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What Christian Marriage Actually Looks Like

What the Bible and 126 marriage studies have to say about building a healthy Christian marriage.

 
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When a Christian theologian and a marriage researcher teamed up, they found some remarkable things.

In recent decades, scientists have researched why marriages succeed and fail. In fact, the Lasting therapy team synthesized 126 longitudinal marriage studies together to uncover the true foundations of marriage health. Remarkably, their research has finally caught up with how Scripture has answered these questions for millennia. 

Read on to explore this faith-meets-science integration and come to a deeper understanding of the scientific and theological foundations of your relationship, which will equip you with the right knowledge and skills to better care for your partner. 


Marriage, The Bible, and Science

Let’s start by staring reality in the face: marriage is messy.

It offers wonderful, life-giving, long-term satisfaction, but because we’re all sinners marrying other sinners, it can also be confusing, complex, and tough to navigate.

Because of this, many people aren’t actually aware of what makes marriages healthy. Traditional wisdom says that learning how to “communicate” so that you can “work through conflicts” are the keys to unlocking a healthy marriage.

But both science and the Gospel have definitively proven that wrong.

The foundation of marriage isn’t simply learning how to express yourself more clearly, and it isn’t just learning how to be positive during conflict. Those skills are important, but they won’t address your marriage at its deepest level.

So, what will?

Let’s first consider the science.

Landmark studies show that the foundation of your marriage is emotional connection.

Marriages are determined by thousands of moments in which partners try to connect with one another. These moments are referred to as “emotional calls.”

Emotional calls can be simple, such as “How do I look?” or "How was your day?,” or they can be complex, such as a spouse’s need for emotional comfort during a difficult time.

Regardless, it’s important to think of these as attempts to connect rather than actual connections because they can either succeed or fail. Successful attempts are a key characteristic of couples who are able to form healthy marriages. Their emotional calls are almost always successful: nearly 9 times out of 10.

Over four decades of work, Dr. John Gottman, the world’s foremost marriage researcher, discovered that healthy couples respond positively to 86% of one another’s emotional calls, while unhealthy couples, who eventually get divorced, respond positively only 33% of the time.

Here’s a snapshot of why this matters so much:

Science has discovered that, at the core of every emotional call, you’re really asking one question… "Will you be there for me?"

In a relationship, you always have the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to this question. Consider the following:

“Will you be there to help me?”

“...to give me attention?”

“...to take care of our family?”

“...to choose me over friends?”

“...to choose me over work?”

“...to stay sexually interested in me?

When you meet your partner’s emotional calls, no matter how big or small, you’re essentially telling them: “Yes, I’ll be there for you. You can trust me.”

And while you can’t meet every single call, over time—across thousands of calls—your brain literally forms an opinion on whether or not your partner will truly “be there” for you in your marriage.

Simply put, if partners don’t learn to “be there” for each other, clearer communication and more constructive conflict won’t matter one bit.

You must put emotional connection first.

With that, let’s switch gears to the Gospel.

While science has published recent findings showing that emotional connection is the foundation of a healthy marriage, God has been saying it since the dawn of time.

And nowhere does he proclaim it more clearly than in Jesus.

According to the Bible, earthly marriage reflects a cosmic one: Christ and his Church. And Jesus offers lots of metaphors to describe how he treats his Bride.

He gives one such metaphor in the parable of the lost sheep. When one foolish sheep wanders away from the herd, the shepherd doesn’t just write it off and focus on the ones that stayed put. He goes out looking for it, knowing that the sheep won’t survive without Him.

The actions of a shepherd who goes to such lengths proves something to more than just the single rescued sheep.

Picture the shepherd carrying the lost sheep back to the flock. What effect would that image have on the other sheep? They no longer have any doubt that the shepherd will always “be there” for them.

Even when we reject God’s emotional call toward us, as in the parable of the Prodigal Son, when we reach back out to Him, he is there for us again, and again, and again.

And this brings us to the key concept of this session. There are no lengths to which God wouldn’t go—hasn’t gone—in order to answer our emotional calls. His commitment to his people is so much a part of his identity that it’s in his very name: Immanuel means “God with us.”

In this way, all the tiny attempts to connect with your partner give you the opportunity to reflect the Gospel. Spouses are supposed to be there for one another, just as Jesus is always there for them. When this happens, it’s a reflection of God’s commitment to His people, and when it doesn’t happen, which is inevitable, it’s a reminder that humanity desperately needs a Savior.

Literally, when your partner asks you, “How was your day?” and tries to connect, you can be reminded of how God tries to connect with you and empowers you to connect with your partner.

That’s the basis of Christianity: God pursuing us and empowering us via the Holy Spirit to care for our neighbors and our spouses.

As you form a healthier marriage, the signals of the Gospel also increase. You begin to experience deeper levels of emotional connection, trust, and sacrifice, which ultimately point to Jesus.

Have you ever thought about your relationship as a reflection of the Gospel?