Word of the Week

What Marriage Is and Not

Today, I'm celebrating my fourth wedding anniversary alongside a man I think is a really amazing guy, but instead of turning this blog post into a purely personal narration of how much I love this man I admire more than any other in the world I wanted to consider marriage in a much larger context.

As part of my vocation, I probably get to talk about and participate in more marriages than the average person. People come to me for marriage counsel. I receive requests to officiate the weddings of others, most for whom regular church attendance is not a part of their week. I lead pre-martial counseling sessions for couples entering into the unknown of martial bliss.

And, in all of this, one thing is for certain, we all have screwed up ideas in one way or another of what marriage is. It takes time and long (actually very long) conversations and life experiences to work it all out. Whether it is because of the marriages (or lack thereof) that we've observed growing up, or unrealistic expectations of  what a partnership can be imposed to us from our culture, or unmet desires within our own lives that we hope another can "complete" us if we just find the right person . . . marriage, if we choose to enter it is often doesn't turn out how we might have planned. It can be both better than we ever imagined or worse.

There is one thing I know for sure about marriage and that is both partners have to be in 100% at all times. Nothing more and nothing less. Because:

Marriage is not finding a relationship that will meet all of your needs. Larger networks of friends and family are always important to sustaining the ebbs and flows of any long-term partnership. For me, I dare say that my girlfriends and other family connections are what have helped my marriage keep going especially at its lowest points.

Marriage is not a relationship with someone who you can expect to stay the same year after year. As much as you hope grow wiser ever year and maturity through the good and not so good choices you make, so will your spouse. Change will come not matter if we like it or not, so marriage has always been and always will be about a lifelong relationship of learning.

Marriage is not about bliss every single day. Fighting over what movie to see, disagreeing about what kind of chicken to have for dinner, and miscommunication about some of the deepest emotions your partner shares happens in even the best marriages. Just because you have a bad day it doesn't mean the marriage is bad. . .

Marriage is not about committing to someone whom you know and love perfectly on your wedding day-- for the journey has just begun. As I look back on our wedding pictures, I think "I barely knew Kevin then" (though I thought I knew him amazingly well at the time) for what we've been through together over the past four years. I think in many ways we've both surprised each other-- both receiving what we didn't expect on the day we first said, "I do."

Marriage is not salvation from the home life that you are trying to escape. No person, no matter how amazing they are can transport you to a world where your past life experiences aren't important in shaping your becoming. In making a new family together, you have to honor the past.

Marriage is not just about having sex without guilt and/or having children.  For those who get married out of the guilt of "we've already had sex so we must get married now" I fear this is not a good reason to start a lasting partnership. Marriages are about sharing your whole life with one another of which sex is only a part. And, children, when they are present in a home, are ultimately not enough to keep marriages strong. The adults have to work on this . . .

I wish someone had told me all of this about marriage when I first begun this adventure. But, I'm sure, as I know four years is only a short period of time, that my learning about what marriage is and isn't has only just begun.