What’s the point of marriage?
No really, this is a serious question. What’s the point?
If you don’t have a goal, objective, or specific outcome in mind, how can you know whether or not you’re being successful as a husband, wife, or as a couple?
Choosing the wrong purpose or “point” to your marriage can leave you frustrated, heartbroken, alone, and reeling in confusion and anger.
Speaking of anger (this will all tie together, so stay with me here) I saw a post on social media the other day that ticked me off so much that it inspired this entire 1,800 word article.
Here’s the image I saw:
This little #instaquote got me all sorts of salty, and here's why...
It's not always rainbows and unicorn kisses
Relationships are logistically, physically and emotionally complicated. The person you're with will absolutely hurt you (most likely only by accident). And your relationship will most definitely NOT make you happy all the time.
This idea that happiness is the purpose of a relationship gets passed around between friends and on the social medias like crazy... and it really rustles my Jimmies.
"Hey girl, if you're not happy, you should totally leave!"
"Yeah dude, you deserve to be happy. Time to move on."
Don’t get me wrong, I think happiness is wonderful… it’s just such a fluid emotion. It comes and goes just like the in-laws during the holidays, or 80’s fashion, or stomach cramps.
Because happiness is so flighty, sustained happiness is arguably the WORST purpose you could choose for your relationship. You will absolutely, 100% fail at achieving it, and you will always wonder why your relationships keep falling to pieces.
If your commitment to your relationship wavers based on how your stomach reacts to the Chipotle you ate for lunch today, what’s happening in the White House this week, or who dies on Game of Thrones, you're not really setting yourself up for success.
Happiness is not a strong, stable foundation upon which to build lasting, committed love.
So, if we don't get married to be happy, why do we get married?
The actual "point of marriage
Lucky for you, I have an answer, and it can be found in Dr. David Schnarch's book Passionate Marriage.
In this book, Dr. Schnarch calls marriage a “Human Growth Machine.”
What he means by marriage being a Human Growth Machine is that people who are married are given a constant and never-ending supply of things they need to work on and improve in order to find satisfaction in their relationship.
I LOVE the idea of the point of marriage be growth. That is something I can get behind!
It feels good to get better at stuff.
I mean, have you ever talked to a couple on their wedding day? They're so excited and ambitious.
I've never heard a newlywed couple say, "I just really want to have a mediocre marriage."
Nobody wants to hear their wife say, "Yeah, my husband is pretty average, I guess..."
We want our partners to rave about us! We want them to feel like the luckiest people in the world because they get to spend their life with us!
If that's going to happen, we need to be constantly strengthening our weaknesses, and pushing ourselves to grow and improve.
Here's an example:
I used to get anxious when my wife was feeling sad or stressed. And I used to snap at her if I felt attacked or threatened.
For years I've been working on getting better at not doing those things. I’ve been practicing self-soothing, taking deep breaths, and thinking before I speak. I've been training myself to give my wife the benefit of the doubt when I get hurt.
I’m not perfect, but I’m getting better. These days I get way less stressed when she is having a bad day. I snap at her less. My wife even smiles at me when she sees me taking deep breaths, or using the plans we’ve made to help me do better.
She’s commented that I’m improving, and because of that, we are improving as a couple.
Growth feels good!
But it’s not easy...
Growth is hard and often painful.
It stretches your comfort zone. It pushes you to your limits. It expands your capacity as a human being.
This painful stretching and expanding means sometimes your partner and your marriage will NOT make you happy.
Marriage won’t make you happy because it’s too busy challenging your limitations and exposing your weaknesses, and flaws.
Marriage makes you painfully aware of how impatient you are, of your struggles to say "no" to things that aren’t important, and of how challenging it is to navigate your differences when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed… or hangry.
Marriage forces you to deal with sickness, tragedy, financial stresses, faith changes, job loss, weight gain, raising kids, losing parents and… you have to do it all while holding the hand of another emotional human being as you're barreling along the roller coaster of life.
You can’t tackle all of this stuff and come out on the other side the same people you are now and still be in love with each other. You MUST push yourselves to grow into the couple who’s capable of enduring these kinds hardships and stresses with grace and kindness.
73 Years of Marriage = Lots of Growth
A while back I had a chance to interview Reed and Allene (listen to their interview).
When I talked to them they’d been married for over 70 years!
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During that 70 years, Allene watched her husband, Reed, kiss another woman. (It was for a stage performance of South Pacific.)
Later in life, she took on a leadership role in the women's organization at her church leaving Reed often feeling stressed as he spent many of days working and nights watching the kids as she fulfilled her leadership duties.
Then they owned a jewelry store that got robbed and sent them into bankruptcy. To pay off their debts and put food on the table, they sold silverware door-to-door.
They said (and I paraphrase), “We’ve had a few rough years. But even if 5 or 6 years of our marriage were tough, those years are small drops in the bucket compared to all the years we’ve been married. If you do the math, over 90% of our marriage has been pretty great! That sounds like success to us!”
Now let’s bring this full-circle.
Just like with Reed and Allene, there will be a time in your relationship when you’re not happy. Maybe that time is right now. Maybe it will be later.
When the hard times come, that little voice may enter into your head, “Things are hard. I’m not happy. Maybe it’s time to give up. We shouldn’t be having these struggles. Maybe I chose the wrong person. Maybe this isn’t meant to be...”
This is a perfect sign you’ve bumped into an opportunity to grow!
It’s a chance to embrace the challenge and figure out who you need to becometo get the results you want. Maybe you’ll have to put the person/husband/wife you have been throughout your past on the sacrificial altar and let them die while you completely reinvent who you choose to be as a husband or wife, and how you think and act from that moment forward.
You may have to risk it all
You may have to put your relationship at risk to push it to either grow... or die.
This is how gritty, raw, real growth in love occurs!
Here’s a great example of a real couple I heard about recently:
John and Mary have been married for 18 years. In recent months John has become super smothering. He is constantly worried Mary will leave him despite constant reassurances that she won’t. No matter how much reassurance, affection, or love Mary shows him, it’s never enough. It never makes his fears go away. And he’s never left feeling at peace.
Mary is starting to resent John for being so needy, demanding and insecure. Rather than loving her husband freely, she’s beginning to feel like she’s loving him out of obligation. She’s getting depleted because her supply can’t keep up with his demand… and she’s becoming resentful.
This is a tough situation… and they’re not the only ones who deal with stuff like this.
Trust me, when they got married 18 years ago, they NEVER thought they’d be dealing with this.
They simply bumped into an area that is requiring them to grow. And if you don't grow, you get stuck in a cycle...
So, let's shed a little more light on what's happening With John and Mary, and get an idea of to address it.
John feels insecure and constantly craves more affection and reassurance. He also knows he’s being demanding and needy, and that the love Mary is giving to him is likely out of duty and not out of love. This only makes his cravings for validation and reassurance even stronger.
On the flip side, Mary truly loves her husband. She wants him to be happy and to meet his needs, but she’s completely losing her own identity in the act of endlessly giving until her tank runs dry. She needs her husband to show up for her and for himself before she emotionally bleeds out.
Do you see the cycle?
Step 1 - John feels needy and vulnerable, and he demands comfort from his wife.
Step 2 - Mary accommodates John’s needs out of obligation and with growing resentment.
Step 3 - John then feels even more insecure and needs more comfort.
The only way for the cycle to break is for one of these people to refuse to participate in it! (In this case, it’s most likely going to be Mary.)
She needs to take a loving stand for herself and her relationship. She’ll need to be honest with her husband about how depleted she’s feeling. She’ll need to push him to learn to reassure and comfort himself in moments of worry or doubt rather than leaning on her for support. She’ll need to be willing to stand her ground when she feels pressure from him to go back to the easy, comfortable way they’ve been doing things.
If he can never learn to stand tall on his own, their marriage will NEVER be what either of them wants it to be.
For this to happen, Mary has to let John fall down a few times while he builds up the strength to pick himself back up. He needs to see that Mary will hang around even if he fails.
A decision to break a damaging, negative cycle like this can be terrifying. It can be uncomfortable. It might even make Mary feel cruel, and John feel angry, hopeless and abandoned.
Being confronted with the truth (that things aren’t working and they need to change if you're going to have the relationship you want), and having someone put pressure on you to expand and grow can make things feel worse before they get better.
It may even put the relationship on the line if John refuses to confront what he’s going through, and Mary refuses to identify how she’s been complicit in letting their relationship fall into this cycle.
But this is what love is! It’s not always about pleasing your partner… it’s about serving them.
Did you feel that? That was a big truth bomb I just dropped on you!
Pleasing vs. Serving
There's a difference between pleasing your partner and serving them.
Pleasing your partner means you make sure they are happy and comfortable and worry-free. It means you’re often agreeable and accommodating even when your partner is being unkind, foolish, hurtful. Pleasing your partner means shielding your partner from anything that could make them uncomfortable… like GROWTH!
Serving your partner means you have their best interest at heart. It means you stand by their side, you help them, you support them, and sometimes it means you confront them with really hard truths.
True partners SERVE the one they love, even when that service may cause growth-inducing pain.
The growth that forces you to confront your weaknesses, insecurities, and fears is exactly what leads to the periods of happiness, trust, connection, passion, and commitment only a persistent and dedicated few couples ever get to experience.
Is that the kind of love you want?
If so, then you might want to stop worrying about whether or not you're happy and start asking yourself whether or not you're growing.
What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear them in the comments.
This post originally appeared on First 7 Years. If you want more inspiring and insightful marriage-related articles like this, click here!