For those acquainted with the ministry and writings of Paul David Tripp, his most recent book, What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, provides exactly what you would expect: biblically wise, gospel-saturated, redemptive and hopeful counsel to all marriages in need of God’s grace. Rather than offering personal brilliance or a list of ways to help change your spouse, he attacks the heart of the problem, you and your sin, and confronts it with the life-transforming grace of the redeeming God who is present and working in your marriage.

Tripp identifies a central theme in marital problems: unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointments and a variety of sinful responses. But there is hope. God has given his people Scripture to help in their marriages, not only in the “standard” marriage passages, but in the storyline of Scripture. In other words, marriage is situated within the story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation, and the already-not yet, so that when testing comes the God who is present is faithful, powerful, and willing to help us in need.

This God-centered and God-directed hope allows us to worship him (vertical) and build marriages of love, unity, and understanding (horizontal) so that we, as sinners married to sinners, can live for his kingdom and not our own in the foundation-building everyday moments of life. In order to take this “little-moment” approach to marriage, we must live in our marriages with a harvest, investment, and grace mentality. With this in mind, Tripp offers six daily commitments that become daily habits for the kind of marriage that God’s design intended, and his grace can make possible.

What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

Crossway (2010). 287 pp.

Marriage, according to Scripture, will always involve two flawed people living with each other in a fallen world. Yet, in pastor Paul Tripp’s professional experience, the majority of couples enter marriage with unrealistic expectations, leaving them unprepared for the day-to-day realities of married life.

This unique book introduces a biblical and practical approach to those realities that is rooted in God’s faithfulness and Scripture’s teaching on sin and grace.

Crossway (2010). 287 pp.

First, we will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness (chapters 5–6). Marriages will not be changed without confession, and rather than viewing confession as a burdensome act, Tripp helpfully offers a biblical perspective on the grace of confession. It is a grace to know right from wrong, to see and understand ourselves with accuracy and our indwelling sin, to humbly receive criticism and rebuke, and, most of all, to know that we can face our wrongs because Christ has carried our guilt and shame. Therefore, we must build confession and forgiveness into our marriages through honesty, humility, compassion, acceptance, encouragement, patience, and perseverance, knowing that our faith is in Christ and his perfectly obedient life, sacrificial, sin-bearing, wrath-satisfying death, and hope-giving resurrection. It is only by remembering that we have been graciously forgiven by God that this kind of confessing and forgiving marriage will come.

Second, we will make growth and change our daily agenda (chapters 7-8). This growth and change has two sides to it: destruction and construction. Just as gardens need both pulling weeds and planting seeds to flourish, so also a healthy marriage must root out sin (e.g., selfishness, busyness, inattention, self-righteousness, fear, laziness) and plant something fruitful in its place; namely, the fruit of the Spirit. But we cannot do this pulling and planting on our own, which is why it is comforting to know that God knows our struggles and has promised his presence in us and our marriages so that they will be as God designed them to be.

Third, we will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust (chapters 9–10). Marriage cannot be the way God designed it to be without trust. Tripp defines trust as “being so convinced that you can rely on the integrity, strength, character, and faithfulness of another that you are willing to place yourself in his or her care” (138). He provides a very helpful questionnaire that will expose areas where trust is not present. But rather than leaving his readers in despair, he provides biblical wisdom that will help (re)build trust that is rooted in Christ and in what he has provided through his once-for-all work.

Fourth, we will commit to building a relationship of love (chapters 11–12). Marriages often mistake biblical love and lack a clear definition of what love is and does. Markers of a lack of active and living love are disunity, misunderstanding, separation, physical dysfunction, and conflict. It is also easy to mistake counterfeit love for true love. Counterfeit love may have physical attraction, emotional connection, and spiritual and cultural unity, but these can be built on love for self rather than love for the other. Christ-like love, however, is “willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving” (188). Love must take its cue from an event: the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. When love for our spouse is shaped by the cross of Christ, it will work itself out into a myriad of actions (Tripp offers 22!) that are motivated by God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace freely given to us in Christ.

Fifth, we will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace (chapters 13–14). “Unity in marriage is not the result of sameness. Unity is, rather, the result of what husband and wife do in the face of inevitable differences that exist in the lives of every married couple” (210). God sovereignly and wisely created differences in husbands and wives, and when these differences are cherished as God’s means of sanctification, then work can begin in building unity and growth.

Finally, we will work together to protect our marriage (chapters 15–17). Every marriage needs work, and even though some marriages are great, they are not safe. In fact, it is the great marriages that are most susceptible to threat. Therefore we must constantly call out to God in prayer knowing that the reality of marriage is a constant, moment-by-moment struggle of sin and grace. Indeed, prayer keeps us needy and dependent on the God who is present to help. Furthermore, we must remember that the war for our marriages is a war of worship. It is only in loving and worshiping God that we will cease from worshiping ourselves so that we can be freed to invest ourselves in loving our spouses rightly. We can then get on with the daily work of love that must be done with commitment and joy when an imperfect husband is married to an imperfect wife and they are living in a fallen world. These realities are redeemed when our powerful and gracious God intervenes to drive us to the end of ourselves in order to rely and hope in him and all that he has done for sinners like us in Christ.

What Did You Expect? is a must read for every couple, whether you are approaching marriage or have been married for 50 years. Tripp offers an excellent resource that will both prepare you for potential problems and provide a message of promised provision from our great God and Savior. But beware: Tripp’s probing questions will both convict and make you downright uncomfortable, but through it you will be confronted with God’s amazing and redeeming grace lavished upon you in Christ that will help your marriage be what he designed it to be, for his glory and your good.