I remember so clearly. I thought I would be different. My marriage would not have the same problems as other marriages. In my arrogance and pride I honestly thought I could do better than other, much godlier men. I was wrong. Very wrong. Marriage, I would soon find out, would be one of the hardest experiences of my life.
Wait a second! Is marriage not supposed to be a blessing? That is certainly true. The problem is that we sometimes focus too much on the “blessing” side of things. This misleads single people into thinking marriage will be without problems. Sure, people say “it is/will be hard.” Frequently, however, single people gloss over this fact. This means that single people are going into marriage and desiring marriage without properly understanding the trials that await.
This is what I had to learn. Marriage is a tough road. It attractively aids our sanctification. Do not forget, though, that sanctification is usually painful. The Lord gave me a good wife and I lack the words of thankfulness for that fact. Sadly, many people have chosen bad spouses out of desperation, loneliness, feeling that they are growing too old, or for sexual reasons. I cannot imagine how much pain a couple goes through when they are never—or rarely—on the same page.
In my pastoral work, I have encountered a lot of single people over the years. There is a despondency which is common among single people. I have also felt that in the past—before marriage. Having counseled people through this many times, I think it is prudent to highlight a few things to single people about marriage. The first is humility. People must learn to approach marriage in humility. The second is being as sure as possible that you are choosing the right kind of spouse. These two things are vital if you ever want to look forward to the blessings (and sanctifying growing pains) of marriage.
Because I am in full-time ministry, I have had many occasions to talk to people about marriage. Many people have come to me with their issues and disappointments. I have noticed that a lot of good Christian people have even admitted that, at times, they have wanted (and even objectively considered) divorce. This, if you are single, may come as a surprise.
When I was single, I would have read such a statement and said: “I will be the exception.” I had seen other couples, godly couples, argue and fight many times. I told myself I would be completely different. I will always do my best to understand and love my wife with steadfast patience, I told myself. Yet, on the other side of this veil, I have found myself quick to anger, selfish, and not quick to listen.
The problem is that two sinners have decided to beautifully join their lives into one (Eph 5:31). That is difficult, more difficult than anybody realized before they tied the knot. Marriage pulls two people together and says, “You are in this for life, get on with it.” Not that there are not beautifully tantalizing moments that fill us with joy. Know, however, that the road is tough. It will also be fraught with pain. Despite this, the more we experience it with a godly frame of mind, the more we develop joy in what is being achieved in us and our spouses.
It is possible for a single person to understand these things. How hard is it, knowing you have to make decisions your wife will not appreciate? How will she react? What will she say? Or submitting to decisions your husband has made without complaint. Why does he do this? I wish I could do it my way. That is why I think we need more discussion about going into marriage with humility. It is not enough for us to teach people with words. They need to actually be humble, die to self, and be willing to make sacrifices. These things are important, but if we merely state them, then we are only scratching the surface.
The reality is, you, as a man or woman, will not be the exception to the certainty of difficulties in marriage. You are not Jesus. That is why your potential marriage will not be perfect. You can, however, do better and better by looking to Jesus (Heb. 12:2). In salvation, we have been conformed to His image (Rom. 8:28). This means we are to renew our minds daily to His patterns of thinking (Eph. 4:23). We must remove all the sinful bad habits from our lives, replacing them with good habits (Eph. 4:22–24). This is greatly helped by marriage. It is a sharp and penetrating tool that the Lord uses to confront sin in our lives. You must recognize that going in. Doing so will numb some of the pain you will inevitably feel in marriage.
This means all who are to be married should put off their pride, thinking that they will be different, and accept that they will make mistakes. You will not always give your wife what she wants. You will not always be patient with your husband. You will definitely have times when you lose your patience with one another. There will even be times where you will not want to be so forgiving. It is important to go into marriage knowing this, rather than assuming it will be different in your case.
I know you may feel that the road will always be smooth. Every time you see your future spouse you feel butterflies in your stomach. You are in love, and you feel like that will never end. Guess what. It does not have to end. Loving each other is a choice, not a feeling. The feeling is just an added bonus. You will break each other’s hearts countless times as you drive down this road together. Despite that, if you both humbly commit to loving each other no matter what, you will always be in love and always be expressing that love to each other. Learn to humbly apologize and seek forgiveness. Learn to forgive when you are sinned against. Learn to not get upset over small things. Do this and humility will grow. Sanctification, in turn, will work to beautifully conform your lives into the image of God’s Son.
The “Right” Choice
Alongside humility, the “right” kind of spouse needs to be chosen. Not that there is a Mr. or Mrs. Perfect out there for you. Neither is it true that we need a “compatible” spouse. We are all sinners. None of us are compatible with one another. How many hearts have been broken over the framework of “I just do not think we are compatible”?
Instead, we must want somebody who fulfills their role properly. At the same time, we also need somebody who fulfills that role in a holy manner. There are plenty of men who would surely lead well in most aspects but lack the loving tenderness he is called to give his wife. There are surely many women who would submit faithfully but lack patience in a marriage situation.
That is why marriage should not come too quickly. Granted, neither should a couple be together for too long before seeking marriage. There is a Romanian preacher who says couples should “get married without anesthesia.” This advice is highly destructive. Couples need time to make sure they both will fulfill their roles properly. Only time shows that they will not devolve into something after the nice feelings of the honeymoon have faded away.
Somebody might tick all the boxes of theology, practice, and church involvement. Nevertheless, what happens when you disagree with them about how your money should be spent, what you should do with your time, and who you need to be? Can you see yourselves talking about those things amicably through biblical leadership and submission? Or can you see arguments and fights breaking out all over the home from misdirection and a lack of gentleness?
There is a reason Paul said, “Those who marry will have worldly troubles” (1 Cor 7:28). Marriage is hard. If you are going to spend the rest of your life with somebody, be sure you are not jumping in with quick-decisionism. Yes, you may stop feeling lonely temporarily, gratify some sexual desires, or have the “trophy” you wanted in your life. But at what cost? A nagging wife who drives you to despair (Prov 21:9)? A husband who neglects being kind and attentive to you in tender love (Eph 5:25)?
It is extremely important to note that Paul also says, “and I would spare you that” (1 Cor 7:28). He actually preferred that people did not marry! This is a far cry from typical churches today. Being single is looked on as a stigma. Marriage is placed on a pedestal which causes single people to want it all the more. Unfortunately, that pedestal is there without the appendix “you will have troubles.” Due to a lack of proper teaching on this, people jump into marriage thinking all will be rosy.
I think this is for two reasons. Older people realize that sexual temptation is rampant, so they try to get younger people married as soon as possible to prevent problems. This only places a plaster over an infected wound. At the same time, married couples have children and children fill out the church. This is a great thing. Regrettably, couples having children is regularly used as a substitute for evangelism. Where there is a lack of teaching on sexual temptation and a proper framework of evangelism, there will likely be a pushy attitude towards singles. This does not help. If you are reading this as a married person, please take time to consider how you talk to the single people in your congregation.
All of this needs to be taken in its proper stride. We need to realize that marriage is a good thing. That is amazingly true, and I affirm that through my own marriage. It is a lie, though, to even begin implying that there will not be problems for married couples. Spouses will fight with one another and hurt each other. Yet, how beautiful it is when two are made one. It is breathtaking when they die to themselves so they can love each other. It is fascinating and dazzling when they sanctify each other through this blessed covenant. There is almost nothing better to see and experience in the world than this reality.
If you want to get married know it can be the most beautiful thing you will experience in your material life. Know also, however, that it will be a painful road of cultivation. Are you prepared to take up this gauntlet?
This is in no way an exhaustive discussion. Everybody has different things in their hearts and minds. It is worth talking to somebody close to you who is spiritually mature and has experienced marriage.
I honestly believe that some of the hardest pains can be sweeter if we all learn more humility in marriage. This is best cultivated in the time of preparation for marriage, rather than after the vows have been irrevocably spoken. I also believe that more seriousness in choosing a partner and not allowing young couples to rush into marriage will also help. These general ideas will help those who seek marriage to do so with good equipment, which will deal with the trials of marriage.