you.

God has actually taken what could be seen as the most shameful part of our own marriage, rescued and restored us through his grace, and now has called us to encourage others by telling our own story and what we have learned in the years since that time. It has certainly been a huge and, at times, challenging journey for us – particularly for Steve who is a very private person – but we have written Grace-Filled Marriage as a result of that and long for as many people as possible to be helped by it.

Our own story of building back a marriage after loneliness, betrayal and separation is also joined by several other stories of marriages where each partner has chosen to hold onto God’s grace – and each other – in the midst of the specific challenges of their own relationships. Those challenges include infertility, physical and mental ill health, cultural differences, as well as dealing with mistakes and broken areas of their lives. 

We are so grateful to every contributor (these include Wendy Virgo, Liz Holden and Jonathan and Judith le Tocq) for their vulnerability, honesty and wisdom. Sometimes it is refreshing to hear about the failings, the doubts, the wrestling…because it helps us to face our own with courage. We feel we are not alone – and that is so important.

The perfect time to invest

Be honest about whether you feel your marriage has been strengthened over the last 18 months, or whether the long, enforced times of lockdown have put extra pressure and allowed issues that had been hidden to rise to the surface. If the latter has happened, don’t ignore that but take time to talk and pray through them.

As restrictions are lifted and we are able to interact with one another much more, it is a great time to interact with a few other couples for mutual encouragement and support. We find it is so helpful to develop an authentic and trusting relationship with others where you can share honestly without fear of judgement. We were delighted when the Big Church Read asked us to be involved with the scheme, which encourages churches to read books together by getting the authors to create videos and discussion questions. We have created videos based on material from Grace-Filled Marriage, and questions that you can discuss together (on top of those we provide at the end of each chapter), but have specifically designed these for use in small groups of couples, to help facilitate the strengthening of support between you.

The videos, discussion questions and bulk-buying of books (church leaders we would encourage you to think about ordering books for your congregations and flagging this up to them) can be found at https://thebigchurchread.co.uk/grace-filled-marriage/

Alternatively, copies are also available from Claire’s website: https://clairemusters.com/bookshop-2/