My husband and I recently celebrated 4 years of marriage, and by celebrated I mean said “Happy Anniversary” over the phone from different cities. With just a few years under my belt, I am hardly an expert on the topic.
There’s something I’ve noticed recently. I’ve seen and heard it a lot from engaged/newly married couples. The complaints about people complaining about marriage. I know exactly what they are talking about. I felt that way once, too. I even added to the noise. The warnings grow old, you get annoyed. Everyone hears it at some point. If you’re engaged or happily married, undoubtedly, someone will warn you about the doom you are facing. Many will talk about marriage as though it’s a death sentence. Talk about “the ol’ ball and chain” or signing your life away, or all the freedoms you are giving up. And it makes you want to scream about how your marriage will never be like that. How you will always be happy and you will love and cherish your spouse forever. I get it.
I’m at the age where a lot of my friends are married, and a lot of them aren’t. With a million articles running across my Facebook news feed each day about “Mr. Right” or “How You Know You’ve Found The One” I think it’s obvious that many people are really confused about the realities of marriage. The way people post on social media makes it sound like marriage is one long romantic date. Or that even the mundane “sittin’ at home watching a movie” is always awesome when you have the one you love by your side. Don’t get me wrong, I mean I would much rather wash the dishes with Johnathan in the room…or even in the other room for that matter…than not at home at all. But that idea that everything is wonderful all the time when you’re in love paints a pretty incomplete picture.
There’s this idea that the emotional high you’re on when you’re dating/engaged/newly married should never die. Which is appealing enough when everywhere you turn there are married couples that don’t even seem to like each other. But I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that kind of emotion is sustainable between work and laundry and taking out the trash. Throw kids in the mix, and there is nothing exhilarating about dirty diapers. Some people say the first year is the hardest, but in my experience, the first year was the easiest. Not without it’s challenges, for sure, but in comparison, the old expression “the Honeymoon Stage” sure fits. The euphoria fades. But love, like people, evolves. It changes over time. It grows deeper than emotion and much more intentional. After a while, it’s less of something you’re in, but more something you choose.
For myself, I thought the easy times would outweigh the hard times, but when the hard times came…because I knew there would be some…that I would be prepared, that I would know how to work through it. For Christians, I think as young, passionate, college kids, we romanticize what our marriages will be like. How we’ll pray together all the time, always communicate well, put our phones down and spend time together, how we’ll do ministry together, and “keep dating your spouse”, and always give grace when it’s needed, always putting each other before ourselves. It’s like before I got married I imagined this heroic version of myself. I knew in my head what it would take to be a good wife, and therefore thought I would have the…I don’t know…willpower to apply my knowledge. For me, in dating, it was always pretty easy to be gracious and selfless. As a friend said the other day, “I was a real good Christian before I got married.” But something I’ve found now, is that marriage forges a much deeper connection. Sure, when your boyfriend or girlfriend does something crappy when you’re dating, it feels personal and it hurts. But when you’re married, it is a whole other level. Something about the oneness of marriage makes everything more personal, makes everything feel more. The good and the bad. And when everything feels so personal and so painful, being gracious isn’t as easy as it sounds. Of course, the Holy Spirit is powerful and fully capable of equipping me in the tough moments, the problem is I get in the way. That’s how being human works. A LOT of the time, I fail. Hero Me doesn’t show grace, love, patience, or whatever is needed in that moment, and things get messy. Oh, and not to mention, my husband fails, too. He isn’t always patient. He isn’t always kind. Even though “Mr. Right” is always patient and kind, and tells me I’m beautiful in my sweatpants.
So I empathize with those who make these complaints. Those who don’t understand where the old(er) married couples are coming from. I had no clue.
The truth is marriage should be wonderful. It should be God honoring. It should be deep connection and intimacy. It should be a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church. It should be iron sharpening iron, mutual encouragement, pressing on toward the goal, together, for the rest of your lives. But for a lot of people, it isn’t. And yes, it happens to Christians, too. And for others, it just isn’t like that all the time. At this point, I wouldn’t be one of those people to discourage you and warn you about how your life is about to end. But, I also wouldn’t be all marriage is love and bliss and we’re best friends all the time and everything is great. Because, it is not. I would tell you that some conflicts never get resolved, that my husband and I don’t see eye to eye on so.many.things. That there will be moments that leave one or both of you ready to get a divorce right then and there. That there will be times you will look at the person you love more than anyone else, and be more angry than you have ever been before. There will be times when you can’t express what you need to, and there will be times of deep pain, and times when you’re at a loss for how to move forward. Maybe I sound negative, but I don’t think I need to convince anyone that there are tons of amazing things about marriage, too. If you don’t already believe that, then you probably aren’t getting married anytime soon.
I’ve learned over the past 4 years that Johnathan and I aren’t nearly as alike as I originally thought. We have some similarities, but we have some huge differences. Really, if we’re honest, we aren’t all that compatible, something that’s seen as a necessity in our culture. As we begin year 5, there is still a lot about our marriage that is really hard. We haven’t overcome all of our struggles, and most days it seems like we haven’t moved an inch. It doesn’t make marriage a death sentence, but it does make it hard lots of days.
So when someone is negative about your engagement or marriage, you don’t have to get angry and self-righteous. Again, believe me, I really do know what it’s like to feel the way you do, and I say this with the most care. Try to see through their warnings, and recognize that marriage is truly hard. That it takes a lot of work. That if you don’t fight for your marriage when it gets tough, it will go to crap. Those people who get to the place where they say “oh, just give it a couple years” got there because they are human. They were in your shoes once. So, you may think you are better than them, because in your inexperience you think you know what it takes to have a good marriage, but you aren’t. You’re human, too. And if you don’t take serious consideration to the fact that almost half of marriages end in divorce, and many of the people who remain married are miserable, then it’s possible you will find yourself in their shoes one day. You should resolve to not end up like them. But know that it takes a tremendous amount of grace, patience, love (the action kind), self-control. It takes A LOT of dying to yourself, A LOT of laying down your pride, your need to be right, your everything. It takes a lot more than affection, compromise, compatibility. Those things aren’t enough. But thankfully, Jesus is. Even in marriage, He is our only hope, the only thing that is ever truly enough. Cling to Him, and He will give you what you need.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Photos by Erin Drago Photography