Donna and I recently watched a popular TV show. While the focus of the show’s premise is medical, the writers seemed intent on commentary on marriage as a secondary storyline. The message seemed to be: Don’t expect too much out of marriage. After all, all things end, and none of us knows what the future holds. So, if we count on marriage to last and be strong, we are destined to be disappointed.
The writers seemed convinced of this, though they offered a little hope at the end as one of their characters decided to try to be different.
As I watched with Donna, I felt three emotions: gratitude, anger, and disappointment/depression.
Anger at the message this popular show is spreading to a population that has proven itself ready to accept the “wisdom” of TV shows because they are TV shows.
Disappointment and depression that people accept this lie, and often cheat themselves out of the life the creator intended for us.
Gratitude that God gave me a woman who didn’t believe that lie.
This show—and I believe the popular view of marriage in this culture—presents marriage as a temporary union between two people—a union that is dependent on the impact of outside influences and which is intended to make the two parties happy. When this doesn’t happen—which seems inevitable—the marriage has run its course and should be ended as painlessly and amicably as possible.
Is this really what marriage is about?
After 46 ½ years with Donna, I believe I am beginning to understand the nature of marriage. Mind you, I’m not cocky. But I think our marriage might last. And there are three very simple reasons for my optimism—three keys to successful marriage.
First, the quality of marriage is not dependent on forces outside of the marriage. We are constantly told that “things happen” to us, explaining our successes or failures. But this isn’t true. Marriage isn’t about things happening to us. It is about the decisions we make in response to whatever happens. Temptation, crisis, conflict, sickness, financial stress, grief—or for that matter financial health, physical strength and health, relational harmony, and lack of outside attacks on the marital union—are only circumstances to which we respond. We decide how to respond.
Key #1: Successful marriage doesn’t happen to you. You make it happen.
Second, our responses to all these things are not designed to be for the purpose of making us happy. They aren’t designed to make me fulfilled, strong, healthy, etc. In fact, they aren’t about me at all.
Of course, we all know that a good marriage is where I strive to meet my wife’s needs, and she strives to meet mine. In this way, we are each taken care of, and our marriage is symbiotic.
The problem is, this doesn’t work. It sounds good. I like it. I even try to live that way.
But I fail. And so does Donna.
I have seen thousands of marriages where one or the other simply isn’t committed to living this way—and symbiosis takes two.
In the first year of our marriage, Donna and I both realized we not only were no longer “in love”, we didn’t even like each other. Our families and many friends were telling us we had made a horrible mistake and we were young enough to start over. We were advised to go our separate ways and pretend it had never happened.
One night we talked about this. I said, “I don’t believe in divorce—Jesus said don’t do it!” Instead of arguing, she just looked at me resignedly and said, “I know. I don’t believe in divorce either.”
When our devotion to one another failed us (not just one of us—both at the same time!), our marriage continued based on our devotion to the King. It wasn’t just about loving each other. It was about loving Him.
Key #2: Successful marriage is about our devotion to the King.
Finally, successful marriage (define that as a husband and wife growing in loving commitment to one another and their ability to meet one another’s needs) doesn’t happen quickly.
For 40 years I have told couples in pre-marital counseling to be ready for a shock sometime in the first year of their marriage. One day, they would wake in the morning, look across their pillow, and say “Lord, what have I done?!”.
That’s when we begin to learn how to be married. It takes years. Not just to learn about our spouse and what their needs are. But to grow up enough to meet those needs regardless of what is happening around us or how we feel.
I once ran a 24-hour race. The idea was to run as far as we could in 24 hours. We ran around a quarter-mile track-around and around and around and around! I was pretty new to ultra marathon running (anything longer than a marathon) and I met another guy who was also a novice. We both got very sick in the first half of the race. Around 50 miles, he pulled out. His race was over. I wanted to as well, but a friend who was much more experienced told me, this will change—if you don’t quit! Because of her encouragement, I didn’t. The next day, I spoke with my new friend. He asked how I did, and I told him I was able to run 91 1/3 miles (a “mid-pack” finish). Remembering how wick I was when he left, he asked, “How did you do that?”
My only answer was “I didn’t quit.”
Marriage is not always easy or fun. It isn’t all romance. In fact, it is often ugly, dirty, in-your-face nitty-gritty pounding through life—together. But when the first two keys are in place, the longer you practice marriage with one another, the better you get at it. Problems still exist and situations attack, but you are better able to deal with them—together. But this can’t happen when one or both spouses gives up.
Key #3: Successful marriage requires that we simply don’t quit.
Obviously, I believe in marriage. Fewer young adults believe in it today. Yet survey after survey shows that they want it to work. They just aren’t optimistic, and in many cases they have given up on the possibility, committing to a life in and out of relationships that can never give them what marriage can, because the commitment is not there.
Marriage works because God makes it work. But it only works on His terms, not ours.
Know Jesus and Be Faithful!