The idea of the marriage triangle has been around for years and generally, it looks something like one of these drawings:
Although it seemed like a tidy principle, I found it to be misleading. When I first saw this triangle… I wanted it to be true. The assertion was so simple and clean of how marriage should work. But whenever I tried to apply it, something seemed off… unworkable. In peeling back some of its layers, I found an idea that was just that – an idealistic theory instead of practical applications for my real-life marriage.
If we’re equal, shouldn’t we equally grow?
Within the diagram, there’s an accepted assumption that we grow the same. The problem was, that wasn’t the reality of our marriage. And neither is it for most other marriages.
No two people in the world are alike, we all have different starting points and varied experiences as we grow from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. Since maturity comes from our experiences, it’s doubtful that couples mature through the same experiences, at the same moment in time.
The sin nature doesn’t disappear because the couple becomes husband and wife (symbolized by the bottom portion of the triangle). Nor does the wedding day equalize each other’s sin to make it the same.
In this paradigm, the disconnect is that they appear parallel because they’re now one flesh. The arrows that move us up the triangle, further support the disconnect: each spouse is moving closer to God and each to each other, at the same rate of growth.
In theory, it appears that’s what should be happening, they should be getting closer to each other. But what I’ve discovered is that one spouse always matures faster or one spouse has more emotional baggage and is more wounded: It’s never the same rate of climb. Instead, the stronger personality emotionally forces the other to keep pace. The weaker/gentler or more tolerant personality goes along, or at least tries to for a while, to keep the peace.
These are the couples that one day, they’re just… divorced – and no one saw it coming.
The rhetoric of equality
As much as we’ve been told that men and women are equal – the same in every way… we’re not. God didn’t make females to match males but to contrast them. He purposefully created us women to be unique and opposite of men: Chiral – everything about us that’s female is reversed. God doesn’t erase this biology because we get married. In fact, it’s through the one flesh relationship that we get to experience the contrast of our opposites in the deepest ways!
You’ve always processed through a female lens and your husband through a male lens. You’re not equal to anyone in your human experience. Your fingerprints prove that you’re exclusive, you. Your different human experience on earth is what gives you an entirely different history and relationship with God.
We never have conflict
Another presupposition presented in the diagram is that couples always see eye to eye on everything. They’re both pretty agreeable so they’re both moving seamlessly up the triangle, together. I could see this working if I believed that there were two people who:
- Had perfect childhoods
- Both always said and did what they should
- Never had a difference of opinion
- Didn’t bring any baggage from being raised by sinners
- Hadn’t suffered any pain or hurt from life in general
Further, to say that a marriage doesn’t have any trials, tribulation or troubles, makes Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 7, of pressure, affliction, and anguish, an untrue statement:
[…] Yet those who marry will have physical and earthly troubles […]
Not a triangle for marriage
I don’t believe this paradigm can represent marriage on a practical level – it’s missing the connecting glue: The Covenant. The main thing that separates a marriage apart from every other relationship: The One Flesh. It doesn’t matter how many Bible verses you include on that diagram … there’s still no representation of that mystery symbolizing the one flesh that only happens in marriage.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. ~Ephesians 5:31
HOWEVER, it is an accurate depiction of relationship, just not for marriage – it’s a family triangle!
A triangle for Family!
The idea of superimposing Bible verses about relationships over a triangle, then naming it the “marriage triangle,” was confusing me. I kept ending up with the same question:
If there’s no distinction between the relationship with my brother (and sisters) in the family of Christ and the brother I’m married to – if all the verses apply the same to everyone, why even put verses about marriage in the Bible?
Marriage Triangle or Family Triangle … What’s the difference?
The obvious answer was, of course, sex – with one person. But becoming one flesh is about more than sex. Being married to a brother in Christ means I’ve forsaken all others in the body of Christ – making this one brother a husband to me: The two have become one flesh.
It’s a completely different and deeper dynamic than all other relationships within the body of Christ … a weightier one because it carries the glory of representation.
This mystery [of one flesh] is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. ~Ephesians 5:32
We’ve got to stop trying to make marriage the same as every other relationship in the body of Christ – it’s just not. Marriage is the only relationship that’s been given the responsibility of becoming one flesh, and the only relationship in which God demands a covenant.
A triangle where there’s no one-flesh representation for marriage, cannot be a “Marriage Triangle.” This paradigm represents the family relationships; it’s a “Family Triangle.”
- Don’t try to force your husband to change or grow by following the principles, ideas, programs or books that you think are the best. Real growth with God and real intimacy with each other happen through unanimous agreement – not emotional coercion. Sadly, a lot of wives think because they’re one flesh with their husbands they have the freedom to step in front of the Holy Spirit.
- The renewal of your husband’s mind and heart will match his own weaknesses, history and understanding – not yours. God knows the best way to heal and grow him, and the optimum time to do it. It won’t be on your timetable. You either hold his heart as the Holy Spirit does the work in it; or you’re the obstacle in the path of the Holy Spirit.
- You married a man, not a sister, not a girlfriend or a BFF. He’ll become more like Jesus Christ through his role of the husband, not your role as a wife.