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December 18, 2013

Ask the Expert: Is Marriage Worth It?

Image: Flickr/Patrick

Image: Flickr/Patrick

 Q: “Honestly, I’m not sure how to ask what I want to ask here. I look around and all my friends are doing everything they can to get married. But I also look around and see all these married people doing everything they can to get divorced. It sometimes seems like marriage is some kind of trap — like it promises more than it can deliver. I guess what I’m really asking is this: Is marriage worth it?”
I come from a long line of long marriages. I’ve been married 18 years, my sister has been married for 25, my parents for 48, and the granddaddy of them all (pun intended): my grandparents, who died two years ago, were just shy of having been married for 75 years. In my family, the message that’s communicated, whether verbally or not, is “when you get married, you’d better work on it and stay married.”
Clearly, not everyone shares that view.  We all know the statistics: 1 out of 2 first marriages will fail; 2 out of 3 second marriages; and 3 out of 4 third marriages will end in divorce.
What’s happened in our culture? If we look back 50 years, the divorce stats are not nearly that high. What’s changed? We can point to many factors, but I believe that our societal views of marriage play a significant role.
Recently, I watched a video that highlighted successful marriages, most of which had lasted more than 30 years.  It was frankly adorable (if I can be sappy for a moment) to see couples’ wedding pictures and then current pictures showing them much older yet still very much in love. The comments that followed the video were what I would expect. Most talked about how sweet the video was and how refreshing to see great examples. There were a few comments, however, that surprised me:
  • The reality of marriage is perpetual disarray and boredom.
  • I have been married four times and was gloriously happy for the first three to four years. THEN the real deal began.
  • Whenever I hear of a long marriage, I think…there is someone (or both) who has put up with a lot of pain and heartache. In most cases, one member of the couple has tolerated things that most of us would not.
  • Love is great but marriage is pointless.
Why might these individuals have reacted in such a way? What might be holding them back from experiencing a great marriage? Again, I believe it’s our expectation of marriage that’s key. So to each of the folks quoted above, here are three truths about marriage that will impact your enjoyment of and success in marriage.
  1. You cannot control your spouse.  I know. I know. This one ticks me off, too. Believe me, I’d like to think I’m powerful enough to MAKE MY HUSBAND DO WHAT I WANT HIM TO DO. Not that I’ve ever thought that way, of course, but I’ve heard that some people struggle with it. Here’s the deal. The only person I can control is me. And frankly, sometimes I have trouble with that! And while it may seem appealing to think that I could control my spouse, is that really what is best? (Well, regarding him picking up after himself, yes, but otherwise maybe not.) If I’m so focused on my husband’s actions/attitudes/irritating habits, etc., then I’m not focused on taking responsibility for my actions/attitudes/responses to his behavior. I suppose the famous quote by a wise man sums it up: take the log out of your own eye before you complain about the speck in your neighbor’s (or in this case, spouse’s) eye. Now you may be saying, “You haven’t seen the log in my wife’s eye.”  You’re right. I haven’t. But I have a good feeling she can see a rather large plank in your eye, if she looks hard enough. If all of us would take responsibility for ourselves rather than focusing on each other, we’d probably have far more peace in our relationships.
  2. Your spouse won’t always make you happy. Newsflash: All of the Disney princess movies lied to us. Yep. Bald faced lies. All of them. There is no way that one human being can be fully responsible for the happiness of another. It’s just not possible. Now, does my husband make me happy? Yeah, sometimes. He happens to be a really funny guy and we have great conversations about spiritual things, politics, and sports. But I’ve found that his eyes will glaze over if I start to talk to him about fashion for more than 15 minutes. And he doesn’t want to shop endlessly, like I do. I have friends for that. Expecting that my spouse will make me happy is essentially idolatry. It’s expecting him to be more powerful than he really is; it is an expectation that only God can fulfill. He could do everything right, and I could still have a bad day at work or receive a snide comment from someone and BOOM!  he’s failed. That’s completely unfair. My happiness is my responsibility. It’s something that comes from within and as I’ve seen, it’s often a choice. My choice.
  3. Marriage takes work.  Perhaps our “married four times” friend understood this truth, but I doubt it. Unfortunately, many people think that if they just find the right person, then marriage will be a breeze…or at least not painfully difficult. And then they’re married for three or four years and “the real deal begins,” with the real deal being that they can’t control their spouse and their spouse no longer makes them happy. Welcome to marriage! While marriage can be fun, passionate, and entertaining, it also takes a willingness to examine your own behavior and the determination to live up to your vows.

So here I am at the end of this article, and frankly, as I look back at these truths, I wonder, “Why get married?” No, seriously! What’s the point? If I can’t get my way, my spouse isn’t going to make me happy, and marriage takes a lot of work, why embark on this pathway?” Think about that question for a minute.

Here’s my answer: Yes, marriage is worth it because the cost is worth the reward. So what’s the reward? Companionship, passion, transformation of self, children, a legacy. Want to know how I know that? I saw it on the face of my 94 year old grandfather when he held his wife’s wrinkled but adoring face and kissed her.

One thought on “Ask the Expert: Is Marriage Worth It?

  1. I totally agree with you! After 36 years of marriage, and most of those have been happy years, I love my wife more than I ever have and can’t think of even one thing that would be better about being single!

    If a person is really selfish, all about “me, me, mine, more gimmee!”, then marriage isn’t going to work out. I suppose we’re all selfish when we get married, but for me, the desire to make it work and figure out how to make it a good place for both of us, required me to learn how to be more selfless and giving. It’s been a process, but what a great reward for those that stick with it!

    I’m so sorry for those that haven’t seen this in their own families, I’m sure that makes it a lot harder to trust that it’s worth it. Our parents were great examples right up until our mothers passed away and even after. And hopefully our married kids get hope from what they see in our marriage.

    It’s worth it!

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