I have worked my way through this book over a couple of months. It took time and energy to read. It took a willing heart to hear what it had to say and it took humility to accept it. It will take longer to absorb its teaching and a lifetime to apply it. It was very, very good.
Up until now when we recommend marriage books they have generally fallen into two categories:
- The “why of marriage” books. A reason for marriage and a lifting of one’s vision to see it’s all about God being at work in you both, not solely about the two of you. (eg. The Meaning of Marriage, Married for God)
- The “how to be married” books. The practical ones with tips and helpful ways forward. (eg. Now That You’re Engaged, Things I Wish I’d Know Before We Got Married, Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages).
I think Paul David Tripp has managed to combine the two in a way that is practical yet completely grounded in the gospel and God’s grace.
It’s not an easy read. It challenges you to the core of your being as to why you got married and what you expected from it. From that he makes it clear that:
- You are conducting your marriage in a fallen world
- You are a sinner, married to a sinner
- God is faithful, powerful and willing
His overarching message is that a marriage of unity, love and understanding will grow out of a daily worship of God. It is our relationship with God that matters. How we view him as creator, sovereign and saviour defines the way we view our marriages. Addressing how we view God (our vertical relationship) is the key to how we view our marriage (our horizontal relationship). He emphasises that the mentality of a healthy marriage is living with a harvest mentality (there are consequences), an investment mentality and a grace mentality.
The main body of the book is structured around 6 commitments of marriage:
1. We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness. These powerful chapters nut out the real need for grace with each other on a daily basis. He strongly endorses a lifestyle that is confessional and forgiving in depth.
2. We will make growth and change our daily agenda. We must be willing to pull out the weeds in marriage – selfishness, busyness, inattention, self-righteousness, fear and laziness and replace them with fruitful seeds, for “you cannot escape the influence of what you do and say on the person you live with and your relationship to him or her.” (p117)
3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust. We must be willing to trust one another and be am person who is trustworthy, for trust is “readily given, easily broken and costly to restore” (p152). He claims that the early years of marriage are building years so we must set patterns of being straightforward, keeping our word, facing up to wrong and keeping short accounts of wrongdoing. To keep this up we must be talking, listening and praying.
4. We will commit to building a relationship of love. These chapters were quite challenging, exposing false ideas of love – the attraction that might be only physical, emotional or spiritual. Yet true love is cruciform – cross-shaped - and has very high goals. This chapter was a little overwhelming in terms of how true love could really look in a marriage, yet again grace was emphasised to show that none of us can do this alone.
5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace. These chapters addressed the positive ways differences can affect our marriages and then he dealt in depth with the idea of never letting sun go down on your anger. I am in two minds about this one, from personal experience, continuing an argument at night is often a bad idea for us. However the principle of never letting anger remain between you or always dealing with an issue is a good one.
6. We will work to protect our marriage. This is the section for those who already count themselves as having pretty good marriages. The risk of thinking you have a good marriage is that you stop working and start coasting, “there is one thing you have to accept: your marriage may be great, but it is not safe. No marriage this side of eternity is totally problem protected. No marriage is all it could be.” (p238) God’s grace can work things in all marriages, but you still have to do the work. He then encouraged couples to make prayer a central part of the marriage and to continue to remind themselves that it is their relationship with God that defines their marriage. It is both toil and trust. Work daily at the relationship yet trust that God is faithful, powerful and willing.
A very helpful book for any couple who are willing to keep putting in the work to make their marriage better.