Chuck Swindoll was preaching a series on marriage when someone handed him a note that said, "The most difficult years of marriage are those following the wedding." (Marriage: From Surviving to Thriving, p.79) I’m sure more than a few couples would add a hearty, "Amen!"
Three factors make marriage difficult. The first is obvious but is worthy of frequent mention: men and women are so different. Even if we come from similar ethnic, geographical, religious, economic and social backgrounds, one person in the marriage is a man and the other is a woman. That is a recipe for fireworks and, occasionally, even an explosion.
While we often look at the similarities we share with the person we love, the differences cry out for recognition. Our bodies, communication, and emotional/mental processing are different. We both crave intimate connection with our spouses, but experience it differently; one uses communication to bond, the other to convey information; one looks for love, the other for respect; one defines romance in terms of emotional bonding, the other in terms of physical connection. We can never erase these differences, and it would be counterproductive to even try. But, we can recognize that they are a factor in how we become one flesh with our partner.
Secondly, marriage is difficult because it is goes against our selfish grain. It is a natural tendency to pursue our own interests. We were free to do that for years before we were married; why should it change afterwards? Now, we even have someone to help us in the pursuit of our desires!
The challenge of two becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24) is that it is unnatural in the fallen world.
The first act of rebellion against God was motivated by selfish desire: Eve wanted to become like God. How ironic that Eve would sin to become more like the God who was sinless! Deceitful! Selfishness is so dangerous because not only is it sinful, but it masks its real essence in attractive-looking/sounding lies.
In the process of becoming one flesh we must learn to set aside many of our individual desires in the interests of serving the health of the relationship. We may give up hobbies that take time from the family, habits that are offensive to our spouse, and attitudes that rub the relationship raw.
The third reason marriage is so difficult is because we are called to connect so deeply into the life of another person. Our thoughts, actions, plans and goals merge into one. We know and become known - emotionally, spiritually and physically - at a level impossible to achieve in most other relationships. We make ourselves vulnerable in every possible way (Genesis 2:25), trusting that our partner will love and accept us, not mock and reject us.
This, to me, is one of the most practical reasons to encourage young people to wait until they are married to experience sexual intimacy. Marital sexuality, as it matures over time in a loving relationship, is about a mutuality of sharing, meeting needs, and enjoying faithful companionship. That occurs in the context of a committed relationship where both partners know that, in spite of faults and failures, the relationship will continue the next day, and the next, and the next.
People engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage are too often seeking personal gratification. Their interest in the encounter is often immature and selfish, with little or no understanding of the commitment (accompanied by the vow!) necessary for a healthy relationship. It often ends up with someone, often a young girl, being hurt, disillusioned, and feeling abandoned. What kind of preparation is this for either of the young people for a lifetime marriage? One may enter thinking, "Ah, this will be a blast," and the other, "It’s only a matter of time before my partner hurts me deeply and this will be over." Keeping the marriage bed pure (Hebrews 13:4) not only pleases God, but is just good sense. (If you haven’t kept it pure, understand that God stands ready to forgive and help you heal the moment you call on him).
I’ve observed that the more mature a couple is before they marry, the less traumatic the transition to becoming one is for them. So be patient. Trust is God’s timing. Know that the years after the marriage will at times be difficult ones, but know also that through patience, love and growth, God can and will help us become one flesh.
Connect with Marriage Mondays on Julie's blog.
Also, I am having a give-away for my book, Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and Other Gems from Proverbs. Leave a caption for the photograph in the post and my youth group will be picking a winner in another week.