This summer, I will be officiating at two weddings. I won’t be able to do either ceremony like this (though I did once, at the request of the bride. Really.)
Whenever I do a wedding, I sit down with a couple 3 or 4 times — in preparation not just for the wedding day, but even more, the wedded life. Over the years, I have probably married 20 or 30 couples — which has given me 20 or 30 opportunities to help couples walk through the joys and struggles, the challenges and the opportunities of marriage.
But here’s the thing. I’m rarely happy with what we talk about. I am constantly tweaking what I do in those sessions, forever in search of a better way to prepare a couple to share a lifetime of love together. So, after a recent conversation with one of the engaged couples, I went home and immediately sat down and typed out what I want to do the next time I marry someone. This is now the format I want to use; this is the outline that will cover every important detail; these are the subjects that will give them every thing they need to know before saying “I do.”
Except, after I’ve written it down, I come to realize: this isn’t the perfect outline. I mean, why should it be? After all, it wasn’t “the perfect outline” the eight other times I revised it.
And why should I be surprised? For there is no perfect outline to prepare for marriage, just as there is no perfect marriage. There is no way to address every question, just as there is no way to anticipate every question that will arise over 40 or 50 or 60 years of marriage. Instead, I am learning that the most important thing I can do for couples about to step into the great unknown is help them to see that they are, in fact, stepping into The Great Unknown. The one thing we can say about what marriage brings is that we don’t know what marriage will bring.
Well, there is one thing. The author and psychologist Brene Brown says that her pastor believes there IS one thing he can tell couples that he counsels: This much I know: in marriage, you will hurt each other.
Sounds like a positive guy. I’m sure he’s swamped with marriage requests.
But I think he’s on to something. And that something is the reality that the risk of relationship (be it marriage, family, close friendship, or even a church small group) is that we tend to hurt each other. And the closer the relationship, the easier it is to hurt each other.
Now, please note: I am NOT talking about physical or verbal abuse; I am not describing harm that must be held to account. I am speaking of the reality of the everyday hurt that is involved when we “do life” with someone.
Even so — even with the reality that marriage involves hurt feelings, hard conversations, and stretches of yawning apathy — why marry at all? For that matter: why get into close relationship with anyone? If hurt will result, why take the risk?
Well, in short, because that’s how we grow. We don’t grow in isolation. We don’t flourish by avoiding risk. In fact, not only do we mature despite the pain and problems that relationships bring, it’s in fact in the midst of the struggles that we grow.
And so, what I want to say to anyone who is dealing with the frustrations of relations (be it marriage or parenting, co-workers or close friends): Relationships are hard; it’s foolish to think otherwise. But through the challenges, we have the opportunity to grow. Through the hard work of learning to love imperfect people, we become more like our perfect Savior. Through the challenge of loving people through the difficult times — and being loved through our difficult times — we become more like Jesus.
Marriage isn’t the only way for this to happen, of course, but it is one way — one that, if married couples will let it, will shape them and mold them in ways that are both painful and powerful. So, even though I don’t have a magic formula, at the end of my conversations with couples getting married, I share these 10 principles — ten guidelines I believe that, if they spend a lifetime practicing, will help them grow (through the good times, and the bad):
- Commit to a life time of growing together.
- Be ready for it to be hard.
- Love like Jesus, trust in Jesus, depend on him to guide you.
- Work for unity.
- Find an older, mentor couple. (Or, for older couples: Be that mentor couple.)
- Laugh together.
- Pray together.
- Learn to listen well.
- Guard your marriage by guarding your heart.
- Love each other through life’s changes and challenges.