Have you ever been to see the ocean? Walked out into the salt water and felt the waves pushing against you?
Growing up in Michigan, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to go to lakes nearby. Because of that, I’ve only been to the ocean a few times. I’m always struck by the size of the waves and the force of the current, so much so that I’ve avoided going in the water higher than my waist.
I can see how dangerous the ocean is when swimmers get caught in the undertow of the waves. One second they’re swimming and having fun. The next moment, the sea is sweeping them further and further out, and they’re struggling to swim back against the current.
You might ask: what does this have to do with marriage?
Amidst all the wedding planning that comes with engagement, preparation for the marriage itself often isn’t as high of a priority. Premarital counseling classes are commonly offered at churches, but often they are teaching general principles on managing the household and finances, or they’re a prerequisite for using a church venue.
Instead of preparation for the realities of marriage, there are plenty of messages distorted by our culture’s obsession with romance that lead to expectations of perfection from your partner and a “happily ever after” story. We expect that our spouses will fulfill our every need, sex will be easy and fun, and we’ll never have serious arguments. These faulty expectations set us up for disappointment.
How do you protect yourself against that possibility? How do you prepare for this? By reminding yourself of this:
Marriage will be hard.
I believe this one small phrase, if both partners walk into marriage believing it, can create a buffer against the difficulties that will come. It doesn’t mean that it’ll reduce how often you fight or feel hurt. Instead, the acceptance of this truth and the willingness to look it full in the face helps to prepare you for the inevitable arguments, loneliness, and disappointment you will face.
Let’s go back to the ocean for a moment. Imagine yourself standing in the water and facing the horizon. You’re able to see the waves coming. When a massive one crests and falls over you, you’ll brace your body in preparation for the impact. You might lose your footing for a moment, but you’ve already set up a foundation that won’t be hard to re-establish.
Now imagine that you have your back to the waves and you’re looking at the shoreline. You have no idea the wave is coming: you’re completely blind to it. How much harder do you think that wave will hit you? It will knock you off your feet, pull you under, and take much more effort to stand up again. The wave may be large and powerful enough to pull you back into the undertow, making it feel impossible to make it back to shore.
In his book The Meaning of Marriage*, Timothy Keller warns against the faulty view of marriage in our culture, saying we expect too much from marriage. In the search for a spouse, we’re looking for the perfect person who fits all of our lengthy list of requirements and expectations. One flaw immediately rules a potential mate out.
Once married, couples may see the purpose of marriage as satisfying our personal desires and needs, rather than seeking the best for the other person. Often our distorted beliefs lead to expectations that our partner will make us complete. We think marriage is the relationship that provides ultimate satisfaction. And when we are disappointed by our spouses, we blame them instead of acknowledging that our own faulty expectations set ourselves and our partners up for failure.
At the same time, Keller says we expect too little from marriage. But how can that be?
Marriage has the potential to be the most significant, life-altering, and rewarding relationship you have.
I’m sure you know couples who have walked through the difficulties of marriage and come out bitter, resentful, and angry at their spouses for disappointing them. But facing these difficulties with openness to change will impact you if you let them.
You will have to learn new ways to see the world through your partner’s eyes. You will have to work at the aspects of marriage that do not come easy to you. Just as you are likely not the same person you were 10 years ago, Tim Keller acknowledges that your spouse will change over time, and you need to be ready to get to know these new aspects of who they are.
Being aware of both the difficulty of being married as well as the potential for growth prepares you well for the reality of marriage. It allows you to look with a far-reaching view at the waves that are coming into shore and prepare for the impacts that will come. They will still be painful, but being prepared and accepting the reality that your marriage will be hard will help you move through those difficulties and grow closer as a result.
Is your marriage disappointing your expectations? Do you feel like you’re caught in the undertow? Are you arguing constantly, frequently let down by your partner’s actions, and feeling as though you don’t recognize the person they’ve become? At Restored Hope, I help couples who feel like their marriage is hanging on a string to reconnect, manage the difficulties of married life, and fall in love with their partner all over again. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment and hear more about how I can help.
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