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How Do You Define “Healthy” When It Comes to Relationships?

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Have you ever noticed how people seem to have different interpretations of or responses to the word “healthy” as they apply it to different things? Every parent loves to hear the news of their “healthy” baby just born and laid in their arms. But they are certainly under no illusion that their child will never be sick. Yes, their “healthy” child will more than likely even end back up in a hospital again one day from being so sick. Or a “healthy” savings account or 401(k) always lights up the eyes of a hard worker longing for the days of vacation, home renovation, or retirement. But as most people have learned in today’s roller coaster market, there is no guarantee that tomorrow’s balance will be quite as “healthy.” But does that mean we pull all our money out and stash it under our mattress? No, we leave it alone, with faith that the days ahead will once again be “healthy.” And of course they usually are.

But in marriage, we tend to too often define a “healthy” relationship as one that is very lovey-dovey and romantically giddy. We hold hands while walking around the neighborhood—we’re in a healthy relationship. She is filling well his need for sexual intimacy; he is fulfilling just as well her need for emotional intimacy—they’re clearly in a healthy relationship. He brings her home flowers; she stays up watching Monday Night Football with him—life couldn’t be better; they must be in a healthy relationship.

And of course, all of us should have such moments. Who wouldn’t want any of these to be a part of their marriage? They are definitely all signs of a healthy marriage.

But my point is, romantic giddiness, real intimacy, and loving gestures will never be moment by moment. They’ll never be the entire makeup of a relationship. The couple holding hands on walks will go home and fight about parenting differences. The couple having plenty of sex will also grate on each other’s nerves from time to time. And of course, Monday Night Football is great . . . until she wants him to watch This Is Us with her for a change—yet he refuses to give up the TV.

But does any of this mean that these relationships are no longer “healthy”? Unfortunately, too often today couples do not believe that their relationships can rebound like they do their sick kids and depleted retirement funds. Instead, they say, “No, this is clearly not a healthy relationship anymore and never will be again. I need to get out of it.”

However, the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:28 that if you marry you have not sinned but you will have trouble. In other words, we live in a fallen world and troubles come—in marriages too, even healthy ones. Heartaches and headaches exist in every marriage.

But many people seem to refuse the notion that trouble should possibly come to their marriage, therefore when it does they conclude that they made a mistake in marrying that person. To them, either their once-healthy marriage is no longer healthy and won’t be ever again or it was never truly healthy to begin with.

But a godly marriage is not trouble-free. Paul was quite clear about that in 1 Corinthians. But a marriage can still be healthy even though troubles exist. For example, God even designed a few places for conflict to arise in a marriage. Just a few verses earlier, in 1 Corinthians 7:4, Paul also wrote, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Um  . . . okay . . . So when Tuesday night comes and he wants to be sexually intimate but she doesn’t, who decides? Well, according to 1 Corinthians 7:4, the answer is clearly . . . yes! You see, God actually designed tension in marriage! So an argument about whether or not to have sex does not mean the relationship is no longer healthy. In fact, you’re right in the center of God’s will!

But let me add another thought. In the eyes of God, a husband or wife can do the healthy thing but a spouse does not respond. Specifically, a husband can show love or a wife can show respect but the spouse does not respond to that love or respect. Is this loving husband or respectful wife failing in God's eyes to do marriage His way?

Not at all. In fact, even if a spouse rebels against the love or respect, the husband or wife can still be doing marriage God’s way—in the healthiest way. We guilt-trip some people into thinking they are failures because their spouse is not responding. However, these people are pleasing God by obeying the command to love or respect in the face of the non-responsive spouse. They are doing the healthy thing!

-Dr. E

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. How in the past have you defined a “healthy” relationship? Has that definition changed over the years? How so?
  2. Why do so many seem to believe that any kind of trouble is a sign of an unhealthy relationship? How would you respond to a best friend telling you that they want to leave their spouse because of too much “trouble” that they don’t believe they should be having?
  3. How do you make sense of 1 Corinthians 7:4, that the man has authority of his wife’s body and the wife has authority over her husband’s body? Why would God purposefully design tension in marriage?
  4. In the last two paragraphs, Emerson is referring to what he calls the Rewarded Cycle and Scripture’s command to the husband to love his wife even when she does not respond with respect, and the wife to respect her husband even when he does not respond with love. Why is this still the healthy thing? What is the husband or wife’s motivation to continue doing marriage God’s way?