Listen to Matt Pavlik answer questions about how to have a successful marriage during the Daily Moments show on WKTO. The episode originally aired on April 9, 2018.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:3-9 ESV
The Four Types of Soil
Jesus uses the Parable of the Sower to speak about our receptivity to God’s words (Matthew 13:3-9). Let’s consider how the parable also applies to marriage. The four types of soil in the parable match up with four types of relationships. From least to most desirable, these are Path, Rocks, Thorns, and Good Soil.
- The Path / Conflicted couple alternates between extreme behaviors of intense fighting and extreme feelings of distance; they cannot begin to build a positive connection.
- The Rocks / Careless couple relies superficially on short-lived positive experiences; they cannot experience contentment with their connection.
- The Thorns / Choking couple has a history together, but are stuck in a rut; they fail to pursue a passionate connection.
- The Good Soil / Cooperating couple has endured both highs and lows; they experience closeness and distance without losing a positive connection.
The typical inexperienced couple begins as either Conflicted or Careless. Along the way, every couple experiences being Conflicted, Careless, and Choking before making it to Cooperating.
Jesus makes it clear that the hardest place to be is On the Path. In marriage, when both partners’ hearts are hard, look out! They will either tear each other apart or be so disengaged that no relationship exists. Either way, the result is an empty, unfruitful relationship.
Jesus says the seed sown along the path is like someone hearing the words but having no understanding. He equates understanding with fruitfulness. The ground is so hard the seed cannot penetrate. When growth cannot begin, a couple loses the opportunity to be a source of light in a dark world. They may be together only by habit and convenience. If they have not already given up, they are in danger of separation, divorce, or some type of extra-marital affair.
A conflicted relationship consists of either extreme conflict (battling for the last crumb) or extreme disconnection (not speaking for days). The path represents immaturity—being oblivious to how to make the relationship work.
- Intense frustration, anger, and loneliness;
- Regular unresolved conflict with defensive self-focus and hurtful words and behaviors;
- A stubborn lack of ownership coupled with blame-shifting;
- All or nothing thinking;
- Dependence on each other for contentment;
- Confusion from a lack of definition and direction;
- Rare, if any, enjoyment of the relationship resulting in a lack of positive memories; and
- High expectations and needs along with a low ability to meet needs.
A couple who lacks relational skills, positive experiences, a validating history, and an understanding of God’s intention for marriage will feel a tangible hopelessness.
The Careless Couple’s relationship starts quickly (received with joy) and may even appear to be thriving (shoots up quickly). This is possible because they avoid conflict, and consequently, they lack experience in successfully resolving conflict. The pressure to be liked by one’s partner results in behaviors that avoid failure and rejection.
The couple acts too quickly without considering if they can finish what they started. They tend to seek the benefits of marriage before they’ve built a foundation to sustain those benefits. This impatience may show up, for example, as a financial crisis (debt) or pregnancy before marriage. The discovery of personal and relational weaknesses threatens to wither the relationship. The shocked reaction is too often, “Oh, no! Did I choose the wrong person?” Complications, which may only be a normal rite of passage, become a crisis of doubt as the couple questions whether they can overcome their obstacles.
- The honeymoon effect: extreme highs followed by shock, fear, and disappointment;
- A one-dimensional, superficial focus on excitement;
- A lack of genuineness: compromising values to create the illusion of being one;
- Conflict avoidance, along with denial of difficulty;
- Dependence on pleasure now: all that matters is this moment;
- Creation of emotional debt by recklessly borrowing against future happiness;
- A strong temptation to give up when difficulty surfaces; and
- Fear and intolerance of conflict, separation, individual space, differences, preferences and opinions.
This couple endures hardship responsibly because of their high regard for marriage. But intimacy between them is blocked because they are distracted by the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. The thorns represent a distraction away from what is most important.
While their potential for marital success is high, too many weeds demand their attention. The relationship is last on a long list of other things they consider more interesting or more urgent.
- Emotional distance: a lack of expressiveness and passion;
- Growth that has slowed or ceased altogether;
- Emphasis on separate, individual pursuits;
- A focus on responsibilities (productivity, money, kids, etc.) more than on the relationship;
- So busy they are ships passing in the night and feel like roommates or strangers;
- A sense of “I am no longer in love”; and
- An unhealthy stability.
Good soil allows a healthy root structure below ground and a healthy branch structure above ground, resulting in quantities of fruit many times more than the other soils. In the same way, the established couple develops a healthy endurance while maintaining a healthy passion resulting in a thriving and intimate marriage.
The journey to an established relationship begins with keeping the passion while learning how to endure. A couple needs wisdom to balance these two nutrients in the Good Soil. Marriages aren’t born with this wisdom, but it comes as the couple experiences their lives together.
- Resolution of conflict resulting in a win-win;
- Acceptance and tolerance for their partner’s shortcomings;
- Balance enjoying the relationship (excitement) and working on the relationship (stability);
- Realistic expectations;
- Their emotional needs being met often by their partner;
- Their emotional needs being appropriately met by others;
- A reflection of God’s love to their children and others they know; and
- A sense of a legacy.
Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:23-24
Genesis 2:24 contains a succinct and profound description of marriage. The verse includes three essential actions that make an authentic marriage:
- A man will leave his father and mother;
- Be united to his wife; and
- They will become one flesh.
In his book I Married You, Walter Trobisch defines marriage as:
- The Wedding: The public and legal act that announces to the world the formation of a new family unit;
- Faithfulness: The loving commitment to be faithful companions growing in intimate knowledge of each other; and
- The Sexual Union: The physical union of husband and wife that represents their faithfulness.
However, this doesn’t give the impression that marriage is a dynamic and cyclical process.
In Genesis 1:28 God exhorts Adam and Eve to be fruitful, multiply, and to fill, subdue, and have dominion over the earth. Bearing fruit and multiplying ensures theirs will not be the last marriage. Adam and Eve’s children eventually form their own families. This fourth step brings the process full circle:
- Leave past affiliations;
- Protect growing intimacy;
- Join together as one to produce fruit; and
- Multiply and release offspring into the world.
Based on these four steps (and some thoughts from previous chapters), I propose the following as a working definition of marriage:
God joining together a man and a woman, loyal to each other for life, who each contribute distinct but equally important abilities towards the completion of a fruitful mission greater than can be accomplished apart.