Have you ever met a shell-shocked newlywed (or not so newlywed)?

Having bought into the world’s lie that marriage is primarily about being happy, they panic at the reality of their own relationship, which is bending under the stress of sickness, disappointment, sin and physical exhaustion.

In time, they come to resent their marriages because they fall so far short of expectations.

What surprises me so much is that such couples rarely think to question their expectations; these idealized notions are sacrosanct and confirmed whenever the person holding them watches a romantic comedy, listens to popular music, or picks up the latest best-selling novel from Chapters. Instead, dissatisfied spouses usually assume that the person they married is the problem; if only they had chosen someone else, then they’d finally have the marriage of their dreams.

The disappointment of idols

When we turn marriage into an idol of happiness, how we despise those who disappoint us! But what if we ask a different question, based on Biblical priorities and principles? What if we consider the question, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" This question alone has caused thousands of couples to reconsider their expectations and start asking questions that lead to health and intimacy, instead of despair and accusation: "How is God shaping my soul while teaching me to love my spouse?" "How does marriage confront my selfishness, and so help me grow in the character of Christ, the Servant of all?" "How does marriage teach me to listen, instead of shout, and be gentle, instead of harsh, when my spouse lets me down?"

Growing in intimacy and maturity

Quite frankly, the world has lied to us: marriage will collapse under our expectations if we subject it to the unrealistic notions of the world’s idolatrous dreams. But if we see marriage as a process of growing in intimacy and character, then the very things that most frustrate us about marriage and family life can become stepping stones to intimacy and maturity.

Instead of asking whether your current marriage is making you happy, start asking how it is making you holy – and then thank God for the gift that this journey represents.

Gary Thomas is the founder and director of the Center for Evangelical Spirituality, a writing and speaking ministry that integrates Scripture, church history and the Christian classics. He is the author of many books, including Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, Cherish, The Sacred Search and A Lifelong Love.

© 2008 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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