Last time I began talking about the great myth that far too many couples believe when it comes to divorce. Here is the link to Part 1, if you missed it.
Many people start out thinking that married life will be complete, total, unending bliss. That the person they married will forever make them happy…after all, isn’t that what the “happily ever after” is all about? It doesn’t take long to figure out that only in fairy tales…and chick flicks… does that concept exist.
Marriage was a God-idea in the beginning. The Genesis narrative reads, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” At first a glance, this appears to be a loss: two now equals one. Perhaps it is this view that causes many men to be hesitant toward marriage. After all, from a logical numbers perspective, if two becomes one, that usually means one dies; and that is not far from the truth. The two must die to their own selfishness in order to become a stronger one, and that can be a scary prospect. But the wonderful potential of marriage is that the one actually ends up being greater than the sum of its parts. Marriage was designed by God to make the human experience more.
Does that mean marriage is a free ticket to happiness? Not on your life. Invariably, you get out of it what you put into it. Most unmarried people are clueless about what it takes to make a marriage work. They tend to assume marriage just “works” if you find the “right one” or wait for the “right circumstances” to fall into place. They grossly underestimate the price they will have to pay to move from being an independent, self-centered individual to being an interdependent, selfless one in marriage.
Marriage is a process, not a product. Marriage is not some prepackaged bundle of joy that plugs-and-plays after you say, “I do.” It is a journey jammed with surprise and paradox, which can lead to disappointment and hurt—but also to wonder and fulfillment. Marriage really can be wonderful. But it takes thousands of “I’m sorry’s,” hundreds of difficult conversations, scores of sleepless nights and weary days, and a willingness to die to selfishness too many times to remember. You will need to pray lots of prayers, use lots of wisdom, and stockpile as much patience, persistence, and guts as your faith can muster.
Don’t feel badly if you have become disillusioned in your marriage. But don’t be too quick to discard what you have because of incompatibility. Often, opposites attract in marriage. It’s not unusual for a love-struck member of my congregation to come to me and say something like, “Oh, Pastor Mark, there is really something special about this guy!” I usually reply, “Yeah, he’s the opposite of you!”
We are typically drawn to a person who thinks differently than we do; who loves and needs love differently; who has different strengths and weaknesses and talents than we do; who may be more logical, while we are emotional; and so on. The upside is, opposites create a great opportunity for balance. One partner might be a tad rigid and exacting, while the other is an embracing, more laid-back person. This can actually make for a kind of equilibrium or counterbalance.
However, appreciating our differences and making them work in harmony (versus yielding to the urge to kill each other) requires great effort and willingness to compromise and/or concede. The secret-in-the-sauce of marriage is not so much about finding compatibility (compatibility is easy), it is about discovering ways to handle and process incompatibility. We don’t have to see eye to eye on everything, but we do need to set our eyes in the same direction: a loving and mutually fulfilling marriage relationship.
Learning to do this will greatly increase our human stock value. When we defer to another or set aside our ego and selfishness in order to focus on another, we grow personally. The good news and bad news is that marriage constantly affords us the opportunity to learn how to accommodate.
On top of all this, we must face the inevitable stresses of day-to-day living (underwear left on the floor instead of tossed into the hamper, dishes in the sink, toilet paper rolling the wrong way, the thermostat up/the thermostat down, hair in the sink). These may appear to be of no great consequence, but in reality they can be very stressful to the relationship. And they demand adjustments and compromises from each partner. This carries the potential for both greatness and world war.
There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if you will dare to navigate through differences and the accompanying conflict to arrive at a place of intimacy—the place where one knows and is known, the place where one can be open and naked, and not be ashamed. The place called marriage. I believe a happy marriage is possible for everyone who is willing to fight for it. And fighting is not an option. You will either fight to make you marriage work, or you will just fight, period.
There is great news for those of you who are Christ-followers: he promises to get in the mix of our efforts, to cause us to be “joined together.” Nice. The Bible says that our marriages and families have the potential to be ‘as the days of heaven upon the earth.” Pray over your marriage: Heaven, yes. Hell, no. But even if you are not a person of faith, championing your marriage is worth the effort.