We live by habits–some good, but some bad! We have habitual behaviors, like driving the same path to work every day without even thinking about where we are going or turning next–we just do it.
We also have habitual thought patterns, like the person who always thinks the negative, or the one who can always think of ways to encourage others even in a difficult circumstance.
We may have habitual responses to fearful circumstances or thoughts, sometimes leading to panic attacks or, on the other side, going into overdrive and solving difficult circumstances effectively. Even our emotions, like anger or depression, become a habitual response to what we believe and how we act on those thoughts or desires. Words come out of our mouths by habit, for good or evil!
It is good to have good habits. It is bad to have bad habits!
Bad Habit #1–Selfishness
God’s design for marriage is that each looks to the welfare of their mate. For many years a small plaque graced our home that read, “Each for the Other, Both for the Lord.” We quickly ascribe to that ideal, but in practice, selfishness prefers, “Me for Me, and You for Me.” It takes work to keep a marriage alive and healthy, work that dies to self and lives for the Lord, loving and serving Him diligently.
The Lord connects the importance of loving others to truly loving God (Matt. 22:37-40), and He gives us the model of how to do that. We are to love our neighbor, our spouse, just as we love ourselves. And that has to become a well-practiced, good habit.
How can we break the bad habit of selfishness in our marriages? By considering our spouses needs first and asking, “How can I love and serve you?” (Php. 2:2-4). Ideally, a couple should be falling all over themselves trying to be the first to love and serve the other.
Remember dating days? If that continued into marriage, relationships would be more loving. But will you be the first to reignite that in your own marriage? Biblical roles in marriage include both loving and serving your spouse. The husband is to love as Christ loves His bride (the church, us!) and gave His life for her; the wife is to love and serve her groom as the church loves and serves Christ, our bridegroom. Most weddings refer to that classic passage in Ephesians 5:22-33.
The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” clearly fleshes out how to serve others (Matt. 7:12). You want to be heard and understood, so listen intently to your spouse. Ask clarifying questions rather than jumping to conclusions or faulty assumptions. You want to be needed (not just used or manipulated!), so let your spouse know that you appreciate all the necessary things he or she does for you.
This concept applies to so many areas of life and marriage, but there is one on which I particularly want to focus is 1 Corinthians 7:2-5.
“But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
In the context, Paul is speaking to singles, admonishing moral purity in a time of intense persecution of believers. But many were married or would be married soon, and to those, he addressed their sexual behavior in marriage. He first taught the principle that their body was given to them by the Lord to use in serving first the Lord, then one another, with their whole heart and body. In fact, Scripture teaches that you can’t love God without loving your spouse (1 John 3:10). So what does that look like sexually if your body belongs to your spouse and you are to love him/her as you desire to be loved?
Selfishness in the bedroom kills a marriage. When the husband satisfies himself and forgets his wife’s needs, he is loving his own body’s pleasure without considering her need for help with the kids and chores (loving by serving), or her need for affection (affirmation and tenderness outside the bedroom as well as in it!). When the wife spends more energy on serving the boss or the children and has little energy left for her husband, her priority needs adjusting to include quality time with him and meeting his sexual needs.
In the unique bond of marriage, a couple must understand that only they, of all the people in the world, can righteously meet the sexual need of one another. If you are not doing that for your spouse, then who else will? The alternatives are frightening. It kills marriages. A beautiful sexual relationship should become a good habit that helps keep your marriage alive and well.
If the betrayal of porn addiction is fresh, check out these resources: Porn and Your Husband, “Setting Boundaries With Your Porn Addict Husband,” and “Should Married Couples Fast From Sex During a Porn-Detox?“
Bad Habit #2–Porn Addiction
Maybe viewing porn together begins with the hope that it will enhance sex in the marriage, but it never delivers what it promises. In fact, it will ultimately destroy the true love and passion described in the Song of Solomon. True sexual love is pure and holy, and private between a husband and a wife. Scripture teaches that the marital relationship is undefiled (Heb. 13:4), but any other sexual relationship is defiled, including emotional and visual lusts.
Habits start by repeating a thought or act over and over. In our culture, it seems impossible for anyone of any age to avoid seeing provocative images if they ever leave their closet. However,we can entertain vain imaginations even sitting in the sanctuary on Sunday. Seeing a billboard does not necessarily cause lust, but what the person chooses to do with the thought and the image in the seconds following really determines what kind of character is being developed and what habits will mature.
Let’s say a teen see’s his friend’s phone with inappropriate pictures. If he chooses to walk away and say like Job, “I’ve made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully on a woman” (Job 31:1), then he develops a habit of looking away and refuses to meditate on what he saw. But if he chooses to continue to look and become aroused sexually, and then in bed that night remembers and mentally visualizes what he saw earlier, becoming aroused again, that young man is developing a habit of sinful lust. If that habit continues into marriage it will in time kill what he hopes will be a beautiful lifetime of marital bliss.
Teen girls are not exempt from pornography addictions either. For others, it comes through fantasy novels that are designed to arouse. The habitual imaginations and expectations of romance that is fanaticized and then brought into marriage is an expectation most husbands won’t meet. What then? Our culture has demoralized marriage by making affairs and soap operas seem like the norm! Fantasy, whether books or videos, detracts from healthy marriage.
Pornography detracts from the simplicity and beauty of a healthy sexual relationship. Statistics have repeatedly shown that couples who enter marriage as virgins and maintain monogamous relationships for even fifty or more years of marriage have more satisfying sex that those with various partners. Pornography introduces various partners, if not physically, in the mind’s imaginations. Porn degrades people and sexuality to just a temporary, physical fulfillment of a lust over and over–a very bad habit, addictive and brain altering.
God’s design is for the beauty of a committed, loving relationship to blossom again and again throughout a life long marriage. The repeated joys of marriage make a good habit that couples enjoy more and more as they practice! It is like a beautiful, unique dance that just the two know and do! How the neighbors are dancing is irrelevant! The couple gradually develops a dance that is comfortable, pleasurable, and satisfying for both, and that will only get better with time!
Bad Habit #3–Meanness
Yes, being mean is a bad habit, and it kills relationships. Statistics on domestic violence indicate that porn addiction is a major contributor to violence in the home. It is sad to see someone being nicer to strangers than to their own family, but that is all too common! Selfishness and porn lay the groundwork for treating others poorly and without respect.
God calls us to be kind to one another and to show respect to all. Love should characterize those who claim to be Christ-followers. 1 Corinthians 13, a passage that is read at many weddings, gives the characteristics of love, and they are all opposed to meanness.
Habitual meanness kills love. Habitual love and kindness builds a solid trust, which is foundational to lifelong relationships.
Bad Habit #4–Poor Communication Skills
Children learn speech by imitation. Whether by imitating how to pronounce a word or the tone with which it is said, communication become so habitual we believe we say it the right way. But as we become more educated, we learn there are certain rules about how we speak.
God gave rules about how to communicate in His Word, His written communication to us. His word is always true, and He tells us to be honest (Eph 4:25), but with love and kindness. He tells us to deal with offenses quickly (Eph 4:26-27), and to not attack others with words, but to build others up instead of tearing them down (Eph 4:29-30). All forms of angry reactions are to be replaced with kindness, compassion and forgiveness (Eph 4:31-32). In other words, act like Jesus; don’t react in selfish anger. Ephesians is about how to develop unity in relationships, first vertically (Ch 1-3) and then horizontally (Ch 4-6).
When we develop habits and skills of good communication, then we grow healthy relationships. Habitually breaking these biblical rules of communication destroys unity in relationships. Gracious speech nourishes love and resolves conflict!
Bad Habit #5–Bitterness
Bitterness tastes terrible! It’s harsh, unpleasant, disagreeable, even dangerous. In Colossians 3:19, Paul admonishes husbands to love their wives, not to be bitter against them. Hebrews 12:15 warns all of us not to let a root of bitterness grow in our hearts. When one sins against the other, a bitter seed drops on the heart, but only a heart fertile to bitterness lets that seed grow into a bitter plant with roots and shoots and fruits. The bitter heart is a sinful heart, and the fruits are ugly and destructive. This pattern destroys a marriage, with the blame game going strong. When a couple will recognize the destructiveness of a bitter heart, and choose to have a forgiving heart like Christ, then repentance, forgiveness, and change transform that marriage into a beautiful picture of Christ the bridegroom forgiving us, His bride, and sanctifying us by His Word. Then gracious words come easier and vengeance is left to the Lord.
There are so many other bad habits (i.e. sinful patterns) that could be listed here as destructive to a marriage, such as financial mismanagement, wrong priorities, faulty parenting methods, critical judgmental attitudes, jealousy, discontentment and complaining, lack of self-control or self-discipline. But I believe they all flow out of a marriage that is self-centered, not Christ-centered.
If anything, even something good like a spouse or child, is the central focus, the marriage will struggle on some level. Any idol that is more important than the Lord is born of a selfish heart bent on satisfying self. But selfishness is never satisfied! Only the Lord can satisfy our deepest needs and longings. So, while the bad habits listed here destroy, the good habits that replace them are foundational to turning marriages around for the glory of Christ!