A Wonderful Institution
Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution? -Groucho Marx
So goes the old joke, but as it turns out, a lot of people do want to be married. Yes, there are more people waiting longer to get married, and there are always those who, because of their parent’s divorce or bad breakups of serious relationships, fear marriage. But still, a lot of people dream of marriage and happily ever after.
The Problem of Expectations
The problem is that a lot of people go into marriage with totally unrealistic expectations of what marriage will be like. They see it as the answer to all of life’s problems and believe it will somehow magically make all of their issues disappear.
People get married expecting to never be lonely again, but after a few years, they find they still are at times. They marry for money, then their spouse loses their job. They expect to have all the sex they can handle, then find out their spouse can’t handle nearly as much as they can.
So, what can you reasonably expect of marriage? What are the things that marriage can and cannot do for you? First the bad news.
Marriage cannot heal your broken heart.
An old saying says that time heals all wounds. I would say that is not entirely accurate. Time well spent brings healing doesn’t sound quite as lyrical, but it does sound more truthful. Healing doesn’t occur just because of the mere passage of time, it comes when you take the time to do the things that lead to being healthy and whole again. It comes through forgiveness, working through rough emotions, and spiritual growth. These things take time and effort.
Falling in love and getting married only masks deep-rooted problems with the Novocaine of infatuation. Eventually, the euphoria wears off and the underlying issues surface again – except now things are complicated by working at your current relationship while at the same time working through your past hurts.
You could possibly marry someone who can help you get through that process, but you will more likely marry someone who cannot hold up under that kind of pressure. That is a lot to ask of someone, even someone who truly loves you. Besides, they may be working through their past hurts too.
Marriage cannot cure your loneliness.
There are people, like myself, who value their alone time. But even people like us eventually long for company. On the other end of the spectrum, many people I know have trouble being alone for more than about a minute and a half before they start to wilt and need contact.
Understand that even in the closest marital relationship, you will not spend twenty-four hours a day seven days a week three-hundred and sixty-five days a year together. And when you are together, there will be times when circumstances steal your focus. One or the other of you may have work, children, laundry, family duties, social obligations, and such that demand your attention. So even if you get married, it is good to have a hobby and/or a few close friends to fall back on for those inevitable times when your spouse will be physically or emotionally unavailable.
For some, loneliness persists like the dark cloud constantly hovering above the Adams Family’s automobile. This will not change whether they are single or married, so getting married will not fix it. Do not marry that kind of person. Do not be that kind of person. If you are that person, you have a lot of work to do before you should consider getting married.
Marriage cannot make you happy.
Ah, the great lie – I’ll be happy when ____. That blank gets filled in with numerous things, but for many single people it is – I’ll be happy when I find a spouse. That is a lie. A spouse cannot make you happy. No one on this planet can make and keep you happy perpetually. Who could live up to that kind of pressure?
And besides, who would want to marry an unhappy person? Would you go look for an unhappy person to marry and make happy? There are a few co-dependent people who would look for that kind of challenge, but that type of dysfunctional relationship typically does not end well.
Okay, Now the Good News!
Lest you think I am anti-marriage, here is some good news.
Marriage can improve your life
Marriage cannot take an unhappy life and make it happy. However, it can take a good life and make it even better. The only thing better than hiking, biking, traveling, or whatever your favorite activities are, is having someone with whom to share them – someone who gets you and gets why you find those activities enjoyable.
Two people with some overlapping interests, with some areas in which they complement each other, and who are emotionally healthy can have a wonderfully fulfilling marriage. The key is to build a good life first, then get married, not hope that marriage will make your life good.
Marriage can bring intimacy to your life
We did a study for our singles group about the best reason to get married. Our conclusion was that intimacy is the best reason. Companionship is great and important, but that can be had from a good friend, family members, or even a pet. Genuine emotional and physical, especially sexual intimacy is what marriage is all about.
When in the context of a loving, lifelong relationship, I cannot imagine anything better. That was the thing I missed as a single person – close emotional and physical intimacy. But, long before we married, my wife and I did the hard work of preparing spiritually and emotionally. We made sure we got strong and stable enough to brave the kind of love and risk it takes to attain real intimacy.
Marriage can help you learn to love
The bad news is that sometimes marriage is work. The good news is that it is very satisfying work. Before you ever marry, you should learn to give unconditional love. Within marriage, you both take it to a new level.
Living with someone else around so much of the time requires you to learn how to love selflessly. You will occupy the same space, share the same bed, and often the same closet, toilet, countertop, and sink. You will have ample opportunity to give and receive love, grace, and mercy, and live out your faith and values. And if that doesn’t teach you enough, if you have children you will have even more opportunity to learn and prove your love!
What about sex?
It’s hard to write about marriage and say only a few words about sex, but this post is pretty long already and that subject deserves a post of its own. For now, suffice it to say that is an area where expectations are especially disconnected from reality.
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