So far I have made the point that in order to be ready for marriage we need to know the difference between romance and love. Romance is the ideal we have of what our partner should look and act like. Romance usually disappoints because we start with an impossible ideal and have to adjust to reality. Love, on the other hand, is the commitment to make our partner's welfare equal to our own, and the discipline to keep that commitment. Unlike romance, love begins with reality and builds to an ideal relationship.
Another point to remember is that people who are ready for a serious relationship have reached a maturity level that is demonstrated in several ways. For example, they have developed a measure of self-control. This is important because in building a long term relationship like marriage, self-control is indispensable. People ready for marriage are generally happy and satisfied with their lives because getting married may increase one's happiness, but it will not transform an unhappy person into a happy one. A successful marriage usually has two people who know and share each other's values. You are ready for marriage if you are emotionally stable. People who cannot control their emotions as single people rarely have happy marriages because their emotional swings often put too much pressure on their partners and their relationships.
I also said that someone is ready for a long term relationship when they have been able to establish a good adult to adult relationship with their own parents. Unresolved issues with parents are usually dragged into marriage and create problems there. One last point to note is that the willingness to learn is the single most important quality in determining if we are ready to commit to marriage or not. Are we ready to learn, to adapt, to change in order to enter into a serious and committed relationship? If we are, then we are ready.
In this chapter I want to describe some of the changes that take place after we become legally married.
The Wedding Day
When it comes to marriage there are two things that all of us have in common:
- We all want happy marriages. Nobody goes into marriage with the hope that they will be miserable. No one says, "I cannot wait for the fighting to begin." Despite the many failed marriages that we see around us, everyone goes into marriage hoping for the best.
- We all experience change after the wedding day. Even though we know and understand this, sometimes we are not ready for the changes that will occur. Usually we learn that happiness and change are related.
This being said, I would like to review some of the changes that take place once we enter a marriage relationship. If we accept and adapt to these changes, we will have taken the first steps in creating a happy marriage for life.
Things that Change
Before we actually marry there is so much effort spent on the ceremony itself that there is sometimes a let down after the big day. Once married, many say to themselves, "Now that we are married, what is supposed to happen? Should I be different? Where do I go emotionally from here?"
I tell engaged couples that the ceremony on the wedding day is not the substance of what is actually taking place when we marry, only the symbolic moment when the real changes begin. These changes are better understood if we use the word "metamorphosis" (a term that describes the kind of radical change that takes place when, for example, a caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly). At marriage, therefore, we go beyond simple changes like taking on a new name or a change of address, and actually undergo a transformation (metamorphosis) that changes who we are.
With this in mind, let us examine the metamorphosis that takes place on the day you say, "I do."
1. A New Legal Status Begins
In marriage we enter into a legal and binding contract with precise conditions to live with another as husband or wife. This contract carries special privileges for the couple (property and succession rights; family protection; income tax advantages; social recognition as legally married). This contract is also required and recognized by God (Romans 13:7). Laws of government concerning marriage are ordained by God. If we are married before the state according to its law and custom, we are also married before God. Conversely, if we forgo the legal element in our relationship (e.g. co-habitate, common-law, live together) and the state does not consider our relationship a legal marriage, then neither does God (Mark 12:17).
The first change that takes place, therefore, is legal in nature. On the wedding day we have a new legal status as married people.
2. A New Relationship Begins
'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'.
- Matthew 19:5
On our wedding day, when we exchange the vows of marriage, it is the beginning of an exclusive, permanent relationship with our partner. This is what sets marriage apart from every other relationship: exclusivity (we are not "one flesh" with anyone else), and permanence (permanence is not promised to anyone else).
Whatever relationship existed before or whatever happened before is annulled by what is happening now. If you are a single or an unmarried person and willingly enter into marriage, this new relationship takes precedence over all other human connections. On the wedding day two people forge a permanent and exclusive relationship with each other, something they will not have with anyone else until death.
3. A New Identity Begins
Jesus said, "... For this reason a man will cleave to his wife..." (Matthew 19:5). Before we marry we are known or referred to as the son of, or daughter of, or relative to such and such. On the wedding day our identity is no longer linked to our parents or exclusively to ourselves, but rather to our partner.
This is not a popular idea today in a society where self-expression, self-development and the pursuit of personal independence within the couple are promoted vigorously. We need to realize that these concepts work against what marriage was initially created to achieve: a life-experience where two individuals are brought together to form one complete identity; a life of interaction, integration and interdependence.
When I marry, therefore, I no longer consider only myself when thinking about my hopes, my dreams or my needs. The change of identity that takes place at marriage requires me to acknowledge that I now have a new identity that includes my spouse, and these things have become "our" hopes and dreams. The change in identity also means that others must now think of me in new terms as well. When you think of me now, you should be considering my wife in addition to myself because she is now part of my new and complete identity.
So many marriages suffer because the partners refuse to take on their new identities as married people, or others refuse to accept that the old person has changed. There are fewer problems with in-laws, old boyfriends/girlfriends and buddies when we identify and insist on being identified in this new way.
4. A New Role Begins
When we take our vows there is also a change in the role that we will now play in life. We are no longer simply brother, friend, daughter, but take on the role of husband or wife. The Bible explains clearly the roles that both man and woman are to fulfill in marriage. Unfortunately, these instructions have been misrepresented and misinterpreted over the centuries.
22Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;
- Ephesians 5:22-28
Many men have incorrectly used this passage to justify their unjust repression and mistreatment of their own wives and women in general. Women, in certain instances, have used it to justify the argument that Paul was a misogynist and the Bible as irrelevant for today's woman. It is important, therefore, to look carefully at what the passage actually says:
Paul instructs men to treat their wives as Christ treated the church. In reading the gospels we see that Jesus cared, served, fed, protected and encouraged the church. He even washed the Apostles' feet (when was the last time you washed your wife's feet?). He died to save the church, even after the church (made up of the Apostles at the time) abandoned Him in the garden. He is faithful until death no matter what.
The Apostle also tells wives to treat their husbands as the church responds to Christ: with love, respect, service, eager to obey and please. We know that many members of the early church suffered and died in order to remain faithful to their Lord.
Marriage, Paul says, is the attempt to create here on earth, between a man and a woman, the mystical union that exists between Christ and the church in heaven. It is the earthly attempt to preview a heavenly reality. We can invent new roles and attitudes for marriage according to our own design, but we will not produce the heavenly model that we are called upon to create in doing so.
The thing we have to realize about these biblical roles for husbands and wives within marriage is that they go against our basic human/sinful natures: husbands are not naturally disposed to sacrificing themselves and making their wives their number one priority; wives are not naturally disposed to submitting to their husbands. These God-given roles must be learned and achieved through patience and the grace that God gives us through Christ.
5. A New Family Begins
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
- Genesis 2:24
In Genesis we see that the joining of the two partners in marriage created a new family unit. This does not mean that there is no love or bonding that remains with parents, but there is now a new priority. Many marriages fail because one or both partners refuse to establish their spouse as the priority over mom and dad. When you marry you are creating a new family unit to which you are pledging your first loyalty for the rest of your life (one of the reasons why parents cry at weddings... there goes my baby).
Once we become Mr. and Mrs. we need to understand and expect the changes that take place because we have chosen to marry:
- Legal change: A new legal status within society is established.
- Relationship change: A new exclusive, permanent relationship has begun.
- Identity change: We are no longer one, but two in one.
- Role change: We now begin to play the role of husband or wife, eventually father or mother, etc.
- Family change: We create a new family unit and a new priority.
Marriage according to God's plan is satisfying, challenging and life changing.
Both spouses write the answers to the following questions on a sheet of paper. Do not show your spouse your answers.
- Three things that remained the same after you were married.
- Three things that changed after this time.
- One thing that surprised you.
Have a conversation about your relationship. Share and discuss your list of changes with your partner. See which ones need to be changed back, which ones are good, etc.