Major disclaimer: I am not a marriage expert and I do not pretend to be. I would be the first to announce that, and my husband would be the second. I am not a family counselor, I am not a marriage counselor. I have not been married very long. However, I write this post from the perspective of someone who is striving towards a healthy marriage, being a child of a family with three generations of divorce (only one set of great-grandparents that I know of did not divorce, out of EVERY parent/grandparent). So this is the perspective that this post is coming from – however, I am not an authority on anything.
I have a dear friend who called me with a concern the other day. She has never been married, and a lot of her young married peers are either divorced now or having serious problems. Her concern was that, with a large majority of her married peers having problems, why would anyone be confident or comfortable in getting married? [I think the common way in our culture to getting around this fear is to not get married and to live together like we are—I think this causes a whole new breed of problems that would take a completely different post to explore.]
I confess, I tossed this same concern of my friend’s around in my mind a lot when I started dating my husband, thought of it very often during our engagement, and only in our first year of marriage started chilling out a little bit and being confident in our commitment. I am person born of a long line of divorces who witnessed plenty of dysfunctional relationships (and even had one of my own before Nick), and I was not confident in the institution of marriage. However, what I found though study, prayer, and getting to know my husband is that I am confident in God and His promises—on which our marriage stands—and I am confident in my husband. Marriage is exactly what two people decide to make it.
So maybe you are thinking about marriage, or maybe you are avoiding it, or maybe you just got married. I thought I would share this advice with my peers that I shared with my friend, in case you find it helpful.
1. We have to stop comparing ourselves to other people. Seriously, it doesn’t do any good (unless you see some great, healthy, inspiring behavior in others and try to emulate that – that would be a good thing!). Every individual is unique, therefore every marriage (made up of two completely unique individuals) is unique. If I start comparing my marriage to the Jones’s marriage I will probably just confuse and disappoint myself. I did this for a while Nick and I’s first year of marriage. It went a little something like this:
Me: Sweetheart, So-and-So’s husband always buys her really expensive gifts to show her he loves her.
Yesterday he got her a beautiful diamond bracelet. Why don’t we ever do that for each other?
Nick: Do you like jewelry? Is there something that you want?
Me: No, not really.
Nick: Didn’t we agree it was best to live super-simple
till the student loans are under control?
Me: Yes, I am proud of us for making that decision.
Nick: Well, that answers the question, doesn’t it?
Me: That one couple is always taking cute pictures and
posting them on Facebook. Why don’t we do that?
Nick: I thought we both didn’t really like posting tons of photos on Facebook?
Me: Oh yeah. Never mind.
Just because something works for one couple, doesn’t mean it works for another—and just because one marriage is experiencing a particular problem/unhealthy behavior/failure, doesn’t mean yours will or has to.
Our marriage does not have to and will not look like our neighbor’s marriage. Our society often points to marriage failure rates, and our minds often go to memories of seeing unhealthy behaviors in our parents’ marriages, and there we surrender in fear and decide marriage in general is not going to work. It works if both individuals want it to.
As a single person, don’t base your decision on getting married on analyzing the couples around you—your marriage will be completely different then theirs. As a married person, stop comparing yourself to other couples—it’s unhealthy. Be joyful and appreciative of the unique quirks, traditions, jokes, and behaviors in your own marriage. Those are the good things that make it awesome.
2. We don’t have a lot of control over what happens to us in life, but we do have control over how we deal with difficult situations—and in marriage, we do have control of how we treat one another and deal with issues together. I think we live in a time where self-control has been thrown out—our culture promotes a “do what you want, how you want, when you want” attitude. Sometimes, this infects how we treat one another in difficult times. We allow our emotions to often get the best of us, and then get the best of others around us.
It’s important when life get’s you down to not put down your partner.
Those couples my friend mentioned having all those problems? These couples may not deal with difficult life trials well, or deal with each other well… YET (I say yet, because that brings me to my next point).
3. Every marriage has problems because every person has problems—we all will take time to grow in life. It is unrealistic to expect that your marriage won’t. What is important is that we are patient with one another through growth, and have grace and forgiveness with one another. I think this is important to apply not only with your partner in marriage, but with friends and family as well.
We need to have realistic expectations about the time it takes to grow. What gardener plants a baby tree in spring, and expects it to be able to give him full shade by summer? It will take decades before that tree will reach a point where it is able to do that. Our marriages, our relationships, and our selves are all like this. It takes time to grow, and some couples may not be aware or be patient with the time that it takes.
I often think that marriages get off track when patience and grace is not given freely through spouses to one another. We never stop growing, learning, and changing, and we have to be willing to give that space and grace to our partner to accomplish that—rather get impatient and angry with them that they are not growing, learning, and changing fast enough.
[note here: I think an abusive relationship (whether mentally, physically, or emotionally abusive) is a whole different story. I am not intending in any way to say anyone should stay and wait out an abusive marriage partner… if someone is in an abusive situation, whether married or unmarried, they should go to a wise and trusted person for help.]
4. Put devotion and loyalty to Christ first, and selfless devotion and generosity to one another second. If you get these out of order and/or are just plain selfish/ungenerous towards your spouse, it throws a kink in everything.
Real life example? I deal with some serious anxiety—I mean serious. Sometimes, such an anxious feeling overcomes me I feel completely overwhelmed and trapped. In the early stages of our marriage, I would go to Nick for him to console me, calm me down, and remind me all is not lost and the world is not about to collapse. Although it’s a good thing to seek your spouse for help and a reality-check, I kept doing this over and over and it wore him out. He had nothing left to give me, and it often interrupted him trying to complete things or relax, etc. It caused him to be emotionally exhausted, and our young marriage became a burden to him.
Finally, it clicked one day that Nick cannot heal me of anxiety—he does not have the ability, he is not God. He can make me feel better temporarily, he cannot solve the issue. Instead, I began praying, taking deep breaths, and asking God for guidance on how to deal with anxiety—and at the same time I often asked Nick to pray with me about it. Seeking God first took the emotional burden off of Nick, and allowed me to grow in the way I needed to.
Another thing—our culture is very self-focused and success driven. If that is how someone approaches marriage (or Christ), it is simply not going to work. It is all about giving in, surrendering, and putting the other person’s needs above your own… and it doesn’t work if only one person in the marriage decides to do this. It has to be a team effort.
5. Seek wise counsel. That middle-aged couple at church with all the kids and the smiles on their faces? They know what you are going through. Your grandparents that still have fun together? They know, too. The marriage counselor who has all those credentials and a passion to serve? They can help.
Don’t be too prideful to ask for help, to ask if what you and your spouse are going through is normal, to get some wisdom on how to grow if you feel stuck.
Our individualistic society says, “You must do it all yourself!” But, hey, who can do everything on their own? That’s why you got married, right? You needed someone as much as they needed you, and you realized you couldn’t go on without them by your side.
Marriages are strengthened by their community—by supportive family and friends, supportive churches and small groups. When a marriage is dealing with road block, or a situation the couple just can’t shake, go get some good advice and support from a wise person who has been married longer. Believe me, it’s not scary and actually pretty liberating, and you’ll be glad you did.
I think marriages often encounter difficulty when the partner’s feel alone in their struggle, when they try to repair everything on their own and it is still not working, or when they have some stuff going on and they pretend to everyone else that it’s not. Getting help and being honest with your struggles doesn’t mean you’re weak, it means your interested in getting stronger.
The number one thing to remember: if both people are willing to work together, willing to change and grow for the better, problems can always be overcome. There will always be problems (especially the first couple of years when you are figuring out how to be married), but problems just mean healthy opportunities to grow.
I am surprised couples aren’t more open and honest about all the struggles newlyweds face the first couple of years. All you hear is, “Oh, they’re newlyweds and so in love” and “you’ll never feel like this again!”
WHAT?!?!?! We had so much fun our first year of marriage, but at the same time, had SO many awful arguments! I mean, they were MEAN arguments. Guys, I have so many examples of how I have messed up, been selfish, or how Nick and I have had to overcome problems in our relationship. I will share them all with you if you came up and asked me about it in person—neither he nor I are ashamed. I say that because IT’S NORMAL to have problems and to mess up and need to grow.
Thankfully, the seasoned couples in the church I go to are pretty honest and open about marriage struggles, and I learned quick it was pretty normal. So maybe my friend was just seeing her married peers in that stage where they are working out all the kinks?
All in all, every marriage has problems and will have problems, but you grow through them. It is the most amazing feeling as a couple when you reflect a couple months or years down the road, and see how much you have grown individually and how much you have overcome together. It strengthens things, it brightens things, and it helps you understand that problems and situations aren’t something that can separate you.
In fact, it just may be true that nothing can separate you but yourselves.
Why am I writing this?
I don’t have a lot of experience, I have only been married a little over 2.5 years, so please take everything that I say with a grain of salt, because I am still growing.
I am pretty darn passionate about exposing lies our culture/society tells us about marriage. Why? Because I believed them – and they aren’t true. Hopefully the things I write inspire you to take a deeper look into the common rumors of our society—whether it’s about marriage/relationships, body image, career success, or whatever matter—and realize that a lot of it is just a bunch of bull crap.
My friend inspired me by coming to me with her question and her concern, and I know that a lot of us have that same question/concern. What is the point in the institution of marriage if so many people have problems with it and/or are divorcing? I have found that marriage is a true, liberating joy, a learning experience, and is wildly fun. Don’t buy into the lie that marriages don’t work—they do if people are willing to work on them (therefore, marry someone who is willing to always work on things). Don’t buy into the lie that marriages are boring and dull, or settling down, or whatever—it is all what you and your spouse decide make of it.
And, this could be an entirely different post altogether, but don’t put marriage on a pedestal. It is a gift, but so is being single. Singleness is not the curse that society makes it out to be. Our culture tells us so many different lies about singleness, marriage, etc, so we are always discontent with where we are at in life. I am going to get very cheesy here, but every stage in life is a gift, for every day is a gift. Singleness is what you make of it, just as marriage is what you make of it. When people start putting marriage on a pedestal, they form unrealistic expectations of it that cannot be fulfilled upon being married. Enjoy every day—every stage—of life as the gift that it truly is.