There are mixed perceptions on the concept and value of marriage in our culture. Some people are eager to jump into it and begin a new stage of life; others have little or no faith in the institution. Some people have made it their goal in life to get married; others are reluctant to make such a binding commitment. Whether you spend your time day-dreaming about living life with your future spouse (regardless of whether or not you’ve met them yet) or shudder at the thought of spending a lifetime with someone, I hope to be able to shed light on serious misconceptions that I’ve had about marriage, and misconceptions that I’ve heard other people express about marriage. This is not a call for people to be single, nor is this delusional honeymoon-phase jabber. My hope is that whether or not you are single, dating, engaged or married, that this will be insightful and encouraging regardless of your marital status or future dreams. Keep in mind that as I write this, I’m writing this from the perspective of a 23-year-old Christian male. My goal is to be as open and honest about my experience as I can. So, without going any further, here is my reflection on the first 7 months of my marriage, and a critique of misconceptions that have come along with it:
Misconception: If I get married, it’ll fix problems I have in my current relationship.
Every relationship has problems because nobody is perfect. Everybody has a past and everybody has baggage. However, if you’re currently dating someone or engaged, don’t fool yourself into thinking that marriage is going to fix notable problems in your relationship. In my experience, it actually makes problems more visible. You’ll be around that person more than you’ll be around anyone else. Prior to being married, you likely lived apart from each other. If you needed some time to work things out in your head, you had it. But now that you’re living with your spouse, you are forced to deal with these issues as they arise. There is no retreating at this point. If you have problems, begin working on them now. Marriage will not fix your relational problems, it will magnify them.
Reflection: You’re more selfish than you thought you were.
I know it seems hard to believe, but you’re actually quite selfish—and I’m selfish too. Marriage is an excellent avenue to pursue if doubtful of your own personal depravity. You’ll continually surprise yourself at the things that make you angry. You’ll continually want to put yourself before your spouse. You’ll be very quick to point out what’s wrong with your spouse, and very quick to defend or justify yourself when they point out things that are wrong with you. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned in marriage is that I’m more selfish than I thought I was.
Misconception: After I get married, I’ll never deal with lust again.
Lust is something that has been criminally swept under the rug in the church. It’s rarely addressed because it makes people uncomfortable. And it makes people uncomfortable because everyone deals with it and it’s embarrassing. However, lust is much like being selfish or prideful or angry. It never goes away despite changing circumstances. But unlike selfishness, pride, or anger: lust has an appetite. I’m going to take a little extra time to unpack this, since it’s not very often that it’s talked about or preached. Sex within marriage is wonderful, but it won’t transform your mind. You won’t wake up on your wedding day with promiscuous thoughts, and then wake up the day after your wedding with the mind of a saint. Because lust is a hunger, it’s not likely that it’ll ever be completely extinguished. But you can control whether or not you feed it. At this point I practically beg my fellow men not to marry just for sex. If you only marry for sex, you will find yourself disappointed. Your wife is a human being, and you are with her forever. Lust is an appetite, and it likes variety. If the top 5 things on your “List of Things I Want in a Spouse” are all physical attributes, I beg you to rethink and revise your list. Of course you should be physically attracted to your husband or wife- but don’t fool yourself into thinking that they will forever destroy the possibility of lust in your life. We have a tendency to idolize sex in both our culture and the church, and it’s done a great deal of damage. In our culture, we idolize sex because we idolize pleasure. In the church, we idolize sex because we idolize abstinence. The common denominator is that both of these approaches idolize sex. Sex, as wonderful as it is, is not worth your worship. Be prepared to fight lust after marriage. The stakes are much higher now.
Reflection: It’s hard to love.
Everyone wants to love and to be loved. That is a natural human longing. But what I’ve learned through marriage is that love and being loving can be incredibly difficult. When I was dating my wife, it was easy for me to do things for her and to make sacrifices for her because my love for her was actually really selfish. I wanted her to feel loved so that she wouldn’t leave me. I was addicted to feeling loved by her. Now that I’m married, I’m much less worried about her leaving me, and if I’m not careful, I find myself being far less motivated to express my love towards her unlike I did when we were dating. My wife and I both have tendencies towards stubbornness (though I embarrassingly outscore her in this area). So when we’re both being stubborn about an issue, my initial reaction is get mad and stomp off like a child. Instead of loving my wife through a conflict, I love myself. My reaction should be to love her into loveliness, but I’m often far more concerned about getting my point across than being a loving, understanding husband.
Misconception: If I marry the right person, our conflict will be minimal.
You’ve heard that you never marry the right person- and that is true to some extent. The word “right” in the context is ambiguous and broad. As a disclaimer, let me say this: my wife and I get along better than I get along with anyone else—and we still don’t always get along. Conflict is natural, and you will have it. But when we talk about the right person, we often talk about a submissive person—someone who will never push our buttons or disagree with us. But could it be that the right person is also the person that lovingly calls you out on your massive shortcomings? Nobody likes to be called out. It hurts our pride. It breaks our hearts. But it needs to happen from time to time. Marriage should improve the individual. Sometimes we’re improved by understanding that we aren’t as great as we thought we were. A spouse can do a great job at giving you these little subtle reminders. So the “right” person doesn’t exactly mean the “easy” person. Don’t marry a jerk, but don’t marry someone who is afraid to stand up to you either. A good relationship is not a relationship free of conflict. Many bad relationships are conflict free because one person decided that it just wasn’t worth the effort anymore. You’ll see a good relationship when you see two people who handle conflict in a good way. Redefine your definition of “right,” and don’t be fooled by this misconception.
Hopefully this will provide some insight and encouragement to you regardless of your marital status. The Biblical concept of human nature is that we are all selfish at our very core. Marriage is a shot in the arm of sanctification that is often painful. However, let’s not buy into pessimism and say that it is all difficult. The closer my marriage represents Christ’s sacrifice for his bride, the richer and more fulfilling my relationship becomes with my wife. It’s always in times of selfishness that my marriage is the most difficult. I encourage you that if you are single: do not idolize your singleness. By idolizing singleness you actually idolize marriage. If you are married: do not idolize your marriage. By idolizing your marriage you idolize your spouse. If you idolize your spouse, you set them up for failure, and you set yourself up for disappointment.
Jesus defined love as sacrifice. What I’m learning is the more I sacrifice, the more I love. And the more I love, the more I sacrifice.