Looking back over the past year is one of my favorite traditions. I get to remember the ups and downs, the growth that occurred, and see what themes continually show up. This is the first year that I’ve applied this to my professional life, probably because it’s the first full year I’ve had as a private practician (previously having split my time in a non-profit agency). In looking back over the past year, I’ve seen an emphasis on 5 different virtues about marriage.
1. Choosing marriage is choosing to give up control of your life.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for another” (John 15:13).
“You complete me,” might be one of the most famous lines in the movie Jerry Maguire, and it might be the most misleading. Marriage will offer you the unique and unparalleled opportunity to grow. Marriage will not fill you, rather it will make you more aware of your emptiness and need for God, and only God. Unfortunately there is no real way that Hollywood can show more than an infatuated love. So we don’t get a real picture as to what mature, longstanding love looks like. Instead we get a glimpse of the joy and warm fuzzy love that we all want to have. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not a lasting version of love.
2. Couples that protect pain from happening are preventing intimacy (connections) from developing.
Its no secret that people don’t like pain. It’s also no secret that being in a close relationship is an inevitable date with pain. The challenge is viewing pain as though it is a gift, not the plague. Pain is not fun, but neither is numbness. I don’t know about you, but when I leave the dentist after getting a shot of Novocain, I cannot wait for it to wear off. The feeling of not controlling half of my face is miserable (not to mention the inability to know when I’m drooling). We were not made to be numb, we were made to feel.
The poet Mary Oliver penned this line, and it speaks well to the realities couples face: “I was once given a box full of darkness, it took me many years to realize that this too was a gift.” Pain shapes our lives either in our acceptance of it or our refusal to experience it. Creating a space for pain to be a welcomed guest in your marriage will serve you well. This is the task of every marriage: To create and develop a philosophy of dealing with pain. You will raise the next generation of people based on how you and your spouse engage each other in times of pain.
3. Marriage is a muscle: Use it or lose it.
Marriage takes work, and will not naturally grow on it’s own. It takes consistent time and energy much like your muscles. If you were to sit all day every day for a year, you would notice a significant amount of atrophy in your body. Your inability to function after that year of sitting would likely take you a more painful and greater amount of recovery to return to your previous abilities (if ever at all). Once you have lost muscle mass, it is very difficult to get it back.
Your months and years of dating and courtship are very much like a daily trip to the gym. You’re exercising the muscles of the relationship that cause it to grow. When you get married, continue your visits to the gym (literally and metaphorically). Read books together, attend marriage workshops, go on dates, spend intentional time together, take trips. Do all of these things regularly and your marriage will not atrophy.
4. One plus one equals three: Becoming one, requires two.
One of the more nuanced challenges of marriage is to become one together, but remain distinctly individual in the process. It will take both husband and wife bringing 100% each to the marriage to make the relationship work. This is not a 50-50% proposition, it’s a 100-100% arrangement. Only bringing 50% of yourself to the table means you’re not being fully you in the relationship.
When a husband or wife begin to lose their individuality, marriage problems will soon follow. Being an individual is not the same as being single, rather it’s being an individual who maintains their autonomy while being 100% committed to the growth and health of the other person for the sake of the marriage. M. Scott Peck in his bestselling book, The Road Less Travelled, said that Love is to tend to the spiritual and emotional growth in another person. This is the goal of marriage, to tend to and care for the spiritual and emotional health in our spouse. We have the best chance of doing this when we are operating out of our fully unique and individual lives.
5. Marriage is Redemptive.
I know no other way to describe marriage more simply than it’s capacity to enact redemption in life. This comes in unimaginable ways as past wounds, hurts, fears, and resentments are all confronted with the woman of our dreams. Surrendering ones life to another is hard, yes, but it is also glorious. I believe this is the hope that beckons us to get married in the first place. We might not know this is what we are signing up for, but the spirit in us all moves us towards a need for being saved from ourselves. Marriage offers us just that: An opportunity to be saved from ourselves.
(This article was originally published at StartMarriageRight.com)