As a Chinese saying goes, "A man should get married on coming of age, and so should a girl." When love reaches a particular stage, two people who love each other will naturally want to get married. But falling in love is easy while living with another person is hard. After the end of the pandemic in 2020, there were long lines of couples waiting in front of civil affairs bureaus in many provinces and cities for divorces. The daily trivialities during the period of domestic isolation become catalysts for divorce.
Marriage is that two people with entirely different growth backgrounds, experiences, and character come together. So in marriage, we need to be more tolerant of each other and try our best to accommodate each other. But how should husbands and wives tolerate each other's shortcomings in marriage? In the face of realistic conflicts, how should we deal with them? What can the church do to help married believers?
Christian Times, a Shanghai-based Chinese Christian newspaper, invited Mr. Geng, a professional Christian matrimonial and familial consultant, to answer these questions in detail.
Mr. Geng worked as a counselor at a community center to rehabilitate people with mental illnesses. Having been invited by some societies to give marriage-related counseling lectures, he mentioned that he chose to take the exam for a married and family consultant's qualification certificate because the people around him witnessed his marriage as a Christian. At first, he just communicated with some people personally and gave them some marriage advice. Later, he hoped to help more people who have needs and doubts about marriage and mate choice. Therefore, he decided to obtain a marriage consultant's certificate, hoping to serve both Christians and non-believers with more professional knowledge and perspective.
Christian Times: Mr. Geng, you have been married to your wife for many years. How do you get along with your wife in your marriage life?
Mr. Geng: From my experience, the first thing is to respect each other. This means that the couple shall be equal in personality and can not wonder in the heart that "I don't deserve him/her or she/he doesn't deserve me." Being a couple means that the other party is the best choice in your range of mate choices, and for him/her too. Since both sides have made good choices, they should respect each other. Nowadays, many families have problems, and too often, these problems are caused by this.
Second, mutual appreciation. The premise of mutual appreciation is: "You are the best option I have." The Bible says, "It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth." (Proverbs 20:14). This tells us that we can make our own choices when we are picking our mates. Still, once the relationship is established, he/she is your partner, and it's time to brag and appreciate his strengths.
If two people don't appreciate each other, the foundation of the relationship would be corrupted easily. Once the inner foundation is eroded, it is useless to decorate the outside rather than decorate the room once the house's main body collapses.
Third, the couple's consistency in their beliefs. We Christians shall think the same way in preparing for service. For example, my wife and I have not changed our original intention in the past few years since we married. We have participated in each other's faith and the world, and we often communicate about the experience of helping others.
Fourth, the sex life between husband and wife should be harmonious. Physical intimacy is essential in a couple's life. Chinese people are relatively reserved, so couples in families are often too shy to talk about this. Even some marriage teachers feel difficult to talk about this.
But whether it is in daily life or specific counseling, marital life is essential. Couples who are interested in each other's bodies and minds will continue to appreciate each other. This will also make them care more about each other, and the relationship will naturally be much better.
Christian Times: As far as you know, what is most Chinese families' marital status today?
Mr. Geng: From a macro point of view, according to my observation, the marital status of Chinese families now conforms to the parabolic principle. It means that the minority of couples are in low or good marital status. In contrast, couples with moderate marital status are overwhelming. And the vast majority of these matrimonial states can be summed up in words "make do." These couples always had something that held them together. These factors may be as varied as love, parents, children, or financial interests. The general goal is "to get married and have a child, a family, and a life."
From a micro point of view, the relationship between the husband and the wife in a family is between two individuals and two different original families with unique brands and cultural backgrounds. So the running-in between two people is not so easy.
In the past, marriages were more stable because the social structure was stable. Nothing extraordinary happened, there was not much turnover, and people around were familiar. But the times are different now. With the large turnover of people, the rapid changes in the social environment, the fast development of the market economy, and the exchange and penetration of various ideas in the West and around the world, people's thinking is not as simple past. This also leads to the old foundation and model of marriage can not adapt to the current complex and dynamic environment; Once the things that hold a wedding together break down, the marriage breaks down.
Christian Times: In the face of conflicts, how should couples deal with them and maintain their marriage?
Mr. Geng: First, there must be a solid foundation. At least one party needs to think about the basics of their marriage. If one partner tries to make their marriage work, the union's foundation will become more vital. Christian marriage is based on faith. Christians serve Christ by serving each other. The non-Christian or immature Christian needs to be realistic and consider in his/her case what the foundation of marriage is. As the marital status improves, a new foundation can be built. Both sides should work hard based on marriage.
Second, mutual respect. There shall be boundaries for couples. The book Boundaries in Marriage talks about couples respecting each other, limiting, understanding, and restraining marriage. Never cross boundaries in life, especially legal boundaries and the boundary of respect. If the other person's dignity is violated, it may seem that one person wins, but the marriage deteriorates.
Third, bonding. Two people need to express their love for each other. There's a good test in the book The Five Love Languages. This is a test to see if the language of love between a couple improves throughout the marriage. How can the husband and wife's expression at their present stage make the other party happier and feel more love in marriage? This is what the husband and wife should consider.
Fourth, maintaining relationships. If we're expressing love, it feels like we're just doing it alone. So we shall also feel loved. We shall remember that it's God who brought our partners into our lives, and we shall be grateful for all that this person has done for us. Only when you get along with each other with gratitude, love would be out of willingness, without any reluctance.
Christian Times: What do you think is the most critical aspect of a couple's relationship in the family?
Mr. Geng: The most important thing for couples to get along with each other is that the marriage foundation should be reliable. For example, some marriages are based on their partners' high level of appearance or high IQ. When this happens, we have to see whether the marriage basis is reliable. If it is reliable, the marriage is healthy; If it's unreliable, it's probably not a good fit. But if they want to stay together, they have to build a new foundation.
Christian Times: What do you think the church can do today to help believers with some of the marriage problems?
Geng: First of all, churches can organize youth activities for unmarried people. In today's society, everyone is busy, and a blind date is just a meeting. It's hard to judge a person's reliability in this way. Since their parents are unbelievers, busy working and living, and have little social interaction, many brothers and sisters put off marrying for a long time, which leads to few chances to meet people of the opposite sex.
Churches can organize youth activities, such as outdoor activities. Youth activities help people to show their ability, personality, and way of doing things, etc. Through these activities, young people can have contact, know, understand and admonish each other. Simultaneously, some problems can be avoided in group activities, such as taking extreme measures due to love.
Second, for married couples, the church can form a family fellowship. The family fellowship has three types of activities:
The first type is the husband's group and the wife's group. They can discuss topics, roast their partners and share experiences.
The second type is the study group. People can correct their wrong ideas through learning. This also lets everyone's marriage improve together.
The third type is the support group. Married couples can help unmarried or newly married couples—sort of like tech counselors for marriage.
Christian Times: Some young people want to get married but are afraid of getting married. Do you have any suggestions for them?
Mr. Geng: I can answer this question well. I didn't want to get married when I was 21 or 22 years old. I didn't want to get married until I realized that God granted the beauty of it to me.
First, I advise all brothers and sisters without a clear call, revelation, or inspiration for a lifetime of celibacy to enter into marriage. Getting married is not about getting married right away; it's about getting married as a goal. Even if you don't emotionally want to get married, you have to know intellectually that it's the right thing to do.
Second, be proactive in your preparation. I have four tips about practice.
1. We shall consider: Am I suitable for marriage? Or why would someone choose me as his/her partner? We can put ourselves in the other's shoes. If my brother and sister get married and find a person like me, would I be satisfied? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What kind of life do I want to live? These should be clear to ourselves. And we should improve ourselves to become charismatic and reliable people. When preparing, we should not be too obstinate. We should seek advice from the old, wise, and capable persons. Listen to the opinions and proposals of others to correct the shortcoming of oneself and exploit our potentialities.
2. We shall also think about finding the one to accompany us through the rest of our lives. I suggest that we make a screening table in our hearts. List the brothers and sisters about the age around us from the faith, character quality, economic conditions, life direction, etc. Exclude people with different values, unacceptable personalities, unsuitable temperaments, and apparent personality disorders.
This doesn't mean that people with personality disorders are not accepted. They are just temporarily not considered as the other half of the marriage. If their faith become stronger later, and their personality gets perfected, we can still view them as our potential spouses. But only if you know and accept them.
Besides, if the other party doesn't think we deserve her/him, it is not recommended to go after her/him. Because she/he has no interest in us or even dislikes us. Even if we try to please them, it will violate the principle of equality.
3. People would treat us as we treat them. But at the same time, be sure not to force people to do what they're unwilling to do. There are boundaries and respect for each other in your relationship.
4. Once you make up your mind, never waver. It is advisable to choose and hesitate when we're choosing. "Once you've decided this is the person you want, you can be 'determined' and start building a relationship." The Bible says, "It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth." (Proverbs 20:14). Once you decide to love, never waver. Put your whole heart to it, defend and nurture your feelings, and glorify God in them.
Third, Christians don't necessarily have to get married to Christians. Some churches advocate that Christians must get married to Christians. As Christians, we should marry Christians because marriage's fundamental beliefs would be the same. If the ideas are not the same, the pursuit of life will be different. This may lead to torture for each other even after getting married.
But that doesn't mean that God necessarily curses people who marry non-Christians, and only those who match Christians are blessed by God. For married people, those who obey God's commandments are blessed. Even if one is married to a Christian, if the husband does not love his wife after marriage or does not obey her husband, the marriage cannot be blessed.
On the other hand, if someone marries a non-Christian and then continues to be close to the Lord and serves his/her spouse well, that marriage would be blessed by God. You can't think rigidly that you have to choose a Christian. I don't think that's a must.
Christians should prioritize marriage with Christians, but if you can't find a suitable one in the Christian circle, you can also enlarge the process. Remember, never lower your standards. You can slightly reduce your church's criteria, but don't drop your means if you're choosing your spouse in a larger circle.
If you marry a non-Christian, it is best to take him/her to the church before marriage and make a covenant with him/her under the pastor's witness: Both parties agree to respect each other and not force each other's to believe in God. Meanwhile, Both parties shall treat each other well, love and tolerate each other, respect each other, and serve each other following what the Bible teaches. If one can convert the other side with good conduct, that is incomparable grace.
After all, Christians should know that Jesus Christ is our Lord and our hope. Do not take marriage as the only important thing in life. Don't feel like losing everything in life if there is no marriage.
- Translated by Nicolas Cao