No matter what culture you belong to, what religion you believe, what society, level of wealth or era you live in, one thing common to all people is that they want to be happy, especially in their marriages. Christians want this, Jews want this, Muslims want this, black, white, yellow or red people all want to be happy in their marriages. I have never heard a new bride or groom rub their hands together and say, "I cannot wait for the divorce to happen." Even if your son or daughter marries the sorriest loser, the worst match possible in your eyes, what do parents end up saying anyways? "I hope they will be happy."
Why do we want so desperately to be happy in marriage?
- Because this relationship has the power to make us extremely happy or extremely sad (it affects everything else).
- Because we often measure our success in life by how well we succeed in our marriages (we use marriage as a way to give ourselves value).
- Because we do not receive many chances to get it right. Some do not get any (ask middle-age divorced women how difficult it is to find someone).
- There is so much pressure on us to succeed (parents, children, our religious beliefs, society in general, our work/career), everybody is hurt or disappointed if we fail.
- Many want to duplicate the happiness and level of contentment that they saw in their parent's or grandparent's marriages (they see this as an ideal they wish to fulfill in their own lives).
- They want to be happy in marriage because they have been unhappy growing up; unhappy as single persons; perhaps unhappy in a previous marriage (they want to experience something they have missed out on and hope marriage will supply it).
- Finally, because they have been told that they will be happy and should be happy when they marry the one they love (there is a great expectation of happiness in marriage).
And for all this expectation and hope of happiness in marriage, there is the sad reality that many couples do not attain the prize they so covet when they say, "I do." According to a survey done of couples here in North America trying to determine the level of success in marriage, the following picture emerged:
- 50% said that they could not resolve issues and ended up divorcing.
- 25% acknowledged that their marriage was based on convenience (i.e. the kids/no choice/too proud/family or religious pressure kept them together).
- 15% of respondents said that they were generally satisfied with their marriage.
- 10% answered the survey by saying that they were very happy and they would not change a thing.
Although 100% of people want a happy marriage, the actual number of people who accomplish this is far lower. Of course, this particular survey did not focus on Christian marriages where I suspect the numbers may be different. In any case, I believe that God wants everyone to have successful marriages, especially Christians.
Now, in a pervious section we talked about the changes that take place when you go from being single or dating or even engaged, to being legally married:
- A new legal status begins. You have a new union recognized by law and society. Marriage is the highest commitment a couple can make before God and society.
- A new relationship begins. You are now part of an exclusive, lifetime partnership.
- A new identity begins. You will be referred to as a couple from now on.
- A new role begins. You will now take on responsibilities that you did not have previously (husband, father, etc.).
- A new family begins. You leave your original family in order to begin a new one which will take precedence over previous affiliations.
When people marry and organize a wedding ceremony and all the associated activities, what they are doing is symbolizing with vows, rings, prayers and celebrations all the changes that are about to take place as they marry, and the anticipation of the happiness they will experience as a result of these changes.
You see, this new, exclusive, lifetime commitment that brings a new role, identity and family, this is the source of the happiness that all seek in marriage. When people are unhappy in marriage, it is in these areas that the root of their problems lie. For example, there may be doubt or a violation of the exclusivity of one's relationship, or a wavering as to the length and quality of one's commitment, and this causes anxiety or sorrow. Perhaps one or both partners are confused about their married identities or the roles they are to play, and begin to reject these and in doing so create conflict. Perhaps the burden of family is frightening or too heavy and this produces hesitation, conflict or doubt. Then there may be some physical, emotional or spiritual changes in one of the partners that has caused an imbalance in the relationship. Whatever the cause for the unhappiness, the solution can usually be found by going back to the basics of what originally created the marital happiness in the first place and examine what has changed or stopped functioning there.
Let's face it, an exclusive lifetime commitment to an imperfect person by an another imperfect person is not an easy thing to accomplish. Because a commitment of this sort is so challenging, couples need to make a constant effort to maintain and improve their relationship. The secret that successful couples who have been happily married for a long time know is that marriages can and do get better with time. Unfortunately, a popular misconception is that there is happiness in marriage, but it is only temporary. Many people think that the best time in a marriage is at the beginning: great sex, excitement, discovery, all new adventures in life. Some envy the Hollywood stars who have the fame and money to repeat this "honeymoon" period every few years. They marry, have a great two to three years together, get divorced and start the cycle over again with someone new.
This has given people the impression that the time immediately following the wedding is when a marriage is at its best. After this point it only goes downhill. Such thinking is unfortunate and sets couples up for low expectations and eventual failure. We need to understand that marriages, by design, have to improve from where they begin (no matter how happy one feels during these first few months or years) or else they will die. When couples realize that the wedding day is the start, not the high point in their marriage, they then have the right view of the challenge that is before them.
Everyone receives a basic supply of happiness when they marry. The problem is that many people think that they can live off of their initial deposit of happiness given at the time of their wedding. Most of this basic happiness is generated by romantic love, which is composed of three elements:
- Sexual Attraction – This is what usually draws us to one another in the first place and sustains our relationship for the first few years.
- Similar Interests – The couple loves to ski, dance, go to movies, drink, hang-out, promote ideas, politics, share religious faith and produce babies. These engage and fill our time with each other as we begin.
- Idealism – The other person fulfills our ideals about what is good, beautiful or a match for ourselves.
Eventually, however, most couples learn that if they do not build on these things, they will not be able to sustain the "feeling" of happiness that their marriage provided at the start.