Unrealistic And Dangerous Expectations About Marriage

According to research that appeared on Valentine’s Day in the New York Times, the average American marriage is weaker compared to marriages in the past. Why are more and more couples disappointed in their marriages? In a word…Expectations. People have higher expectations for marriage than ever before but, ironically, they aren’t willing to make the investment of time and emotions to meet their own expectations.

A little historical background about marriage will help explain the change in expectations. According to the article by Eli Finkel, marriage up to 1850 revolved around tasks like “food production, shelter, and protection from violence.” People wanted a close emotional connection to their spouse but that was considered a luxury not the central purpose of marriage.

1850-1965 is known as the era of compaionate marriage because marriage was viewed as a chance “to love, be loved, and have a fulfilling sex life.” As families prospered economically the emphasis and purpose of marriage shifted away from survival and toward companionship.

Since 1965 we have been in the era of self-expressive marriage. Americans now look to marriage for “self discovery, self esteem, and personal growth.” Today marriage isn’t a necessary institution to help one make it in the world nor is it even about companionship. Marriage is an elective choice to help make us happy.

Here’s the problem: Marriage is God’s institution. What I mean by that is that marriage is God’s idea. He designed it and defines it. And God’s design for marriage is not to use it for our own personal happiness or at least not how most people define personal happiness today.

God’s purpose for marriage is that it would make us holy. When two sinful people unite in the deepest union two people can enjoy, there is bound to be conflict. That’s to be expected. As each couple works through the issues they face, it’s an opportunity for each spouse to face their own sinful attitudes, speech, and actions. It’s a chance for each of us to repent of our sins and extend grace to our spouse. If you’re married, then your spouse is the first neighbor you are to love as yourself. 

So if your expectations for marriage is that it will give you “happy-clappy” happiness, then you will be sorely disappointed. But, then again, you had wrong, unrealistic, and dangerous expectations about marriage. You fell into the culture’s trap of thinking that your marriage is about you.

If, on the other hand, you are interested in the kind of happiness that comes to those who grow to be more like Jesus, if you want “holy” happiness, then there is much to look forward to in your marriage. There is a deep happiness (that some prefer to call “joy”) that lies on the other side of self fulfillment. There is a joy that comes from serving and giving and dying to self and repenting and forgiving that only faith can lay hold of.

Marriage isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus. Marriage isn’t about self fulfillment. It’s about dying to self. Marriage isn’t about the “happy-clappy” feeling that comes when you get your needs met. It’s about the deep joy that comes from joining your spouse in following your Savior.

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