You both thought you knew the person you married. You kept company for a year or more, learning about each other and discussing the future. In your pre-marriage counseling sessions, you reviewed together areas in which you were compatible. You openly spoke of expectations and goals for your marriage and future. You even brain-stormed some potential issues of conflict which might arise. But this, the reality! You never anticipated this.
Think of what two people bring to a marriage: each brings a suitcase full of past memories, relationships and experiences. Each brings a unique family history, complete with its ethnic peculiarities and customs. You both have witnessed parents and the relationship they had with each other, and the patterns of conflict resolution and interaction. Most of us view the marriage our parents had as either ideal or a stimulus for an entirely opposite marriage. You expected that he would be just like your father, but he is not! You married him because he was so unlike your father only to discover that there was some similarity.
You never really know the person you married until you are married. It is then that habits, expectations and patterns of behavior surface for which you were not prepared. Habits ingrained into our ways over 20 or more years are about to collide headlong into those of our spouse. Everything from how you squeeze the toothpaste (everyone knows that it really does not matter in the long run), to how you resolve differences (do you attack or retreat?) are now front and center. He does not pick up his socks and put them in the clothes hamper. She does not have dinner on the table at exactly 5:30 PM. In between these polar extremes lies an entire array of issues which begin to appear a few seconds after you say “I do.”
Most of us think that a good marriage comes from being compatible. The reality is that no two human beings are compatible; we all are, thanks to Adam, self-worshipers, intent on having things our own way. There is something within us (sin) which always wants to control others. We do it either directly or in subtle, passive-aggressive styles.
Marriage, being the most intimate and intense of relationships, affords no room for hiding. Eventually, you will come out in your true colors. This is not to suggest that spiritual character and maturity cannot overcome these problems. It is saying, however, that apart from spiritual dependence on the Lord, it will be very difficult to accomplish this.
You never expected that he would want his shirts ironed with starch, did you? That was the way his mother washed and ironed his shirts. She even ironed his underwear and socks! And you likely never thought that you would be making breakfast for her every Saturday morning, just as her father did for her mother. All these are minor things in your way of reckoning, I know. But you can substitute your own surprises that confronted you in those early blissful days of marriage.
And then there are the varied styles of conflict and resolution which couples develop. If your spouse came from a certain ethnic group (not to be mentioned publicly here), his parents shouted at each other and verbally chastised each other until they were exhausted; then they hugged and kissed, apologized, and were like a newly married couple. Other, more reserved couples discussed their differences in a sane and rational manner and tried to come to a win-win situation. Still others lived their married life in denial as though nothing was wrong. Issues and differences were never discussed; problems were internalized for the sake of “peace,” leading to growing frustration and resentment as the years passed. Each and every couple has their own style of resolving problems (or living with them). You can envision what happens when the shouting, screaming husband marries the quiet, reserved and sane wife. I leave it to your imagination (and possibly your experience).
For some reason not hitherto explainable, we forget that spiritual character is vital for every aspect of life, and never so much as in marriage. Living in the closest of all human relationships will not only reveal to me the spouse I have married, but it will also reveal my own heart and its depths of depravity. I desperately need the power of the Spirit of God and the fullness of fruit that He can produce in my life to make my marriage what God intends marriage to be.
The nine-fold fruit of the Spirit as detailed in Galatians 5:22-23 is this: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. While none can exist in isolation from the others, for the sake of our thinking, just take a few of them and apply them to the problem of dealing with the unexpected in your spouse. Think of “longsuffering” and its display in your character. It is a trait which marks God in His dealings with men (2Pe 3:15; Rom 2:4). This is not living under the circumstances, a “grin-and-bear-it attitude,” which only breeds frustration. It is a “long patience” that expectantly waits for God to bring about change. But coupled with “gentleness,” it is active in its activity to minister to another’s shortcoming. “Meekness” will guarantee that I am not just manipulating for my own advantage but, bowed to the will of God, seeking what is best for our relationship. “Temperance” (or self-control) will determine how I go about dealing with the issue at hand. You can quickly and skillfully apply the other features of the fruit of the Spirit to this and see how they would define your response to those previously undetected behaviors in a spouse that are serious enough to have a bearing on your marriage.
But not only will I need the gracious ministry of the Spirit of God to produce this fruit in my character, God will actually use marriage as a stimulus for the development of this fruit, this Christ-like character in me. It is in the bonds of a life-long commitment and covenant that, recognizing my shortcomings and the need to change, I will be motivated to change. As I recognize the investment I have made in my marriage, I will be willing to face the “hard” facts of my spiritual deficiency, own in the presence of God the grim reality of who I really am, and seek grace to become the person God intends me to be.
The stranger you married may well be the person who helps you to know Christ better than anyone else!