Marriage is great, BUT…
They continue about how complicated everything is, how it’s never easy, how they want to kill each other half the time, or whatever it is that isn’t honeymoon bliss. You can find this kind of comment all over the place. It is usually made by somebody who really does believe in marriage. In fact, it is often made in defense of marriage— a sort of, see I’m realistic, so I understand why you’re hesitant about marriage, but I think it was still worth it.
Before I got married these kinds of comments used to really bother me. I didn’t want to be naive in thinking marriage would be perfect but I also felt like there was a sad sort of disillusionment there. I understood that every couple had problems but what I didn’t understand was why all these really devoted good-match couples were acting like they were constantly on the verge of divorce. It seemed marriage was sort of 50/50 for most of them— just good enough to not have been a huge mistake— and honestly, I wasn’t sure how worth it that statistic really sounded.
Now that I am married, these comments still bother me. But I think now I can really understand why.
I think it’s because they are a misrepresentation of the truth.
I think that when happily married people give the caveat about marriage being “so difficult” what they really mean to say is that life is difficult. What marriage (or family life in general) does is limit your options of where to turn in the midst of that difficulty.
A single, uncommitted person often has the freedom to turn to all sorts of things in the midst of difficulty. In many circumstances, he or she can travel, search for a new job, find a new community, make new friends— he or she can, to a degree, find ways of escaping the difficulty. (I’m not saying that there is necessarily anything wrong with that— we aren’t meant to deal with absolutely everything right away— but a single person is more able to postpone that dealing-with.)
A married person, on the other hand, has far fewer means of escape if he wants to keep his marriage strong. Marriage demands dealing with things. It demands facing problems. It demands facing pasts, bad habits, and even health issues. Because you must be totally present and available and open to another person when you are married it means you must deal with the reality of yourself and your life with its problems— and then, of course, with the reality of the other person and their life with its problems. And so, marriage, itself, doesn’t cause problems; it only makes us see them and their urgency more clearly.
And why is this subtle distinction important? Precisely because there are so many broken marriages. And when somebody sees or feels the effects of a broken marriage it often turns them off from the whole thing. We have a generation– many generations– extremely turned off by marriage. And often, rightly so. There aren’t many good ones to look to.
And so, those good ones need to shine. It is tempting to commiserate with everyone else, appear humble and in the loop, and make sure the world knows you suffer too. This business of calling marriage so difficult and pointing out the inconveniences makes us feel like we are being real and relatable. And after all, we haven’t had it easy. Life has not been easy.
But life is rarely easy. Whether you are single or married, life is rarely easy. We can already all relate on that. Being married, being happily married, simply changes the way you endure the difficulties. On the one hand, it demands a high level of confrontation and perseverance through hardship, but on the other hand it can give the very companionship and comfort and understanding that such confrontation and perseverance demands. Marriage highlights challenges, but if we are open, it can offer us the strength needed to face those challenges. People in good marriages need to emphasize this. If you are in a happy marriage, a marriage in which you work together to create something beautiful out of the struggle of life— don’t feel the need to emphasize the struggle. We need to hear about the beauty.
[…] seem to assume that marriage causes suffering. But that is too simplistic. Marriage does not cause suffering; life causes suffering. What makes married people unique is that, by vowing to be one in all things, they inevitably vow […]