What lies about marriage do you tell? As a pastor, I have the privilege of walking with people through various stages of married life. From dating through anniversaries, beginning a family, and all the joyful milestones along the way. However, I also walk through the hard times: fights, couples counseling, separation, and divorce.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about marriage during these years, it’s this: We lie about marriage a lot. There are so many false messages we send each other about what marriage is and isn’t. Here are three of them, and ways I think we should shift the narrative.
1. You should marry your soul mate.
We believe the myth that you should marry the person who “completes” you. We sometimes refer to this person as a soul mate. That sounds great on a Hallmark card or in a romantic film. However, the idea itself can be destructive. When we expect a spouse to be a soul mate, we put expectations on her that are impossible for her to fulfill.
Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas makes the point this way: “The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. The moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. … The primary problem is…learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.”
Marriage is not an opportunity to be completed by another. Rather it is an invitation to give yourself in love to someone who will at times be your best friend and at other times, be something akin to an enemy. Marriage is not an invitation to fulfillment but an invitation to transformation as we learn what it really means to love. This realization frees you from the anxiety of picking the right person to marry. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have standards. Of course you should. But a good marriage comes not from the right people finding each other but from two people committed to loving each other as they are, not as they wish they were.
2. Love conquers all.
To be clear, what is false about this statement is often what we mean when we say it, rather than the statement itself. What we often mean by this statement is that my feeling of passion for this person will carry me through whatever challenges we face. However, this is simply not how it works.
If you are married for any length of time, it is almost a guarantee that your passion will wane. Passion is fickle, often rooted in our own lusts and desires. Love, on the other hand, as Paul the apostle once wrote, “is patient, kind, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrong.” In this way, love works for the good of the other. But that doesn’t always mean that if you just love your spouse enough, she will change. Love doesn’t require a wife to change but loves her as she is. So focus on loving her well.
3. It takes two, baby.
OK, so that’s less a lie we tell and more a lyric from a Marvin Gaye song. But the idea is that marriage is between two people. The reality is that marriage can be a lonely place, especially if you are depending entirely on the other person to meet all your needs.A great marriage takes more than two. It takes a community.
This is why I regularly tell couples that they need to be a part of a community. Not only does having other friends mean you don’t need your spouse to fulfill all your relational needs, but it also means you’ll have people around you when you’re struggling. When you hit bumps in the road, you’ll have friends who can encourage you to keep going, folks who can pray for you, elders who have been down that road and can give you wise counsel. A great marriage takes more than two. It takes a community.
Sound off: What are some lies you’ve believed about marriage?
Huddle up with your spouse and ask, “What have you learned about marriage that was surprising to you?”