From a distance the bridge looks healthy, even attractive. Up close, and under the eyes of a careful observer, the bridge has cracks. If the cracks are attended to in the right way at the right time, the bridge can sustain itself — even get stronger. If not attended to, the cracks can bring the bridge down.
Marriage is the kind of relationship in which the cracks of each of our characters become obvious. [A reader pushed me for saying “one-and-only” in this previous sentence originally, and I was wrong on that. As if singles can’t experience cracked character in their own friendships. Marriage is the kind — because of intimacy over the long haul — where cracks emerge. But close relationships can all make our cracks obvious. I apologize for insensitivity.] You can hide from friends and work associates, but in marriage the cracks will eventually become evident. The issue for marriage is both seeing the fissures of character and learning to do something about it. One of the elements of marriage, so argue Tim and Kathy Keller in The Meaning of Marriage, is to learn to love the stranger.
The person we marry changes, and we change, and that means at times each of us realizes the other person is … well… not the person we married.
What can sustain us in times when our spouse is the stranger, when the cracks of character become obvious and annoying and harmful? What is your advice for helping one another character-wise?
The Kellers propose three powers at work that can sustain the character cracks of marriage:
1. The power of truth. Marriage doesn’t create character cracks; it reveals the cracks that are there. Marriage — marriage itself since it is the long journey of being together — permits and invites the truth to come out about each of us. Unacknowledged character cracks are the problem; known ones permit growth. The power of truth is a gift, but one difficult to receive well. When some see the problems of the other, they run. The Christian ought to face the gift of truth to become more Christlike.
2. The power of love. Love is a power at work too. Marriage can reprogram our self-evaluations and other-evaluations because one person can love us for who we are. To be esteemed by the one you esteem is a great gift and goes deep. Love is often — always? — expressed in differing ways in marriages, and we are to learn what love language our spouse needs most: we have to take off our expectations filter and realize that our spouse does love us. Love is expressed in affection, friendship, erotic love, and service. [He’s using Lewis.]
3. The power of grace. Truth without love is brutal; love without truth is illusive. Grace takes us beyond both. And it permits repentance and forgiveness. Without the aim of forgiveness truth will seek to condemn; with it the truth’s aim is reconciliation.