This is the second part to this post. The first is available here
When we are dreaming happily about marriage in general or about our expectations for our actual forthcoming marriages after we get engaged, I believe that perhaps without our realising it, many of our dreams will quietly depend on phenomenal or even perfect character from our spouses. That is, when we are dreaming about sharing our deepest thoughts with our spouses, we take it for granted that the person we are dreaming of will be consistently patient to listen, and kind to encourage us. Or at least that is what I take for granted! When we are dreaming of neat and orderly homes, we take it for granted that we will be able to maintain honest communication with our spouses regarding finances, or that we will share cooperative attitudes towards home decor, household chores etc.
However, while our dreams quietly assume perfect character from ourselves and our spouses, the reality is that no-one’s character is perfect. So in a way the reality of each couple’s marriage might deviate from the dream to the extent that their combined character deviates from excellence, or perfection. However, I believe that many of us could happily and joyfully live with excellence, even if it still falls far short of perfection. Many of us would still choose excellent marriage over singleness in any way. Even where you know that between you and your spouse neither of you will be perfect, and nor will your marriage, I believe that many of us would still sprint down that aisle, if we knew that excellence, rather than perfection awaited us, from our spouse and from our marriage. I certainly would!
The big questions start coming, however, when the reality of character we eventually encounter from our spouse proves to be far short of what as we had expected, or imagined. I believe that if we knew the true character of our would-be spouses (and we were honest to ourselves about our own true character) we would be able to estimate how far the reality of our married lives might be from what we might have dreamed. I believe though from listening to many people, “reading between the lines” of marriage courses etc that before marriage many people think in terms of dreams, exciting romantic expectations, and then once you actually get into the thing it turns out to be so different that you essentially have to throw out many of the dreams (perhaps managing to dust off one or two for Valentine’s Day, anniversaries etc). Or rather, you have to just switch off dream mentality and enter into reality, which from my deductions seems to be largely “forgiveness mode”, constantly forgiving your spouse for their very real failings.
It must be said that this forgiveness will be a mutual thing, so in the same way that you will be forgiving his failings he also will be forgiving yours. However, it is in this context that I think the question is relevant of whether you might have been better off to have remained single than to have entered into that particular marriage. I’m not trying to encourage anyone to leave their marriages. I think that once you’re in it, you’re in it. You can pray. While there’s God, there’s hope. However, if you are not yet in it, then please, please think carefully before you do something that you could so bitterly regret. If you did go ahead and enter into it, and you ended up regretting it, then yes, you could pray. However, there are so many other exciting things that you could be praying about, if you did not have to be praying about this subject. Prayer is time. There are so many other ways you could be spending that time, perhaps in other prayers, perhaps in other things entirely, if you did not have to be investing it into prayer to simply make your marriage tolerable. Why would you put yourself into that situation if you did not have to?
I personally find prayer exciting when I am already in a great place, and I am confidently asking God to move me into something better. There is peace of mind about the place I’m currently at, (even if I stayed there indefinitely) and there is also excitement about how God could take me higher. However, I find prayers challenging and difficult when I am in a difficult place and I am praying that God would rescue me from my predicament. There is fear and desperation about the current place I’m at, and there is also uncertainty about how long it might take for the issue to be resolved, how much further prayer (and time) I will have to invest. If you are anything like me, would you not rather choose excitement in your prayers rather than desperation? Well insisting on an excellent spouse in life is like choosing excitement in prayer, at least when praying about your spouse’s character, and accepting a spouse of poor character is like choosing desperation in your prayers, at least when praying about your spouse’s character. I’m sure that if I were to have to pray long prayers for a poor choice of spouse I would also be angry and resentful in prayer, not towards God, but rather when thinking about whatever things the bad spouse might have done, just like I am often angry when remembering in prayer things done by other Christians of poor character. I think I would much prefer peace and excitement in prayer as a single person than prayers of impatient frustration as a married woman.
It is probably true that even the most excellent of spouses will sometimes cause desperation and anger in prayer, and perhaps it may even be true that even the most challenging of spouses will sometimes inspire prayers of joy and gratitude. (This might be true for instance when you hear that they plan to travel for work and leave you in peace for a whole week!) However if this is uncharacteristic then it would most likely be insufficient to change your general attitude towards your marriage. (Obviously none of this is considering truly challenging situations of criminal or life-threatening behaviour from your spouse, to which my only advice is “Just get out of there!” Don’t invest hours into praying – just run – then when you are in a safe, secure place, then pray!)
Ultimately I think that the question of whether you’d be better off single than in any particular marriage you might consider is answered by your intended spouse’s willingness to grow. If your intended spouse is not willing to grow then frankly I think that you would be better off remaining single altogether, or looking for another spouse. It is only when there is some ongoing willingness to grow (as demonstrated before marriage) that I think a marriage will eventually be considered worthwhile at all. This though would be at the bottom end of worthwhile marriages. If you wanted a phenomenal, earthshatteringly beautiful marriage in terms of honest, loving interaction between you and your spouse then the best answer I’ve currently got is for you to look for someone who is striving for God and for growth with absolutely everything that they have got, and then for you to commit to use your own efforts to pray for them that God would keep them passionate for Him. (Before marriage however you would also still need to pray desperately to make sure that this marriage would be right for you.)
So the one way I can prescribe for a Christian to “look into the future of your marriage” is to look at the character of your spouse, and assess their sincere desperation to pursue God, Christ and Christlike behaviour. If this stands at nil, then seriously, don’t do it – no matter what else might be true – (unless of course, God Himself instructs you to marry that person). Otherwise you will cry, and you will look longingly back at your single days, and ache for the freedom of being able to do whatever you wanted to do, whenever you wanted to do it, (unless you’ve never actually had that freedom, in which case you will at least not have anything to miss.)
He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Photo of man wearing wedding shoes from Pixabay