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Celebrating the Gift of Marriage
By James W. Moore
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2008 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Four C's of a Great Marriage
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Key Focus: If you want to have a fulfilling marital relationship, you need communication, courtship, commitment, and Christ.
Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-7.
Why are we having so much trouble in our homes today? Why are so many marriages failing? One of the sad and painful commentaries on our modern-day world is the breakdown of family life and the breakup of so many marriages. Why is this happening, and what can we do about it?
Well, we need to understand that for a marriage to succeed and be happy and productive and fulfilling, four key things need to be happening in that relationship, what we might refer to as the four C's of a great marriage. Here they are.
The First "C" of a Great Marriage Is Communication
In a marriage, communication needs to be happening creatively on four levels: physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Those sound pretty obvious, but let's walk through these.
Physical communication is the communication of "touching," touching in all of the ways that married couples want and need to touch each other—sitting close to each other, hugging each other, kissing each other, holding each other, making love with each other. Physical communication, the communication of touching, is so important to a marriage. It's not sordid or ugly. It's a sacred and beautiful gift from God, not just for the procreation of children (as miraculous and as wonderful as that is), but also for the communication and celebration of our love for each other. When you fall in love with someone, you want to be close to that person, physically close to that person.
Now, I have read in books and magazines about platonic relationships in marriage—people who get married and just love each other's minds and never touch each other. Maybe that does happen, but I think it is very rare. Most people want and need to be touched. Most people want and need physical affection. Most people want and need physical intimacy. And over the years I have noticed something: when communication breaks down in a marriage, most often the first place it raises a "red flag" is right here, in the area of physical intimacy. Let me show you what I mean with one type of example.
A young married couple goes to a crowded party, and all is beautiful. The husband is paying a lot of attention to his wife, and they are holding hands. They are being really sweet to each other. But then some of the husband's buddies from work show up, and that "macho thing" that sometimes gets into men rears its head, and the husband begins to show off for his buddies by teasing his wife. It starts out in good fun, but he gets carried away and takes it too far, and he embarrasses her. She becomes upset, and at that moment she wants to be physically away from him, so she turns and runs out of the room. The husband thinks, Oh, no! Why do I do that? He is remorseful and sorry, and he runs after her to apologize. He catches up with her in the crowded living room. He touches her arm, and what does she do? She pulls away! She does not want to be touched, because communication has broken down.
Now, on the other hand, when communication is right in our marriage, we want to be touched, and we want to touch back. Physical affection is so important. Now, let me hurry to say that I am not so Freudian that I think it's the only thing that matters in a marriage, but I want to tell you that I have been around long enough to know that it's really important; it's really important!
Next is social communication. Social communication means being friends as well as lovers. It means being best friends. It means just enjoying life with each other; going for a walk together; going shopping together; watching TV together; taking in a movie together; sharing meals together; talking to each other; visiting with each other; being vulnerable with each other; knowing that this person, this mate, is going to love you even though you are not perfect. It means sharing together your hopes and your dreams, your victories and your defeats, your strengths and your weaknesses, your secrets and your fears, your joys and your sorrows.
Now, let me give you what I call "the Friendship Test." Imagine that you get a call this afternoon telling you that a distant relative in a distant city, a relative whom you didn't even know existed, had left you $30 million, tax free; who would be the first person or persons you would want to share that good news with? According to "the Friendship Test," that tells you who your friends are.
Or turn the coin over and imagine that instead of that call this afternoon, someone called to tell you that a person you love deeply had just been killed in a car wreck. Who would be the first person or persons you would want to share that bad news with? That also tells you who your friends are.
In a good marriage, in both of those instances, the first person to come to your mind would be your mate, because your marriage mate should be not only your lover but also your best friend, with whom you share the joys and sorrows of life. If the person you are married to is your best friend, then you have heaven on earth.
Look now at intellectual communication. Intellectual communication is sharing the world of ideas. What matters to you? What's important to you? What is your philosophy of life? What are your priorities? What are the things that make you who you are? To talk about those things and to share your values is so important. You don't have to think exactly alike. You don't have to agree on every single thing. You don't have to belong to the same political party. But what you do have to have is respect for your mate's point of view. You don't have to have the exact same philosophy of life, but to have the same virtues, the same ethics, and the same morality is so crucial.
I once saw a marriage come apart at the seams because the two people involved could not respect each other's approach to life. The wife was very compassionate and tenderhearted, especially toward persons in need in our society. She had grown up in a home where, when there was a problem in the city, her parents were the first ones there to help out—and that was part of who she was, a big part of her basic makeup.
But her husband was just the opposite. He accused her of interfering in other people's lives. He didn't want to help anybody, and especially not those different from him; and that intellectual, philosophical difference tore their marriage apart. It's so important to be able to communicate physically, socially, and intellectually.
Then there is spiritual communication. Spiritual communication is so important—to share God; to share the Scriptures; to share the church; to share the faith; to share at least a part of your prayer life is so important.
Now, let me tell you something that is fascinating here. Normally I read Sports Illustrated, but somebody once gave me a Redbook magazine that had an interesting article about love and marriage. Redbook had done a survey of several hundred couples, in which they had compared couples on two levels of communication—the spiritual and the physical. And Redbook magazine was honest enough to admit that they were surprised by their findings. They went into the survey expecting that those who had a strong spiritual grounding would not be very affectionate physically, and that those who were highly physically affectionate would not be very spiritual.
But do you know what they found out? It was exactly the opposite! Couples who were strongly spiritually close had a better physical relationship. Now, if you think about that closely, it makes a lot of sense. If you don't have a strong spiritual base, then physically you tend to see the other person as an object for your gratification. But if you are spiritually grounded, then you see the other person as a child of God, a person you love so much that you want to bring pleasure to her or him. And if you have two people thinking like that at the same time, you have something special indeed.
Think about it: what does it take to make someone a good love-mate? Well, it takes love and respect and tenderness and compassion and thoughtfulness, and that's what the spiritual life teaches us to be. The people in the survey who had a strong spiritual life, a healthy love for God, a healthy love for the church, a healthy love for other people, and a healthy self-esteem—those wonderfully spiritual people had a better love life. That finding surprised Redbook magazine, but it shouldn't surprise us because in the church we believe that the best sign of Christian discipleship is love—gracious, generous, self-giving love.
That's the first "C," communication—physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual communication.
The Second "C" of a Great Marriage Is Courtship
It is so important, so crucial, to keep the courtship alive. In a marriage in the United States today, the married partners typically share four significant roles—breadwinners, homemakers, parents (in most instances, though not all), and lovers. Now, society plays a trick on us here. During the early courtship, the engagement, the wedding, and the honeymoon, society smiles and says, "Isn't that sweet? Look at that great couple—so in love! Isn't that wonderful?" But then, here's the trick. After the honeymoon, society turns on us: "No, no, no! Don't be too sweet to each other. You might lose control of your life. You might get henpecked. Don't be too sweet. Rather, you put bread on the table," society says. "That's how we are going to check you out. And you'd better have a nice, neat home or the neighbors and the city will march on your front door. And you'd better be good parents," society says, "or we will take your children away from you."
And at that point, nobody encourages us to be good lovers of each other. There is so much societal pressure to succeed at breadwinning and homemaking and parenting, that sometimes we use so much energy in those first three roles that we don't have any time or energy left over for the courtship, for the very thing that brought us together in the first place. Now, think about that. Most couples get together initially on the love and courtship level. I mean, for example, most guys would not walk into a crowded room and see a beautiful woman and say, "Wow! Wouldn't she be a great homemaker?" That is not where they are coming from. No, he is physically attracted—or she is physically attracted—and the flirtation begins, and the courtship begins.
Here's the point: all four of the roles are important. Be great breadwinners, be great homemakers, be great parents (if God blesses you with children); but in the process, don't lose each other. Keep courting, romancing, and loving each other. Make time for the courtship.
The first "C" of a great marriage is communication, and the second "C" of a great marriage is courtship.
The Third "C" of a Great Marriage Is Commitment
This means going into the marriage heart and soul, committed to the love, committed to the relationship, committed to the marriage, committed to each other. The mindset of commitment is so crucial. Let me show you why.
If you have the "trial-marriage" mindset, the "let's try it and see if it works" mindset, then the first time there is a problem or some tension or some stress, your first thought is, Well, I knew it wouldn't work, so I'll bail out now. On the other hand, if you have the commitment mindset, then when stress comes, you simply say, "Oh, a little stress here. Let's see what this is about. Let's deal with this and grow on this and learn from this." You don't think about bailing out, because you are committed.
Now, let me put a footnote here. I know that some relationships become so destructive that you have no other choice but to dissolve them. But generally speaking, it is so crucial to go into the marriage with the commitment mindset.
The first "C" is communication, the second "C" is courtship, and the third "C" is commitment.
The Fourth "C" of a Great Marriage Is Christ and His Church
This is the most important "C" of all. When he was up in his years, William Barclay said something in a television interview that I thought was one of the greatest quotations I had ever heard outside of the Bible. Barclay said, "I'm an old man. I have lived a long time, and over the years I have learned that there are very few things in life that really matter ... but those few things matter intensely." Isn't that a great quotation? "Few things in life really matter, but those few things matter intensely."
If you don't get elected second vice-president of the civic club, it's not the end of the world. It doesn't really matter that much. But what are the things that matter intensely? Grace, honesty, integrity, kindness, justice, truth, morality, compassion, faith, hope, and love. Now, wait a minute. Where have I heard all of those words before? I heard them at church. I learned them from the teaching of Jesus Christ. Even when I got them at home, they really came from Christ and the church, and those are the things that matter intensely. Those are the things that make a great marriage. Those are the things that make a great life, and they all came from Christ and his church!
One of the most beloved hymns of all time is "Blest Be the Tie That Binds." Well, Christ is the tie that binds. He is the One who unites and sustains "our hearts in Christian love."
Excerpted from Celebrating the Gift of Marriage by James W. Moore Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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