5 Questions for Newlyweds to Consider
This article is part of the Questions and Answers series.
Q: What is the purpose of marriage?
A: Marriage is for mutual support, companionship, reproduction of the human race, and the promotion of sexual purity. Scripture could not be clearer that God provides marriage as the only context for sexual activity and purity.
For many centuries, even millennia, the fact that man and woman were to be companions was not emphasized in marriage narratives. But while Adam and Eve were called to work together in this world, at a more basic level they were called to be together.
For Christians, marriage is also for church growth, for offering a context for children to be nurtured in the Christian faith, and for reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church (Eph. 5). In all of this, marriage is more about giving than getting.
Q: Who should do the dishes?
A: “When we were first married, I was happy to do everything for my spouse. But now that the honeymoon is over, I want a more sustainable plan for sharing the chores. What’s a good and fair arrangement?”
Fair may not mean “same” and there are no hard and fast rules. You might do the cooking and your spouse might do the dishes. Or maybe the reverse. One might do the shopping while another pays the bills. Dividing the work wisely is largely a matter of stewardship of your talents and partly an understanding of your cultural context and how much you are willing to stand out. Play to your strengths and your preferences, believing that God can give you new skills and that some jobs just need to get done, whether you like them or not.
Here is one tip from a biblical counselor: In general, aim to work at the same time and rest at the same time as your spouse. If your spouse is cleaning the house, this is a good time to mow the lawn rather than read your book, unless of course you are allergic to grass. Then you might fix a bicycle, fold the laundry, pay the bills, or some other chore that doesn’t make you sneeze. The main point is that you encourage each other by working and resting on the same schedule. That doesn’t work in all marriages, but it helps most. Don’t worry too much about how much each person does. You are on the same team, each striving to do as much as you can for your family. Sometimes one person will do more than another for a variety of reasons, and that’s okay.
Chad Van Dixhoorn, Emily Van Dixhoorn
In Gospel-Shaped Marriage, Chad and Emily Van Dixhoorn give a concise assessment of the biblical design for marriage while offering practical advice for married life from a grace-filled perspective.
Q: How can we have good relationships with our in-laws?
A: Odd as it may sound, married couples must not obey their parents (Ex. 20:12). That would be to not leave a father and mother (Gen. 2:24). For a married couple to simply obey his or her parents would be to miss the fact that something new is made in a marriage, including a new head of a new household.
That said, respect must continue. Honoring parents is not just for children. It is for adults too. Do you remember the respect you showed when you were dating or courting? Those conversations when you wanted your potential in-laws to like you? All that good behavior that was on display because you wanted your potential spouse to think that you respected your parents too? That must not be turned off because it is too inconvenient to continue or because the marriage deal is now sealed. Whatever the mixture of motivations for the burst of good behavior that often characterizes family relations during an engagement, it all trends in the right direction, even if the motivations for action need to be recalibrated.
What honor looks like will vary in its details, but the generalities will stay the same. We build up their names in public, guarding their reputations as best as we can. We’ll seriously consider their advice, even if we decide not to follow it. We’ll persevere in communicating with them and try to assume the best of their motives, even in difficult relationships, because God in his providence put us in each other’s life.
The extent to which this may be possible depends in some degree on your family history. If a parent was abusive, you will do more protecting than communicating. If serial bankruptcies or gambling addictions run in the family, you may not want to consult a given parent for financial counsel.
It is because of our desire to honor parents that we try to pray in a focused way in the days leading up to a parental visit. It is because we honor them that we discuss issues directly rather than use a spouse as a go-between. And we expect the same of our parents.
The way in which we treat our parents throughout our marriage, from the complicated questions of the early days to our care for them at the end of their days, is a key part of our Christian testimony. Helping each other love and honor our parents, helping one another through thoughtful leaving and cleaving—rather than venting or complaining—is part of what goes into a godly marriage. And if this has not been a part of our pattern, if we have not helped our spouse or children honor our parents, we can repent and start anew, or confess our sins and do a better job of honoring their memories.
Q: How often should we have sex?
A: If a couple is not yet married, not at all. Nor should they come close to it. If a couple is married, then regularly. Whether that is four times a week or four times a month (stipulating a frequency would be unwise, to say the least), sexual intercourse needs to be the norm and not the exception in marriage, even while Christians recognize that different seasons in life call for different frequencies. The main point is that marital intimacy is intended to maintain and strengthen the bond of marriage. Only in unusual circumstances, such as a spouse with a chronic sickness, could one hope for God’s blessing on a marriage without sexual intercourse.
Any suspension of “together time” as a couple must be discussed together, must be temporary, and must be for important reasons. Of course, “no” might simply mean “later” while someone takes a few hours of sleep to recharge batteries. But if sexual intercourse is going to be put on ice, it needs a unanimous vote. If this is true, it is likely the case that couples should also talk through other reasons for seasons of abstinence, such as recovery from birth or travel for work. Where there is no interest in sexual relations on the part of one or both partners, we need to see this as an urgent problem to address together through pastoral care, counseling, or perhaps very wise friends. The intimate life ought not be like an attic storage room, neglected and only visited upon rare occasions. It ought to be more like the kitchen, regularly enjoyed, maintained, and used to strengthen and refresh.
For Christians, marriage is also for church growth, for offering a context for children to be nurtured in the Christian faith, and for reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church.
Q: How does the call to mutual submission play out within a marriage?
A: As Christians, we are all called to serve one another. This is how we copy Jesus, knowing he came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. In honor of him, we strive to serve and give our lives for one another. Scripture calls husbands to give their lives in a different way from the way it calls wives to give theirs. Husbands are called to lay down their life for their wife out of love. Wives are called to submit to their husband out of respect.
In this relationship, there is mutual submission and still, there is a sense in which a Christian wife is to especially shine in this grace. Something unique is going on. In fact, wives are to submit to their husbands, Paul tells us, “as the church submits to Christ” (Eph. 5:24).
In other words, in a Christian marriage a wife has a respectful perspective toward her husband. She doesn’t submit to her husband as if he has the wisdom and righteousness of Christ, but she has that disposition toward her husband. She does not submit to her husband to the same extent as she submits to Christ, but she has a submissive orientation toward her husband and all his wise and righteous intentions. So each wife is to know her own husband, to learn his preferences, his joys, his weaknesses; to be willing to listen and support him; to celebrate his strengths and be gracious about his failings. She is to be radically committed to respecting her husband and following his lead. Submission is more than a mere duty. It is not just one task that she does. No, submission refers to a role, even more than that, a perspective or orientation that characterizes how she does what she does.
Meanwhile, Scripture calls husbands to honor their wife. There is a sense in which a husband rolls out the red carpet for his wife as the queen of his household. Elsewhere Scripture says that men are to love their wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. Husbands are to love their wife with a view toward her sanctification, giving her time for God’s word, prayer, worship and fellowship.
So, even in a marriage relationship in which a wife submits to her husband, the spirit of serving one another is maintained.
Chad Van Dixhoorn and Emily Van Dixhoorn are the authors of Gospel-Shaped Marriage: Grace for Sinners to Love Like Saints.
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