I read Matt Walsh's blog post about marriage readiness recently. He speaks as a young man to other young people, 20- and 30-somethings who long to marry. With 2 1/2 years of married bliss under his belt, he ventures into that quicksand world of marriage advice.
I wish there were secrets we could tell you, we who are happily married. We're in our late-40s, early-50s. We've been married about 25 years. We're in the middle -- looking back with wonder at our kids in their early 20s who're stepping gingerly into the marriage waters themselves. Looking ahead with wonder at our aging parents, mysteriously married over 50 years and seemingly content. And looking with cautious wonder at ourselves. How did we do it? Why did we succeed (thus far) while others failed?
Let me share some photos with you of my friends.
I love this photo. She and I were in the same college class. To me, their faces here say contentment. See the proximity of their heads, the way she is nestled into his neck and chest? That's a restful pose; it shows how happy couples are bound together, body and soul. A thousand little strands of connection are formed over years, and it does take years for hearts to be knitted together in this way. It's not present on the wedding day, or even a year later.
I know all these couples (and Adam and I) have endured hard times, heart-ache, arguments, hurts, sorrows. These are part of the marriage, part of your story together. They aren't marriage-killers unless the marriage is already sick.
There is no single key to finding yourself happily married 25 years from now; there are many possible keys. Twenty-five years from you, you should still have fun together. You should be content with each other -- that deep, satisfying contentment that seems to make all of life okay. You should be joyful in each other's company. You should still be doing things together. You should be dating, perhaps more now than before you married. You should talk, be vulnerable, trusting, able to peel off a bit more of your most private self, year by year.
I asked my family members to tell me a single key to being happily married after 25 years. Here's what they said:
Julia (who is 14): Communication. If you can talk about things, you can solve them. You can't do marriage well without communication. Adam noted that sometimes saying everything you want to say only makes things worse. So we might qualify her answer as "constructive, kind communication."
Peter (who is 20): Still liking each other even when you're fighting. Perhaps he's watched us for 25 years? Later he gave this example -- when you both need the car, you compromise and take turns, instead of one insisting on his/her own way.
Adam: Having your faults overlooked. This is from a man who's been in the trenches :) I agree -- if a newly married couple can regularly overlook faults, even overlook offenses, the marriage has a much better chance of lasting; you truly cherish each other for this greatest of kindnesses.
MK: Each spouse learning to serve the other. Adam has taught me this through his example. It doesn't work well if only one party serves, and the other party is always taking. When you find yourself married to a person who gently, lovingly overlooks your faults (the ones you shudder to see!), and who serves you because he/she loves you, marriage is a delight.
Notice there's no mention here of love. It's a given that people will feel love, at least at first. Early love can always fade and disappear. Notice there's no mention of sex, of passion or attraction. It's understood that those will be present in the early stages. But some couples start with love and passion and still fail utterly, miserably.
Young friends, as Matt Walsh says, don't wait! -- don't wait until you think you'll be ready. You'll never be ready. Marriage isn't about readiness. I have several friends who waited until their 30s to marry, and the marriages failed epically. Waiting does nothing. Don't wait for money or for careers or degrees or because of debt. Marriage with the added confusion of debt, careers, moving, degrees, kids, more kids, disaster, disease, illness, and other horrors ... that's just how marriage is.
The only real key that I know of is to find a person to whom you are just as committed as he/she is to you. This equality of commitment is essential. Without it, I think marriage will certainly fail.
Adam told me recently that men are designed to attach themselves to someone. They are emotionally suited to leave their parents, and cling to a wife. When I see so many young men well past marrying age who do not attach themselves to a woman, I ask myself: what's damaged about their design? Can they not separate from their parents/siblings/friends? Can they not find a woman safe enough to cling to? Do they simply not know how to cling to a wife?
Girls, are you clingable? Men are truly much more emotionally needy, emotionally vulnerable, emotionally attached, than women are. This I know, and it's usually a shocker for young women to hear it. Girls, you must be the kind of person to whom a grown man can make himself vulnerable, needy, and attached, without feeling he's in danger of emotional shipwreck. I believe there are hosts of lonely men out there, longing for attachment ... and hosts of women out there too who have no clue what their role is in this situation.
For Christians, marriage should be a spiritual and eternal blessing. Christians should be servants to others. When they marry, loving servanthood and self-sacrifice are already life goals, yes? (Unfortunately, this is seldom true.) Forgiveness is necessary for faults and offenses to be overlooked. Christians should be expert forgivers because they are deeply aware of God's forgiveness. (Many, however, cannot transfer this concept to their marriages.) Christians should see all their relationships as eternal, handling them as heavenly gold. I see Adam as a friend for eternity, not for just 50 years. I want every nurturing moment of our marriage to enhance this best of relationships that I'll enjoy forever! What a commitment that is! Don't let this scare you from marriage -- let it prompt you to begin as soon as you can.
No two people are alike. Before I could marry, I had to find a man I absolutely could not live without. I knew if I didn't marry Adam, I would never marry anyone else, and I'd spend my life stalking him around the globe, always needing to know where he was. It was that bad. I have a friend who married her husband right out of college although she didn't feel she loved him, really. He told her he knew she was the right girl for him, and she should marry him. She trusted him, and liked him, and she married him. She told me that 3 months later she woke one morning and realized she was utterly, totally in love with him (and has been ever since). That sounds terrifying to me, but for her ... it worked just fine. They are blissfully, very successfully married in ministry, with 13 children and a handful of grandchildren, and a very rich life. Nobody can be "ready" for that. That's like saying "I'll start life when I'm ready." You don't wait to live, you just do it.