“When we approach marriage expecting our needs to be met, we fail to understand the real nature of love, and we sow seeds of marital destruction. God hasn’t designed marriage as a means to meet our personal needs.”
One of my favorite cartoons shows a group of cavemen standing on top of a cliff, watching one of their own fall over the edge. But he hasn’t fallen—he’s been thrown. As he falls, the group’s leader looks angrily at the others. “Well, is there anyone else here whose needs are not being met?”
This is a mischievous but timely critique of a culture in which we expect everything—including our marriages—to meet our needs.
When we approach marriage expecting our needs to be met, we fail to understand the real nature of love, and we sow seeds of marital destruction. God hasn’t designed marriage as a means to meet our personal needs. Assuming marriage is about meeting needs is dangerous for at least two reasons.
1. Because it’s not real love.
Inward-looking marriage isn’t real love because it encourages us to view sex and marriage selfishly. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?” Jesus asked (Luke 6:32). Any love that merely gazes adoringly into the eyes of another who adores us isn’t really love at all.
One of the most frightening things about Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) is that the rich man seems to have been a good family man. Even in the place of the dead he’s concerned for his brothers. But his so-called love isn’t really love at all, for it never extends to Lazarus, the poor man lying at his gate. He cares for his family, but his care doesn’t overflow to needy people outside.
Marriage and family can easily become a respectable form of selfishness. If we marry mainly to meet our own needs, then our marriages will be just that: good-looking masks for selfishness.
If we marry mainly to meet our own needs, then our marriages will be just that: good-looking masks for selfishness.
It is a short step from “loving you” to “loving me and wanting you.” And it’s too easy for Christians to think of marriage as a discipleship-free zone. Outside of marriage we love to talk about sacrifice, taking up our cross, and so on. But inside marriage we often talk about how to communicate better, how to be more intimate, how to have better sex, how to be happy.
If a marriage isn’t serving God, no amount of personal and sexual fulfillment will make it right. After all, so far as we can see, Ananias and Sapphira had a marriage with excellent communication and shared values. Each understood the other perfectly, yet they suffered terrible deaths under the righteous judgment of God (Acts 5:1–11).
2. Because it destroys marriages and society.
A self-centered view of sex and marriage destroys marriage and society. At a time when we have higher-than-ever expectations of what marriage offers, marriages are crumbling as never before.
We can see this destructiveness by looking at how societies work. Societies in which sex and marriage are viewed as a means to personal fulfillment encourage a man and a woman to gaze into each other’s eyes, encourage each to find in the other all they need, each to be all to the other. Such cultures promote what we may call a “religion of coupledom,” in which the goal of every man and woman is to live in such an exquisite union. The very word “relationship,” when used as shorthand for “sexual relationship,” reveals this way of thinking. To not be in a “relationship” is presumably to be lonely. And if it were true that “relationship” is found primarily in sexual relationship, then we would have to seek sexual intimacy at all costs. We don’t need to swallow this lie.