Sitting across from my father during our pre-marital counseling, I felt nervous and anxious. I had no idea what to expect. My whole life, I'd heard his stories about John-Doe and Jane-Doe- couples he'd counseled over the years. We shared early coffee mornings, sitting on our couch and I'd listen to his instruction, advice and opinions on how I could prepare for marriage and what I should be looking for in a husband.
I had the ring and, clearly, the approval of my parents. Jarrett held my hand and I shook my leg, nervously, as I often do. Why did I feel so anxious? Well, because it marked that we were really getting married!!! Finally, it was happening. It was official and all my excitement, hopes and dreams hung thick in the air. Finally, I'd be with someone who would love me forever! I'd be happy always and have someone to call my own. I'd never be lonely anymore. I'd be someone's one-and-only focus and we'd be free to do whatever we wanted to do, without restrictions.
If you notice, most of my hopes and dreams were focused on "I". Problem #1.
The goal for most of us in dating is to secure a special someone with whom we can spend the rest of our lives with and make gorgeous babies with. I don’t know anyone who vows to commit their life to someone they think will make them feel miserable or unloved.
Everyone has good intentions when it comes to marriage. We make our promises, spend the money, make the plans and throw the parties. But, I think the issues that arise for so many after marriage is often due to the fault in not knowing the actual purpose of marriage.
Too many of us are dating for selfish reasons, so we marry for selfish reasons:
I'm lonely. He's cute. He's accomplished. I'm bored. I want to find someone who will appreciate me. I deserve to be happy. I'm getting older and I need to settle down. I...I...I...me...me...me.
We all feel like we are relationship experts, but how many of us are really in preparation? What are we really doing, outside of our selfies and statuses, to secure a lasting marriage? Although our culture tries to generalize romance, there is a difference between a relationship and a marriage.
According to scripture, marriage is:
A) A life-long covenant between the husband, the wife and God (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:6).
-It's not just a relationship between two consenting people for a period of time, based on the couple's convenience. It's a vow and an oath before God..."till death do us part".
B) Not a contract or social convention. Its purpose is not meant to serve two individuals advantageously, as our culture suggests. Instead, Scripture teaches that marriage was God's original idea and that it is a divine institution that no one has the right to alter or change, not even the two people involved! (Matthew 19:6).
C) Ultimately, marriage is a reflection in the physical of what God has done in the spiritual (Ephesians 5). It is a physical display of spiritual selflessness, sacrifice, forgiveness and unconditional love. Does that sound familiar? It should. It should sound like Jesus.
But, let's be honest. How many of us are truly considering marriage because we hope to pattern our love after Christ's marriage to His Church? Yet this is the Bible's teaching. If we lose sight of the truth that our marriages are purposed to reflect Christ's love, our understanding and ultimately, our behavior and attitude, in marriage will be misguided and result in broken hearts, hopes and homes.
Let’s look at a few myths we've been taught to believe about marriage and use scripture to correct our error:
1. When I am Married, I will be Fulfilled
In every happily-ever-after movie, we learn that it is the prince’s job to make the princess happy.
It's cliche, but true happiness must first be found in yourself. You cannot put another person in God's position. Your husband will not be able to provide you with the long lasting joy of the Lord, because he is flawed, just like you. He cannot read your mind. He cannot know and meet your every need. He cannot peer into the intentions of your heart. He cannot translate your feelings or memorize your spirit. Jesus is the only One who can satisfy your soul. Experiencing His unconditional love and learning to love yourself is the key to cultivating true happiness and experiencing real joy in singleness and in marriage.
"He fulfills the desires of those who fear him" ~Psalm 145:19
God must always be our source. No one else can fulfill us but Him. Otherwise, what will happen to your happiness and sense of security when your husband disappoints you? And he will disappoint you, just as you most certainly will disappoint him, too. What happens to your happiness when he is angry with you, or when he'd rather have some time away from you so that he can re-charge and give himself some TLC? What happens when he makes a hard decision that doesn't feel good or isn't catering to you?
There is a God-shaped hole in all of us. Our husbands do not have the ability to make us eternally happy and fill our empty spaces. Accept this and grow from it. The hope that "a good husband will always make me happy" is a deception that too many women are believing.
The success of your marriage or future marriage, isn't dependent on how well your spouse measures up to your expectations––but in how well you both are loving and being loved by God.
2. True Love Shouldn't Be Hard
Have you ever heard, "It' shouldn't be this hard?" Sure you have! You've probably even said it yourself, or at lease thought it. But the truth of the matter is that true love requires true work. There is nothing "perfect" about loving an imperfect person or being loved by an imperfect person. Love isn't easy.
When we use the word, "Perfect", what we really mean is, "goes my way". Be honest. For many of us, the "perfect" person is someone who makes us feel good about ourselves, all the time, does nice things for us, all the time, understands us, all the time and gets along with us, all the time. If this is the marriage you are anticipating, do yourself a favor: don't get married.
So many of us are narcissistic. We literally think that love is measured by how good we feel. This is an immature and irresponsible approach to marriage and to life, for that matter. Your spouse is not you. I know you've gotten along, swimmingly, for the past 8 months, but eventually, I PROMISE YOU, you'll find that he has different viewpoints and different feelings than you do about a number of different things. Think about it: you both come from different families, different neighborhoods or cities (maybe even countries). You have different friends, different jobs, perhaps, different ideas and just different backgrounds and previous experiences. Your husband is not an extension of you. He is his own person and the marriage you build together will consist of combining your experiences as well as his to formulate a blend of your own new and thriving family.
"And the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh" ~Mark 10:8
There is a lot of work involved in the blending of two and becoming one. It's not instant. It takes time and dedication and lots of compromise and sacrifice. Marriage needs constant nurturing-like flowers. Finding a weed in your garden shouldn't result in you uprooting all you've planted. It means you must simply uproot the weed and be willing to get a little dirty.
One of the biggest eye-openers in my marriage was how different our understanding of family was. I am from a two-parent household, where God is central in our every day living and we spent the majority of our time together doing family activities with everyone present. Jarrett comes from a divorced home. His family time was spent with split visits on one side and then another and church was mostly for holidays or special events. And although we are both believers and devoted to our relationship with God- where I expected Jarrett to have open devotion time with me (like my dad had with all of us), in our early marriage, he felt more comfortable having private devotion time on his own, because he hadn't the experience in his family of open devotion as a group activity. Initially, I felt so disappointed and alarmed. I felt that he was being selfish- I didn't realize it was uncharted territory for him. So, after months of some very intentional conversations, we came up with a plan that satisfied each of us and now, with Kailyn, we are thriving in the devotion routine we created.
You live. You learn. You love. Differences in opinions and experiences might bring up conflict, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways, but with mutual respect, patience and grace, a solution can be created to solve any conflict. Problems are inevitable, but they don't have to be damaging. Don't let conflict intimidate you. When dealt with appropriately, conflict can be a healthy medium for growth, compassion and grace in your marriage.
3. Marriage is Good if the Sex is Good
Sex is super important. I mean, it's how we populate the planet! Without sex, there would be no more people to get married and have more sex to make more people who will get married and so on. There would be no astronauts or preachers or farmers or shoe buyers to stock up DSW.... well, you get the point. Sex makes people and people are important. But the problem with sex, as with marriage, is that if it isn't used within God's guidelines, it has faulty consequences.
Single Christians should be practicing celibacy.We know this. Doing this is another matter, but honestly, if we were obedient in this area, then we wouldn't have issues with the Sex Myth at all. Listen, celibacy and abstinence are a gift, not a curse or a legalistic confinement. If I only know my husband and he only knows me, then we only know each other's bodies and have no one else to compare or compete with. That's true freedom. We also wouldn't have to deal with healing from past soul-ties, distrust issues from pre-mature intimacy gone wrong or the shame that comes with knowing we've done too much with too many people.
I know our culture tells us that sex is just physical and should be explored at our leaisure, but this isn't true. If the success of marriage was based on sexual satisfaction, then half of HollyWood wouldn't be divorced. Consider your own circle of family, co-workers and friends. How many would say that they are happily married because of good sex or that they are divorced because of bad sex? There's more to marriage than sexual stimulation and there is more to sex than performance.
"each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you" 1 Corinthians 7:2-5
I love this scripture because it indicates that a husband and wife should be having lots of sex. "Your body is his and his body is yours, so have at it and don't withhold from each other for too long"! Yaaaasssss! Thank you Lord! But look even deeper, as it also states, "the husband should fulfill his marital duty with his wife and she with her husband". Clearly, we are no longer talking about just physical sex. A blessed and happy marriage is comprised of love, which is not synonymous with sex. Sex is a fruit of love, but it is not the cause of love. Loving our husbands and being loved by them requires all of us: our minds, bodies, spirit and emotions. Our "duty" to one another involves sex, but is not limited to this only.
The ability to explore and kiss and touch and, well, you know... without any hesitations or insecurities, makes marriage wild and exciting and very satisfying! Such satisfaction is produced in how we give, respect, honor and cherish our marriages and the husbands we have dedicated our hearts to. If you're hoping sex will solidify his heart, you're mistaken. But if you focus on loving well, this will solidify the sex!
Sex of course shouldn't be the reason we choose marriage, but it is an exciting factor! At the heart of it all, a good sex life won't guarantee a good marriage. But a good marriage- based on obedience and honoring the Lord with our love- will most definitely produce a great sex life!
4. All You Need is Love
We tell our friends we love them. We tell our parents we love them. We tell our dogs we love them and our students and our Pastors. And we do. But in marriage, although we most definitely ought to be loving each other, as the Bible commands (John 13:34), another word I think we should be using in addition to "love" is the word, "devotion". You see, when life is good and there is money in the bank and your nails are fresh and your hair is laid and you both are counting down the days til your next vacation... oh, there is so much love to share! But when he's grumpy because he's been laid off and can't find work, or when the kids keep screaming while you are cooking a meal and he is on the couch watching the game or when you visit his family and feel like an outsider...where's the love, then?
Contrary to popular belief, you’ll need a lot more than just emotional love to make your marriage work. There are many married couples who love each other but struggle to keep their marriages afloat because they lack certain disciplines.While love is the foundation of most marriages, other virtues, such as trust, communication, forgiveness, grace, humility and prayer, are essentially necessary.
To operate without these, as if love is enough, is like filling your car with gas, but never actually cranking up the car, putting on your seat belt or putting the car in drive. You can't expect to go anywhere with just gas alone. There are other factors that are required for a successful, safe and enjoyable ride.
"If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead"
We can have the faith that our marriages will be wonderful and full of love, but if we are not putting the proper action in place, we will find ourselves miserable, disappointed and very lonely. Constant care and concern for one another's needs are necessary to keep the love alive. It requires our doing- our action. For example, regular date nights are important in marriage. Think about it. If, while you were dating, your boyfriend tells you he loves you all the time, but never took you out, never wanted to meet you for lunch or a movie, would you feel confident in the relationship? Date nights are a great way to rejuvenate each other and invest quality time in your relationship. Other suggestions of action in our loving is taking a marriage course at church where you can meet other married couples and learn from the experience of others and share your experience to help someone else. You could also purchase a book on marriage, love or sex, family planning or a marital devotional and spend time together reading and exchanging thoughts and ideas. And, if need be, don't be afraid to ask for help! Seek counsel through your pastor or a professional Christian Counseling Service. Marriage isn't easy, and we all need a little guidance on the way. All these suggestions and others, when put in place, could help your marriage move from stagnant love and into vigorous movement! It's a two way street, of course, but when both members of a marriage resolve to act on love, not just on words or feelings, then great rewords will be produce.
So, let's reflect:
Christ is the source of genuine happiness
Marriage is not meant to satisfy my soul
Sex is a part of a healthy marriage, but it isn't the proof of a happy one
Emotional feelings of love, alone, will not pass the test of time
In my little 4 years of marriage, Jarrett and I have experienced some seasons of development and growth, mainly by enduring the death of some of these myths. It's important to seek God, in prayer, as well as the advice from other trust worthy married couples that you admire and respect, because none of us are experts on anything. God is the only One who knows the ins and outs of any marriage and any person. Be sure to invite Him into your love and into your marriage or future marriage. You don't have to wait until you walk down the isle to put these practices in place. In fact, I urge you to begin breaking ties with these myths now, so that you won't be so shocked after you are married. Because the day will come when the truth will be revealed and all our assumptions will fall to our feet. When that day comes, and it will, I hope that each of us will be able to stand on our firm foundation in Christ. Our marriages, our husbands, our children and our lives will be so much better for it!
Enjoy the journey and love with your whole heart!