When dissatisfied couples talk about the top reasons for marital conflict, the following problem areas are usually listed:
- Poor communication
- Money and finances
- Sex and intimacy
- Raising children
- Husband / wife relationship roles
- Disrespect and nagging
At Grace Life International, we see these same issues every week when couples come to us for marriage counseling. While these problems are legitimate, they fail to get to the underlying root behind all of these issues. It’s like the problem of having weeds in your lawn. If you only kill what you see on the surface, the weed will eventually come back because you didn’t kill the root.
In the same way, it may help if we teach couples to communicate better, manage their money better, have a better sex life, learn better child-raising techniques, or show better respect to each other. But, after counseling hundreds of couples, we’ve found that these changes only go so far and often don’t last very long. In contrast, when God makes changes in a person’s life, the change tends to last because it is supernatural rather than produced by self-effort.
God digs underneath the surface to reveal the real root of our marital problems. Every one of us has some God-given needs of the heart. At Grace Life, we use the acronym “LAWS” which stands for Love, Acceptance, Worth and Security. God’s intent from the beginning of the human race was for Him to be the primary One who meets these needs apart from another human. Then, when our spouse also meets our needs, we can enjoy it even more.
Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, this process has been turned upside down. We expect our spouse to meet these deep needs of the heart, or we may expect God to meet these needs through our spouse. When this does not happen frustration and conflict become all too familiar.
However, let’s back up a moment. If the deepest needs of our heart were there long before we were married, is it possible that deep patterns were developed as we attempted to meet these needs? For example, prior to marriage a spouse may have learned to yell at people to make them do what they wanted. Or, a spouse may have learned to withdraw and shut down in order to prevent rejection. Other patterns develop over time as well. God calls these ways of coping “flesh patterns.” Some patterns of the flesh are listed in the Bible in Galatians 5:19-21:
“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.” -The Message
When we bring “flesh patterns” into our marriage, we are already headed for trouble. Of course, we can develop new “flesh patterns” after we are married. Do you see why just trying to get people to change their behavior does not get to the underlying source of our marital struggles?
Most couples cannot discover their flesh patterns on their own. Instead, it’s helpful to work with a counselor who can identify and disciple someone through the process. Our staff at Grace Life International are highly-skilled at facilitating a person’s understanding of these patterns. Then, they lovingly show each person or couple God’s alternative in Christ.
Is your marriage struggling? Would you like new insights to enhance a good marriage? We invite you to our life-transforming Marriage by Grace Conference, hosted in our Charlotte office, December 7-8. Bill and Tonda Layle will share their amazingly honest journey and how God revealed to each of them the root issue. You don’t want to miss this God story! Let all your friends know and Click Here to Register Now – The Early Bird discount ends 12-5. (The Marriage by Grace conference is also available Live, Online.)
© Mark Maulding