"Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards..." (Songs of Songs 2:15)
The Song of Solomon is the greatest love song ever written. In it, romantic love is evidenced from start to finish, from the beginning of life to the very end. The couple begins to love, marries, matures in love, and dies in love. Inspired by the Spirit, the power of married love is evidenced throughout the whole song. It is a great ideal, a wonderful possibility, a straight up life goal for any married couple.
Still, in the midst of the love and romance the couple sang about, there were challenges. Some of the obstacles were major, such as massive insecurity. Other problems were perceived, such as fears the relationship was in jeopardy, though it wasn't. However, some challenges were small, minor little hassles that needed handling.
They called these little issues the "little foxes that spoil the vineyards." Though small in stature, those little foxes could ruin the vineyard, and those minor issues, if undealt with, could bring great harm to the relationship. So the bride asked her husband, could you deal with those little foxes? Could you tend to our relationship, so these little things don't do big damage?
The modern marriage (or engaged couple) must make the same commitment. Let's deal with the little foxes before they become big issues, they ought to say to one another.
Don’t Be Oblivious to Problems in the Relationship
It is crucial for a couple to have a bit of honesty about issues in their relationship. Many seem to want to put a nice Instagram filter on everything, imagining a healthy relationship is one without any conflict whatsoever. But the belief that healthy relationships are void of conflict is a lie. Do not allow yourself to think of problems as evidence your relationship is somehow doomed. If you do, you might intentionally downplay issues you shouldn't, all in an attempt to keep the peace, ignore the obvious, and delay the inevitable.
Marriage takes work. God wants to sanctify you, and he will use your marriage as a way to accomplish that work. He wants to shape you, so he put you with someone different from you. Male and female were made in his image (Genesis 1:27). You are not, by yourself, the complete image of God. You need your spouse to balance and mature you. To believe sanctification and shaping and growth can happen without working through some stuff is naive. To think you won't have to work through issues and conflict is an erroneous belief. To me, watching a healthy couple sit down and talk through differing opinions and desires is beautiful and healthy.
It Is Better to Deal With Problems When They Are Small
That said, it is so much better to deal with problems in a relationship when they are in their infancy. As a pastor, I often watch people wait until the molehill becomes a mountain before they confront issues in their marriage. To neglect the little foxes for too long can easily lead to a small problem becoming an all-consuming fire. With Christ, all things are possible, so there is no hurdle that, with and in him, cannot be overcome, but it is so much easier to deal with stuff when it is in the beginning stages. Sin in its infancy is much easier to deal with than when it is full grown (James 1:12-15).
Christina and I have had many unpleasant conversations about things which bother us in our relationship. It is never a delight to have to confront an issue or work through a disagreement. But, fortunately, we've had a perspective that we won't allow the smaller things to go untouched. We have taken the "do not let the sun go down on your anger" exhortation literally and seriously (Ephesians 4:26). Therefore, we tend to address stuff as it happens. It is only later that we realize it was a smaller issue than we'd first thought. But we are always happy to have it dealt with quickly.
Consider Some Smaller Issues That Can Frustrate a Relationship
- Communication: One of the surest ways to derail a relationship is through a breakdown in communication. If anger, silence, or embarrassment keeps a couple from calmly working through stuff, the enemy has won. You must keep the lines of communication flowing, but sometimes there is a breakdown. Rather than go on, it is good for a couple to sit down and begin to lovingly communicate once again. Don't allow life's distractions (schedules, TV, phones, etc.) to keep you from talking to one another.
- Role Responsibilities: We often carry unspoken expectations into our marriages. One of them is often connected to the role we expect our spouse to play in our lives. Sometimes our expectation is constructed by our upbringing. Rather than assume we know what role or responsibilities the other will carry, it is best to talk it through. When Christina and I were in pre-marriage counseling, one of our most helpful exercises was running through a checklist of chores around the house and deciding who was ultimately responsible for each. Though that list has evolved, it was helpful to know, for instance, who was responsible for grocery shopping and balancing the budget.
- Handling Finances: This little fox can quickly turn into The Predator if we aren't careful. Many marriages are derailed with money as the main culprit. To talk about financial decisions and priorities, early and often, is wise. Don't let embarrassment or pressure keep you from dealing with money issues together.
- Agreement Sexually: Sexual frustration is a real thing in many marriages. This is understandable because we are sexual beings and our emotions, insecurities, and impulses are all alive in this particular realm. Hollywood wants you to think it either is working or isn't, there's chemistry or there's not, but a married couple must continually talk about sexual expectations and desires. The bedroom is a place to serve your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:3), but you won't be able to if disappointment or hurt balloons into a major issue.
- Family Challenges: Extended family is often a significant contributor to relational pain. The two (husband and wife) are to become one flesh, but we often invite a parent or sibling into that circle. When you make that mistake, thinking your blood relative is closer to you than your spouse (or as close), you invite a little fox in to destroy your vineyard. Set proper boundaries and put those relationships where they belong - honored, cherished, and loved, but nowhere close to the level of importance or unity your share with your spouse.
- Trials: When trials come into a married couples' life, they cannot be ignored. Couples must face them together, with sensitivity to how the other person is responding. One person's strength while passing through a health issue should not be used to beat up their spouse if they are hurting through that trial. Together, talking, lovingly serving each other through life's difficulties, a healthy couple does not let a trial stand ignored.
- Trust Level: When trust is low in any area of the relationship, it is hard for the couple to soar. For instance, if a wife does not trust the financial decisions of her husband, conflict is sure to arise. Arguments, hesitancy, and anger will leap out whenever financial crossroads come. When you sense your trust level is low, deal with it immediately.
- Condemning Guilt: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Unfortunately, sin in our past often leaves us feeling guilty and shamed, a shell of the glory we could have had. However, Christ comes to redeem broken humanity, to restore us and bring many sons and daughters to glory (Hebrews 2:5-10). He has dealt, well and successfully, with our past sin, even sins committed and engaged in while we were believers. But, often, those old sins remain a sticking point for a married couple. To refuse to forgive or address past failures can often lead to a breakdown of trust and love.
- Jealousy: When one spouse grows jealous of the other, the results are varied. Friendships are often killed as the jealous spouse cannot handle time being given to anyone but themselves. Paranoia results, as the possessiveness blooms into complete distrust.
- Selfishness: When one spouse is selfish with their time, energy, or money, the other spouse hurts. Generosity must flow, for marriage works best when spouses continually give to the other. However, if a few days of selfishness are not confessed and forgiven, they can balloon out into a few years of selfishness. This creates an atmosphere where one spouse gives and gives, while the other takes and takes, an unhealthy situation that can be avoided if the little fox of selfishness is dealt with before it grows into something more.
Look, marriage takes work, and the little foxes are always at the door, trying to destroy the beautiful thing God has built. Instead of growing overwhelmed by the smaller issues in your marriage, learn to accept the fact you live in a fallen and broken world, and that you are still being renewed by Christ. With that understanding, allow yourself to work through the little troubles and travails that are bound to hit every married couple from time to time. Contrary to what our culture tries to tell us about marriage, that its a dead institution without a point, or that its an idol worthy of your worship, if you keep on working at it you'll discover many of your deepest joys and greatest experiences with God in the midst of it.