5 Things We Get Wrong About Marriage

As an ordained pastor, I take marriage very seriously. It is, after all, a sacrament: a sign or symbol of Christ’s love for his Church. And at the same time, I think we expect way too much of it. Many times I’ve sat in my office or across the table at a coffee shop with an individual who came into marriage with fantastic visions of all that it might be. Someone who envisioned a relationship that, while not perfect, would offer solutions to many of the problems he was experiencing.

While this is understandable, it’s also generally wrong. Marriage myths abound, especially in groups of people that see marriage as a good thing and want to encourage younger generations to prioritize it. While the motivation is commendable, the end result is often the perpetuation of marriage myths that can ultimately create disappointment and resentment when the marriage inevitably fails to live up to the hype. Here are 5 things we get wrong about marriage and how we might reframe them to adjust our expectations.

1. We think marriage will fix our insecurity.

A recent survey conducted by CURAD found that the average American feels insecure five times a day. But for a few of us, there’s this nagging feeling that we just aren’t enough. Often, we imagine that having another person love us enough to marry us will finally “fix” that. Movies, songs, and probably a few pastors have told us as much.

However, the reality is that insecurity isn’t about what’s really happening outside of you. Insecurity is a mindset that can only change from the inside. If you want to become more secure in who you are, the answer is not finding a wife. It might be finding a therapist.

2. We think marriage will make us whole.

All of us have had the experience of having someone build up a movie or a song or something to the point that it was literally impossible for it not to disappoint us. Unfortunately, many of us have had something similar happen with marriage. Our family, our church or the culture taught us that the thing we really need to make us whole, to “complete” us, is another person.

While it’s true that “whoever finds a wife finds a good thing,” if you go into marriage needing the other person to make you feel whole, you will use that person more than you will love her. Much like insecurity (and each of these points, frankly), you have to start with you. The healthier the person, the healthier the marriage.

3. We think marriage will make life easier.

I have to say—it’s definitely the case that marriage can make life easier. In fact, each of these last three points can be true, at least in some ways. If your values and vision for life are aligned, it can be a great joy to do it together. That said, marriage almost invariably creates challenges as well. Whether it’s the natural conflict that occurs when living in such close proximity with someone or the unpredictable nature of life that is now doubled (or more if you have children) it actually amplifies the opportunity for challenges.

Certainly it can be, and often is, worth it. Easy and good are not the same thing. And life is hard in general. But if we imagine getting married is a cure to the challenges we face, we place a burden on it that it was not intended to bear.

4. We think marriage will bring fulfillment.

You can’t live for another person. Another person was not intended to be the ingredient that brings meaning and purpose into your life. Marriage myths like this can be damaging. If your primary goal is to get married, and you imagine it will allow everything else to fall into place, it’s like trying to use your trusty sedan to haul cattle trailers. It just wasn’t made to bear that weight.

Of course loving another person can be fulfilling and deeply meaningful. But when we look to our spouse to fulfill us, we’re primarily thinking about how we can benefit from this arrangement. Marriage can be a significant part of a fulfilling life. But marriage alone can’t bear that weight.

5. We think marriage will create stability.

In most good marriages, the two people do sharpen one another. Often, that happens as they learn to love and serve each other in the face of their differences. This can have a stabilizing effect. However, it can also be quite destabilizing. Building a life with someone can mean reshaping some of our dreams and how we imagined the future in order to build something new together. It’s not uncommon that it can lead to radically reimagining life: careers, family, geography…

This destabilization can actually be a positive thing. However, you have to go into marriage with your eyes wide open and with lots of open and honest conversations about your expectations—because they will certainly need to be adjusted.

Sound off: What marriage myths have you seen or even believed yourself?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you think it takes to have a good marriage?”