What’s a Better Question to ask married people than “how’s married life?”
Leonard and I have been married for six months, so I very much qualify as ‘newly-married’. I can attest to the frequency to which I get asked this question! Before addressing the question itself, I want to share a few general reflections to set the context for my answers.
Married Couples Need Friends too
Firstly, I want to affirm the value of friends and family who care enough to inquire after the health of our marriage and offer support. To say ‘married couples need friends’ may seem blindingly obvious, but there is a tendency—even amongst Christian circles—to forget this very thing. It is easy for us to adopt wrong and worldly ways of thinking about marriage: to believe that once someone is married, that somehow we have found, in our spouse, the sole and complete fulfilment of our human desires for intimacy, which renders every other form of relationship pale in significance and meaning. These ways of thinking, in addition to lacking a scriptural basis, are unhelpful, both to our marriages and our churches. For the former, it places a pressure on our spouse to be the primary—or even only—source of unconditional love and affirmation.
It is easy for us to adopt wrong and worldly ways of thinking about marriage which renders every other form of relationship pale in significance and meaning.
For the latter, when we demarcate our marriages away from others, we are robbing both ourselves and the church from opportunities to use our gifts to serve one another, gifts including our marriage. A Christian marriage exists within the wider body of the church. This means Leonard and I do not operate in a self-contained ecosystem, where our needs and wants are expressed and met only between the two of us. Our union, although exclusive, is not an entirely private affair. Our marriage exists to serve the body; and vice versa. So, this means whilst married, we want Christian companions, of whichever marital status, who are willing to journey alongside us; who ask us tough questions; who exhort and challenge us; and who point us to Jesus, and we know we are called to do likewise. In our experience, our friends and family have also provided enrichment and growth to our lives, faith and marriage in ways that we cannot achieve between just the two of us. Having friends is a precious gift (Psalm 133:1), not to be downplayed just because you are married.
So I want to commend the questioner’s intention and desire to support their newly-married Christian friends: it is appreciated and valued.
Your Relationship with Them is More Important than the Questions You Ask
Secondly, I resonate with what the questioner is hinting at: there are better questions to ask than just a boilerplate one. However, I am curious as to why the quality of the questions to be asked is the starting point, rather than who the questions are being asked to, and the nature and quality of your relationship to the person. On one level, it doesn’t really matter how sincere, honest, or thought-provoking your question is if you do not have an existing or trusting relationship with that person! The question will just invoke a bland and generic response. (It certainly has with me, within the corridors of our church!) Assuming that you do have some relational capital with them, even a general question such as the above could be sufficient to provide you an insight into their marriage that allows you to serve them.
I have found myself drawn to people who are careful listeners, who recall what I have shared with them in the past.
So, it’s not the question per se, but your relationship to the person, that is primal. And that’s pretty much a universal rule to have sincere conversations, I find, so don’t just apply this to married people! Once we consider the person as the focus, we start seeing more ways that we can love and serve them, even before we open our mouths to ask questions after them. I have found myself drawn to people who, before asking questions, are careful listeners, who recall what I have shared with them in the past, who remember to pray for me when they have said they would, and who follow up with me on things previously discussed.
Ask Sincere Questions
All that context provided, addressing the first-half of the question becomes relatively straightforward. In my mind, questions that are asked sincerely, with a genuine desire to know in order to love (1 Cor. 8:1), are usually helpful ones. In terms of subject matter, questions surrounding my or my spouse’s spiritual health, home life, sex life (maybe), work life, ministry, and the practical journey of getting used to living with each other, are generally welcomed. But again, see above about the role of relational capacity in determining the quality of my response!
Other Ways to Encourage Newly-Married Couples
Upon reflection, I think the best way to love and support newly-married Christians is similar to supporting a Christian at any stage of their life. It is to ‘encourage one another and build one another up’ (1 Thess. 5:11), which involves inquiring after their walk with Jesus, to rejoice together in moments where we see him as he truly is, and to share sorrows and work through our issues together when this is not the case (Romans 12:15). Asking questions, though valuable, is but one way of expressing the many ‘one another’ commands in the New Testament.
For me, particularly in my current season as a newly-married person, I can think of two ways my friends encourage me. Firstly, I have a group of friends who set godly examples of those who have a higher hope than these present earthly circumstances, whether single or married. These friends provide flesh to Paul’s instructions to be ‘content whatever the circumstances’ (Phil 4:13), and remind me that, whether single or married, we are all waiting for a greater marriage to come. Their godly examples do not undermine the goodness or reality of my earthly marriage, but rather rightfully exalts my eagerness for the final marriage of the church to the Lord Jesus. Secondly, I am also grateful for the friends who help me to ‘gird up my loins’. These are friends who remind me of the high calling of marriage and to live it out by loving my spouse unconditionally and sacrificially (Eph. 5:21-24). They demonstrate, by example, the challenge and significance of committing oneself to another sinner for life, in the footsteps of One who similarly committed himself to sinners like us.
Within these groups of friends, some are good at asking questions and gently prying, others not so much. However, the effectiveness of both is on par. They both draw from the deep well of our friendship. Their genuine care exudes clearly through the gentle and honest exchange of words between us (Prov. 27:9).