Let me preface this piece by saying that I am not an expert on marriage, nor am I claiming to have a perfect one. I’m fully aware that there are couples who have been married two or three times longer than I have; I bow to them, realizing that I still have so much to learn. I also understand that marriage is a two-way street – obviously one person cannot do it all on their own. Only you know whether or not you have put your heart and soul into saving your marriage. Only you know how happy or unhappy you are in your present situation. You should be happy, if not in your marriage, then on your own. And of course there are legitimate reasons to walk away from a marriage. (physical or emotional abuse, infidelity) If your marriage is beyond repair, it’s definitely time to give one another the gift of moving on. ?
Marriage is a beautiful thing, but it’s also the hardest and the greatest fight we’ll ever sign up for. Sadly, we know with the skyrocketing divorce rates, this ambition isn’t always recognized. A lot of marriages are falling apart these days with little attempt to work on things once expectations no longer measure up to storybook standards and reality sets in.
We all have this image of happily ever after ingrained in our minds thanks to Disney princess movies, romance novels, and chick-flicks that glamorize unrealistic expectations about love and marriage. As a result, we expect the fairy-tale ending that includes euphoric and spontaneous love with our very own Prince Charming and a perfect life of uninterrupted happiness. That is not reality.
The truth is that happily ever after isn’t a fairy tale – it’s a choice. In other words, marriage doesn’t make us happy; we make our marriage happy. Happiness is a personal choice and is not contingent upon our circumstances. Having this mindset doesn’t mean that we should turn a blind eye to the struggles in our marriage; it means that we should do everything in our power NOT to allow those struggles to destroy our lifetime of happiness together.
…Disney princess movies, romance novels, and chick-flicks that glamorize unrealistic expectations about love and marriage.
If our happily ever after isn’t shaping up to be the “fairy tale” we dreamed it would be, there are plenty of ways to make it better. It’s 100% our choice. Seek outside help, get marital counseling, sex therapy, whatever. Just give it a real chance – some of the best stuff in life takes time to develop. We have to stick around a while to find that out; nothing worth having in this world ever comes easy.
As my close friend slowly convinces herself that the benefits of leaving her marriage outweigh the benefits of staying, I’ve tried to speak truth into her life as she navigates through waters that are all too familiar to me. I’ve experienced the peaks and valleys in my marriage, so I have been there – that scary crossroad my friend has found herself at. However, just because she’s currently unhappy in her marriage doesn’t mean that she’d be better off ending it.
I am, in no means, advocating that we should stay in a hopelessly unfulfilling or loveless marriage. I’m not even claiming that all marriages should be saved. I’m simply stating that all marriages go through stages and seasons, so we should look at our marriage as a journey and an ongoing process of self-evaluation and reflection. In order to make a successful marriage a reality, personal growth must take place from one stage to the next in which we’re both invested and willing to share the workload.
Below are a few things to consider before tying the knot, succumbing to the “grass is always greener” syndrome, or parting ways. My insights on this subject are not end-all, be-all. I’d also like to say that I absolutely love being a wife despite the tone of this piece – I’m just reflecting on some of the realities I have learned along my thirteen year journey…
Marriage is hard work
The easiest part of marriage is falling in love and walking down the aisle. But, marriage is so much more than two rings and a pretty dress. Marriage is not a perpetual state of bliss; it’s the beginning of a lifetime of hard work. Life gets complicated, stressful, and mundane. Things will go wrong and our spouse will not make us happy every moment of every day. Sometimes we will even go weeks without any action (especially once kids enter the equation). We won’t be each other’s best friend 24/7, and we certainly won’t feel “madly in love” at all times.
Since marriage is not exclusively based on how we feel, we can’t be led by our emotions – they’re only temporary. Therefore, we must focus less on the feelings and more on the actions. Of course, love is important, but so is contributing to the marriage and not just gaining from it. Again, anything worthwhile takes time and effort, so we will not reap the benefits of a happy marriage without tending to it daily.
We will never be able to change or “fix” our spouse
If we enter the marriage expecting that we can change our partner, we’re bound to be disappointed. Circumstances and people constantly change – we’re not the same people we were when we said “I do” all those years ago. Who we were, who we are, and who we will be are three different people. Accepting our spouse’s imperfections and annoying habits will test the limits of our patience, but we must learn to appreciate our partner for who they are – the positive and the negative – and love them nonetheless.
The only changing that we’re going to do in a marriage is changing ourselves. By simply adjusting our own actions and attitudes, we can outgrow and overcome whatever is weak and broken within ourselves. From personal experience, it is often during difficult times, God will use the one heart that will listen, forgive, and go the extra mile to change everything.
Marriage is about sacrifice and serving someone else
Too many of us believe that marriage is about our own needs and gratification, so we stop investing the moment we feel less than happy. But marriage is not solely about satisfying our own expectations; it’s about a well-balanced, healthy partnership that includes good communication, shared values and goals, and plenty of give and take.
If we want our marriage to work the way it was created and designed to, we both have to be willing to sacrifice our selfish desires and serve the other. The idea of sacrifice doesn’t sound very romantic, but it’s the purest way to show our spouse that they truly matter. Because at the heart of it, real love is all about sacrifice.
Accept struggles as being a necessary part of personal and relationship growth
Even though marriage doesn’t always get the best name, it provides us with the chance to look in the mirror and see what we need to work on in ourselves. Marriage stretches, breaks, and matures us in ways that we could have never expected. Thus, we should re-frame our minds and understand that God uses struggles in our marriage as a vessel to build us into the people He sees us becoming. My husband and I have slowly evolved into the people we are today due to the challenges that we have faced in our marriage. The difficult times led us to a deeper love because we chose to work through them together.
We must embrace the seasons of life as they come because they will never stop. And if we are fortunate enough to overcome a storm in our marriage, we have to move forward and allow our partner’s actions be a part of our journey.
True love is a decision
Once the rosy glow wears off, we have to consider what true love is really about – a selfless and unconditional type of love that transcends any physical attraction or infatuation. True love is what married grown-ups do despite how they feel. It requires determination, commitment, and an ongoing effort to endure the inevitable highs and lows together.
True love is when we’re in it for the long haul, so what comes next is a decision in which the action really needs to kick in. Choosing to do the little things – the unromantic things, the unexciting things, the daily things is what true love looks like, and with that relentless effort comes the magical reward of staying in love.
In fairy tales, we don’t ever get to see what happens after “The End“. In real life, we actually get to experience our “after”, so let’s stop trying to live up to the unrealistic romantic expectations of the “Once upon a time” books and choosing personal happiness over real love and commitment. Instead, let’s focus on the marriage that we do have and how we can make it better.
Happily ever starts here. Right now. With us. As the lovely Fawn Weaver reminds us, “Happiness in marriage is a moment by moment choice – a decision to love, forgive, grow, and grow old together.” Once we have realized this, we know that we have arrived.