How marriage works and fails

Building on what I wrote yesterday about acceptance and godliness, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between acceptance and godliness in relationships. Just as Christians often mix acceptance (justification) and behaviour (sanctification) in relating to God so the two can become mixed in our minds in marriage. The result of mixing acceptance with behaviour is marital stress or failure.


1. The failed marriage or relationship: conditional acceptance and ungodly living

Most couples confuse acceptance with tolerance, “I put up with him doing that because he loves me.” When the behaviour of a partner becomes intolerable, however, acceptance turns to rejection and the marriage or relationship fails.

2. The stressed marriage or relationship: conditional acceptance with godly living.

This is the basis of the relationship for most co-habiting couples and some marriages, “We’ll see how it goes, so far we’ve been happy together because we get on well, we don’t do anything to upset each other.” Stress is found in the relationship because neither party is ever sure that the relationship will last because we are only as good as our last game. When the relationship comes under strain, often through circumstances outside the home such as bereavement or redundancy, the demands of having to perform to be accepted become self-defeating. As one or both partners demand that the other ups their game, the emphasis on performance leads to an even greater emphasis on failures, past and present. Resentment builds and the relationship is destroyed as one or both partners tread on eggshells for fear of behaving unacceptably.

3. The stressed marriage: unconditional acceptance with ungodly living.

The stress in this marriage is caused by presumption. “She said she would stick by me through thick and thin, so I can do what I like, I don’t need to change.” Through a loyalty to promises, a fear of failure, a determination to make things work or belief that marriage is for life, this couple will press on in a loveless, independent relationship, as one or both lives to please themselves.

4. The good marriage: unconditional acceptance with godly living.

This is not a perfect marriage, there is no such thing, sin ensures all marriages have some degree of stress. But this is the best marriage can be. Acceptance and behaviour are not mixed. Acceptance is unconditional. It is offered and assumed by both parties. Within the security of unconditional acceptance, for better or for worse, neither partner needs to worry that their performance might not be good enough. Yet, because of the grace, love and mercy of unconditional acceptance, this couple lacks presumption. They want to do what’s best for each other, they know their sin and their need to grow and mature. To grow in godliness, we need feedback, “How am I doing? Am I spending enough time with you? Am I doing my bit?” These questions are not shaped out of a need to save the relationship but to make it better. It is the man’s responsibility to take the lead in doing this (Ephesians 5).

This marriage reflects Christ’s relationship with his church, as anyone who acknowledges their sin and trusts in the death of Christ is accepted by God (Ephesians 2:4-9). God’s acceptance is not conditional upon our behaviour but on remaining loyal to the promises God made in Christ. The behaviour of a true believer never threatens his acceptance before God. And so, through being justified by faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone, sinners are free to grow in Christ-likeness without the anxiety of losing their salvation, motivated instead by the love, mercy and grace of God.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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4 Responses to How marriage works and fails

  1. laurence says:


    it all makes sense, but I’d argue that no-one can love unconditionally, because we’re fallen, and because we find it so easy to remember bad things that the other person has done, and that can keep us doubting them.

    …so I would say that stressed marriages (conditional acceptance with godly living.) are fairly normal.

    You just have to work hard at loving each other and admit you’re wrong. (I remember a curate telling me this, not so long ago!)

  2. neilrobbie says:

    Hi Loz, I’d agree that when marriage is working it’s often conditional and godly, but that’s due to a poor theology of marriage.

    When we say “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and whatever until we die” what we are saying, whether we realise it or not, is “I love and accept you unconditionally for the rest of your life or mine.”

    Putting that intent into practice makes a world of difference to “I’ll stick with you as long as you don’t do anything to upset me too much.”

  3. Alison says:

    Scripture says do not swear by heaven for it is God’s throne, nor by earth for it is God’s footstool. This places everything into perspective.
    Jesus is not the King of the World he came to save it, Jesus is the King of Heaven and Earth.
    Satan is already dead and he knows it.
    I will never remarry because I have seen how satan destroys them, takes away the word from them, leads them astray and pretends to be everything never saying the truth.
    I have seen spiritual bodies moving in and out of people, and hearing them speak of who they will nest in next! And how they are going to do it! I have seen that One with the sword, invisible to the mortal, chase victims, set them up by framing them, tying up the helpers (other christians) with words making them busy and sending them elsewhere, putting ideas in young teenagers minds that weren’t there to begin with. I have seen satan destroy innocent children by whispering fatal thoughts into the minds of their parents, friends and with a handshake deliver them to hell to diminish their faith. I have seen satan prepare churches on earth to deliberately misconstrue God’s Word and turn the great praises into abominations leading victims to desolation in the name of Jesus.
    I am talking about the children of light, bible studying children. Angels are called on to save them from quicksand. When the layers come off and when revelation comes in and heaven opens up.
    In my vision, I saw him holding a gun to his head and in my vision Jesus gave me power to take it away from him and bury it under the ground where he can no longer find it!

    Jesus makes us understand, Man can only have what is given to him from heaven.
    Aren’t they all like Job and don’t know it.
    I cannot remarry, yet God can.
    Please take care, and stay in the Word, the Vine.

  4. Deborah Reyes says:

    Please help me I am a divorced twice and remarried in my third marriage although I have always believed in Jesus because of my wonderful mother it wasn’t until shortly after my first marriage that I accepted the Lord and was baptized but I still did not really grasp the whole lifelong commitment and covenant and still I tried even seeking advice from my pastoral ministry of prayer partners who’s advice was the Lord did not want me to be abused mentally verbally and sometimes physically so I got a divorce I was backsliding for many years got remarried under the influence of drugs pretty much and he left me because he suddenly decided he didn’t want to be a father to my children from my first marriage I as a result lived like a hypocrite teaching my children about Jesus but not setting the examples then this marriage I’m in now was the result of being his mistress and we fell in love but I felt drawn to the Lord and a awakening for lack of a better explanation and insisted on being married instead of just living together and we both started reading the bible going to church and praying and seeking the Lord with all our hearts repenting of all our past mistakes I wanted to continue with our walk in the Lord but my husband started making excuses to not read the bible started lying to me and being sneaky showing less and less interested in the efforts of glorifying God together leaving it only to I believe the way I want and now he’d rather drink or sleep he treats me horrible threatens to kick me out of the street after I spent all my life’s savings of my retirement benefits remodeling his house and paying it off I am becoming bitter person and I cry and pray and beg him to let’s bring the Lord back but beer sleep and being sneaky and deceptive and unspeakably cruel is all he seems to do i know the Lord.does not want me bitter and cry a lot for this third marriage is not glorifying God in anyway this house is divided I want the Lord and him first but he just won’t what do i do my 17 year old daughter lives with us and I cannot afford rent anywhere else our lot space I can but he wants me to leave I’ve prayed and I have faith but non the less I need an opinion do i just love him for better or worse and accept the treatment and sneakyness and just pray that I won’t be bitter I can read the bible and walk it alone or should I file for another divorce I feel icky when having sex cause I’m afraid being my third marriage that because we are no longer glorifying God together that it’s no longer acceptable in the eyes of christ I want only what christ wants I will put him before anyone from now on but I’m so conflicted and confused I have been praying

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