In spite of the fact that over fifty percent of marriages end up as dashed dreams, Americans are still in love with marriage. Experts estimate that ninety-five percent of today’s unmarried people still deeply desire to be married. Census figures reveal that only about five percent of people over sixty-five years old have remained “never married.” Almost everybody wants to marry, plans to, and eventually does. Unfortunately, they often do so for the wrong reasons.
Society’s underlying message —that there is something wrong with people who are not married or in serious dating relationships —pushes single people to fret and flirt and market themselves. Too often they hurl themselves at the first candidate who comes along.
Ellen Rothman suggests additional reasons why people want to get married: to have children, to get even with an old lover, to get out of the parental home, to further a career, to obtain a father or mother for their children. Others marry for money, power, security, prestige, or readily available sex. Still others marry simply so they can say they did.
Unfortunately, there are even more wrong reasons to marry. Some of these reasons are touted as inevitable benefits of marriage; in reality, they are nothing more than myths. The first myth that motivates some people to marry is this: Marriage will end my aloneness. A single person wrote this about her struggle with loneliness:
“I can’t think of anything I hate more than being alone. Everywhere I turn I see couples —couples on television, couples in cars, couples on planes, couples in restaurants. Everywhere there are reminders that I am alone. I wonder if I will ever find a person to fill that hole in my heart.”
I wonder if I will ever find a person to fill that hole in my heart. That line is a flashing warning signal. Apparently, this woman, like many others. is longing for a human being who will offer her perfect intimacy. She is crying out for someone who will understand her fully, accept her unconditionally, and end her sense of isolation. The right man, she believes, can forever end her aloneness —can fill the hole in her heart. Behind her words rumbles the myth that too many young men and women believe: that marriage is the cure-all for human loneliness.
The truth is, there are millions of desperately lonely married people. They may share a table, a sofa, and even a bed with their marriage partner, but they still feel lonely. They may even have an ideal relationship —a genuinely intimate and loving relationship —and still feel lonely deep inside.
Did they marry the wrong person? Build a shallow marriage? Or did they simply place an unrealistic demand on marriage? Perhaps they failed to understand that God created human beings to yearn for two levels of relational intimacy. The first level can be met by establishing a deep, honest, trusting relationship with a friend or marriage partner. The second level can only be met by entering into an authentic, growing relationship with God.
Most unmarried people are conscious of their first level of yearning —for a close relationship with another human being. But their second level of yearning, their longing to be intimate with God, is often buried beneath the surface of their conscious awareness; they feel it, but don’t understand it. So the two yearnings get “mixed”; they get lumped together in one giant gnawing need. The result is a doubled drive —an obsession, sometimes —to find the person who can satisfy all the intimacy needs. Clearly, that is a setup for heartbreak.
Some of these singles never find partners and live with constant loneliness and frustration. Others do marry, but they may be even worse off. Six months into marriage they discover that some of their intimacy needs are still unmet. Then what? They pressure their spouses to meet not only the level one needs they feel consciously, but also the level two needs they feel subconsciously. If they are not careful, they destroy the relationship by putting too much pressure on it —by expecting human beings to meet intimacy needs that only God can meet.
How can marriages not fail when we expect them to do something beyond the realm of possibility? A good marriage to the right person, entered into under God’s direction and nurtured carefully, can go a long way toward meeting the human need for intimacy; the Bible calls that oneness. But within every human heart there remains a hole that only God can fill.
Unfortunately record numbers of young people are growing up in unloving, unhappy homes. More and more families are being shattered by divorce, devastated by alcoholism, and ravaged by emotional and physical abuse. Young people growing up in such situations often carry wounds that no one sees, wounds that leave them hurt and needy, wounds that drive them to search for someone who can heal them, patch up their broken places, or at least make their pain subside for awhile.
Consciously, these wounded people look for spouses. Unconsciously, they look for healers. They believe a second myth: Marriage will heal my brokenness. In an age of unprecedented brokenness, this is a dangerous myth.
A young person who was neglected, devalued, or mistreated during his growing-up years often feels like he is drowning emotionally. Feelings swirl around inside of him so fast he fears he will get sucked under and never be able to come up. Just then a five-foot four-inch blond-haired life preserver floats by. The young man does what any drowning person would do: He grabs on for dear life. Maybe she can help me. Maybe she can save me from drowning. The five-foot four-inch blond interprets this young man’s tight embrace as true love. True love! The storybook kind. The kind that will last a lifetime. The kind she has been searching for.
A man or woman who latches onto a life preserver, dates ferociously for a few months, then gets married, is opening the door for disaster. One day the life-preserving spouse is going to get out of bed and say, “Please, can you give me just a little slack? Can you give me a little space? You’ve been clutching me so tightly I’m losing my breath.” And that pain-filled, drowning spouse is going to interpret that request for space as another round of rejection, or neglect, or abuse —and the threat will be too much to bear. The marriage will go up for grabs.
Though I do few weddings now, earlier in my ministry I did all the weddings at our church. Sometimes there were three or four weddings per weekend. I would stand with my Bible open, explaining God’s guidelines for marriage.
The radiant young woman and the excited young man would stand within fourteen inches of me, meeting my gaze with a beam of shared love and passion and electricity. Incredible! Then they would repeat their vows of lifelong devotion and float out of the chapel. Six months later they would crash like a plane out of the sky. Devastated. Crushed. Another dashed dream.
Why did that happen? Because they thought they could heal one another’s brokenness. Maybe they were both wounded, maybe just one was. But whole, healthy marriages cannot be built on foundations of brokenness. Spouses cannot be expected to be life preservers.
Not a Victimless Crime
People who think marriage will heal their brokenness end up either becoming victims, or victimizing their spouses. But it does not have to be this way. If you are single, please use this two-pronged approach to avoid getting involved in a destructive marriage.
First: Be ruthlessly honest about your own brokenness. Do you feel like you are drowning inside? Are you looking for a life preserver? Are you carrying hurts and disappointments that you secretly hope a spouse can heal? Do you have unfinished business with parents or others that you need to resolve before you can build a healthy relationship? Is your self-esteem so poor because of past mistreatment, that you would be vulnerable to an abusive or destructive marriage?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, please put the issue of dating and marriage on the back burner. Face first things first. Deal with your brokenness. Make your own healing a priority. Get introspective, analyze the past, seek counsel. The only thing worse than being a single broken person is being a married broken person.
Second: If you want to avoid serious trouble, you must observe potential mates very carefully. Look below the surface. What kind of expectations do potential mates have? What excess baggage are they carrying? What unfinished business do they need to resolve with their parents? What is their agenda? Are they looking for a healthy, mutual relationship? Or for a life preserver? A miracle worker? A healer?
The key to answering these questions accurately is obvious. Time. [We hope you don’t] have a problem with long courtships, [because the real problem lies] with people jumping into marriage prematurely. It is not just a matter of principle. It is simply that we have seen too much pain.
Probably the most widely believed of all the marriage myths is this one: Marriage will ensure my happiness. It is almost accepted as fact that a quick walk down the center aisle will usher one into the halls of happiness. The real truth is, it might, and it might not.
The mistaken assumption is that a wedding will automatically change a person. But that seldom happens. In most cases, an unhappy single person will be an unhappy married person. A bitter, angry single person will be a bitter, angry married person. An impatient single person will be an impatient married person. Marriage does not produce life or character transformations. Such changes are produced by the inner work of the Holy Spirit, which is not dependent on one’s marital status.
This myth seems ridiculous indeed when you consider the math of marriage: One sinner plus another sinner equals two sinners. Double trouble under one roof. Add a couple “sinnerlings” and we’re talking quadruple trouble under that same single roof.
In the covenant of marriage God asks two self-willed sinners to come together and become one flesh —not in body only, but in spirit, in attitude, in communication, in love. It is a lifetime challenge —perhaps the single greatest challenge there is.
And there are so many little issues that can complicate the challenge. Even mature, well-adjusted, Spirit-filled believers have to work through countless areas of disparity. There is financial disparity: He wants golf clubs; she wants a dishwasher. There is recreational disparity: She wants to travel; he wants to plant a garden. There is sexual disparity: He is romantically inclined tonight; she was last night. There is social disparity: She favors her friends; he favors his. Every time you turn around there is a new area of potential disagreement.
Don’t misunderstand us. Marriage can be wonderful. It can be deeply satisfying and mutually fulfilling. But, if it becomes that, it is because both partners have paid a very high price over many years to make it that way.
They will have died to selfishness a thousand times. They will have had countless difficult conversations. They will have endured sleepless nights and strained days. They will have prayed hundreds of prayers for wisdom and patience and courage and understanding. They will have said “I’m sorry” too many times to remember. They will have been stretched to the breaking point often enough to have learned that, unless Christ is at the center of both their lives, the odds for achieving marital satisfaction are very, very low.
Marriage a ticket to happiness? Not on your life. [It’s a] naive and destructive notion [to think] that marriage is easy and that it guarantees happiness. Most unmarried people have no idea what it takes to make a marriage work; they grossly underestimate the price people have to pay to build long-term, mutually satisfying relationships. And they fail to understand that the only people with the strength to pay that price are those who have plumbed the depths of their relationship with God, have dealt with their own brokenness, and have reached a place of happiness within the context of their singleness…
A Reality Check
We have a high view of marriage. We believe our marriage was God ordained, and that over the years it has been God sustained. It has been both a tool that God has used to challenge and shape us and a gift that He has given to encourage and refresh us. Every year we sense the increasing value of our growing relationship.
But we also have a realistic view. We don’t believe it is the answer for everyone. And while it has added a profoundly meaningful dimension to our lives, it did not satisfy our deepest human needs. It did not cure our inner loneliness. It did not heal our brokenness. It did not ensure our happiness.
It will not do that for you either. It does not promise to.
The above edited article comes from the great book, Fit to be Tied -written by Bill and Lynne Hybels, published by Zondervan. This is one of our favorite books for those contemplating marriage. In it, Bill and Lynne Hybels draw on their own personal experience and a guiding faith to offer practical advice on how to enjoy a lifetime of togetherness. They say they have several purposes for writing this book. First, they want to help single people choose their marriage partners wisely. They also want to help them find partners with whom they share absolutely crucial compatibilities. Second, they want to help married people stay married.
Filed under: Preparing for Marriage