At Gateway Church in Austin, we continue our series, How To Kill A Relationship in 30 Days (HTKARI30D).
Having healthy relationships is a pretty common goal, but achieving that goal can be a real challenge. Why is that? Why is it so tough to have happy relationships and to make those relationships last?
According to the Prepare and Enrich assessment which has helped 3,000,000 couples from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities, here are the 5 Relationship Killers:
- Communicate in Code (message notes and message video from North Campus)
- Get Your Way Always (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
- Dwell on What’s Wrong (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
- Don’t Commit (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
- Avoid Conflict (message notes and message video from Gateway South)
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE I SHARED AT GATEWAY SOUTH:
HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE FROM OUR TEACHING TEAM:
Do you know the average wedding costs $20,000 when all is said and done, and the average divorce costs $20,000 when all is said and done. What if I bought a $40,000 Tesla because I had heard from many different people that
- “those cars never break down.”
- “You hardly have to maintain it.”
- “Drive one and you’ll experience ecstasy.”
- “A Tesla will take away all your problems, you’ll always feel happy, it even has ABS brakes and ESC anti skidding so you’ll never crash.”
And so I bought a Tesla, but you find out that two years later, I left it abandoned on the side of the road. Just walked away from a 2 year old Tesla. You’d think I was crazy right. What if I said:
- It was nothing like I expected.
- It kept running out of gas, like every week or two.
- I just got tired of always having to put more gas into it.
- And even though I washed it and pampered it, one day I discovered imperfections!
- Door dings that I had not put there, and electrical problems with the automatic windows.
- And it kept getting dirty—I’d find bird poop on it and dirt and grime.
- And then it stalled out after just two years–just wouldn’t run at all, so I left it, and I’m looking to buy a better car.
If I said that, you’d look at me wide-eyed and say:
“Are you CRAZY? You bought a Tesla, expected to never put fuel into it, never wash it or care for it, never change the oil take it for tune ups? (No), and then when it breaks down—you refuse to take it to an expert or invest money to make necessary repairs? Why?”
“Because I’m going to find a new car that doesn’t have any problems!”
That’s how our society treats marriage.
- We have incredibly unrealistic expectations.
- We’re not prepared to work at marriage.
- Then when we get stuck.
- We refuse to go see experts or let others help us
- And we just leave our $40,000 investment (worth much much more than that in reality) on the side of the road.
In this series we’re talking about how to become the kinds of people who can make healthy, happy relationships last a lifetime—I’ve been speaking to singles as much as marrieds in this because it’s a series about becoming the right kind of person.
Since the majority of singles plan to one day have a serious, lasting relationship—a lasting marriage if you get married or married again—today is really important for singles, just as much as marrieds.
This series is based on research done by Prepare/Enrich (our Soulmates course uses the assessment that over 3 million couples across cultures and ethnicities have taken). It differentiates happy, healthy vitalized married couples from troubled ones.
- In 95% of [Vitalized] couples, they scored high in Commitment and not a single Vitalized couple (0%) scored in the low range.
- In looking at a sample of 2,146 Devitalized married couples, only 23% scored high in Commitment. – PREPARE/ENRICH Study
Commitment turns out to be a great predictor of healthy, happy, lasting marriages,
and a lack of commitment increases the chance of killing a relationship.
So we need to talk about the C-Word. It’s almost a cuss word in our world today.
The Fear of Commitment
Our culture fears commitment or distrusts commitment. Why is that? Why are we so prone to non-commitment?
Ever try to plan something for a bunch of people and try to get them to RSVP? How’d that work out? People don’t RSVP, don’t want to commit!
A sure way to miss a loving, lifelong relationship, and kill a good relationship is with a lack of commitment.
There’s a reason for this. Partially, it’s because we are a culture that experiments socially.
The guinea pigs and laboratory rats of the experiment in uncommitted love, in a me-first society.
Michael Warden, an executive coach and friend of mine explains this phenomena:
“Our experiences growing up — rampant divorce, government betrayal, the death of corporate loyalty — showed us a painful personal way the insubstantial nature of commitment and the consequences of trusting– disappointment, disillusionment, distrust, severed relationships, shattered families. With that kind of history, why would we trust in the value of commitment now as adults?”
And most of us grew up thinking a 50-50 chance of marriage lasting is how it’s always been — it’s a bad odds gamble at best — but it hasn’t always been that way. From the 1970s to the 1980s, there was a 300% increase in broken marital commitments.
The truth is, many of us grew up with a lot of pain caused by broken commitment.
- As one server at a restaurant said recently, “I don’t date, because I consider that the first step towards divorce.”
- We saw the pain it caused mom or dad when the marriage fell apart and we vowed, that will never happen to me.
- Maybe we felt the emotional pain of marriages that stayed together, out of fear or convenience, but were models of self-centeredness rather than God’s unconditional, committed love.
There are many reasons, we fear or distrust commitment.
And by the way, this doesn’t apply to singles only, even if you’re married, you may still struggle in a huge way with commitment which could be the source of marital dissatisfaction.
But if what we want is an intimate long-term love that will go the distance for a lifetime of marriage we must learn commitment. And it’s not too late. But how?
God’ Design For Marriage
Several things—first: I believe, we have to understand God’s intent – because marriage was actually God’s idea – not ours. Let’s look deeper at a passage I read a few weeks ago.
“Haven’t you read, ” [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:4-6
Let me just start by saying, there is an incredible mystery in this whole idea of two people becoming one. It’s a mystery that is not taught on or thought about near enough. And we often miss the spiritual intensity of a relationship because we don’t know the bullseye – what it means to become One.
God had something different in mind when he said, “two become one” because when two people marry, they remain two individuals – separate bodies, separate minds, separate longings and desires.
- But I believe this begins to give us a clue to what he means, “Two become one.” It’s first Spiritual.
- It says that God joins two people together.
- In other words, there’s a very real spiritual event that takes place by God’s design when two people give themselves fully in committed love.
- And that spiritual transaction is consummated in sex – the picture of one flesh.
- You are physically demonstrating what should be true in your heart and soul:
- “I am fully giving myself to you – mind, emotions, body– in a commitment of oneness: To grow with God’s help to take your thoughts into account in all my thoughts. To care about your emotions as much as my own. To care about your desires like my own desires.”
- That’s oneness.
God gives us a mental picture in scripture:
He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. Ephesians 5:28-30
The oneness commitment of marriage is sacred because it’s meant to reflect Christ’s commitment to us. And what happens in this mysterious joining of two people into one, is that your marriage in some sense gets a soul. It begins a life of its own.
You can’t just bring a baby home from the hospital and say:
- “Well junior, it’s great to have you living with us, look, Mi Casa es Su Casa, just help yourself—here’s the fridge, we keep the food here.
- Here’s your crib, fresh diapers, change those right away, I hate dirty diapers.
- Let’s see, what else do you need to know—oh, one very important rule in our house—Wednesday night is “Survivor” for your mom and I—so, if you could just keep the noise to a minimum on Wednesday Nights.
- And off you go to your regular routine as if nothing’s changed.
Guess what? Without sacrificial commitment, that baby’s not going to survive!
- Believe it or not, a marriage won’t survive either without full commitment to grow and maintain that new life! The soul of that marriage needs attention to survive!
- And married couples, even after 3 decades of marriage, we’ve found you can’t stop exercising, feeding, and caring for your marriage and think it’s going to stay healthy.
- It’s a Life—One Life from 2.
But notice also, it’s really 3–God never intended to be left out of the marriage equation. The assumption is that God is involved, joining people together, teaching us how to love with God’s unconditional love. God is the author and source of all love, and God, not Hollywood can best teach us what love is. 1 John 3 says,
“We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us. And so we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16
What this is saying is that real love, lasting love, IS committed love. This is what we all want, we want relationships that exhibit this godlike kind of love toward us.
- A love that knows us fully, warts and all, yet will never leave or abandon us.
- A love that believes the best and hopes for the future.
- A love that can change and grow with time.
- A love that’s unselfish, thinking of the other first.
That’s God’s love, but you’ll never get that if you can’t also give the love you want.
Here’s the problem, our wounded culture of divorce-trauma has trained and brainwashed us into thinking non-commitment is the way to get what we want.
If you’re interested in a marriage relationship that lasts, believe it or not, one of the worst things you can do is live together with no commitment first.
- You know, conventional wisdom says – the best way to make sure you’re not marrying the wrong person is to try it out first.
- Start playing married—have sex, buy a house, move in—do all the external, things that look like marriage, take her for a test drive, see if you want to commit for life.
- And currently 65% of teens and young singles think this is a good idea. It’s Not!
- In fact, it increases the odds of long-term failure significantly!
Now, I know a lot of you have lived together, some of you are living together now, and I’m not saying this to judge or condemn you. I’m saying it because I care about you.
I’ve counseled many couples over 25 years, and watched many heartbreaks thinking the cultures wisdom will work. I want you to succeed. I’ve also watched many couples living together or already married, rethink how they approached marriage—and they’ve thrived.
So if you are living together, or thinking that’s what you may do, just try to be open minded to the research:
- Rutger’s State University did extensive research on Living Together before marriage. Listen to their conclusions, “Virtually all research on the topic has determined that the chances of divorce ending a marriage preceded by cohabitation are significantly greater than for a marriage not preceded by cohabitation.” –Rutgers National Marriage Project
A lot of words, let me translate: Don’t live together if you want a life-long relationship! It won’t help, it only hurts your chances of a lasting, healthy marriage! In fact, this study says, “No positive contribution of cohabitation to marriage has ever been found.” – Rutger’s
- Don’t like what Rutgers is saying? Try Psychology Today:
“Living with your partner before tying the knot may help you pay the rent, but it could cost you the relationship, new research suggests” –Psychology Today.
- Or look at the findings of the Prepare/Enrich Study–this isn’t my opinion, it’s research that no one talks about for some reason: They conclude: “In comparing dating couples living together versus apart, the differences were dramatic. Only 21% of [those] living together were Vitalized, compared with 51% of the dating couples who didn’t live together.”
Why? Why would this be?
Well, researchers don’t know exactly, but I think it’s because you’re not training yourself for Oneness–to become a Committed person.
God’s love is a committed love. Unconditional. Unconditional means no conditions.
But if you’re living together to see if you’re compatible, you’re playing married without the one thing that’s most needed—unconditional commitment to never leave or forsake you.
Look, I know what everybody’s doing. But everybody’s getting divorced too.
Yes, you can point to marriages that make it after living together, but look, is it possible to go from the top to the bottom of Niagra falls in a barrel and survive? Yes—some have. But there’s a much safer, wiser way.
With only 50% odds as it stands, why would you choose to increase your odds of relationship failure or divorce to mid-70%.
So what should we do in a world scared to commit that encourages living together?
What if you are single or dating?
If single or dating, commit to develop your relationship spiritually and emotionally and wait to be sexually intimate and wait to live together until marriage.
- Read the paper Should We Live Together Before Marriage – Rutgers [google it and it will come up first.]
- Read the book Living Together by Mike McManus a former Time Correspondent and reporter.
What if you are living together now?
If you’re already living together, read these as well, but then consider something crazy – fasting from sex until marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:5 may surprise you.
“Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 1 Corinthians 7:5 NIV
God’s design is for a married couple to be intimate often and every time as a recommitment of your covenant of Oneness with each other, but there are times when we are to fast from sex in order to pray and focus on growing spiritually.
- Sexual Intimacy does bond, but it creates a bond that masks issues that will be revealed when you fast so you can work on a foundation that lasts like becoming better at communicating, being more flexible, an other-centered rather than feel-good now kind of love.
- Listen to last three weeks if you missed at ericbryant.org.
I’ve seen couples fast from sex for their entire 13 months of engagement after having lived together.
I’ve seen couples move into two different places after living together and starting afresh.
None of the couples I’ve seen do this have ever come back to me to say they regretted that temporary sacrifice.
But many came back saying, it allowed them to grow to trust each other more and communicate more, and showed a level of commitment that they could build on going forward.
What if you lived together and now you are married?
- Don’t fret!
Don’t believe the darkness that tells you that your relationship won’t make it because it got off on the wrong foot.
- Just plan on being more intentional with working on your marriage.
- Start serving together on Sundays.
- Go to recovery together. New Women’s Group is full, but you can go to our Open Share group and get a sponsor to go through the 12 Steps one-on-one. There is still room for the men, but it is filling up quickly. Go to gatewaychurch.com/south today!
- Start going to counseling or register for our Marriage Workshop coming 10/13. Go to gatewaychurch.com/restore (classes on Boundaries, Financial Peace, Pre-marital course called Soul Mates, Domestic Abuse Recovery, Grief Share)
Whether single, living together or married, work on a lasting foundation.
Chip Ingram wrote a great book, Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships. He points out that Hollywood’s wisdom of lasting relationships is what we’ve all been indoctrinated with. Here’s the basic formula:
1). Find the Right Person
2). Fall in Love (get the sexual energy revved up, work toward an emotional high, tingly feelings—this is the sign of true love)
3). Fix all your hopes and dreams on that one person.
4). If failure occurs, repeat steps 1-3.
It’s a me-centered, how do I feel, uncommitted approach.
We start with the Physical as the foundation. It’s all about attraction, sex appeal, how they make us feel about ourselves. If sparks fly, the couple gets sexually involved early on. If this experience is positive, a couple moves on to the next phase.
Emotional –this is the romantic/infatuation phase of “falling in love,” filled with euphoric feelings and increased physical expression. The couple often avoids talking about differences because the relationship is precariously balanced on the physical and emotional, it tends to be filled with mood swings from wild adoration to insane jealousy. Some couples get stuck in the makeup and breakup phase, but if they last eventually they moved to the next phase.
The Social phase is where they get to know the person’s family and closest friends, where they either find warm approval or dire warning signs from the other people in this person’s life. Usually the warnings go unheeded, when they’re sexually and emotionally entangled.
About this time they entered the Psychological phase— it can’t be avoided– the stresses of life and varied experiences create certain questions and needs in the relationship.
Flaws and potential problems begin to surface as they see the “real person.”
The fragile nature of the relationship becomes clear and often one or both partners push for something more exclusive and permanent.
The Spiritual Phase – Even those with little to no religious background, often sense that marriage and a wedding is something sacred. But unfortunately, sprinkling a little pastor dust at a wedding ceremony, no matter how beautiful and sacred it feels will not turn around a shaky foundation.
Now, no matter where you are, It’s never too late to learn committed love.
God’s path turns this pyramid upside down, it starts with the Spiritual, then Psychological, Social, Emotional, Physical.
Spiritual is the foundation of committed love.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us.” Ephesians 5:1-2
God’s path is the opposite of Hollywood’s:
God’s Path to Committed Love
(which can be for when you are dating OR if you are in a tough place in your marriage right now!!):
1). Become the right person.
2). Walk in love.
3). Fix your hope on God and seek to please him through this relationship.
4). If a failure occurs, repeat steps 1-3.
Spiritual first means your foundation is to think first about what God wants for that person, not what you want.
If dating, You interact at the Psychological level — getting to know that person and letting yourself be known, trusting more and more without going emotionally or physically overboard before a strong, lasting friendship is developed. You learn to be a trusting, honest, committed person and you see if they are too—through highs and lows.
Then you get to know the person in their Social context, their friends and family can tell you a lot.
Then the Emotional feelings of love start to develop, but they are not just a romantic high, they’re reality based because you know the real person.
Finally, you let the Physical expression match the commitment. You save sex for the context God intended – a life-long commitment to oneness, mind, heart, and body.
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…. Hebrews 13:4
God tells us this to protect us and provide fulfillment–because it’s how sexual love is designed to work best.
- Studies have shown that sexual fulfillment increases when there’s emotional intimacy, communication, and commitment.
- You can express yourself emotionally, and physically in ways that honor God and each other, but stay true to just how committed you actually are.
And for all marrieds, especially those struggling right now. Don’t leave the Tesla in the ditch! Don’t give up so easily. Work on your marriage, but with God’s help!
In Minnesota, 66 percent of those who are currently divorced answered “yes” to the question, “Do you wish you and your ex-spouse had tried harder to work through your differences?” Most look back and say “we could have worked at it harder, we gave up too fast.”
God loves you and will help you.
God’s love is what we all want, and God wants to help us love like He loves—in marriage, dating, friendships, family. Isn’t this what you want?
For all of us we can grow in our willingness to commit to relationships – certainly marriage but also friendships, our church family, our extended family, our career.
Too often we jump from job to job or friend to friend or church to church or relationship to relationship.
Our goal in life should not be happiness according to the world’s standards. Our goal in life should be to become the person God created to be and experience the abundant life He has for us!
As we love God and love people, we begin to experience the fruit of the spirit.
Consider these 5 ways we can grow in our commitment to love others the way God loves us.
No Fear of Judgment
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that [God’s] love has not been perfected in us. We love each other as a result of his loving us first.” 1 John 4:18-19
See real, lasting love doesn’t cause fear that if you don’t perform in bed you’ll be judged, that if you say something wrong or don’t live up to expectations, or don’t make enough money they’ll punish you or leave you.
There’s no fear—no need for defensiveness. Your deepest secrets can be known without fear of judgment. That’s the kind of committed love God has for you and wants to teach you to give to others.
As we’ve discussed, have the humility ask others to help you grow and overcome your blind spots so they will want your help for theirs.
People don’t change when they feel judged. They change in the context of love.
No Fear of Abandonment
“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Hebrews 13:5
Real love does not quit. If you have put your trust in God. He says he will never abandon you, even though you will let him down and fail to perfectly follow his will. That’s the kind of love, he offers you and he wants to be able to sustain that kind of committed love.
Have you given up on somebody too soon?
Consider how God may want you to reach out to them today.
Maybe you just need to have a heart to heart giving them a chance to know how you are feeling before you just abandon them.
So often we have arguments in our heads and assume the worst in others without finding out what they truly meant or intended.
No Fear of Rejection
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.” Romans 15:7
God takes us as is.
Christ accepts us for who we are, people with flaws and blemishes, and yet he sees, who we have the potential of becoming. He believes in us. Can you imagine a love, where you feel so accepted and believed in, you are not afraid to face your undesirable parts and begin to grow?
This is the committed kind of love, God wants you to experience from him, and he wants to teach you to give that kind of committed love.
Sometimes it is forgiving someone for the same mistake over and over and sometimes it is forgiving them for the one big mistake they made that keeps tripping you up every time you think of it. You’ve forgiven but you haven’t forgotten which means you still have a wound. Recovery and counseling or both can help when you are stuck
No Fear of External Threats
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The Angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away.” Romans 8:38-39
Real love breeds security, it’s committed to let nothing can come between you and the other person. That’s God’s love. That’s real love.
Our fears keep us stuck. In a world of 40% infidelity, we need God’s help getting there. But this love is impossible without learning to be committed people.
Are you throwing out the divorce word?
Are you contemplating separating?
If either of those is true, you are in a dangerous place. You need to recalibrate your life and make counseling and investing in your marriage a priority.
- God’s love for you is real.
- No matter what decisions you have made.
- No matter what thoughts you have had.
- No matter what regrets you may have.
- No matter what because of God’s love for you, you do not need to fear judgment, abandonment, rejection, or external threats.
Right now you can start afresh with God.
Right now you can reconnect with Him.
Right now you can start a new relationship with Him by choosing to surrender your past, your present, your future, your relationships, your mistakes, your regrets, your bad choices, and all you are to His loving forgiveness offered through what Jesus did for you and me by dying on the cross and rising from the dead.