At the end of a football game often times the defensive team will collapse back to prevent a big play in order to preserve their lead. This defensive scheme is appropriately entitled a “prevent defense”. The goal is to prevent the big-play that would jeopardize their lead. The concession, of course, is that they are willing to give up some yards.
This defensive strategy works for short periods of time and only in particular situations of a game. It would be a laughable strategy for the entire game or if you were losing. There is simply too much yardage conceded and the game clock would become an enemy.
When we think about marriages, it appears that many people, particularly men, rely upon a “prevent defense” approach. Their philosophy is that the outcome is secure and they are simply trying to prevent the big-play. They are “playing” to prevent divorce, major unhappiness, or personal discomfort. This is deadly for a marriage. Marriages that employ this scheme are in trouble because, instead of actively trying to improve, they are characterized by a slow decline or are content to just “hold the line”.
This is absolutely unacceptable for us as Christians. We know that our marriages are to joyfully reflect the truth of the gospel (Eph. 5). Just as Christ, our great bridegroom, is not content to let our spiritual marriages gravitate to mediocrity and be characterized by apathy, so too we mustn’t allow our marriages to.
How do we do this? It comes down to one priority: intentionality. We must labor to be intentional in our relationships in view of the presence of sin and priority of holiness. We know that if we allow ourselves to be passive we will avoid everything that makes us uncomfortable. This is deadly for sanctification. It guarantees that we will stay the same. However, Christian marriage is motivated by and to serve as a model of holiness.
How do we do that? Well, take the intentionality and apply it to another word we don’t often like to say: intimacy. I am not simply speaking of physical intimacy (though this is part of it), I am thinking more broadly. By intimacy I mean the mutual closeness that is to characterize this unique and beautiful relationship.
Let’s divide it up into four categories and I’ll explain what I mean.
(1) Mental Intimacy: This is the act of engaging your minds together as a couple. It involves such things learning something new, contemplating new ideas, or debating things. There is a surprising intimacy when you discover things together as a couple. The opportunities are many, of course, but could include anything from learning to swing dance to philosophy of parenting to political discussion. Intentionally engage your minds together.
(2) Emotional Intimacy: This is about being able to communicate your joys, disappointments, longings, and weaknesses. It includes small things and big things. Emotional intimacy allows you to show your sadness as well as your excitements. It enables you to share in the rejoicing as well as the dissappointments that accompanies life’s experiences. Furthermore, it involves being strong when the other is weak. It is key to note: emotional intimacy grows out of trust. This is what gives you the privilege to hold each other up during difficult times and to speak the truth during crushing times. Intentionally engage your hearts together.
(3) Spiritual Intimacy: This involves sharing together in the ordinary means of grace together: prayer, bible study, attending church, etc. Ideally, it would go beyond that to include welcoming admonishments and exhortations from the Word of God. We should even delight in these times and receive them with gratitude knowing that they are a God ordained means of sanctification. Your spouse should be the iron that sharpens you because they know you best and want what’s best for you. Spiritual intimacy involves sharing what you are learning together in the Word and experience as a Christian. It requires being open-minded and humble enough to learn from one another. Intentionally pursue holiness together through God’s means.
(4) Physical Intimacy: Do I really need to explain this one? Many couples divorce this aspect of their relationship from the previous three. Sadly, for some couples, sex is relegated simply to a physical act; and, as a result, there is little discussion about it. This actually impedes mental and emotional intimacy while carving off physical intimacy from its proper biblical influence. In pastoral counseling a lack of physical intimacy is always related to a breakdown in the other areas. Always. So what do we do? We must know our spouse. Do not withhold from one another. Serve one another. Remember that our body is not our own (1 Cor. 7.3-5). Keep it pure and do not defile the marriage bed (Heb. 13.4). Practice and perfect the casual intimacy that does not lead to lovemaking (the hand on the shoulder that only you can do, the handholding, etc–these things that are not appropriate for any but your spouse). And, remember to communicate openly and honestly, welcoming conversation about physical intimacy. Intentionally pursue physical intimacy that reflects God’s design.
A good marriage is never an accident. It takes hard, intentional work over a long period of time. It requires submission to God’s Word and a desire to joyfully reflect the gospel. Far from simply preventing disaster Christians should intentionally pursue excellence in their marriage.