I sometimes wonder why it is in the midst of hard times that people break up. I always think that that is when people should hold on more tightly to one another.
Have you ever noticed this?
I can think of a few prominent cases within the news – and also a few cases that are sadly, “closer to home”. Why might this be?
Once again, I apologise to people who are actually married, if my unmarried opinions come across as being highly presumptuous. I am so aware that all of this is theory until I get married myself and have the chance to test out these opinions for myself.
What I think is that these hard times: times of difficulty, such as financial hardship, bereavement, serious illness or even sometimes sudden unexpected wealth – these times are what marriage is actually all about, because they are what life is all about. I think that the reason that so many marriages flounder when experiencing issues such as these is because they are not deliberately built to withstand these times.
This is what I mean. Every life and every marriage will experience storms of varying severity. For maximum marital success, I think that couples need to deliberately build their relationships with an expectation that these difficulties will occur, and with a determination to overcome these obstacles. How do you do this? Communication!
This is one of the things I have against dating (that is, going out on a succession of fun-filled or romantic dates) as a way of choosing a life partner. It does not necessarily prepare you for the serious interaction that marriage requires, or the heavy, difficult conversations. I think that it is a flimsy way of deciding your future, and results in flimsy relationships. I think that “dating as a way of choosing a spouse” encourages or deceives couples to always think of relationships as being light and fun or easy. So then, when they go ahead and get married, and start encountering the realities of life – even the day to day issues of living with another person, and synchronising bank accounts – suddenly the fun evaporates, and it all suddenly starts seeming like a lot of hard work. Which is exactly what it is. So then ordinary everyday marriage might be challenging enough. And yet, extra difficult times might come, where in addition to dealing with the actual difficulties, you might also have to encounter – and deal with some of your spouse’s insecurities, or inadequacies – which might previously have been hidden. How easy might it be to turn around in those times and realise that “you don’t love them anymore”? Perhaps the issue is that you are only just discovering some character traits which were always there, or perhaps the issue is that the current situation exerts so much pressure that it would make your spouse behave in an uncharacteristic, but unattractive way. Or perhaps it is the stress of the current situation that “tips you over the edge” regarding certain characteristics of your spouse, to the point where you finally decide that you are fed-up, where you may have managed to tolerate those same characteristics in easier times.
Worst of all, perhaps your spouse is not actually doing anything wrong whatsoever. Perhaps they are simply exemplary in handling whatever issue it is that you might be facing together. However, in your mind you might think that marriages should be synonymous with laughter, fun and excitement all the time – and because your marriage is not providing that, you feel as if it must be your choice of spouse that is inadequate – and you decide to end the marriage. That is, for instance, you might look longingly at Mr Utterly Superficial who seems to shower his wife with gifts or romantic gestures, and you might wonder how much more exciting life might be if you were married to someone like him. (However, you might be surprised if you heard how he treated his wife in private, or he might secretly be unimaginably boring).
How to combat this?
I believe that this is best combatted from before you actually enter into the relationship. I think that firstly before you go ahead into any marriage or relationship, you have to embrace the understanding that life is difficult. Many people, myself top of the list, dream of lovey-dovey relationships overflowing with tenderness and romance (and so many hugs!), where communication is never difficult. However, let us first understand that life itself is difficult. Then let us understand that simply living with another person and trying to creatively work around differences greatly compounds that difficulty. This understanding is necessary even for everyday issues in marriage. Then let us appreciate that in addition to this, extra difficult times WILL come. So I believe that all this understanding is crucial before even looking to a relationship.
Once that understanding is firmly in place, then I believe we can use that to actually go ahead to choose our spouses.
Firstly, let us look for spouses who will be able to withstand difficulties AND who will be co-operative enough to want to work with us through difficult times. I have heard of some men who refuse to listen to their wives in anything because they feel debased at having to consider opinions from women. I cannot imagine how frustrated I would be if I ended up married to someone like that. To make my own life easier, I would prefer to assess the character of the man before I go near him to make sure that he is not like that, but that he is instead excellent, considerate, co-operative, a genuine listener. I would also be looking for someone who appreciates as I do that marriages are deeply challenging, someone who will not discard our marriage just because it no longer seems “fun”. So I would want to make sure that I choose an excellent guy.
Then I would want to work on deliberately building a relationship that will triumph over obstacles. It will of course be impossible to predict just which difficulties any marriage might face. However, I believe that what to do is to deliberately work on your communication. I think it is worthwhile to have a period of a few months in your courtship where you completely refrain from anything romantic, (hugging, holding hands -as it happens I don’t believe in pre-marital kissing) and you concentrate on building friendship, and on learning how to have those difficult conversations; learning how to graciously disagree with one another, perhaps deliberately addressing tricky subjects, trying to cultivate openness and honesty in your interaction with one another. I would put this before your marriage just in case anything comes up which might make you want to rethink your choice of one another. As a Christian, I believe it is also important to build prayer into the foundation of your marriage, so I would also make lots of time to pray with your would-be spouse about different issues.
I think romantic, fun-filled dating does have a very definite place. However I would put it after marriage, when you are already sure that you have made an excellent choice, and you have already learned how to talk and how to be one another’s best friend.
12 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…
Photo of wilted rose by Maura on Pixabay