A wedding couple with their faces cut off. That was the perfect image to represent this post. Those silly newlyweds that think they know exactly what they’re doing! I can’t be too hard on them though, because that was me too. My wife and I recently celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. It’s funny looking back on our wedding day and realizing how little we knew about each other and what we were getting ourselves into. Young and naive couples with mysteriously unknowable identities, this post is for you!

I’m currently reading The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller (and partly by his wife Kathy), and there’s so much good stuff in it. Instead of waiting until I finish the book, or until I think I’ve wrapped my head completely around marriage and how God designed it, I wanted to use our anniversary as a great place to start talking about marriage.

You Don’t Fully Know the Person You Marry

I’ve written about one difference between dating and marriage. As you move towards marriage, dating begins to transform as you start to live more for the other person than for yourself. Not only does dating transition from selfishness to selflessness, but it also moves from guarded to open. In the same way that we never become perfectly selfless, we also don’t become fully open.

One of the primary goals of dating is getting to know each other. What do you both like, how do you handle conflict, what are your values, and how have your past relationships shaped who you are today? This growth of the relationship, where people get to know each other, is about much more than factual tidbits. Even if you could make a list of everything there is to know about yourself, you still wouldn’t fully know each other. Much of the “knowing” is learned through your interactions together. The intricacies of their personality, how they act when they feel hurt, and how you respond to their hurt.

On top of learning about our pasts, and who we are in the present, the act of getting married changes us. The person that wakes up next to you after your wedding day is no longer the same person you married. Getting married changes who you are. Making the commitment to be with someone for the rest of your life is so monumentally epic that it is person altering. One day you can leave the relationship relatively freely, and then the next day you can’t. You don’t meet the married version of each other until you’re already married!

You Don’t Just Marry One Person

During marriage, you continue to learn about your spouse. As my wife and I celebrate our 12th anniversary, I know her better now than I did 12 years ago. I had no idea what a resolute and anchoring presence she would be in our marriage (and now our family). I had no idea that she would be so supportive of me and my goals. I’ve learned what an amazing mother she is to our children, and that she is the most selfless person in our family. There is so much I’ve learned about her that I didn’t know on that amazing day when we got married.

We all go through phases in life that change the person we are. A great example of this is having children. When we got married, I was not a father, my wife was not a mother, and we had no idea what that would be like. Obviously I saw character traits in her that I thought would make a good mother, but I couldn’t predict how having children would influence our marriage. A major life change like this, that happens post-marriage, means we marry someone who will eventually be different than they were when we married them!

Life is full of ups and downs. Career changes, the loss of a loved one, or a mid-life crisis are some major life events married couples go through. We all come out the other side different from how we went in. Who we are changes through all these events, and that can be downright scary.

Understanding Our Fear of Marriage

We’ve romanticized marriage as this beautiful thing where you fall in love, get married, put on your lovey-dovey newlywed colored glasses, and you can make it through anything….because love. One problem our culture has with marriage is that it doesn’t fully let go of the selfishness of dating. Marriage has become something you do to make yourself happy and realize your full potential. When the other person stops making you happy, or they get in the way of whatever it is you think you deserve, then why stay in that marriage?

It’s no surprise to find people wanting to “test drive” marriage. Make sure the sex is good. Live together so you can find out who they really are. People are afraid that marriage won’t live up to their expectations, or that they’ll be unable to stop the cycle of divorce that haunts their family. Committing fully to someone is a scary proposition.

The culture’s secular view of marriage is fraught with selfishness and fear, and then you’re supposed to unconditionally love someone you don’t really know? And then the person you marry won’t even be the same person later on down the road? No matter how ready you think you are, marriage still requires a leap of faith. It’s ironic that we fear committing to marriage, because it’s that very commitment that can overcome our fear and selfishness.

Making a Commitment of Future Love

Christian marriage is different from the secular view. Our marriage vows were not just between the two of us, but also between us and God. Not only are we promising to love and cherish through the good and bad, but we’re committing spiritually to God. We are no longer two individuals, but one flesh. Instead of living for ourselves, we now work together for the good of our marriage. We grow closer to each other, and through our marriage, grow closer to God.

This promise to each other provides a sense of security that allows us to be ourselves completely. On the day you make your wedding vows, you aren’t simply declaring that you love the other person at that moment. It’s much more significant than that. Your vows are a promise of future love. That can sound scary, because we don’t know what the future holds. But when looked at in the right way, it is amazingly freeing. We’re promising to love each other regardless of what the future holds. That’s only scary if your primary concern is yourself, because that unknown future might not serve your selfish interests. But if our primary concern is each other, and we know that the other person promises to love us no matter what the future holds, that is an amazing foundation to build a marriage on.

When you know the other person loves you without abandon, it empowers you to be honest about your flaws. You don’t have to hide any part of yourself, because you’re not afraid of them seeing all of you. No matter what you learn about each other, or how you change during the course of your marriage, the promise to love and serve the other is unfailing.

Before you think we’re perfect, we’re definitely not, and we fall short of this ideal view of marriage. Embarrassed by our mistakes, we hide how we really feel. Enticed by our selfishness, we look out for number one. Hurt by our similarly imperfect spouse, we hold grudges. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last 12 years, it’s that marriage takes work. During those times where I get selfish, and feel like I’m not being fulfilled, I need to stop and think about the vows I made. It’s not about what I’m getting out of the marriage, or what I’m owed, but about being there for my wife unconditionally. When we’re working together, our love becomes deeper and stronger than anything I could have imagined on our wedding day.

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Nathan Charlton
A husband and father of three, he is first and foremost a Christian, but will openly admit he doesn't have everything figured out. His passions include writing, spending time with his family, and any game by Blizzard.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I went to a wedding last weekend. And although I was raised Catholic and have attended several Catholic weddings, for some reason, this time as the priest was giving marriage advice to the couple, I found myself thinking, “You try being married for several decades and then I will pay more attention to what you advise.” Not that there was anything wrong with his advice, it just seemed less valuable to me coming from someone who has not been married. I often think that if people viewed their relationship to their spouse as having the same level of commitment that they have to their children, there would not be an option of divorce. You don’t divorce your children when they are difficult and selfish and stand in the way of your freedom and personal happiness. They will always be your son or daughter. It’s a lifetime relationship and commitment. The satisfaction with every relationship will have its ups and downs. Pray through the downs. Hang around for the ups!

    • It’s funny that your bring up the kid thing. Tim Keller talks about that relationship, and how basically you pour into your children for 18 years (not that it actually stops), but how during that time, the relationship is so very one-sided. You’re not investing in your children because of what they’re giving you, and that’s actually a good model for how we should treat our spouse. We serve them because we love them, not because of what they do for us.

      And yes, a lot of that marriage insight comes with time. Or at the least, understanding it certainly gets easier once you’ve gone through it!

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