Sometimes it feels like married people conspire to make marriage appear better than it really is. It's not that marriage is bad but there are many misconceptions about what marriage looks like in today's society. We value romance and individual gratification over commitment and self-control. I appreciate how colleges even offer classes to address this.
One misconception I would immediately clear up about marriage is that it will not fix you. I don't mean that marriage won't help in the following areas. Marriage is a wonderful context to enjoy companionship, experience sexual fulfillment, and boost self-image. But the act of tying the knot does not remedy our core longings. In the short term, marriage may appear to meet these needs but over the long-run, it exposes our issues and magnifies the consequences. Here are three areas that getting married does not fix:
1) Loneliness: You get married thinking "Wow, now I have a lifelong companion - someone who understands me completely - and I will never feel lonely again".
Nope. Marriage don't fix that. It feels great to have a friend to do things with but it's also very stressful and can be alienating. In fact, an unhappy marriage will exacerbate loneliness. And all marriages are bad at some point, especially when you have children. The pangs of loneliness suck. Even worse, marriage can cause you to lose many of your friends and certainly changes the friendships you had before you got married.
Marriage can intensify loneliness. As you get to know another person, the more you realize how little you understand them. In the process of knowing a person, you realize how unknowable they are. It's a unique pain. It's like standing in a crowded room with everyone talking and you feel a million miles away, stranded on another planet.
And you can go through life with another person and wonder if they will ever truly know you who are, what it feels like to be you, and wonder whether this person sleeping next to you can even remotely understand what it's like to view life from your perspective. And you realize at a certain point, that this person cannot. He or she will not ever know what it's like to be you. It's a depressing feeling. The expectation that you're not supposed to feel lonely can make you feel even more alone when it hits.
2) Sexual temptation: But surely sexual temptation goes away when you get married right?
Nope. Sexual temptation does not get easier when you're married. I know equal numbers of married and single men who struggle with lust and pornography. I believe this is a greater challenge for men than women. Marriage does not alter the male sex drive. The temptation of other women and infatuations does not disappear either.
Pastors are no exception to this. It can be even tougher for us. We labor under the weight of people's expectations concerning our hyper-spirituality. This creates an environment for us to be particularly susceptible to carnal temptations. That's why I'm not that surprised when I hear about pastors having affairs. Being put on a pedestal (or put in a box) makes it hard to be vulnerable about weakness. People expect you to be stronger but inside you're just like everyone else and you feel pressure to keep the act going.
Sex is a reflection of who we are - our background, personality, upbringing, and culture. That makes sexuality enormously complex. Coupled with the fact that men and women are different, that our bodies go through changes, and our lives go through seasons can make sexual fulfillment in marriage elusive. Even in sex, there is work involved at every stage of marriage. In the beginning, it's about discovery and learning. Later, it's about conception. Once kids are involved, it's about making time and energy. I don't know what the next stage looks like but it will likely look different than it does now.
3) Self-esteem: The last thing marriage won't fix is your view of yourself. Having a life partner will not make you feel any more worthwhile as a person. Sure, it will provide a temporary confidence boost, generate some positive attention from others, and give you a permanent roommate but it cannot, by default, alter the perception you have of yourself.
If you viewed yourself negatively before getting married, you will continue to do so when married. If you were insecure and paranoid before, you will be insecure and paranoid after. And so on and so forth. Just because someone makes a commitment to love you does not mean you will consider yourself lovable. It may make your insecurity even worse.
When Judy and I first got married, I was wracked by anxiety. I was so nervous around her. I got her to marry me but I didn't know what to do next. I would sit next to her trying to think of something witty to say. I quickly realized this approach could be sustainable in a long-distance relationship where we only talked twice a week but it would not work with someone I saw everyday. I was so scared that she would at some point realize that I wasn't quite as good as advertised and want to leave me.
I didn't feel like I was lovable unless I was pursuing her. I didn't feel worthwhile unless I was doing something. That's some serious self-esteem issues in there that have taken me years of counseling and spiritual formation to heal.
A journey through brokenness
After reading this, you may think I'm trying to convince people not to get married or to resolve these issues before getting hitched or that I'm stressing the importance of finding the right person (or that my marriage sucks). I'm not saying any of those things. I want people to come to marriage with their eyes open. It is not a fun ride where the two of you wave a magic wand and make problems disappear. It's more like a journey through brokenness where beauty lies in both the process and the outcome. It's a painful path through darkness into light.
During a rough patch in our marriage, I was trying to juggle a master's program, a full-time job, church involvement, and a wife and three young children. I was not around much, didn't help out much when I was around, and felt increasingly alienated from Judy. Negative thought patterns, repeated day after day, pushed us away from each other. It was like a yawning chasm opened up between us with little hope to close the gap.
Marriage provides an incredible environment to address loneliness and yet we long for relationship in a way that cannot be fully met by another human being. Since those dark days, my wife and I have come far in building intimacy but we also now have much more realistic expectations about what our marriage can provide.
Marriage is terrifying. It is God's weapon of heart destruction. And yet our hearts receive love best when broken apart. So God uses marriage to break us down so that His love can put us back together. Brokenness is the only way to receive grace. The point of marriage is to become broken so we can understand love.