Spiritual Warfare and Marriage
Marriage is properly defined as a solemn contract in which a man and a woman confer bodily rights, among other things, for the sake of procreation. This is strictly a formal theological definition of marriage. Marriage is solemn because it is formalized in public, and witnessed by a minister of the church. It is a contract because there is a conferral of bodily and other rights. Now some might ask, isn't marriage a covenant? Yes and no, depending on how you define the word. If we define a covenant as a solemn contract, then yes. In any valid contract, justice is a central feature. If I'm contracted to replace someone's roof, and I fail to do so, then I'm in violation of the justice of that contract. There is an agreement; you fix the roof, I pay you a predetermined amount. So in the solemn contract of marriage both parties have bodily rights over each other.
Marriage is also a natural contract that God instituted possessing a sacramental character, that binds each spouse gravely. This means if you fail to uphold your end of the contract, you commit sin with full knowledge of the gravity of that failure. Demons will do everything they can to get you to violate your solemn contract, and if they can't get you to do so objectively, they'll get you to do so subjectively, since they know it is a direct offense to God, who is really the ultimate target of their hate. Very specific types of attacks are used against marriage by demons to destroy it, and no matter how close you and your spouse may be, every marriage will struggle with demonic attack at some point. Why? The answer is found in the Genesis account of the Fall of Man. One of the core problems experienced as a result of the Fall is that the specific gender roles of men and women were impacted negatively. The Fall affected Adam and Eve in different and specific ways.
“To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”-Genesis 3:16-19
While both Adam and Eve shared in the general effects of the Fall-sickness, old age, death, inherited depravity, and separation from God-they both also suffered specific and unique effects as well, as is seen in these verses from Genesis. Adam, and by extension all men, would have to work hard to produce what is necessary to sustain life. Eve, and by extension all women, would experience pain in childbirth and be “ruled” by her husband. These specifics are important since they indicate the sin by the punishment. That is, because Adam and Eve violated their created order, that is, their specific gender roles, those very gender roles were now imposed with sufferings. They allowed the serpent to initiate a subversion of the proper roles of male and female with regard to the social order. Demons use these effects against husbands and wives. And this is something we must be aware of with regard to spiritual warfare, and why it is so important for couples to have a knowledge of their Faith and of Scripture. The foundation of all strife within marriage is always based on one principle: That is, the first thing demons will do is divide couples internally, in their minds, by distorting their impressions of each other. They first separate them from each other psychologically, and then move from there to separate them physically. So the first assault will always be on their perceptions of their spouse, distorting them to the negative. Communication and perception are the first areas of attack by the demonic. Because we often fail to communicate as effectively as we should, the demon is able to twist our intended meaning in the imagination of our spouse. If the demon is able to work on the imagination of our spouse, such that our spouse begins to think we view them as a bother, as ignorant, or as attacking us in some other way, then we have allowed the first demonic foothold in our marriage. The first strategy in spiritual warfare in your marriage is not to allow your perceptions to be manipulated and distorted. It means we have to learn the proper way to communicate, and give our partner the charity we would expect to receive when I simply think or feel they've said something that truly hasn't been expressed or implied. This doesn't mean we ignore reasonable issues, since our spouses are given a grace whereby they can reveal our defects to us. It means we need to understand that there is a proper way and proper time to express our needs, feelings, and concerns. It may seem strange to speak of communication as having strategic import in spiritual warfare, but it isn't really all that strange when you think carefully about it. If an army doesn't have clear communication, or the lines of communication are broken by enemy combatants, then that army can easily fall prey to the enemies attacks and to internal struggles, having no greater insight in the overall battle plan. It is very much the same in your marriage. Don't allow the adversary to distort your communication, nor use your imagination against your marriage. Your expressions, your choice of words, the tone of your voice, and the many non-verbal aspects of body language all impact communication with your spouse. The key components of your strategy, beyond being mindful of the aforementioned things, absolutely requires you to show mutual respect, trust, consideration, forgiveness, and charity. Demons know the closer we are to someone, the less we tend to be protected internally and emotionally from them. The process of courtship and the willingness to enter into the covenant of marriage require a degree of vulnerability on our part. The very nature of marriage, and by extension family, is to have union, so there is generally speaking no wall of separation between a husband and wife internally. And so spouses always run the risk of hurting each other, even if unintentionally. When our perceptions are distorted it is because we're looking at whatever was said or done through the internal pain, rather than logically asking, what did my spouse actually intend? In other words, your marriage has to be rooted in objective reality. What did your spouse really intend? What you feel is very likely absolutely irrelevant. You cannot look at your spouse through the prism of your emotions, as all that does is provide the demon with the opportunity to destroy the marriage, because demons have access to our emotions through our imagination. It is important that you set aside how you feel and look to the objective reality, as most spouses who do so admit that they know logically that their spouse would never intend to hurt them. But once you allow the wound to happen, that pain will be the constant target of the demon. This is why the exorcist or pastoral counselor needs to take charge in a marriage counseling situation, putting an end to the back and forth accusations and perceived feelings of both parties. Those are the exact things demons are using to distort your view of your spouse, making you think he doesn't love you, she doesn't find you attractive, and so on. The fact of the matter is, character flaws are our opportunity for personal growth, to grow in grace and charity. Instead of focusing on your spouses flaws and letting your perception of them be distorted by demons, engage the opportunity to develop in yourself the character of Christ and let those negative perceptions go, since they're demonic attacks.
It is easy to allow demons to influence your perceptions in marriage, specifically because our spouse has been granted a grace that permits them to reveal to us our shortcomings. How we communicate these things to our spouse is of utmost importance, since it can impact their perception of self worth. Most people have inadequate self concepts. This often leads us to feel badly about ourselves in some area, often because the standards we set for ourselves are quite simply unrealistic. And when we fail to meet these unrealistic standards, we feel discouraged, and some even lost self respect and self confidence. To the extent a person dislikes themselves, he/she will be much more easily discouraged and hurt by criticism. They will be sensitive to what their spouse says and does. Often they feel lonely, even in marriage and with a family. Intimacy can be difficult for them. Their ability to establish relationships with others and maintain them can be very difficult. It cannot be stressed enough that all criticism in marriage must be communicated with love, respect, consideration, forgiveness, and charity. Again, we must be aware of our tone, our choice of words, our facial expressions and our body language. Do they convey an attitude of loving acceptance, or of harsh judgment, or disgust? All of us want to be loved, and expect supportive love from our spouse. As a result, we enjoy being around people who make us feel good about ourselves, as our spouse should. And, for better or worse, most of us don't like criticism. While marriage is indeed a contract, it doesn't make for a good reform school or court of law. When we allow demons to introduce harsh criticism and blame to color our communication, the contract of marriage starts to take on a sense of dread and entrapment. Communicate with the characteristics previously mentioned as the proper strategy, and you'll be better able to keep the suggestions of the Adversary at bay.
The honeymoon phase of a relationship usually ends within a year of marriage, and changes begin to occur. While up to now you've been basking in the language of love and the glow of newfound happiness, you're now reverting to your more normal behavior pattern. This is when all our faults become so glaringly obvious to our spouse. Along with the criticism previously mentioned, it can become easy to take each other for granted if we don't apply the proper strategy to our communication. When a spouse becomes harsh in their criticism, this will trigger feelings of anger, pain, and resentment in the other spouse, and lead to avoidance, casual treatment, indifference, and even outright rudeness. Your spouse needs encouragement, not harsh criticism. They need to know they're loved and valued, not viewed with disdain and expected to serve the other under the coldest emotional conditions. When a husband and wife focus on the negatives about each other, distance will absolutely be the result. In turn, they both become more vulnerable to demonic suggestions, including turning to someone else for the kindness and support they should be receiving from each other. This is usually preceded by a period of arguing. This means another part of our spiritual warfare strategy must be learning how to discuss disagreements and problems without fighting. I suggest the following guidelines.
- Express to each other the need for heart-to-heart time of sharing each others feelings.
- Choose a mutually agreeable time and place.
- Both should come prepared to truly listen, and take notes with pen and paper.
- Choose who will speak first.
- The one listening should not interrupt, object, make faces, roll their eyes, correct, clarify, etc. until the other has completely finished speaking and says, “Okay. Your turn.”
- Neither spouse can accuse, berate, or belittle the other person.
- Expressions such as, “I feel..”, “When you do/say, it makes me feel/think...”, are appropriate.
- Don't use phrases like, “You always...”, “You never...”.
- Avoid anything that can be misconstrued as being harsh, mean, cruel, or accusatory.
- If you cannot convince the other person to change their mind, try to place yourself in their place and ask yourself, “If I believed/felt they way he/she does, what would I want the other person to do/change?”
- After each has listened to the other, each must choose only one item for the other spouse to work on for that week.
- Schedule a weekly discussion for progress.
- Privately pray for each other during the week that God would enable you both to be kind to each other and that God would help both of you learn how to solve problems without attacking each other.
- Pray together during the week that God would help each of you honestly work on the item chosen for that week to work on, and that the Holy Spirit would be at the center of your marriage.
It is important that you always take a benevolent approach to your spouse. Spouses should always be willing to suffer for each other, even as Christ suffered for us. By this I don't mean a spouse must suffer abuse. It simply means the common character flaws that we humans all share aren't a reason to seek a divorce, but part of the spiritual formation we undergo in marriage. Perhaps it is easier to understand marriage as a call to sacrifice. Biblically speaking there are several aspects of sacrifice.
- The Offering-Something is set apart to be offered to God.
- The Sacrifice-The victim is slain.
- The Consummation-The sacrifice is consumed so that nothing of the sacrifice can be profaned in any way. We see this in the Passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Marriage is very much akin to a sacrifice. In marriage, the offering is the proposal of marriage. The couple offer themselves to each other in engagement, including bodily rights. Demons attack the offering aspect by interfering with a proper courtship. They will get the couple to engage in activities that are inappropriate outside marriage, creating issues that are then brought into the marriage. Courtship has, unfortunately, lost its sacramental character in the modern world. The betrothal, or engagement, is a promise of future marriage. It is a true promise, and not merely an intention, a desire, or a resolution, even though these may be expressed in words. It must also be a mutual promise, made and received by both parties. It is a promise of future marriage, because the promise of marriage at the present moment, or expressed in words that refer to the present time, would constitute the contract of marriage, and not merely the betrothal. It was the tradition of the church for a very long time that the engagement was made in writing, signed by both the parties, and by the parish minister and at least by two witnesses.
While it has become the custom in modern society to enter into long engagements, such isn't really advisable, and they're not necessary. It doesn't take many months to understand one another's character and disposition, and to see whether it would suit them to spend their lives together as man and wife, which is the object of engagement. Long courtships, living together, etc., are calculated to do more harm than good, and often are the occasions of sin to young people who are often easily led to do things they otherwise wouldn't by reason of their being engaged to marry. One of the things demons will do is to tempt the couple to engage in sinful actions against each other before marriage, so that once they're married, those soul ties (a connection we have psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually to someone as a result of justice, or an act committed together.) are damaged. So when the couple violates chastity before marriage, that changes the psychological framework of the couple getting married. The demons then use that to attack the marriage later. For example, suggesting that because of the sin you should never have followed through with the marriage. Most often these sins are of a sexual nature. God designed sex such that there is an actual physiological mechanism that imprints the memory very deeply in your mind, and if you have had other sexual encounters before marriage, physiologically you have those attachments still embedded in your mind making it harder to bond with anyone. Those soul ties have to be broken by deliberate spiritual effort and spiritual warfare prayer.