I recently came across a Facebook post about marriage. You know, one of those facebook posts giving all sorts of helpful encouraging tips for the attitude to use to approach your marriage. I really liked the post. However, there was one tip that it gave regarding your marriage that I’d like to discuss here, that you should not take marital advice from single people, as “the advice they give can only be theoretical.”
If anyone has been reading this blog for a very long time, then they will know that this idea is one of the things that makes me most hesitant about writing this blog: the fact that I am single. For a long time I have asked myself how a single woman who has never been married can sit around advising other people on how to conduct their marriages. To be candid, I have always thought that this blog shares powerful ideas. But, just as it says in that Facebook post, I have always been worried that it could all just be an expression of “theory”. Until now. You know what? It was actually on reading the idea expressed in black and white in that post that I finally decided for myself to stop allowing my singleness to get in the way of the ideas I like to share on this blog. So yes, here it is, I am completely single. And yet I believe that even in that God has blessed me with understanding and anointing for thinking about relationships. I sincerely believe that because it is from God, what I share is indeed valuable even for people who are married, but especially for people who are not married.
In this post I hope to share the reasons why I believe this.
Firstly, I should clarify that even with my new-found confidence, I still know that much of what I share will still be theory. I do not by any means know everything. I do know that even with thinking about these ideas so deeply for so many years now, even with reading as much as I do, and listening as hard as I can, there will still be big, big surprises in store for me in marriage – even shocks. I am so sure that some things will make me so amazed that I just will not know the first thing about how to go about addressing them or dealing with them.
I hope that I will never lose sight of that.
Something else I am sure of is that, even with my biggest efforts, before marriage I will not be able to fully appreciate or predict the dynamics of living with someone else for a long length of time. I will not be fully able to predict how I myself will behave. What I mean is this: sometimes I think to myself: “If x happens, then I will do y!” Of, “If he does this, then I will do that!” But it might be easy to say that when you are removed from the day by day issues and minutiae of marriage, and that way that everyday life can wear you down. For instance it is perhaps easy for me to overestimate the enthusiasm I will feel for my husband and marriage, and the effort I will be prepared to invest into our relationship. Perhaps when it comes to working out issues on a day-by-day basis I will quickly realise (like everyone else?) that I really can’t be that bothered.
So I try to keep hold of this understanding even as I write these posts, as I try to look ahead into marriage. Thinking of it from this perspective, then yes, clearly marital advice from someone who has never been married is clearly limited.
And yet these following are the ways in which I hope I can make a valid and powerful contribution:
I may never have been married before but clearly I have interacted with people before! Surely it is not too presumptuous of me to apply the general knowledge or wisdom I have gained while relating to other people, to see how it might apply to marriage? People (including me!) tend to talk as if there is something mysterious about marriage that is mystically written in the air: at the end of the day it boils down to people dynamics between two people, also the dynamics of sexual attraction versus ongoing commitment between a man and a woman; also power dynamics between two people, and power dynamics between the genders.
Remember that the reason I am single is because I have been applying some principles that I have learned and I have actually been listening. That is, I have tried as hard as I can to avoid a negative foundation for a marriage and I have held out for a phenomenal spouse and a phenomenal marriage. So will someone else’s advice automatically be superior to mine just because she is married, even if she did not take lots of time to think about marriage beforehand as I have done, and she threw herself into a perhaps ill-advised marriage? Or to put it another way, who will be in a better position to give advice about marriage? I think that if such a person were to give advice, two main forms for that advice spring to my mind: firstly they can tell you: “Don’t do what I have done!”. That is, they can identify what big mistake they made that led to a less than amazing marriage and advise you not to do the same thing. Secondly they can advise you on the tips they use to manage their mistake. That is, having made their big mistake, this is how they conduct themselves to be able to get along on a day to day basis and still retain a shred of their sanity.
This is what most marital advice sounds like: “How to manage the terrible mistake you made.” It is almost as if people take it for granted that you will have made a marital mistake, and then they can only advise you on how to manage it as smoothly as possible. I have to admit that I really don’t have much advice for people in this situation. My mind just does not think deeply about navigating these issues, because I hope that I will never have to find myself in a situation where I have to be faced with these issues myself. My utter preoccupation is to avoid making a big marital mistake in the first place. To that end, I don’t have to tell people “Avoid my mistake!” Rather I can say “Do what I’m doing! Copy my approach!”
Once again, in this I do not by any means know everything. I am constantly learning and growing and applying everything that I know to build my understanding and my outlook.
Also, even if someone was happily married, she can only really advise you about her own husband. If the character personality of your own spouse or fiance completely differs to that of her husband, then that advice can be largely useless! It always amazes me that people take information about the one situation that they know of, and extrapolate from that to generalise about the whole population of men and women in the world. “Men are like this! Men love this! Men love that!”
This is one example: Have you ever encountered something like this? A man and a woman will have met, fallen in love at first sight, proceeded to get married within a matter of weeks, and then gone ahead to have a beautiful and successful life together. And then they will start saying that they believe in love at first sight and they will even start encouraging other people to “take a chance” on love at first sight.
If this “love at first sight” thing is what your life has looked like, and you have had a joyous and successful marriage, then I am very happy for you. However you were a huge anomaly and just because you were blessed in that way does not mean that everyone who copies such behaviour will be similarly successful. Getting married to someone within a few weeks of meeting them is generally such a dangerous idea. Statistically sometimes it will work out and some couples will be successful. However for the overwhelming majority of couples who get married this way it will be an absolute disaster.
To me, if individuals tend to give advice just from their particular situation and what has or has not worked for them then for the person taking the advice the safest thing would be to listen to as many people’s stories as possible before making your own decision. In that way, for each person who encourages you to take a risk based on their successful whirlwind romance, you can hear from the twenty others who cry to you with regret about their own failed whirlwinds, and you can very quickly come to see that this would generally be a very unwise thing to do.
Building on from this, I also think that the person who is best poised to give advice on marriage will be the person who can look beyond their own particular marriage, who can appreciate that their own situation will most likely not be representative, and who has listened to as many stories or accounts from other people as possible. What I am about to say next might sound outrageous. However, I think that when I am passing on wisdom from so many other people’s life stories, the fact that I myself am unmarried is almost irrelevant – almost! One big advantage that I would have over my current state if I was actually married is that I could then tell you what goes on to happen each time I apply one of these ideas I’ve learned from condensing other people’s stories, and I could give you the results in real time of applying these lessons to my own marriage – changes that happen within a week, a month, a year.
Additionally, married or not, there are some things I can advise with absolute certainty, because they are necessary in every aspect of life. When I advise someone to know herself, who she really is, who she really wants to be; that is not even specific to marriage. Even though I have never been married, I can appreciate that marriage will be the one interaction in life where this will be the most important, because you are making a lifelong commitment to tie yourself to someone else, and whoever they will turn out to be. I myself do not need to be in a marriage to understand just how much of a challenge it will be to remain committed to someone else for a lifetime, even if you both remained exactly the same. How much more then would it be a challenge where both of you are constantly changing and growing? If someone can manage to get away with pretending to be something that they are not in other shorter-lived relationships, or if someone can somehow manage to coast by in other relationships without knowing for themselves who they are and who they want to be, this will simply not work in marriage because you are carrying someone else along with you, who is dependent on who you are for the deepest fulfilment of their own joy and happiness. So I don’t need to be married myself to state very firmly that this is the one relationship in life where you most need to know yourself, because this is the one relationship in life where you are will be most thoroughly and consistently tested. I really don’t need to be married myself to tell you that for crying out loud, you should please work out who you are before you commit yourself to someone else, so that you can work out whether who you are, and who you want to be, will genuinely be a good and appropriate match for this person and who they want to be.
I do not need to be married to advise people to take real time to get to know one another before getting romantically close to one another. This is something I have learned from my own experiences in life, that you should really be sure of who people are before committing yourself to trying to build things with them. This is applicable across any type of partnership in life, and so I know that it can only also be relevant for marriage too – doubly so. In fact, following on from my point in the previous paragraph, then taking this long time to get to know someone will help you to know whether or not they truly are who they claim to be; it will even help you to know if they themselves are completely confused as to who they are or who they want to be. I do not need to be married to tell you that you should avoid close partnership with confused people like these if you would need their input to build anything worthwhile in life. Within their own minds they don’t know whether they are coming or going; the confusion in their hearts will leak out to cause confusion in anything that you are trying to build together (a home, children, a future, a business – everything!)