Thursday, August 9, 2012

What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, by Paul David Tripp


Counselor and pastor Paul David Tripp provides gospel-focused counsel for married couples and encourages them to adjust their expectations of marriage based on the reality of sin and the glorious message of the gospel, which marriage was designed to represent.

This is quite possibly the best marriage book I have read to date (though I have not yet read Tim Keller's much-lauded The Meaning of Marriage).  Where other books bog themselves down in chummy language and depressing exhortations to physical intimacy, Tripp zeroes in on the heart of the matter:  we are sinful, selfish people, and our relationships are profoundly affected by our sin.  Certainly this selfishness can work itself out in a number of contexts--laziness, a refusal to do chores, hurtful words, poor communication, lack of encouragement, nagging, decreased sexual intimacy, packed schedules, impatience, and even infidelity, just to name a few--but the root issues are remarkably similar.  Tripp walks the reader through a series of commitments that will help protect your marriage and will better image Christ's union with His church.  And these are not "have date night once a week" commitments--they go a lot deeper.  Here's the list:
  1. We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.
  2. We will make growth and change our daily agenda.
  3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.
  4. We will commit to building a relationship of love.
  5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.
  6. We will work to protect our marriage.
Tripp spends a few chapters on each commitment, sharing biblical principles and practical examples based on his years of counseling.

I love this approach.  Tripp starts from the knowledge that we are sinners.  We love ourselves more than we love anyone else, and we act accordingly.  Any discussion of marriage that doesn't take our fallen nature into account will ultimately not address the reality of who we are and what our marriages are really like as a result.  Instead of simply admonishing the reader not to sin against his or her spouse in X way, Tripp assumes that the reader will, in fact, sin against his or her spouse.  From there, he offers biblical wisdom for building a marriage not on legalistic principles, but on gospel grace. It is amazing how encouraging it is to read a book that tells you, to your face, that you're a sinner and you probably don't really love your spouse all that much.  Far from being depressing or discouraging, I found this frank acknowledgement of my heart condition incredibly freeing.  It is only once we truly understand our condition as sinners that the gospel can truly take root--in our lives and in our marriages.

The title of this book might lead you to think that it is for married couples only; it isn't.  I think a careful study of this book before marriage--possibly even before engagement or before dating at all--would be extremely beneficial.  In a society that clubs us over the head with the idea that marriage is all about maximizing our own happiness and being true to our desires, Tripp's biblical admonition that marriage is about the union of two sinners seeking to love one another as a depiction of the gospel is deeply refreshing and even necessary.  Our spouse--whether a present reality or a future hope--does not exist for our fulfillment.  Instead, the gift of marriage is the gift of sacrificing oneself daily.  Marriage is wonderful, but not just because you have a date for the movies.  Marriage is sinning against someone else, confessing that sin, and being forgiven.  Marriage is loving your spouse even when he or she is being a jerk.  Marriage is about choosing to build trust instead of retreating into our own wounded pride.  Marriage is work.

I've read quite a few books on marriage/courtship (Love that Lasts; Sex, Romance & the Glory of God; Real Marriage; Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart; Boy Meets Girl, and excerpts from Strengthening Your Marriage), most of which were theologically sound, if a bit lackluster to read.  This book has been by far the most helpful to both myself and my husband.

Please read this book.  You won't be sorry.

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