Relationship Competency – do you qualify to have a spouse?

What would it be like if you had to qualify to be married? What if being a husband or a wife was on the same level of being selected for a high-ranking job?

It sounds absurd in our culture, where a person is “qualified” to have a relationship by the time he is 10 to 12-years old. It’s called dating and anybody can do it.

Dating is considered a right or expectation among most people today. Except for stick-in-the-mud-archaic-Christians, it’s not considered out-of-line or odd at all for an early teen to have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

While I’m for less government, I do wonder what it would be like if a person had to go through a battery of tests in order to qualify to enter into a relationship with the opposite sex.

I know it’s silly and nothing like that would ever happen, but it is something to ponder. If you were put under the scrutiny of a Relationship Competency Exam, how would you do? Do you qualify to lead a wife? Or, do you qualify to follow a husband?

The closest thing we have to this in our Christian culture is premarital counseling, but that is mostly a collection of meetings to rubber stamp the inevitable. The young couple may be trying to listen, but the outcome is already predetermined–they are going to get married no matter what you say.

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I’m not seriously suggesting a Relationship Competency Exam, but I am suggesting more attention needs to be given to what it means to be a spouse. There needs to be more mature critique and practical solutions to a real problem: marriage dysfunction.

A false continuum

I’m not speaking about marriage dysfunction among the unregenerate. Their problem is easy to understand–they must be born again (John 3:7). I’m speaking exclusively to the born again ones–those who say God is their King and they are willingly giving up everything to follow Him.

Those are the ones I interact with on a weekly basis. And if they come to me for counseling, it is because one or both of the spouses do not know how to be a spouse. There is a significant competency problem in many Christian marriages.

They do not qualify to be married. It seems to me like it’s a general assumption if you’re a male, you know how to be a husband and if you’re a female, you know how to be a wife. Not so. The current divorce rate would say that is a false continuum–being male equals being a good husband.

The truth is, being a male or female does not automatically promote you to competent husband or wife status. There is more involved in qualifying for marriage.

I have written scores of articles on being a husband or wife, but in this post I want to take a slightly different approach. I want to take Peter’s word–understand–and unpack it, not just for the husband to learn, but for the wife to learn as well.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:7 (ESV)

The word understand means exactly what you think it means. It means to understand. Do you really understand your spouse? In this case, I’m asking the husband and the wife? Do you really understand the person you are married to?

You married damaged goods

In a recent article I said a wife is a double damaged individual. The same goes for a husband. The person you married is double damaged. He/she has been damaged in two significant ways.

Do you know you married damaged goods? How well do you understand this? If you do not understand this, there is a good possibility you’re going to really mess things up.

This kind of knowledge and the willingness and humility to act on this knowledge is marriage altering. It reminds me of the movie The Hurt Locker. It was about a three-man Explosive Ordinance Disposal team during the Iraq War.

They would go into a town, hoping to defuse a bomb. Marriage can be like that. If you don’t know whether to cut the blue wire or the red wire, there might be an explosion in your home.

This is what makes dating so foolish. If half the current marriages blow up (divorce), how in the world can a teenager understand the intricacies of the opposite sex? It’s setting them up for failure.

Unless they are like my 10-year old daughter who was perplexed I was taking her to a Mac computer training class. She said, “Daddy, I already know everything there is to know about a Mac.”

I’m aware there are some exceptional teens out there who, like my daughter, already know everything there is to know about the opposite sex. (In her case, it’s a Mac.) But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say most kids have not hit this level of near-omniscience and there is more operative-ignorance than true biblical understanding.

Damaged by Adam

The first time we were damaged was at our birth. We were born corrupt, bent toward sin, tempted to fear, and covered in shame. We came into this world messed up. Did you know your spouse came into this world messed up?

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. – Romans 5:12 (ESV)

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12 (ESV)

Yep, you married damaged goods. Nobody gets a free pass on this one, except the Savior of the world–He was without sin. We all came out of our mother’s wombs speaking lies. We’re totally depraved–sinful through and through.

The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. – Psalm 58:3 (ESV)

Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. – Job 5:7 (ESV)

Total depravity means that I and everyone else are depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin. – R. C. Sproul, Human Depravity

  • How well do you understand this and how comfortable are you helping your spouse overcome the damage he/she received at the hands of Adam and Eve?
  • Because your spouse is a unique individual, how discerning (understanding) are you regarding the specific and particular ways your spouse has been messed up?

Everybody comes out of the womb messed up, but everybody does not come out of the womb messed up the same way. Though we are totally depraved, the way in which our depravity manifests is totally different.

Your spouse is unique and he/she needs unique discipleship care in order to be helped to become like Jesus Christ. As his/her spouse, you are called to discern where your spouse is and then help bring him/her from that point, to Christlikeness.

I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! – Galatians 4:19 (ESV)

Paul was in anguish as he thought about how to help the Christians of Galatia to get to the place where Christ was formed in them. I think most Christian parents somewhat understand this when it comes to their children.

Many parents spend a lot of time thinking, worrying, praying, and fretting over their children, hoping Christ will be formed in them. I wonder how many spouses spend that kind of intellectual energy thinking about how to help their spouses to have Christ formed in them.

Who’s #1?

The biggest problem that hinders this kind of humble discipleship is a person’s breaking the two greatest commandments. They are to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:36-40). It is hard for some to put their spouses before themselves.

Too many spouses demand what they want, while relegating their role as a discipler to a secondary function. Nothing will blow-up a marriage quicker than self-centeredness.

This kind of thinking is contrary to the Gospel. The Gospel teaches us how to set aside our desires in order to help a broken person. This is what Christ did and this is how He teaches us to do.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)

He was in the form of God, but set that aside to become the form of a servant in order to transform us, who were damaged by Adam. This is the Gospel (Philippians 2:5-10).

A large bulk of my marriage counseling is spent trying to press this kind of Gospel thinking into the minds of folks in trouble. Not until they get the Gospel right will they get their marriage right.

Your marriage will not be fixed no matter how loud you yell or how much you demand. Your spouse was completely and totally broken down by Adam and she needs your help to overcome. Do you understand this?

In some ways this is not about you. It’s about your spouse and Adam. She has a pre-existing condition. The work you have to do was caused by another. Getting angry about the condition of your spouse is not a good approach to redemptive care.

Damaged by the world

There is a possibility your spouse had wonderful parents and was reared in a near-perfect setting. Even so, your spouse was damaged by this world too. This is what Tedd Tripp calls shaping influences.

Shaping influences are those things that happen to us that shape us into the adults we are today. Sadly, most of us who came into this world damaged by Adam were further damaged by the nonsense that came into our lives as youngsters.

Typically the negative influences in our lives are greater than the positive influences. The condition of the human race is bent toward selfishness, which tends to leave children in vulnerable and hurt places.

We understand the worst of the cases, where sexual abuse and rape are involved. But the more common types of shaping influences are distant dads or angry dads and demanding moms or distracted moms.

Most of us did not have horrible backgrounds, but we were damaged nonetheless, even if in subtle ways. My wife was reared in a Christian home and she talks glowingly about her childhood, but she was also negatively affected by her childhood.

My children will be no different. No child will get from birth to marriage without being messed up in some way, by some of the shaping influences in their lives. It’s not possible. We’re sinful people, living among sinful people, in a sinful world. And there are demonic influences whose main job is to destroy lives.

You’d have about as much of a chance to walk through a car wash and not get wet as you would have of not being shaped adversely by our corrupt world. The nature of sin and the tactics of the devil will not give you a free pass. By the time you get to the marriage altar, you will be double damaged.

Sin’s trifecta

It is hard for me to guard my heart in some marriage situations where the spouses simply refuse to understand what I’m saying here. For example, the angry husband or the demanding wife, who refuse to be governed by the selflessness of the Gospel, are challenging to help.

This has a triple damaging effect on the recipient–damaged by Adam, the world, and the spouse. Needless to say, I have done this to my wife too. The first 5 years of our marriage, I was not attentive to her by applying what I’m writing here. While I did not abuse her in the sense that people understand that word, I was not mature in my care for her.

I did not truly understand her the way I needed to understand her. The other complicating factor were my ongoing demands for her to “meet my desires” first. I was more preoccupied with how she responded to me than how I systematically got into her business. I did not approach her like the boys in The Hurt Locker.

I lacked attention to detail, as well as the application of kindness. She felt it too. One of the main ways I did not serve her was my lack of sin confession. The first 5 years of our marriage I did not confess a single sin to her or ask her to forgive me.

If I was truly interested in her, then I would have been quick to remove the sins I placed on her. It’s like a teen and his car. He’s careful to keep his car clean. Whenever there is a spot on it, he’s quick to remove it.

If I really cared about my wife, I would have been quick to remove the defilements I placed on her. How quick are you to remove your defilements from your spouse? Think about defiling a double damaged person. It’s digging a deeper hole and causing a more complicating effect.

A call to reverse the curse

Concur – Here are some things you can do to reverse the curse on your spouse. First of all, agree your spouse is messed up. She is not entirely sanctified. There are things wrong with her. What are those things? Can you identify them?

Confess – Make sure you are not compounding the situation by adding your nonsense to her problems. Lead her in confessing your sin and seeking her forgiveness. Seek God’s too. There is one hour webinar on this site about how to do that. Click the Webinar link and watch it.

Communicate – Once your mind is adjusted to the reality of her struggles and her temptations and you’re keeping your mess off of her by your humble repentance, start talking to her about how you can best serve her. Tell her your intentions and you guys collaborate on a plan for sanctification.

Collaborate – Your collaboration must be practical. Much of this practical plan will be talking on a regular basis. One of the best things you can do for your spouse is talk to her. There is another webinar on this site called Biblical Fellowship. Watch it. Take notes. Ask the Father to teach you how to apply it.

Community – Let others into your world. Let them know you are just like they are–sinners in need of a grace-filled community to help you change. The nature of sin is to isolate. Don’t fall for this trick of the devil. Bring your sin and your marriage into the light of a small community of friends.

Continue – After you place this article aside, continue to think about and discuss the things in this article. Develop your own plan and implement it. Here are some things we do.

This is not God’s way–in that the Bible does not say, “This is the way, walk in it,” but it is our way–a way we can practically apply the Gospel to our lives and marriage. My hope is this will give you clarity on what you may can emulate for your marriage:

  1. There is hardly a day that goes by where one of us is not confessing our sin to the other.
  2. We are regularly (daily) asking the other person “how is your soul?” This is our way of doing a heart check. It requires the other person to be honest.
  3. We go on regular dates.
  4. We have a consistent sex life.
  5. We talk about our secret thoughts.
  6. We pray for each other.
  7. We ask how each is applying the Sunday sermon to our lives.
  8. We show affection in many different venues, in front of many different people.
  9. We regularly grab, touch, and generally flirt with each other.
  10. We kiss often.
  11. We seek to discern evidences of God’s work in the other’s life and share what we have observed in order to encourage.
  12. We regularly sleep in a hugging (spoon) position until I get hot. I don’t sleep well when I’m warm or hot.
  13. We honor each other in public.
  14. We never talk critically about the other person. (We will address our sin in front of our small group.)
  15. We regularly talk about what God is doing in our lives.
  16. We have lots of fun with each other.
  17. We laugh together and we laugh at each other. (We don’t take ourselves seriously.)
  18. We hold hands–a lot.
  19. We will let each other know if we observe sin in his/her life.
  20. We regularly invite observation from the other person, asking specific questions about how we can change.
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About Rick Thomas

Rick is an author, speaker, consultant, and podcaster. He has been training in the Upstate of South Carolina since 1997. After several years as a counselor and pastor he founded and launched his own training organization in order to encourage and equip people for more effective living. In the early ’90’s he earned a BA in Theology. He then earned a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry and in 2000 he graduated with a MA in Counseling. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow with ACBC. Today his organization reaches people around the world through consulting, training, writing, and speaking.
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