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Sanctification Through Romantic Relationships
by Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D.
Struggles in romantic relationships can be exhausting. Nobody falls in love hoping to eventually have conflict and strife. Instead, most people enter relationships with visions of “happily ever after” along with roses and chocolate. The early infatuation phase cements people’s hearts together and is usually followed with a mellowing stage where roles are established and patterns are developed. During the “mellowing” stage conflicts slowly begin to emerge as differences in lifestyles and temperaments become more apparent. If not handled well, these areas of contention can slowly turn into resentment, creating distance and walls. As Christians, it’s critical to view these conflicts through a Biblical lens as part of the sanctification process. Sanctification is the slow, ongoing journey of becoming more like Jesus and God uses romantic relationships as His primary tool to become more like Him.
So, to successfully manage relational strife, we must view it as an opportunity to grow in Christ-likeness. When we view conflict from this lens, it provides both hope and purpose. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4, NIV). Viewing trials in our relationships as pure joy is obviously easier said than done and is completely opposite from the message our culture promotes, which is to run from our pain and problems. Instead, God wants us to lean into them and let Him refine us through them. Now, this doesn’t mean we are to tolerate abuse or any other type of unhealthy behavior from our partner towards us. It also doesn’t mean our partner is blameless and shouldn’t be held accountable for their behavior. However, it does mean we must prayerfully consider our contribution to the conflict, what it says about us, and how God may want to mold our character through it. One of the best questions to ask is, “what does it say about me that I’m so upset with them about that?”
This concept is illustrated well in a couple I worked with whom I’ll call Matt and Jenny. Matt rededicated his life to Christ while in college and Jenny first accepted Jesus during the same time several months after they both started dating. Because of their new faith, they decided to be abstinent until their marriage, which occurred nearly three years later. After the wedding, Matt was extremely excited to pursue a fulfilling sex life with his new bride only to discover Jenny had little to no interest in sex and viewed it as extremely “dirty” because of unresolved sexual trauma from her upbringing. The more he pursued physical intimacy, the more she retreated, setting up a vicious cycle where she felt he only cared about her body while he felt routinely rejected. This unhealthy pattern went on for years while resentment and distance set in for both. Thankfully, through continual time with Christ, Matt felt God teaching him two things, which brought hope and resolution. First, that ultimate commitment is staying committed to someone even when your primary needs are not being met. Second, that God was using this time of sexual famine to cleanse him of his over-indulgence in sexuality and objectification of women before meeting Jenny. These realizations gave Matt purpose in the pain and hope by seeing how God was growing his character through this period of suffering. Meanwhile, Jenny was receiving healing from God over her pain and lies about sexual intimacy, allowing her to slowly develop a healthy desire and ability to connect with Matt on that level. Thankfully, the couple has been married now for nearly 15 years and their sex life is healthier than ever!
So, as you develop romantic relationships be sure to remember this spiritual lesson as your relationship moves into the “mellowing” stage and conflicts begin to emerge.
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How has God refined you from the challenges in your relationships?