In the marriage counseling world, I would often sit with couples who would feel stuck. One person would want one thing, the other spouse would want something else. Usually there was no clear-cut right or wrong either. It was typically just a battle of desires or opinions. And around and around we would go. Most of the time, I would feel like the referee in the striped shirt if I wasn’t careful. Couples would assure me that they were not expecting me to take sides, but if we’re honest, we all want someone to take our side when we want something.
Scriptures do not teach us to deny all of our desires either. Clearly, we should die to those desires that pit themselves against Christ. However, many desires that we have are healthy. The problem with desires within marriage is, you have two different people who often have different desires for different reasons. This is where things can become a complicated power struggle.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” —Philippians 2:3-4
The apostle Paul reminds of some important truths that should help us navigate through these situations. In Philippians 2:3-4 Paul tells believers to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” Wouldn’t we love it if this teaching came naturally? How many tiffs and arguments would this eliminate in our lives?
Unfortunately, we have a sin nature that we all wrestle with daily. This creates within us a “me first” mentality. It is at the root of most of our marital tensions. Again, it is not our desires that are necessarily wrong. It is the way we handle those desires relationally that makes them selfish. Selfishness only makes sense in the context of a relationship.
Ephesians 5:21-33 is an enlightening marital passage of scripture. The apostle Paul goes into detail on the complementary nature of husbands and wives. The passage begins with mutual submission out of reverence to Christ, and ends by commanding husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands. I encourage everyone looking to live in a more united marriage to read the entire passage carefully.
3 Ways to Save Your Marriage from Power Struggles
When we look at this passage we find, at least, the following three things that will arm us to live with less conflict and more harmony in our marriages. The first thing to note is that there is power in submission. When we submit to Christ, we are lining up our lives as they were meant to operate. Submission doesn’t stop with Jesus though. We practice that with one another as well.
1. When a husband starts with submitting to Christ authority, it makes sense that the wife would submit to her husband, since she is also following Christ.
This eliminates so much of oppression that comes with mishandled authority. A husband who is submitting to Christ would never think it was okay to oppressively misuse his authority. Instead, he follows closely what Christ has taught and leads his marriage by that power, not his own.2. Secondly, we observe that we should be prepared to sacrifice in our marriages.
Husbands are instructed to give up their lives for their wives, just as Christ has given his up for the church. This kind of sacrificial love puts our hearts and minds in the right state. Rather than maintaining a “me first” mentality, we begin to adopt a “you first” mindset. This is essentially what happens when we learn to care for something or someone other than ourselves.3. Lastly, we determine to put our spouse’s care needs above our own.
Sometimes this will require that we have conversations about what those needs are. Those needs often get lost in the presence of a power struggle. But if we take time, and try to understand what the needs of our spouse are, we will see that they have legitimate care needs. Learning to express and listen to those needs will help us empathize with one another. And when we begin to empathize through understanding each other, we can stay united.
Unity is the very goal of Paul’s message here. He concludes that, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two are united as one…an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one”. But you cannot have this oneness without submission, sacrifice, and care. If we will strive to develop these qualities in our marriage, no force on earth could separate them, not even ourselves.
Grace Marriage Mission
Which of the three ways listed in this post to you find your marriage struggles with the most? If addressed, how would it help save your marriage from power struggles?
Nathan Thompson is marriage and family pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.