Looking for a great gift to give to an engaged couple that will help them get spiritually prepared for marriage?

Are you half of an engaged couple and want to enter marriage prayerfully and thoughtfully?

Gary Thomas’ newest book, Preparing Your Heart for Marriage: Devotions for Engaged Couples offers focused spiritual preparation for couples who are planning to get married. The second half of this devotional goes through every phrase of the Statement of Intent and the traditional marriage vows so that during a couple’s wedding, the language will be more than just familiar—it’ll be something they’ve talked about, prayed over, and committed themselves to, making the ceremony all the more special.
This is an adapted excerpt from that book, but the message is just as relevant for married couples as it is for those who are planning their wedding.

Enthusiasm in Marriage: How embracing things your spouse embraces helps everything--especially sex!

The Enthusiasm Factory

“In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3b-4.
There’s a very subtle form of pride that most people don’t identify as pride, even though it’s ruinous to marriage:

   We naturally think our marriages will be happier if our spouses would become just a little more like us.

This is a despicable lie, almost the very definition of pride, and it impacts virtually every aspect of marriage.

Couple A has a woman who likes to resolve arguments immediately and get them over with. She is tempted to resent the fact that her man wants and needs time to reflect on what he’s feeling and thinking before being able to talk. It causes her stress that things remain unresolved for a short period of time; it causes him stress that she’s pressuring him toward an artificial resolution before he’s able to comprehend what the issues are.

   I just wish he was the type of man who could immediately talk things over, she thinks. It would cause me so much less stress, and life would be so much easier.

   I just wish she was the type of wife who could just let things simmer for a while, he thinks. We always work it out in the end. Life would be so much more enjoyable if she just had a little more patience.

Couple B has a man who would like sexual relations at least every other day. He’s married to a woman who thinks once a week would be fine. Life would be so much better, he thinks, if she wanted sex more often.

   Life would be so much better, she thinks, if he could just be happy with a special Saturday night.

Rather than seek to find the middle, we naturally want to bring our spouse over to our “side” of the issue, regardless of what the issue is.

The spiritual challenge of marriage isn’t simply accepting each other, but celebrating the difference, showing enthusiasm for the difference, and even trying to learn from the difference.

Perhaps that’s why wives and husbands are told to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). If the husband always gets his way (or, for that matter, the wife), he’s going to die a much poorer man, spiritually speaking.

An Enthusiastic Marriage

In light of the above, one of the best gifts you can give your future spouse is enthusiasm; not just accepting each other’s differences, but celebrating those differences, admiring those differences, and being thankful that your life together will be that much richer and more well-rounded because the two of you are different.

Let me give you an example from my own marriage. Lisa and I look at food through two radically different lenses. I eat primarily because I hate being hungry, but food isn’t something I get all that excited about. It’s a means to an end for me. Lisa, on the other hand, likes being hungry because that means she gets to eat. So when we travel, she researches the restaurants and then wants to discuss where I’d like to eat before we go. (She’s very into healthy, organic food, which takes a little more effort to find.)

The problem is, I have to work at making myself care. I don’t have much natural interest in restaurant reviews or menus and the fact that it’s “local” doesn’t mean hardly anything to me, but if I tell Lisa “Just choose whatever sounds best to you,” I spoil her fun. She wants me to at least try to sound excited, to show a little enthusiasm (and even to care that the food is sourced locally).

So, loving my wife means listening to her reading the reviews, looking at menus, and trying to be as enthusiastic as possible. When I ran the Houston marathon recently, I ran past a place advertising “Organic, locally raised, grass-fed beef.” I made a mental note and made sure to mention it to Lisa later that day.

I think this same principle of showing enthusiasm holds true for some couples in regards to sex. For some people, sex is a wonderful, sensual, fulfilling, and thrilling experience. For others, it occasionally may feel like a need, but why all the bother? Let’s just do it, get it over with, and move on.

When you’re married, if your future spouse enjoys sex like my spouse enjoys food, and you’re more like me when it comes to choosing a restaurant, it’s simply a matter of kindness to play along and add a little enthusiasm.

Maybe your spouse knows something you don’t. I’m not proud of my attitude toward food, and you shouldn’t necessarily be proud of your attitude toward sex. I could easily make my lack of interest sound spiritual—eating is often called a sensual desire, it’s setting our heart on transient things, Jesus even warns about giving what we eat too much attention—and you could make those exact same arguments against too much focus on sex.

But here’s the thing: Lisa actually serves our marriage by making us care a little more about food and menus than I do. She just about fell into despair when she found out that while I was on a solo speaking trip to a very small town I ate at a Wendy’s three days in a row (“I like the chili,” I explained, “and it was close to my hotel”). And perhaps your spouse is serving your marriage by trying to make the sexual relationship more of a “gourmet” experience than you would otherwise enjoy.

Look, it’s not healthy for me to eat at a Wendy’s three days in a row just because it’s convenient and meets the need. And, sexually speaking, you don’t want “fast food” three times in a row either. So maybe you need a reminder. It would thrill Lisa if I took the initiative occasionally and researched a great restaurant, surprising her and delighting her that for once, she didn’t have to do all the work. And it might thrill your spouse if you put a little forethought into an intimate encounter that required a little preparation and effort.

When you discover these differences, remind yourself that having someone who values arriving on-time and someone who is more spontaneous and struggles with being late balances each other out. If one is too serious and one is too “fun;” if one is meticulously clean and the other thinks life is too short to spend time cleaning; realize you’ll never fully come over to your spouse’s side but you can appreciate, learn from and respect your spouse’s side. The messy person shouldn’t resent his/her spouse’s request to clean up a little better. Accept it. Even better, celebrate it and praise it. You know in your heart of hearts being neat and clean is a good thing, right? Maybe your future spouse takes it too seriously, but do you take it seriously enough?

Do you see how this works?

What I love about this is that serving my wife means caring about something that doesn’t naturally have all that much appeal to me. Choosing enthusiasm thus creates humility, generosity, kindness, and the spirit of service. These are good things. Isn’t this the kind of person you want to become?

And what do we foster when we choose not to care and not to be enthusiastic? Apathy. Self-centeredness. Stinginess. Close-mindedness.

How you treat your spouse is building a particular character.

If you’re a young couple, learning to be enthusiastic about something you’re not naturally all that excited about will serve you very well as a parent with your children (who may end up being very different from you and enjoying different things). It will help you in social situations with strangers. It will assist you as your parents get older and want to talk about their days.

Enthusiasm is a wonderful gift for all of life, and marriage is an ideal “factory” out of which it can be liberally produced.

Want a serviceable definition of “marital humility?” Instead of always trying to make your spouse become more like you, consider trying to become a little more like him or her.

Your Marriage Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for making each one of us different than the other. Help us to see your joy in bringing different people together to learn from each other, support each other, and balance each other out. Save me from the pride that wants to re-make my spouse in my own image. Help me to appreciate him or her just as they are. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Gary’s devotional book Preparing Your Heart for Marriage is wonderful to work through when you’re engaged–or even just newly married! And it makes a great shower gift.
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