I’m starting to see more and more media reports exploring the benefits of arranged marriages vs. the modern Western model of dating to find a “soul mate.” Generally they’re pretty objective about the pros and cons of both.

In the typical American marriage, the couple already has a head start on getting to know each other, while the “getting-to-know-you” phase comes after the wedding in Eastern marriages. In-law troubles are a big complaint in Western marriages as couples work to adapt to each other’s families, while Eastern marriages generally have the support of family and the couples are seen as fitting into the extended family structure. Modern marriages major on emotional connection while arranged marriages focus on community connection.

I was intrigued with a recent feature on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition in which American-born Shad Imam discussed his six-year arranged marriage to Pakistani-born Sana. To me it pointed out that, even though I am no advocate of arranged marriages, there are more similarities in stable marriage relationships from one culture to another than there are differences. It also became evident that whether it’s arranged marriage or a soul-mate selection, commitment and hard work are required to hold a marriage together. Consider these excerpts from the NPR interview:

“It depends on your expectations,” Imam says. “My expectation was that I would love my wife regardless of who she was.”

Shad says he’s watched a lot of his American friends as they searched for “The One,” whereas his philosophy was to work with his parents’ choice to make Sana “The One.”

He thinks people just looking for love are missing out. Compatibility, he thinks, is much more important. The rest is just hard work.

Of course, there’s a key element missing from the interview that I wouldn’t expect to hear from NPR, nor from a Muslim couple.

For a marriage to blossom into all God intends it to be, there must be a supernatural intervention based on a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. A husband may be committed and devoted to his wife from a sense of personal benefit, and even obligation and self-sacrifice. But understanding her and loving her more than he loves himself doesn’t come naturally. In the same way, a wife can respect and appreciate her husband, both out of a sense of security and belonging, but to submit to him without regard to personal gain requires empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture tells us that Christ loved His bride, the Church (the body of all believers), and laid down His life for her (Ephesians 5:25). It also tells us that Christ emptied himself in submission to the Father to do only His will (Philippians 2:5-8).

The Christian paradox principle is really the key to a truly abundant marriage—“Die to live.”  In order to experience life in marriage, a husband or wife must put to death those sinful desires that motivate us all. That emptying makes room for the love of Christ to live fully in and through you to love your spouse selflessly and sacrificially. And there is not a more irresistible force than knowing that you are fully loved and accepted. Only when you experience that can you fully give yourself without reservation to your spouse.

A Christ-centered marriage allows you to love your spouse, not out of duty, but because you are first loved by Christ and fully accepted by Him. You don’t live to get a husband’s affection or to get physical intimacy from a wife. But those things are more likely to return to you freely as your spouse experiences your complete devotion.

God doesn’t intend for us to have good marriages. He wants us to have great ones. And in the process of experiencing oneness in marriage, He wants us to know what it is like to have oneness with Him through our relationship with Christ.