Matt and Lauren Chandler proclaim the power of God’s love in their marriage.
by Polly House
Matt Chandler’s best advice for couples comes straight from one of the Bible’s least-read books: Song of Songs.
Godly love and romance are the topics of his new book, The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Sex, Marriage & Redemption (David C. Cook, January 2015). In it, Matt, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas (a Dallas suburb), lets us in on some of his secrets in counseling singles and married couples.
Matt draws on the Old Testament wisdom of Song of Songs to be clear about what matters most for lifelong success in love:
- Choose each other because you both love God fiercely.
- Compliment each other publicly.
- Woo each other passionately.
- Marry each other before becoming involved sexually.
- Fight with each other fairly.
- Forgive each other continually.
- Grow old together gracefully.
In the introduction of The Mingling of Souls, Matt says, “In the church, as a pastor, I am continually bombarded with questions about how dating should work, and I spend thousands of hours a year in premarital and marital counseling. Although there appears to be a deep desire to approach dating, marriage, and sex in a way that would please God, there nevertheless seems to be a profound lack of wisdom and practical know-how.”
Song with Meaning
The imagery in the ancient Song of Songs is lovely, but for a modern audience, it can be difficult to understand. “Every time I preach I consider what the text would have meant to the audience in the time it was written,” Matt says. “I think, Here is what it was trying to say to them. I look at the original language and wring out what it is saying, and what that will mean for us today. I did that with Song of Songs and found it has so much to teach us about how to love.”
Song of Songs charts the relationship between a woman and King Solomon from the initial attraction, through marital consummation, and to the place of keeping the flame of romance burning after familiarity has set in.
Readers follow the couple as they navigate the age-old pursuit of romance — the pursuit, actually, of one another — as they fight for purity against their flesh, embrace the gracious covenant of marriage, celebrate the amazing gift of sex, and learn how to gracefully grow old together. All the while, disagreeing honorably, encouraging constantly, and keeping the fires of a godly romance burning.
Matt has literally written a book on figuring out God’s perfect way for a man and woman to become totally fulfilled in love, courtship, wooing, and marriage.
Song for Life
For an outsider looking in, it appears that after seventeen years together Matt and his wife, Lauren, must have it all figured out. No issues, perfect contentment, and constant agreement on everything. Well, not exactly. Like the couple in Song of Songs, they had the love, the desire, and the passion, but still had to learn together how to make this thing called marriage work.
When the Chandlers got engaged, one thing they covenanted with each other was divorce would not be an option.
“Both of us had a good sense of this covenant,” Matt says. “This was our marriage. I felt bound to Lauren through the Lord. Leaving was not going to be an option. It was more of a fact than a feeling.”
Lauren adds that her parents had a big influence on her decision to stay bound to Matt regardless of circumstances.
“One set of my grandparents were divorced and the other set probably should have been,” she shares. “They were technically married, but lived separate lives. My parents didn’t want that for their family and have stayed together. Matt and I wanted that type of commitment in our marriage, and I really trusted that the Lord would work this out in us.”
The Chandlers were married while they were still in college. Today, that is not the norm. Americans are marrying later. According to the U.S. Department of Health statistics, the average age of a first marriage for a woman is 25.8, and 28.3 for a man. Matt isn’t sure waiting that long is such a good idea.
Talking about the rising age of first marriages, Matt shares, “I think there is a good or bad side with any cultural change. Twenty-somethings are saying, ‘Let me get it all together, and then I’ll be ready to get married.’
“Now people want to get out of school, get a good job, get out of debt, pay off their student loans, and then think about getting married,” he continues. “I think there is something to be said for struggling together, of going through hard times and situations together. I read that if you help a butterfly get out of the cocoon, and don’t let it struggle to break through the chrysalis and work its wings, it won’t have the strength to survive outside. If you wait to get married for selfish reasons, you may be doing yourself and your spouse a disservice.”
Lauren questions whether the delay may have to do with so many of today’s young adults having seen their parents live in bad marriages, or go through messy divorces.
“They try to get it all together before taking that step,” she says. “But why do we get married? It’s not just about romance. Marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. In a Christian marriage, you have a covenant with God and each other. That doesn’t necessarily require that both of you have to have everything perfect.”
In Song of Songs, Solomon and his beloved want to know everything about each other. Part of dating is getting to know another person more deeply than a friendship allows.
As a couple becomes more committed to each other and their future together, honesty about the past becomes more crucial.
“In courtship, you are proceeding cautiously,” Matt says. “You don’t unpack everything at one. Once you are married, though, I don’t think there is any place for secrets. That doesn’t mean you have the right to say everything you think. For example, pretend Lauren said something I thought was just ridiculous. Like that’s ever going to happen! It won’t do me any good to say, ‘That was the dumbest thing I ever heard.’ That’s not honesty. That’s just hurtful and mean. It’s important to think before you speak.”
“Of course he is right about not saying hurtful things for their own sake,” Lauren says. “There’s no place for that. I’m talking about being open with everything. Matt knows he can read all my texts, my journal, anything. There is nothing I hold back from him.”
Even so, there may be some times that are better than others to share your thoughts.
“Some things I struggle with internally, but I will work them out,” she says. “Not because I’m trying to hide anything, but I may need time to sort it out in my own mind and know how I feel.”
Lauren says she makes it a point to pick a good time to talk.
“I don’t want to talk when he’s tired or not feeling well,” she says. “It’s not a productive time and not really fair.”
With the idea of being fair, both Lauren and Matt say it is crucial to learn to “fight fair” in a marriage. They define fighting as the way you deal with disagreements and conflict.
“When we were engaged, we fought about a lot of things,” Matt reflects. “At one point I even talked to one of my mentors about the consistent fights that kept coming up and how I didn’t know what to do. I asked him if he thought I should marry a woman that I still kind of get in fights with — shouldn’t we be beyond this?”
This wise mentor gave Matt good advice: “Brother, you are going to fight with someone for the rest of your life. Do you want it to be Lauren?” In that, the mentor told Matt that when you get married, conflicts aren’t going anywhere. And, many issues become non-issues once they’ve been addressed.
So, if fighting is a reality, then how do you fight fair? First of all, remember this: yelling and screaming will not settle anything. Neither will physical, emotional, or mental abuse. There is never a legitimate reason for any of this. Never.
The Chandlers shared an example of fighting fair, one time: purchasing a new house. They found a house they both liked and considered the purchase. Matt thought they couldn’t afford the house, but Lauren really wanted it. They discussed it seriously. For Lauren, it was important that Matt listened to her and considered her desire for this particular home. She needed validation for what she was saying. For Matt, he wanted to know Lauren was listening to his reasons for not buying it.
He shares, “I wanted her to know I was doing everything I could to help her get this house. She knows my heart’s desire is to give her what she wants. But we crunched the numbers and it wasn’t going to work.”
Lauren admits she was disappointed, but not angry. Matt had listened to her, validated her feelings, and involved her in the decision-making.
As with Solomon and his (now) wife in the last chapter of Song of Songs, the Chandlers have learned that a good marriage gets better with time.
“I think there is an overly romantic vision of what people think marriage will be,” Matt says. “In many ways, this attitude becomes less and less. You learn how to manage conflict better the longer you are married. We do much better now than we did early on.” •
A List of “Nevers”
In The Mingling of Souls, Matt Chandler credits author Tommy Nelson with helping him come up with some “nevers” of communication regarding conflict:
- Never respond to your mate brashly.
- Never touch your mate out of temper or frustration, ever.
- Never seek to shame your spouse in public (or in private for that matter).
- Never fight in front of your kids (or use them as leverage in a disagreement).
- Never mention your spouse’s parents or any other family member.
- Never dig up the past; try to stay on topic.
- Never try to win.
- Never yell, use derogatory comments, or verbally defame your spouse.
- Never withhold physical intimacy or use sex to manipulate.
- Never put off seeking resolution.
Polly House is a freelance writer living in Nashville, Tenn. She and her husband, Sam, have been married almost 35 years and agree with the Chandlers that marriage gets better over time. Follow her on Twitter at @housepolly.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (March 2015). For more articles like this, subscribe toHomeLife.