If you’ve been married for any time at all, then you know that marriage is a union requiring both the strength and submission of our wills. In the early hours of matrimony, when every face is painted with a smile and endorphins are passed around like candy, unity is an easy choice. But like most things that grow old with time, choosing unity can come to feel anything but euphoric.

These are the moments that urge us to recall what we know to be true. As Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre insisted, “I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. . . . If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?” The vows we profess, the covenant we make, the living metaphor of Jesus and his church that we agree to emulate—all of these things make up the umbrella under which we love, protect, argue, repent, forgive, and sacrifice.

But what happens when, no matter how unified and committed you aim to be, you and your spouse have conflicting goals? How do you choose unity when you and your spouse are passionate about vastly different things or have competing needs?

A Common Problem

Here’s the (somewhat) good news: It’s supposed to be hard. The apostle Paul warned us that marriage would distract us from serving God with a single-minded focus (1 Corinthians 7:32–35). This struggle is a natural consequence of the oneness we now have with our partners, but it’s a struggle worth having.

My favorite thing about Paul is how much he cares about Jesus and the church. Knowing that my marriage is a mysterious metaphor for the relationship between Christ and his bride, I’ve ...

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