Here are the topics I am going to cover:
- Why get married at all?
- Marriage is Hard
- Unmet Expectations
- Communication is Difficult
- More Sacrifice Required Than Expected
- Hurts, Habits, and Hangups
- God's Design and tool for refinement.
TL;DR: Marriage is harder than you think. Do yourself a favor and
don't get married, just because you found "The one". Get married because you
have prepared yourself to be "The one" for your future spouse and they have done
the same. Read the right books and take the right classes. Only together with God can you and your future spouse start and maintain a healthy marriage. If you're already married you need to be putting in effort to build your marriage skills (books, videos, bible studies, counseling, classes, seminars, groups, etc...) at least monthly. Becoming and staying a relationally healthy marriage partner is a life long journey. There is no neutral. You move forward or backwards.
Why get married at all?
If marriage is so hard, why get married? Many good things are hard. Often the harder it is, the better it is.
- Shared difficulty creates stronger bonds
- God's design for the family.
- Children do better in two parent homes.
- Having a committed companion to go through life with.
- Couples married before kids have better economic outcomes than kids before marriage or unmarried. Link
- Often your spouse is stronger in areas that you are weak.
- A healthy marriage often forces us to grow and improve in ways our unmarried self would not.
Marriage is Hard
Marriage is hard. Not pop quiz hard. Not final exam hard. Much more than that. It is difficult to properly convey the difficulty of marriage to someone who has never been married. I will attempt to convey some of this concept with a thought exercise:
Imagine you have selected a partner for a major project. The project is a problem solving contest monitored by judges. You are allotted time to prepare. You decide to skip the preparation, because you are great at problem solving! The judges put you both into a room together, provide materials, and basic instructions. They start a large timer on the wall, and tell you to begin. At first things start going well. You like the partner you have chosen, and following the instructions seem easy at first. As time goes on you realize that your partner is not behaving as you expected. They are not following the instructions. They don't seem to have the skills you thought they were bringing to the project. You start to realize that their native language is not the same as yours. They only know a small amount of words in your language. Their interest in the project seems to swing wildly from intense passion to completely uninterested and you don't understand why. They seem to be undoing some of the steps you have already done for the project. You get frustrated and find yourself getting very angry at your partner. You confront them. You find out that they have brought their own instructions with them. They have been following their own instructions, not the provided ones. You are furious. You grab their instructions and compare them to the official instructions. You find they don't match-up much at all. You look closer, and realize that the official instructions don't look very familiar. You are confused. You put your hand in your back pocket and find a third set of instructions.... your instructions. You haven't been following the official instructions either! You look up at the timer on the wall. You realize that you are way behind in your project and you aren't even sure how to start over properly, because your partner seems like an alien from another world who can't communicate with you. Also, you are considering throwing out the official instructions, because your instructions seem easier and more natural.
The timer starts beeping loudly and the judges enter the room. They inform you that you have failed the contest. You ask what place you ranked. They say it doesn't matter, because most of the contestants also failed. You are caught off guard by this statement. "What happened?" you ask. The judges tell you that most everyone skipped the preparation time and did not coordinate in advance with their partner to establish common skills, communication, or even a common direction. Then the judges tell you "It's OK. the failure rate is high, because this problem solving contest is unlike any other."
This short illustration should help convey the difficulty of marriage, but it by no means properly conveys the complexity, depth, and multi-dimensional nature of marrital difficulties.
Unmet expectations are one of the leading causes of marriage problems. These expectations are developed in us by our families, movies, entertainment, friends, culture, and much more. We have these expectations, but we don't normally know they exist until we are married and these expectations are not being met. Many specific marriage problems fall into this broad category. Often even when these expectations go unmet, we don't realize it right away. We first have to ask ourselves deeper questions about why we are upset. Then we have to ask what is behind that feeling or thought. Then we repeat until we have gotten a few layers down into our own mind. Only then can we realize the unmet expectation and start asking our-self where the expectation came from and if it is reasonable.
Book: Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman
Communication is Difficult
Deep, meaningful communication is required for a healthy marriage, more than most every other area of life. It is difficult to teach this skill, and life experiences often don't cut it. Especially if you are young and you have not had very many life experiences. On top of all that, remember that even if two people are equipped for the deep, meaningful communication that is required for marriage, they still have to speak the same language! You might both be on the same page with the ideas and thoughts, but converting those ideas and thoughts into communication the other person understands is very hard!
(!) One area of communication that is critical is the ability to say "I love you." It is common to believe the misconception that everyone says and receives love the same way. Don't make that mistake! Read the book below instead.
Book: The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman
More Sacrifice Required Than Expected
A healthy marriage requires a lot more sacrifice than you think. Whatever you are thinking about sacrifice right now, multiply it by five. Being a parent will double down on that. Starting a marriage and becoming a parent at the same time are not recommended. Try getting married first, and then having children. Turns out that following God's design for the family is a good idea.
Marriage is about love and love is about putting others first. Not just some of the time. Constantly! Go read Corinthians 13 four times and then ask yourself if you are good at those things. If the answer is no, then you may want to get some resources on dealing with those issues before you get married. If you are already married, start working on those issues now. Don't wait.
Hurts, Habits, and Hang-ups
Everyone has something about them that falls into the category of hurts, habits, or hang-ups. Turns out humans are broken, sinful people and you are a human. Sometimes your hurts, habits, or hang-ups comes from within yourself, and sometimes it originates from an experience that another sinful human did to you. Either way, these things do not heal themselves. You are not strong enough to fix this yourself. You need God, resources, and other people. Deal with these issues sooner rather than later, or you'll look back at your life in 10 years and see a trail of pain, broken dreams, and damaged relationships. Often the first step is the hardest and most important. Find a trusted friend and tell them what your problem is and ask for help. I recommend a mature, Christian friend. Hopefully you will find that the person you talk with understands because they are not perfect either. It is OK to admit we are broken.
Note: there is a risk that the person you tell will respond badly and hurt you. After the dust settles, try hard to not let that stop you from seeking another, more mature person to tell. The risk of not dealing with your problems is always worse than the pain of rejection.
God's Design and his tool for refinement
God created marriage. He is the designer. The Bible is his guide book on how to operate life and marriage. If you choose not to apply the Bible to your marriage, do so at your own peril. People tend to get marriage skills and marriage advice in all the wrong places. If you want a strong marriage, put God at the center and follow Jesus with your whole heart. The health of your marriage will be directly proportional to the health of your relationship with Jesus Chris.
Some people wonder why marriage isn't easier. Why did God make marriage so hard? Did he do that on purpose? I believe God designed marriage as one of the primary tools he uses to shape the heart and soul of married Christians. Without marriage I would be much more selfish, self-centered, thoughtless, unkind, unaware, impatient, and much more. Your marriage is a special, challenging adventure where you, God, and your spouse can grow closer to each other.
At this point I may have scared you off from getting married. That was not my intent. Hopefully instead you will consider preparing yourself for marriage. God has created marriage as a beautiful, amazing, confounding, challenging, mysterious, wonderful, gift. Preparing yourself and selecting a spouse who has also prepared themselves for marriage has the ability to make your marriage a bright spot in your life. Build your marriage on God, the one who designed marriage, and your marriage will be a blessing for generations.