One of my favorite opportunities in ministry is when I get to officiate a wedding. And while there are many exciting elements that go into a wedding day, nothing can upstage the moment when the bride and groom are face to face. That’s because this face to face posture is a glimpse of the oneness God’s intends for us to experience in marriage (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5).
But although, marriage does begin face to face, it doesn’t always end this way. Over time, our self-seeking sin patterns have a way of pushing us farther from—not closer to—our spouse.
A helpful way of thinking about it is through the lens of three postures we may have toward our spouse in marriage: back to back; shoulder to shoulder; and face to face.
Here’s a brief rundown of each…
Back to Back
These marriages tend to feel like two passing ships in the night. Or in some cases, two warring battleships trying to sink each other. In essence, this is the couple who has turned their backs on each other. You live separate lives and are moving in two separate directions. You may share the same roof, but only out of obligation.
Here’s some of the caution tape for a Back to Back marriage:
- A clear distance from God and the local church.
- Non-stop tension over faith, family, finances… you name it.
- Deep seated resentment and/or indifference.
- Separate rooms and/or bank accounts.
- Physical intimacy is completely absent.
This posture is the stark opposite of God’s plan for marriage. As Jesus made clear, “no house divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12:25).
Shoulder to Shoulder
These marriages may seem fine from the outside in, but are disordered from the inside out. What makes them seem okay is how the couple seems to “work” so well together—always in the express lane of life, doing chores, getting kids to practice, paying bills, and even showing up “to” Church. But sadly, this marriage posture operates more like two business partners on a job site than two best friends who enjoy each other.
Here are some symptoms of a Shoulder to Shoulder marriage:
- Time with God and the local church is more of a duty than a delight.
- You’re more connected to your hobby and/or smart phone than your spouse.
- When it’s just the two of you (no kids, family, friends) it’s a bit awkward.
- Communication is sporadic and often last minute.
- Physical intimacy is irregular.
If this is where your marriage is, consider this caution from Psalm 127:1a – “Unless the Lord builds (works in) the house, those who build it labor in vain…”
Face to Face
This is where God wants your marriage to start, stay and finish. What makes this posture possible is how—at some point—you stopped placing your hopes for ultimate satisfaction on each other and started placing them on Christ (John 4:14, 6:35). What makes this posture so fulfilling is how you are regularly drawing one another out in friendship, conversation and intimacy. And so, you join with the Old Testament poet in saying: “This is my beloved and this is my friend” (Song of Solomon 5:16).
Here are just a few of the fruits of a Face to Face marriage:
- Christ and His Church are the centerpiece of your home.
- The question is often asked: “How can I serve you?”
- Communication is regular, meaningful, and intentional.
- In the wake of sin, repentance is shown and forgiveness is given.
- Physical intimacy is common and you genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
But, let’s be clear. Face to Face marriages are not devoid of conflict. On the contrary, they are full of it. Early on in our marriage, Victoria and I learned some simple math: 1 sinner + 1 sinner ¹ 0 conflict. Actually, the ingredient that keeps a married couple face to face is not the absence of conflict; it is a mutual recognition of the gospel. That is, an ever-present awareness of how, in the gospel, Christ first: served and forgave you; is exceedingly patient with you; is always faithful to you; and never will, give up on you. And in view of Christ’s radical commitment to us, He calls us to show this same commitment to our spouse.
In short, there is no source beneath the gospel that can produce the power to daily look another sinner in the eye and say: “You disappoint me. You contradict me. You get on my last nerve. Even still, I’m not going anywhere.” In his helpful book, Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas remarks: “A Christian needs just one reason to stay [married], the analogy of Christ and his Church.”
So, which posture best describes your marriage? Regardless, here are a few resources that can help you get, or stay, on track in your marriage:
- “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas
- “The Meaning of Marriage” by Tim Keller
 Mark Driscoll, Real Marriage: The truth about sex, friendship and life together (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 32.