Marriage at the altar is bliss. The romance, fanfare, family, and friends all packed together in a day. The anticipation, and the love. There is this sort of innocence on the wedding day, like a baby seeing birds fly overhead for the first time. We marvel at the idea of marriage.
The marveling is short-lived, however. Yes, marriage is wonderful. Yes, I love my husband and I love being married. But sometimes marriage is hard. It is no longer an idea. Now it is a reality- a reality of two broken people trying to understand and perfect the mystery of marriage in a broken world.
For some, getting married is a right of passage. It signals the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another, only this time you are not the only one writing the story. I think this is what makes marriage especially tricky. Now you are the co-author of your story, but see, it is not just your story, it is a shared story. You don’t get to make all the rules. Your dreams are not the only dreams that matter. The thing is, no one really knows how to be married before they are married. It is like couples are thrown into a whole other dimension upon “I Do” and are left to figure it out until “death do us part.” Yes they are warned, counseled, and instructed by seasoned married people, but they really don’t know the reality of the journey together until they get married themselves.
In “The Potato Sack Race and the Porn Problem,” I shared:
When two people commit to one another to covenantal marriage they are no longer just two people, but two people becoming one. What happens to one person affects the other from “I do” until death. Babies, failed finances, job promotions, moves, cancer, moral failure, and whatever else two people face in marriage lands in the lap of one spouse as well as the other. There is no escaping life together.
Marriage is like a partnered potato sack race in this way. When one falls, the other falls with him/her. Sometimes the air is cool, the breeze blows gently and your marriage is bright and almost easy. You laugh together and enjoy one another. There are no secrets in your shared existence. But then trouble comes. The stress load rises, and one of you stumbles. Maybe the other notices, or maybe he/she is too busy trying to keep moving…trying to keep believing that you are really going to make it.
This seems all too depressing. But for some of you, marriage is really hard right now. You are in counseling. You meet with your pastor. Your close friends may even know about the struggle. But nothing is “fixing” the problem. It just doesn’t go away overnight. You’ve read the books, and none of them make this marriage gig any easier. But whatever sticky spots on the journey you and your spouse face, whatever trials may come- when you get through this, and by God’s grace you will, your marriage will have something that it didn’t have at the altar. It will have intimate depth. And the love that you have for each other will overshadow that newlywed infatuation and naïve admiration. This is what I admire in those “tested” couples- those marriages that have been through fire and storm and live to tell about God’s grace and Sovereign intervention.
Travis and I just celebrated our seventh year of marriage. We have been through some things, but we are really still newlyweds to some degree. I love Travis more today than I did seven years ago, and not because of what I think he is like, but because of what I now know he is like. He is my best friend, my husband. When I knew that I was suppose to marry Travis everything became clear. It made sense. We made sense. But what I didn’t know seven years ago is how much work it takes to make the marriage work- even being crazy about each other like we are. And I think this is a shared experience for all married couples.
I am slowly learning (through mistakes and stumbles- and a few victories) that it takes work to make the marriage work. The best marriages, I have observed, are when both spouses work together on the marriage with Christ as the center of their union. Here are some further observations:
Ways to Make the Marriage Work
- Seek the Lord individually and as a couple. Meditate on God’s Word, pray, and stay involved in your church.
- Keep no secrets. When you are married, there is no need to lead a separate life. Sure, you are an individual, but you are intertwined with your covenantal partner, so you don’t get to just do what you want, when you want- you are not autonomous. Marriage is sanctifying in this way.
- Pray for your marriage and for your spouse. Pray God’s Word over your husband or wife. Find specific Scripture verses to pray concerning your spouse. Pray for your marriage together and on your own continually. Don’t let your prayer life lag for your own sake and for your marriage’s sake.
- Communicate clearly, openly, and often. Don’t let wounds fester. If your spouse hurt you, tell him. Be honest about how you feel, and share your concerns, hopes, and desires with your husband or wife. Establish regular times to intimately engage each other emotionally and physically. Learn to laugh together and have fun. There is enough seriousness in marriage. Make room for levity and lightheartedness. Forgive each other, give each other grace, and don’t impose unrealistic expectations on one another.
- Don’t allow a third party in. Marriage is a covenantal bond between TWO people- a husband and a wife. Children, parents, in-laws, college roommates, and old school-friends are not invited into the marriage. Unfair? Not really. There are established parameters for those relationships. Your marriage is not one of those. It is something all of its own, and three is a crowd. Moms- don’t forget how to be a wife. Don’t love your kids more than your husband. Yes, you love your children in a whole other way, and they need you. But your husband needs you too, and you need him whether you realize it or not.
Marriage is hard, but it is worth fighting for. We have to protect it, and work till death do us part to do so. If you are right now in the middle of a struggle in your marriage, and you do not see an end in sight- you feel as if you can’t go on another day in this marriage in this way- whatever you do, don’t give up. It goes without saying that abuse and/or adultery are exceptions to this, but all the other stuff (and yes, some of it is really hard stuff) are valleys that you and your spouse must go through together. Don’t bail when it gets tough, because maybe if you stick it out and grow through this (whatever it is) together, just maybe you will gain the marriage you never knew to dream of. Just maybe you will love more like Jesus and look more like Him- the One who came to redeem a Bride for His own- the One who did some really hard stuff to make this marriage work- the humility of the manger and the horror of the cross. Just maybe your marriage will be a testimony to the power of the gospel. And remember, your story, this co-authored story, is not complete yet. For the One who guides the pen of your lives is still writing it, and maybe, just maybe, the best parts of your story are yet to come.