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Don’t marry for happiness, ‘marriage is a sermon,’ Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker says

In a culture that perpetuates the lie that marriage is all about personal happiness, acceptance, and fulfillment, Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker Karen Ehman is calling couples back to God’s original plan for marriage — and sharing how the Gospel can help “incompatible” spouses love one another better.

“The notion we get from society that marriage is designed to meet our every need is wrong,” Ehman told The Christian Post. “If we go into marriage thinking it’s going to make us happy, it’s never going to end well. There’s a greater purpose to marriage than that. It’s about displaying the Gospel to a watching world, when they see you keep showing up, wiping the slate clean, asking for forgiveness, showing grace, and giving the benefit of the doubt.”

“It isn’t just pastors who deliver a sermon,” she added. “Your marriage is a sermon, and people are watching you preach. Do they see the Gospel?”

With over three decades of marriage behind her, the New York Times bestselling author shares time-tested lessons about how to make marriage work and why “incompatibility” can actually become the strength of a marital team in her new book, Keep Showing Up: How to Stay Crazy in Love When Your Love Drives You Crazy.

“In a way, I wrote this book for myself because my marriage has not been a walk in the park,” she admitted. “My husband and I are not compatible; our marriage counselor told us we had a five percent chance of getting married because of our extreme personality differences. If we can do it, others can, too.”

“I also wrote this book for those who have hit a rough patch in their marriage; not talking about serious situations or biblical grounds for divorce or abuse, but maybe they’re bored or think they’ve fallen out of love,” she continued. “I want to encourage them to do the hard work of showing up on a daily basis.”

In her book, Ehman highlights practical ways couples can play to each other’s strengths while working on their own weaknesses; unearth the magic in the mundane; and how to avoid the temptation to mimic a friend’s marriage.

“We’re so prone to comparison, and I think it comes from screens — not movie screens, but tablets and iPhones,” she shared. “We get this notion that what we see on the screen of wedded bliss is reality. You see your friends putting their best foot forward, and you compare it to what happens within your four walls. You begin to think there’s something wrong and that you married the wrong person.”

Despite what many well-meaning people suggest, the mother-of-three argued that the key to fostering a Gospel-centered marriage is far deeper than simply going on weekly date nights or yearly retreats.

“Those things are good, of course, but the thing that is actually going to put some excitement back into your marriage is finding your unique calling as a couple,” she shared. “Instead of looking at the social media lives of others, look at someone who is in pain, and find a way to serve them.”

“When you’re on a mission together for God, it does something beautiful to your marriage,” she continued. “Instead of feeling like you need to have a romantic getaway, pray together and say, ‘Lord, how can I serve others?’ Find someone who is worse off than you, and make their day. It will make your ‘problems’ seem mundane.”

In her book, Ehman also reveals 11 rules for fighting well and shares how disagreements — whether they erupt over parenting, finances, or other issues — can actually bring couples closer to one another and to God.

“The most important thing to remember is, fight fair and behave like Jesus,” she said. “Anytime that we have a conflict, we have to always remember that we represent Christ, even if we’re hopping mad at the other person. It’s also helpful to visit the situation early on before it has time to fester and grow. Don’t discuss things in the heat of the day, right when you get home from work, or when you’re overly tired.”

“Your marriage is like a porcelain cup: It’s not going to withstand the heat of life if you have chips and cracks in it,” she added. “Make it a regular habit to bring those chips to the surface and discuss them before the heat of life pours into it.”

Building a better relationship, Ehman said, doesn’t include “fixing” whatever is “wrong” with one’s spouse.

“And by ‘wrong’ I mean different,” she explained. “When we start to think about their habits that drive us crazy, take our eyes off of them and say, ‘Lord, what are you trying to change in me? What am I supposed to learn by dealing with these frustrations?’ We all want to be more like Jesus, we want to be loving and kind, and we want to grow into those qualities.”

“Maybe,” Ehman said, “God gave us our spouse to give us an opportunity to do just that. When we approach our marriage looking for opportunities to be more like Jesus and for spiritual growth — not for our own personal fulfillment — it changes us and gives us an opportunity to live out the Gospel to a watching world.”

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