- Written by Margaret Bernhart
Unless you have been living without electricity, most likely you have heard of Extreme Home Makeover. A family, overcome by catastrophic events that threaten to suffocate all hope and life, is selected to have a beyond-their wildest-dreams custom home, outfitted to meet their special needs. In the process, the old home is demolished, the family goes on a week-long, all expense paid vacation and what rises from the ground is a spectacular, every modern convenience, mortgage paid off—Home Sweet Home. As the tears of gratitude flow and the music fades, we experience with the family a taste of heaven’s redemption.
Marriages can have their own extreme makeover. Two people meet, fall in love with the man or woman of their dreams, and eventually this culminates in the beauty of the marriage nuptials, celebrated by friends and family. The couple is then whisked off to their honeymoon vacation—carrying the hopes and dreams of an Oh So Sweet new life together. As the flower petals fall and the tail lights of the limousine fade from sight, what happens next can catch the couple by surprise.
As each peek out from under the covers, relational realities collide with infatuation’s blindness. Marital expectations born out of the dating experience can be misleading. Often what we call dating is no more than two people hiding their imperfections, like a photograph that has been touched up. It can look like this: The guy who listened attentively and asked questions on dates, may later share it exhausts him to interact and that he really isn’t a people-person. The suitor, who attended church, now finds any excuse imaginable to not participate with his new wife. And the woman, who said she had no debt, has daily UPS deliveries flying off the truck because she can’t pass up Internet bargains. Fear of rejection and hatred of loneliness trumps transparency and honest communication, leaving spouses feeling fooled or defrauded, depending on the magnitude of the masquerade.
Many marriages survive by merely providing a partner for activities–a resource to counter occasional biological and personal needs. But God’s intention for marriage is to grow or subdue each partner in relation to the other in order to draw each–and eventually marriage itself–to reflect the character of his Son. The high calling of God is to create life and then to shape it in his image.
—Dan Allendar, Intimate Allies
If all this isn’t startling and perplexing enough, as our newlyweds rub their eyes, trying to refocus, the dream spouse they constructed vanishes from view—“Poof.” Left in their place is a spouse who will disappoint and shatter their bigger-than-life illusions. Extreme Spouse Makeover has begun and the unsuspecting spouse is the winning candidate.
Constructed illusions stubbornly persist. Trying to change others can seem easier than facing the reality of our own internal pain as emptiness, loss, and shame can linger from childhood. Unaware, we stealthily set about to get what we lost growing up through legitimizing our spousal make-over with a bible verse, or labeling a personality characteristic as immature. Among the demands I frequently hear are: I need my spouse to be more…romantic, affectionate, articulate, insightful, attentive, mechanical, creative, social, organized, spiritual, talkative, quiet, energetic, relaxed, and take pleasure in my friends (my parents, my sports and my movies). The operative words are need and my. In the end the motivation is still making someone over in our own image. The war with our compelling needs won’t end until the pain is acknowledged, the loss is grieved, and the exploitation of our partner is addressed.
The glory of marriage is that in spite of our self-focused motivations that seek to get our needs met through our spouse, God arranged a superior plan. If we will persevere in marriage, not only do we get a spouse (unveiled to their unique loveliness), our internal pain is transformed, and our hearts opened to our deepest desire not found on earth. And what began as the remodeling of our spouse to fulfill our own needs, ultimately becomes the renovation of our own hearts. The joke is on us—we are the Extreme Spouse Makeover and the glorious winner.
The key to a marriage is simply reenacting the gospel to each other. You can talk about communication skills or other stuff, and they’re all good, but basically knowing how to forgive and knowing how to repent. If you both can forgive and repent, it doesn’t matter how different you are, you’ll be okay. Two Christians who are married can make it, no matter how incompatible, if you can repent and forgive. — Tim Keller
Questions to consider for Extreme Spouse Makeover:
- Do I have compelling needs that reoccur in relationships (ie. to be understood, to be needed, to be the focus, to be in charge)?
- How do these compelling needs influence my relationships?
- Is there a connection between my compelling needs and my childhood experiences (not heard, abandoned, favorite child, parents gone or not emotionally present)?
- If I let go of the demands that I place on my spouse, how would that change our relationship?
- How is my spouse glorious and how is he or she broken