My husband and I had our first fight in the grocery store. I am a list-shopper, and he is a browser. Stopping for nothing, I steer the shopping cart around corners on two wheels, while he lingers over a cheese display, comparing relative merits and flavors at long leisure. I was raised in a home with a bare refrigerator and minimal resources for kitchen creativity. He came from a fully stocked spice cupboard and a philosophy of abundance and celebration around food. To him, our shopping cart looked like a barren waste land of deprivation, while I was becoming convinced that from now on we would be spending 75% of our net worth on food.
By some miracle of grace, we weathered that difference and after nearly thirty years of marriage, we just like each other a whole lot. Since conflict has been minor and transient, I’m fairly unmotivated about reading marriage books, especially when there are so many other areas of life where I really DO need serious work.
However, Making Marriage Beautiful by Dorothy Littell Greco manages to offer hope and sound counsel for those whose marriages are in serious trouble while also sharing practical insights and exercises for helping a pretty-darn-good marriage to become even better and more satisfying.
Two Becoming One
As soon as the words “I do” leave our lips, the process of radical transformation begins for both spouses. The way we handle our vows, the way we manage our egocentric selves in the life- on-life process of living as “heirs together of the grace of life” shapes us either for good or for ill. If I am committed to having my own way no matter what, I will become more and more of “myself” to the detriment of becoming one flesh.
Dorothy Greco brings the clarifying gift of story to her readers through interviews with eight couples from various ethnic backgrounds. Their real life challenges and their commitment to live their way toward healthy relationship practices is both inspiring and instructive. Too, the Grecos themselves know what it is to weather marriage turbulence, also around kitchen and food practices and extending to conversational style and the appropriate place and intensity of emotions in the room.
Viewing their own marriage as a continual work in progress, the Grecos speak with authenticity about the challenges of living transparently within a marriage. Along the way, both Dorothy and Christopher make spot-on observations and analyses of cultural and historical trends that have impacted marriage as we understand it today. Astute biblical insights on human nature and the comprehensive rescue Jesus offers make the book a valuable resource for couples or for groups to work through slowly, sitting with the Questions for Going Deeper that round out the wisdom of each chapter. For example:
“Are you aware of how your sins and limitations affect your spouse? If not, ask your spouse. (But don’t ask until you are able to listen without getting defensive or angry.”
“How important is it for you to be right rather than make sure the relationship is right? Ask your spouse if he or she agrees with your assessment.”
Expectations and Disappointment
Without advocating gender fluidity or neutrality, Greco urges readers to evaluate seriously the validity of pink and blue job descriptions in the home. Influenced by family and by American culture with its extra-biblical gender expectations, couples may either shoe horn one another into tasks that don’t fit or suffer silently from disappointment.
“Disordered attachments” are desires, hopes, or expectations that become more important to us than the relationship, competing with God and his pattern for our marriages and our lives. Ranging wildly from petty preferences to full-on addictions, disordered attachments lead to disappointment and even anger with our spouses.
Marriage and spiritual formation go hand in hand:
“This movement toward Christ and holiness is meant to influence every component of our lives and of our marriages. As we become more like Jesus, we willingly and continuously sacrifice for our spouses rather than protect our self-interests. We extend grace and mercy rather than judgment or retribution. We love lavishly rather than withhold in self-protection and fear.” (306)
God will stop at nothing to conform his much-loved children to the image of his Son. The movement toward health in our relationships is part of that process, and as our marriages become ever more beautiful, the power of God to break into brokenness with healing and hope is put on display.
The costly sacrifice that says, “My life for yours” is rooted in the gospel, and it mirrors the sacrificial love of Christ for his bride, the Church. By grace, we learn to receive God’s perfect love, to return it in spite of all our imperfections, and to let it spill over into a growing marriage that becomes more beautiful with each passing year.
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