Why Our Marriages Stink

As I am preparing to preach a couple of sermons on marriage, I found this old gem. Who knows when it was written but it reminded me of how I must fight to keep my marriage from getting “stinky.”

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  – Ephesians 5.2

What does you marriage smell like?  Although this sounds like a strange question, the relationships with our spouses emit some sort of aroma that everyone can smell.  That smell is either a fragrant offering to God or it’s a putrid stench we try to hide like a Grandma wearing too much perfume—no one’s fooled, everyone smells it.   Sadly, married couples ignore or tolerate the obvious lack of health in their marriage far too long.   If change doesn’t occur, couples find themselves with a growing aversion for one another.  They either end up divorced or living as “married singles”.

I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t want a marriage filled with true joy.  Yet, I can count how many marriages I know that are actually experiencing that on one hand.  It’s not we want to continue to “smell” like Walla Walla Sweets, but we’re often unable or unwilling recognize the source of the problem and deal with it honestly or at all.   I challenge you to take a big whiff of your marriage and identify the aroma.  If you smell something strange, consider the following sources:

1. We do not work at, or on, marriage

Many people spend years in school training for their future careers.  They make sacrifices of their time, spend thousands of dollars, and work extremely hard that they might achieve material success or financial stability. Ironically, the statistics show that workers between the ages of 18 and 38 change jobs an average of 10 times.  The average couple spends little or not time preparing for marriage—something that is intended to last for a lifetime.  Fewer and fewer couples go through marriage counseling, but even if they do, the “intense” sessions usually last a total of a few weeks and the pastor does little more than share humorous anecdotes about how he and his wife learned to put up with each other. They’ll tell you that marriage is, “work”, but give you absolutely no tools to work with.  Marriage is work.  But if you don’t have any tools, your work is fruitless.  We need to equip ourselves tools, educate ourselves with books, surround ourselves with wise people, and work at building our marriages in the same way we build other aspects of our lives.   Then we need to practice, practice, practice, the right things, remembering that practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent.

  1. 2.   We forget our vows

It’s unfortunate how easily we forget our marriage vows.  I often wonder if couples put more time and energy into how sentimental sound of their vows versus actually dwelling on the meaning of what their committing to.  The wedding day is over so quickly, yet, the vows are intended to go on for a lifetime.  Eventually the day ends, years pass, conflict ensues, and suddenly those two lovers, who so easily made promises of commitment to one another are ready to call it quits; pointing the finger to blame everyone and everything but themselves.  At the core of the breakdown is a failure to understand what they vowed on their wedding day.  They forget that the marriage vows are intended to be revisited, everyday.  They forget that the one making the vow is promising what they will do for their spouse, even if the other fails to uphold their own vow to them.  We forget that other than being alive, our vows are unconditional.  The fact that one spouse gains weight, contracts a disease, has an affair, or changes in some other way, has nothing to do with the covenant made.  Make no mistake about, we choose to forget our vows.  It is not a lapse of memory that causes us to fail in our commitment; it is a choice to glorify ourselves as opposed to glorify God.  Dare I say, we choose to stink.

3.  We love sentimentally and not efficaciously

It is easy to say, “I love you.”  If love only remains sentimental, then it is not in fact love at all.  Anyone can tell their child they love them.  But if they fail to feed, comfort, protect, or play with their children, it quickly becomes evident that the love amounts to little more than sentimentality.  Men are called to love their wives as Christ loves the church.  Jesus did more than just say he loved the church.  He died for it.  Christ loved the church efficaciously, meaning, he loved the church with a love that had an observable effect. His sacrifice produced something in those he died for.  Those who believe in Jesus Christ were, as a result of Christ’s love, made free, made beautiful, made acceptable, and made strong.  Unfortunately, men and women often fail to love efficaciously because they fail to love each other beyond feelings.  This failure is a direct result of selfishness.  We consider our needs and desires as more important than our spouse.  That is the very opposite of love.  True love is efficacious love.  Efficacious love requires a denial of the self and will, by nature, produce something in the individual being loved.  A man loving a woman efficaciously will produce in that woman freedom, beauty, acceptance, and strength—and everyone will be able to see it.

 4.  We exchange, confuse, or otherwise ignore our biblical our roles

Quite simply, men and women don’t know what God’s expects of them as biblical husbands and wives.  Instead of reading the bible, we follow culture’s example (or what we learned from Mom and Dad) and find ourselves believing falsehood.  We wrongly believe that man is superior to and dominant over women who are 2nd class citizens or we wrongly believe that there is no distinction between male and female other than biology. The truth is that men and women are equal, but distinct.  This view is rooted in the nature of God as Trinity, and in God’s creation of man and woman.  When we confuse roles, we discover men abusing, abandoning, or abdicating their leadership and we find women trying to fill the void.  Confusion with regard to the roles of husbands and wives is anything but progressive, it is sin and destructive to the marriage Men and women are not adversaries, they are allies—their marriage should enhance one another in their work on this earth.  In this, the man is commanded by God to lead and his bride is commanded to help him    Being a helper doesn’t make her less important, rather, it makes him more responsible.  She is necessary for success—“it is not good to be alone.”  As they turn to the task, since the work is his responsibility, she is his responsibility as well.

5.      We never learn to communicate beyond the surface

It seems that nearly every married couple I meet with struggles in someway with communication.   Some don’t listen each other, some don’t understand each other, and some have simply stopped talking all together.  A couple can get by with poor communication for a very long time but it eventually, their failure to communicate will cripple their ability to resolve conflicts in the other weak areas of their marriage such as sex, finances, parenting, etc..  Poor communication results from an inordinate amount of shallow communication.  Superficial exchange of “facts” is necessary in our lives, it’s the “oil” the greases the wheels of communication.  We go deeper and become a bit more vulnerable when we exchange “opinions”—insights into who we are and what we believe.  With our spouses, however, we need to additionally visit the deepest level of communication where we talk about our feelings.  This is hard for both men and women; men think discussing feelings is girly, and women believe their always discussing their feelings when in fact their usually giving opinions.  It’s natural to spend time exchanging facts, and it’s easy to give an opinion.   If married couples do not get beyond these levels, however, they will not develop true intimacy with one another and eventually begin to talk to someone else.

 In the end, we simply we don’t live gospel-centered marriages devoted to God’s glory.

Of course, there are a hundred other things that are not listed here that make our marriages stink.  Foundational to any smell, however, is the fact that we don’t live gospel-centered marriages devoted to God’s glory. That sounds all nice and Christian, but what does it actually mean?  Quite simply, it means that many of us love our own glory more than God, so we love in ways that are convenient or conflict-free.  A deep belief in the gospel means that you are convinced of three things.  1) That life is about glorifying God–including your marriage. 2)  The best way to glorify God is to look like Jesus.  3)  Glorifying God, and looking like Jesus, is the path to true joy.  Bringing the gospel to bear on a marriage moves one to relate to your husband or wife in the same way that Jesus relates you.  Loving your spouse with the eyes of Jesus means that you see the person for what they are—sin and all—not what they should be. You see their dirt, their weaknesses, their shame, and their nakedness and you still love them.  You love them when they don’t deserve it, don’t earn it, and sometimes, don’t even want it, just as Jesus loved you.  The husband or wives becomes devoted to adorning the gospel regardless of whether the other person does the same.


Author: Sam Ford

Sam Ford is a preacher, planter, and pastor from the Pacific Northwest. He is currently pastoring Restoration Road Church in Snohomish, WA.

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