After I wrote the piece, “Marriage Was Not Designed to Make You Happy,” I had a few people ask me, “Well, if my marriage isn’t supposed to make me happy, what is it supposed to do?” Admittedly, I sure did give a lot of suggestions for what you shouldn’t expect from your marriage, so it’s only fair that I outline some things that you can expect.
You can expect your marriage to:
Grow You Up – Yeah, I thought I was so mature before I got married. I thought I had this whole adulthood thing figured out. It took my marriage to teach me just how childish I could still be.
Children are naturally self-centered. They’re supposed to be. It’s nature’s way of instilling in them survival skills. If their own needs are paramount, then they can find ways verbalize their needs or otherwise elicit a response that meets their needs from their caretakers. A baby knows to cry when he’s hungry. A toddler knows to throw a tantrum when she’s frustrated. A child knows to ask for toys when he wants to play. This ensures that they have what they need when they need it since they’re yet unable to provide for themselves.
Adults, however, are (or should be) self-sustaining. Ideally, a person should have progressed beyond the practice of incessantly magnifying his or her own needs by the time they become an adult. At some point, a grown-up should seek to be of service to someone – a community, a spouse, a child, etc. This is a mark of true maturity.
Before I got married, I relished in the ability to pay my bills, hold down a job, and generally do what I had to do. I thought all these things made me “grown,” and indeed they did. But the missing piece of the puzzle was learning how to be an asset to others, and not until I got married did I learn what true service and selflessness was. That’s right, all the volunteering I did with my church and my sorority couldn’t hold a candle to the service that is marriage.
A person should expect to have their needs met in a marriage, but more than that, they should be prepared to meet some needs. I would fuss, cuss, stomp, and shout when I felt my darling wasn’t meeting my needs the way I wanted him to. But eventually I had to learn that he’s only human and as such cannot meet every single one of my needs at all times. Moreover, the only one in this marriage I can control is me, and whatever he’s supposedly failing to do does not absolve me from my role in the marriage. I still have to be his wife – whole-heartedly. My blogger friend and Essence magazine relationships editor Charli Penn recently mused on her own blog that marriages aren’t always 50/50, and realistically they are not. Sometimes you’re going to put in more than half, and sometimes your partner will. Adults concern themselves with the job at hand, no matter how much work they have to do to get it done.
Teach You More About Yourself Than Ever Before – It sounds antithetical to conventional logic. How in the world can you learn more about yourself by being with someone than you could by being alone?
I’ll tell you how. When my husband would “do something” to make me mad, in my wiser moments I would go in prayer about it (we won’t talk about what I did in the more foolish moments). And in that prayer, God would never show me how to change my husband. He would instead show me where I needed to change. However uncomfortable that is, there is so much growth that comes from identifying where you fall short, because you then know exactly where you need to take action.
Your spouse acts a lot like a mirror. The marital relationship is the most intimate one you’ll ever have (yes, even more than simply living together). You are spiritually, legally, morally, emotionally, relationally, sexually, and financially connected in a way that you cannot ever be in any other relationship. Consequently, through the mirror that is your spouse you see yourself in every single part of life the two of you share, probably in a way that you’ve never seen before. One spouse’s spendthrift ways illuminate the miserly ways of the other. One spouse’s affectionate ways can illuminate the physically distant ways of the other. My husband’s generous gift-giving made me realize how cheap I was all these years! You can’t help but to see yourself differently and even more realistically.
Teach You How to Love Actively, Not Just Passively – Many wise people have said that love is a verb. They weren’t lying.
If you’ve had the good fortune to buy a brand new car, you know what that experience is like. Everything is shiny and new and the smell of the car is intoxicating. You find yourself driving everywhere, even to places within walking distance. However, as life sets in, the luster fades. The rugs get dirty, the finish gets dull, and that smell gives way to the stench of the gym bag in your trunk or the burger and fries you got at the drive-through. Oil has to be changed, brakes wear down and have to be replaced, and light bulbs burn out. You don’t drive as much as you used to because it’s not that fun anymore.
Eventually the “new car smell” of marriage wears off. The 2am “no-you-hang-up” phone calls give way to 2pm texts requesting that you pick up some milk on your way home from work. Marriage is cyclical – it has its highs and lows, and even its middles. The challenge in the middles and lows is to love your spouse with as much fervor as you did before the honeymoon was over. This kind of love is more deliberate. It’s less reactive and more proactive. It’s not contingent upon those feelings of ecstasy when everything is going right. It’s instead an intentional show of affection irrespective of circumstances. If you two have been at it for a whole week, she probably won’t be over-the-moon when you bring home flowers (she may even be a bit skeptical). But you do it anyway, because mature love can still act even when it can’t feel.
Cars can run for years – even decades – with the proper maintenance. Your marriage could become a sparkling classic, a rusted-out hoopty, or a lemon. It’s completely up to you.
Make You More Like God – Speaking of loving despite circumstances, who has more experience at that than the Almighty?
As a person of faith, I believe every experience ordained by God is orchestrated to bring you closer to God, to become more like God in your living. Marriage, when approached correctly, does just this. Sometimes our spouses seem downright unlovable, but our charge is to love them anyway. Why? Because this is exactly what God does for us. When you get a chance, read the book of Hosea, a minor prophet who was instructed by God to marry a woman of ill-repute (in other words, she was a ho’, y’all). Her infidelity mirrored that of Israel. The LORD had been Israel’s only god up until then, but God still loved and would continue to love them. When my husband gets a little difficult to love, all I need to do is think about how often I make it hard for both him and God to love me, yet they still do it. Marriage is great at bringing you down from your high horse that way.
After I wrote the previous piece, a couple of people referred me to the book Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. I had never heard of the book, but as soon as I read the tagline I was floored: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy instead of happy?” Without even cracking it open, I already knew I agreed with every word (and yes, I highly recommend getting the book). Your marriage is designed to teach you something so profound and perspective-altering, and surprisingly little of it has to do with what you feel.
Again, some may find it strange that this post isn’t warm and fuzzy, but really, don’t you think there’s plenty of that already? All one needs to do is turn on Platinum Weddings or browse bridal magazines at the book store for the “fun” image of marriage. Marriage is already romanticized enough. My fear is that we’re overlooking the real and lasting benefits of marriage in our quest for the “warm and fuzzy.” I know for a fact that I couldn’t have apprehended the maturity, love lessons, and character I have today anywhere outside my marriage. It hasn’t always been comfortable, but it’s all been blessed. It’s my hope that people who want to get married understand that any growing pains they experience can be overcome, and that those whose marriages have ended can at least take away the lesson in all of it. I think more marriages would thrive if we all embraced our marriages for what they are, not what we want them to be.16 Comments