I got married just over a year ago. So I’m far from an expert on this topic. I mean, I’m not even acclimated to using scented hand soaps yet. Therefore I present these propositions as just that: a means for beginning some conversations.
Because marriage is meant to be a personified example of Christ’s love for the Church, God’s faithfulness to us, His people. Inasmuch, it behooves married couples to live in transparency. For when we don’t take intentional steps to lift the veil on our relationships, we contribute to a Christian culture that holds the blessings and trials of matrimony hostage. We present the testimony of marriage as something that can only be witnessed within a marriage. And nothing could be further from the truth. Christian marriage is supposed to be a light; we shouldn’t pull down the shades on its rays.
And so I want to lift the veil. I want to start some conversations. Thus, here are three myths about marriage that need to be debunked:
1) Marriage is easy.
Marriage is anything but easy. This week, my wife and I have had not one, but two knock-down, drag-out arguments. I’m talking the kind that starts with:
Annnnd usually evolves into:
So yeah. Those kinda fights. Both these required hours of talking, forgiving and apologizing. This isn’t too abnormal; we dedicate several hours a week just to ironing out a few rough spots in our marriage, chiseling away at the obnoxious kinks we each have.
When we were engaged, I had many people tell me “just hang in there, marriage is so much easier than engagement.” And that’s true. Engagement is like being forced to sit cross-legged on a bed of hot coals and read the same page of Twilight over and over again…all while someone holds a margarita just out of reach. But if I could tweak the phrasing just a little bit, I’d say that marriage- when compared to a dating or engagement relationship- is not so much easier as it is richer. Engagement is like putting hours of work into a delicious meal that you can’t eat quite yet; marriage is the feast finally spread out before you.
I hope the testimony of my marriage is never: “look at this! Too easy!” Rather I hope and pray that our marriage displays and proclaims that love is work. It can be tiring, it can wear you down, beat you up, and mold you; in a word, marriage crucifies the you you used to know. Marriage teaches us that this creates a wonderfully terrifying thing. Love is patient, kind, transformative, adventurous, risky, selfless and beautiful. Of all the things it is– it isn’t easy. Rather, a marriage lived out should proclaim that the cost of loving another person is one’s own self-entitlement. It’s not easy. But, at the same time, it’s wondrous beyond words.
2) In-laws, finances and past sins are the greatest source of marital tension.
The monster-in-law personae is cliché and yet pop culture still loves to assert its inevitability (because King of Queens wasn’t enough).
Likewise, there’s hoards of statistics that illustrate how many couples have more disputes about money than anything else. And, being Christians, many of us have been informed (with limited tact) that our sexual sins will haunt a marriage.
All of this is true…but only to a point. Because none of these make or break the marriage- though they are often the scapegoat. Instead, the most vital component of marriage is communication. Good communication can buoy a couple through the greatest trials of life; the ability for a couple to hear and be heard (the former being of primary importance) is the tipping point in a marriage. Without good communication, the smallest bill can cause an eruption; guilt from one’s past can impede and strangle; dealing with one’s in-laws can spark tidal waves in all directions. Communication is key.
And it should be noted that communication goes beyond the actual act of talking. Physical touch and intimacy is communication; how much time is spent out with the guys is communication; taking out the trash is communication. All of these things say something to your spouse. Their absence, presence or tone have the power to uplift or impede a marriage.
3) Sex is the best part of marriage.
Sex is a wonderful and good thing. But it is easily idolized in Christian relationships. Much of this is because sex is the forbidden fruit of dating relationships; almost every other aspect of marriage can be experienced, even if just to a lesser degree. But sex is always held- with painful depletions of tact-at arms length.
Because of this, it’s easy to (subconsciously) elevate sex to greater degree of importance than other aspects of a marriage. And this can set a couple up for a world of trouble. What if sex isn’t as great as you imagined it to be? What if sexual intimacy actually comes across as a bit awkward- even difficult- at first? When we expect sex to be -not just the cherry atop the sundae- but also the entire sundae itself and the rest of the relationship simply the bowl in which it sits, we can find marriage to feel a little empty, cheated even.
So while sexual intimacy and fulfillment is a wonderful and necessary part of a marriage, it should never be viewed as the end-all, be-all. Instead, marriage must be ordered in such a way that our end goal is love for another human being. Sex is one of many means to this end, but hardly it’s epitome.
Love is simply intricate. And every marriage revolves around something. Sometimes it’s physical attraction; other times it’s money, or shared experiences and goals; other times is an emotional connection between two people. The problem is that all of these things are fickle and unstable, at best. Attraction fades, emotional connections wear out over time, bankruptcy happens, quality time is monopolized by the demands of a family. In a matter of time the central identity of a marriage can easily disappear, leaving the rest of the relationship to collapse as well.
But when we base a marriage around the well-being of another person we allow and acknowledge the inevitable presence of Christ within our marriage. It is Christ who- and this is Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaking- is the mediator not just between ourselves and God, but also ourselves and others. A prioritization of another person, especially within framework of marriage, inevitably results in living life through the mediation of Christ. Christ becomes the filter for our actions. He forgives our anger and transforms it into empathy. He hears our miscommunications and translates them into sincerity. He oversaw the creation of our bodies, and ignites the passion that brings them together. In a word, a marriage centered on the goal of serving the other person, is centered on Christ; Christ who takes our mutated, imperfect and selfishly tainted thing we call ‘love’ and presents it as a microcosm of Christ’s love for the church.
This is a beautiful thing; one of the greatest mysteries of creation. So great, in fact, that it takes a lifetime with another person, a lifetime of relying on the meditation of Christ, to even begin to understand it.
In such a manner, a marriage becomes a story. And not the story of two people. Rather, it transcends itself to the story of Love Incarnate that is being played out within all of creation. And it’s story is greater than a lifetime of spousal love can even begin to imitate. It’s the story of Love that mediates for all, forgives for all, and is in the process of transforming everyone into it’s likeness.
And that, I propose, is a story worth telling.