When I was single, there was a temptation to think of marriage as a goal. Only a few of my friends were married at the time, and I thought my fiancée and I were headed for never-ending relational bliss now that we’d found each other. In my mind, marriage was a guarantee I’d never be lonely. But the affection of another person, though wonderful and intoxicating on its own, isn’t enough to satisfy all our needs and desires.
My wife and I needed direction in this area and we quickly discovered being married wasn’t some goal to be achieved; it was a dynamic, transformative commitment to stay connected to another human, regardless of circumstances or feelings. I believed the religious superiority complex that said only bad people entertained the idea of divorce, so it was never on the table in my mind—but some days, it felt like it should be.
What many don’t realize is divorce isn’t the only way to quit a marriage. The choice to love is a daily commitment and once we stop making that commitment, we’ve already quit. Despite what we may believe in our culture, love is always a series of a choices; that’s what makes it so powerful.
Conflict is inevitable.
I haven’t been married for long, but as I’ve observed a lot of relationships around me, I’ve developed this theory: A marriage does best when it’s not focused on just being a good marriage.
Relationships are designed to thrive on something beyond just the satisfaction of the people involved. If the purpose between two married people is just to be in a good relationship, it will feel like a failure more often than not because disagreements will inevitably seep in and conflict will threaten the connection.
Conflict is inevitable because the world gets broken and people get broken. Marriage isn’t conflict-proof, either—it’s intensified. The closer people get to each other, the more damage conflict can do.
At our core, we each want what’s best for ourselves, sometimes even at the expense of those around us. Living in close quarters with a spouse for years reveals (and hopefully transforms) this foundational characteristic in a person. And most married couples I know admit their spouses have plenty of room for improvement, even if they’re still crazy in love.
Stop trying to have a good marriage.
The sad truth is that many marriages avoid the tough issues by instead becoming about shallow self-fulfillment—the money, the kids, control or security—or they cease to exist at all.
If marriage is like a pressure cooker for two selfish people, it’s bound to face plenty of conflict. When a couple tries to focus on being a good marriage, they’ll unintentionally adopt a sense of failure the moment there’s friction. They feel incapacitated by the weight of conflict, even though the disagreements and stress are completely natural.
Even in Christ, we have no promise of an easy life—just one full of variables, defining challenges and unforeseen rewards. Yet those conflicts are the places in which we learn the most about ourselves, about the truth of the world around us and about God. As we venture into new territory with God and a devoted partner, we develop the character we need to outlast the easy seasons and sustain us in the darkest ones.
To put it simply, a marriage will implode on itself if it’s using its own ease and happiness as a measure of success. If the relationship is committed to being transformed and loving as a choice, however, conflict gains new purpose. Disagreements are no longer grounds for dismissing the relationship, but opportunities for the connection to deepen as both parties pursue a purpose bigger than themselves. Contracts fall apart when people change their minds, but a covenant remains because it’s a commitment to something greater than oneself.
Tying the knot guarantees nothing.
A marriage tends to flourish when both spouses bring their full selves into full connection, living full of purpose.
A marriage lasts when it’s about both joy and character. Happiness and holiness work together on the fulcrum of marriage, not necessarily to bring a perfect balance, but a mutually sustainable partnership. As author Sarah Bessey described, “Marriage is a beautiful example of oneness and cooperation, an image of the dance of the Trinity in perfect unity.”
In the end, marriage is a picture of how love changes people. Marriage is a front row seat to see the redemptive work God is doing in your partner. We don’t just marry our spouses as they are, but who they’re becoming and who they will be. The purpose of marriage isn’t found in what two people can do for each other; it’s in who they’re becoming together.
That kind of love changes everything.
Adapted from John Weirick’s new book, The Variable Life: Finding Clarity and Confidence in a World of Choices. Used with permission.