What kind of example are you setting in your marriage?Written by Amy Van Veen
What's inside this article
Whether you like it or not, you’re being watched.
Your kids, those newly married, newly engaged or newly dating couples you know, and your single friends and family are watching how you and your spouse are doing in your marriage.
It can be tempting to think your marriage is just about two people. That the only people your marriage is affecting are the people within the marriage. But the truth is, it’s so much bigger than just the two of you.
You’re setting an example to the people around you, whether you like it or not. The choices you’re making in your marriage and the words you use to speak about your spouse are being noticed.
So the question is, are you setting a good example? Or a bad one?
"To your friends, family, and especially your kids, marriage needs to be viewed as something valuable and precious," Greg Smalley writes in Take the Date Night Challenge.
"Biblical marriage is under attack in the culture," Wendy Kittlitz, Focus on the Family Canada counsellor, explains. "Cohabitation, redefinition of marriage, no-fault divorce, staying in marriages for the children or for the sake of economics but without genuine love – even Christians are experiencing all of these things."
But the reality is, marriage was meant to be so much more.
"Marriage was intended to reveal something profound to the world – two people loving one another, seeking each other’s good, devoted to each other, in the same way that Christ relates to the Church," Kittlitz goes on to say. "That is a high calling and one worth aspiring to!"
It may seem daunting to think that your relationship is the only healthy marriage some people may see – but living out God’s light in your marriage is no different than the call He’s given you to live out His light in your life:
"In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
For your kids
Growing up, the first relationship you were exposed to was that of your parents. Whether they set an example of what to do or an example of what not to do, the way they lived out their relationship had a profound impact on you.
What, then, do you want your kids to take away from your marriage?
Lisa Anderson, author and host of the Boundless podcast, is often asked by parents when they should start explaining marriage to their kids.
"It’s now," she writes in The Dating Manifesto. "I tell parents of young children that if they haven’t started casting a vision for marriage in their homes, they’re already behind. It’s never too early to show your babies what a good marriage looks like. It’s never wrong to teach a young boy the proper way to treat a woman. Little girls should know that wives and mommies have a sacred calling that may someday be theirs. It all matters."
For other couples
There’s a reason marriage mentoring is so effective. "Marriage mentors," Todd Foley writes in a previous Focus on the Family Canada article, "share how they learned to navigate their own relationship, and you can glean from their experiences."
Where is your marriage at now? Would you be the mentor or the mentee? Do you have a goal to be the mentors for a younger couple?
It’s not about being perfect, Foley explains. It’s about sharing a bond. "From this bond, your own marital struggles may become normalized by hearing that another couple has experienced similar situations. No marriage is perfect, but you can take comfort knowing that you’re able to work through your unique circumstances in a way that best suits your relationship."
Even outside of a formal mentor relationship, the health of your marriage can speak volumes to those who are struggling.
"Marriages are healthier when couples are supported by others who value marriage," Kittlitz says. "Individuals can be encouraged to persevere when things get hard, rather than give up and get out. Men and women can model for one another behaviours that demonstrate faithfulness, love and devotion. This can become the norm for all believers."
Remember back to when you were single. Were there marriages that you admired? Whether it was your parents, grandparents or someone in your community, do you recall seeing a couple and thinking, "That is what I want"?
Now think about how your marriage looks from the outside in. What are your single friends seeing? Are they seeing the kind of marriage they want? Or are they only hearing the negative side of things?
Anderson explains it best:
"I just think it’s important to note that when I think back to what I learned about marriage, especially in junior high and high school, I hear only crickets. I can’t remember getting a decent narrative about marriage, even though I was in a circle of folks who would’ve, if asked, said it was a good thing.
"So if most of my peers had the same general experience, where did this leave us? For too many, it cast a dim view of marriage and family. As a result, a big chunk of our generation, as much as we hate to admit it, is pretty afraid of marriage. We’re afraid of getting there, being there, and perhaps most of all, failing at it once we’ve arrived.
"But wait. Between 93 and 96 per cent1 of young adults today want to be married. Even more surprising, almost the same percentage is confident that they someday will be. Marriage is still an ideal held by most. It’s seen as valuable and normative."
Your kids, other couples and the single people in your life see enough broken marriages in the media, in society and in their own communities. They need to be encouraged by healthy marriages. They need to know that even when you’re struggling or you’re having a bad day, you’re 100 per cent invested in your marriage. That in between all the small frustrations, the daily annoyances and the inevitable conflicts, you value, esteem and love your spouse. That even if marriage is work, it’s work you love.
They need to see Hebrews 13:4 in action.
"’Let marriage be held in honor among all.’ That includes those who aren’t married yet and those who may never get married," Anderson notes. "Follow God’s example and have a high view of marriage. Our churches, our culture and our families desperately need it."
Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.
Amy Van Veen is editorial manager at Focus on the Family Canada.
1 Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (New York: Oxford University, 2011), 169
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