Seriously. What's the point of marriage?
What’s the point of marriage?
No really, this is a serious question. What’s the point?
If you don’t have a goal, objective, or specific outcome in mind, how can you know whether or not you’re being successful as a husband, wife, or as a partnership?
Having the wrong goals or “point” to your marriage can leave you heartbroken, alone, and sometimes reeling in confusion or anger.
Speaking of anger (this will all tie together, so stay with me here) I saw a post on social media the other day that made me so upset, it inspired this 1,800 word post.
This was the image:
This is the kind of hogwash cooked up by some social media manager in desperate need of some validated "likes" that destroys relationships, and ruins lives.
I’m not kidding. Not even a little bit.
Here’s an honest question: Since when did the pinnacle of relationship achievement become existing in a constant state of happiness? When did the fantasy of "and they lived happily ever after" stop being the end of a story book for kids and turn into literal #lifegoals?
Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t remember “providing your partner with an endless supply of happiness” being in the contract for me or my wife when we signed up for this marriage thing.
Did I miss something?
Don’t get me wrong, I think happiness is great… but it’s also a fluid emotion that comes and goes based on how your stomach reacts to the burrito you ate for lunch today, what’s happening in the white house this week, or who lives or dies on Game of Thrones.
Happiness is not a strong, stable foundation upon which to build lasting, committed love. It’s too… well… unstable. Fluid. Constantly changing.
Sustained happiness is arguably the WORST goal you could set for your relationship, because you will absolutely, 100% fail. It’s just plain unattainable!
The reality of happiness, just like any other emotion, is that it comes and goes... just like the in-laws during the holidays, or 80’s fashion, or stomach cramps.
In my last post I taught you that the key to becoming a truly powerful couple is to take action, and expand your comfort zone.
Well, today it’s time to bust out another cold, hard truth.
What is the point of marriage?
The point of marriage is not happiness. The point of marriage is growth.
Marriage is what Dr. David Schnarch, author of the incredible book Passionate Marriage, calls a “Human Growth Machine.”
I LOVE the idea of having a growth-centered marriage. That is something I can achieve!
Plus, it feels GOOD to grow and get better at stuff.
In the last few years I started doing something I never thought I'd do... I lift heavy weights.
I used to be a slender little guy. I once dropped a girl when I was country dancing and was so embarrassed my my weak muscles, I never went back.
Then I hit the gym.
I remember when I first started lifting, I squatted 225 pounds and my coach was like, “Dude, Nate! That’s awesome!”
I was so proud of myself. So I kept at it.
A few years later, after grinding away at the gym every week, I now squat around 345 pounds.
Way more bad-a, right? This is at 315 lbs by the way...
Every time I add 1 pound to that max, I feel like a freaking champion! (Plus, my wife loves my super firm butt.)
Growth is satisfying! Progress is motivating!
Now, I do the same thing I did in the weight room in my marriage. For example, I used to get anxious when my wife was feeling sad or stressed. And I used to snap at her if I felt attacked or threatened.
For over a year I've been working on getting better at not doing those things. I’ve been practicing self-soothing, taking deep breaths, and thinking before I speak, and giving my wife the benefit of the doubt when I feel wounded.
I’m not perfect, but I’m getting better. I’m less stressed out when she is. I snap at her less. My wife even smiles at me when she sees me taking deep breaths, or using the plans we’ve made to help me do better.
She’s commented that I’m improving, and because of that, WE are improving as a couple.
Growth feels good!
But it’s not easy...
Growth is hard and often painful.
It stretches your comfort zone. It pushes you to your limits. It expands your capacity as a human being.
This painful stretching and expanding means sometimes your partner and your marriage will NOT make you happy.
Marriage won’t make you happy because it’s too busy challenging your limitations and exposing your weaknesses, and flaws.
Marriage makes you painfully aware of how impatient you are, of your struggles to say "no" to things that aren’t important, and of how challenging it is to navigate your differences when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed… or hangry.
Marriage forces you to deal with sickness, tragedy, financial stresses, faith changes, job loss, weight gain, raising kids, losing parents and… you have to do it all while holding the hand of an emotional human being as you are thrown down the track of the roller coaster of life!
You can’t tackle this stuff and come out on the other side still in love with each other and stay the same people you were when you started. You MUST push yourselves to grow into the couple who’s capable of enduring these hardships, stress, and times that aren’t very happy.
A while back I had a chance to interview Reed and Allene (listen to their interview).
When I talked to them they’d been married for over 70 years!
During that 70 years, Allene watched her husband, Reed, kiss another woman.
Later in life, she took on a leadership role in the women's organization at her church leaving Reed often feeling stressed as he spent many of his days working and nights watching the kids as she fulfilled her leadership duties.
Then they owned a jewelry store that got robbed and sent them into bankruptcy. To pay off their debts and put food on the table, they sold silverware door-to-door.
They said (and I paraphrase), “We’ve had a few rough years. But even if 5 or 6 years of our marriage were tough, those years are small drops in the bucket compared to all the years we’ve been married. If you do the math, over 90% of our marriage has been pretty great! That sounds like success to us!”
Now let’s bring this full circle.
Just like with Reed and Allene, there will be a time in your relationship when you’re not living the social media dream of happiness. Maybe that time is right now. Maybe it will be later.
When the hard times come, that little voice may enter into your head, “Things are hard. I’m not happy. Maybe it’s time to give up. We shouldn’t be having these struggles. Maybe this isn’t meant to be...”
This is a perfect sign you’ve bumped into an opportunity to grow!
It’s a chance to embrace the challenge and figure out who you need to become to get the results you want. Maybe you’ll have to put the person/husband/wife you have been throughout your past on the sacrificial altar and completely reinvent who you choose to be, and how you think and act from that moment forward.
You may have to put your relationship at risk to push it to either grow... or die.
This is how gritty, raw, real growth in love occurs!
Here’s a great example of a real couple I heard about recently:
John and Mary have been married for 18 years. In recent months John has become super smothering. He is constantly worried Mary will leave him despite constant reassurances that she won’t. No matter how much reassurance, affection, or love Mary shows him, it’s never enough. It never makes his fears go away. And he’s never left feeling at peace.
Mary is starting to resent John for being so needy and demanding and insecure. Rather than loving her husband freely, she’s beginning to feel like she’s loving him out of obligation. She’s getting depleted because her supply can’t keep up with his demand… and she’s becoming resentful.
This is a tough situation… the kind of tough situation that creeps up on you after being with the same person for like 2 decades.
Trust me, when they got married 18 years ago, they NEVER thought they’d be dealing with this.
They simply bumped into an area that is requiring them to grow. And if you don't grow, you get stuck in a cycle...
So, let's shed a little more light onto what's happening here, and how to fix it.
John feels insecure. He also knows he’s being demanding and needy, and that the love Mary is giving to him is likely out of duty and not out of love. This only makes his cravings for validation and reassurance even stronger.
On the flip side, Mary truly loves her husband. She wants him to be happy and to meet his needs, but she’s completely losing her own identity in the act of endlessly giving until her love tank runs dry. She needs her husband to show up for her and for himself before she’s emotionally bled dry.
Do you see the cycle?
Step 1 - John feels needy and vulnerable, and he demands comfort from wife.
Step 2 - Mary accommodates John’s needs out of obligation and with growing resentment.
Step 3 - John then feels even more insecure and needs more comfort.
The only way for the cycle to break is for one of these people to refuse to participate in it and force the relationship to grow! (In this case, it’s most likely going to be Mary.)
She needs to take a loving stand for herself and her relationship. She’ll need to be honest with her husband about how depleted she’s feeling. She’ll need to push him to learn to reassure and comfort himself in moments of worry or doubt rather than leaning on her for support... which means she can't do it for him. And she’ll need to be willing to stand her ground when she feels pressure from him to go back to the easier, more comfortable way they’ve been doing things.
If he can't ever learn to stand tall on his own, their marriage will NEVER be what either of them wants it to be.
For this to happen, Mary has to let John fall down a few times and build up the strength to pick himself back up. He needs to see that Mary will hang around even if he fails.
A decision to break a damaging, negative cycle like this can be terrifying. It can be uncomfortable. It might even make Mary feel cruel, and John feel angry, hopeless and abandoned.
Being confronted with the truth (that things aren’t working and they need to change if you're going to have the relationship you want), and having someone push on you to expand and grow can make things feel worse before they get better.
It may even put the relationship on the line if John refuses to confront what he’s going through, and Mary refuses to identify how she’s been complicit in letting their relationship fall into this cycle.
But this is what love is! It’s not always about pleasing your partner… it’s about serving them.
Did you feel that? That was another truth bomb I just dropped on you!
Pleasing your partner means you make sure they are happy and comfortable and worry-free. It means you’re often agreeable and accommodating even when your partner is being unkind, foolish, or hurtful. Pleasing your partner means shielding your partner from anything that could make them feel confronted or uncomfortable… like GROWTH!
Serving your partner means you have their best interest at heart. It means you stand by their side, you help them, you support them, and sometimes it means you confront them with really hard truths.
True partners SERVE the one they love, even when that service may cause growth-inducing pain.
The growth that forces you to confront your weaknesses, insecurities, and fears is exactly what leads to the periods of happiness, trust, connection, passion, and commitment only a persistent and dedicated few couples ever get to experience.
Is that the kind of love you want? Or are you willing to settle for less?
Let me know in the comments.
This is the 2nd in a series of posts written to help you make your marriage stronger. If you want the whole series from start to finish, please sign up here and I'll send it to you along with a free gift.