The landscape of relationships in America has shifted considerably in the last few decades. While Americans are staying single for longer, around half of Americans aged eighteen and older are married. According to a Pew Research Center poll from 2013, the most important reason why people in the US are getting married is love.
Around nine in ten Americans cited love as the biggest reason to get married, and this outstripped making a lifelong commitment (81%), companionship (76%), having children (49%), or financial stability (28%).
Depending on your life experiences, the idea of being married is either something scary or an attractive life choice you just have to get in on. The reality about married life is that it often takes the shape that you give it. Like all relationships, marriage requires the people involved in it to work to overcome the entropy that can easily overwhelm the relationship like weeds can overcome a garden if they’re not pulled up.
While marriage is sacred and points to deeper realities such as the relationship between Jesus and His people, marriage is also not mystical – there are dynamics at play in the relationship that affect all the others we engage in. Marital breakdown is an all too common reality in American society, and sometimes having a clear-sighted view of what married life is and isn’t can help a couple to navigate storms better.
Realities of Married Life
What are some of the realities that characterize married life?
Some assembly required
A marriage doesn’t come pre-packaged and ready to go from the start. Two people find one another, start a relationship, and begin to build one life out of two lives. They have to learn each other’s quirks, learn how to communicate effectively and show love to their spouse in ways that make sense to them, divide household responsibilities, decide how to spend the family income and how to spend their leisure time, be on the same page about having and how to raise their children and so much more.
These many moving parts need to be assembled into a coherent relationship, all while everything else in life like work and other relationships going on. Add to that the fact that the two people in the relationship aren’t perfect – they will slip up or mess up badly. The world around them doesn’t always cooperate to make life easy for the couple either.
Marriage is a relationship that needs to work out amid a messed-up world, and between two sinful people. Challenges beset meaningful marriages, just as they do anything worth having and enjoying.
One of the benefits of premarital counseling is to awaken the couple to these realities and prepare them to work at building their new life together. A great marriage simply won’t come together on its own.
I pointed out earlier that a couple is building and enjoying their marriage as the other parts of life carry on. It’s easy for a couple to lose each other and their emotional connection amid the day-to-day grind.
You wouldn’t think it in the early days of a relationship that it could happen, but when you have jobs, kids, after-school programs and so much more to keep tabs on, it’s easy to take your spouse for granted and become like ships in the night.
Many couples espouse the value of date night, and there’s a reason for that. In the bustle of daily life, a deep emotional connection to your spouse can get lost in the shuffle. One of the main reasons affairs happen is that spouses can feel emotionally and sexually forgotten in the relationship as other things take center stage. Other people seemingly make time for them and “get them,” and that fantasy can spiral toward an affair.
A couple should make time to just talk – about what’s going on in their lives, what their hopes, prayers, and fears are, and spend time affirming and appreciating one another. Setting aside time for each other and jealously guarding it – no electronic devices or other interruptions – is valuable in maintaining their emotional connection.
Sex needs some work
You wouldn’t think it, but great sex takes some work. Men don’t function the same way biologically as women, and that difference alone can cause some frustration! Apart from the physiological issues around sex and communicating with your spouse about what they like, there are background issues that can affect a couple’s sex life.
For many who were raised in communities where sex is reserved for marriage, sex within marriage can be built up in their heads until it attains mythical proportions. From expectations of sex all the time and at the drop of a hat, to desiring explosively romantic sex every time, the hype train can create enormous pressure and subsequent disappointment.
Sex in marriage is great, make no mistake, but it requires both partners to connect physically and emotionally as well as communicate effectively so they can meet each other’s needs.
Having realistic expectations before getting married and within marriage helps you to avoid frustration and disappointment. Your spouse isn’t always going to be in the mood or have the energy for sex. There will be times when sex is interrupted or prevented because one of the kids is up or because your spouse has a deadline at work.
One partner might be satisfied way earlier than their partner, and that too can lead to frustration. Your spouse may want to experiment in bed while you don’t, or vice versa and that too can complicate things. Great sex for both spouses requires great communication along with a willingness to serve your spouse and meet them where they are. When a couple pulls together and has great sex, there’s nothing like it.
Whether it’s over money, or the kids, or the in-laws, or toilet seats being left up and socks left on the floor, arguments in marriage happen. When you have two people who don’t think and act the same way, you’re bound to get to a place where things go wrong.
Having said that, forgiveness and grace are necessary parts of a marriage relationship. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32) is a Scripture that will serve a couple well.
Speaking graciously to one another lubricates interactions between spouses, and that means you must mind the gap between what your spouse does or says and what you take them to be saying or doing, filling that gap with good intentions. Often, you may take offense when none was intended.
Conclusion: Joy Happens
When all is said and done, it makes sense to ask the question, “If marriage is hard work and complicated and not as straightforward as I imagined, why get into it at all?”
There are many things in this life that we could describe in this way – college, friendships, a career, learning a new language, instrument, or sport. To become great at it, you must work hard to get the most out of it.
Marriage is not something that exists outside the natural course of things – it works just like everything else, and what you put in is what you get out. each person will have to weigh the decision to get married for themselves, but it’s better to get into it armed with knowledge than with assumptions and guesswork. As a serious life decision, getting married deserves the due diligence it should receive before someone walks into it.
The above may have seemed to confirm in the hearts of those who would rather avoid marriage that it probably is best left alone. The main aim wasn’t to scare anyone off, but perhaps to help those with unrealistic expectations of marriage see that great marriages are possible, but they require hard and at times mundane work. In saying “joy happens,” this is an encouragement to those who may feel intimidated to take a step toward marriage.
The joy that stems from a healthy marriage is earthy, rich, full, warm, life-giving and a gift to be enjoyed. As beings made in God’s image and hardwired for relationships, married is one such relationship for which we are built and through which we can receive joy unspeakable.
“Barrier”, Courtesy of Eric Ward, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Brooke Cagle, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Kissing Couple”, Courtesy of Atharva Dharmadhikari, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Just Married”, Courtesy of One Zone Studio, Unsplash.com, CC0 License