| Family Reflections |

The Truth about Marriage

Challenges in marriage are normal



arriage is a journey of growth. People usually marry when they’ve just emerged from childhood. Until then, their parents directed their activities, paid their way, met all their needs, and taught them right from wrong. Now, they leave home with the responsibility to take care of themselves and another person. With minimal or no experience, they’re expected to manage their time, money, space, emotions, attention, and stress levels, as well as to understand and appropriately respond to the needs of another emerging adult.

In many cases, they will be called upon almost immediately to consider the needs brought on by pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing. It is not surprising that many people struggle in their early years of marriage. There’s so much to learn, so much to do, so little time, and so much confusion and pain.

Says one newly married woman, “We fight a lot. I wasn’t prepared for that. I thought that by marrying ‘a good boy,’ I’d simply walk into a good life and that would be that.”

Many people think they’re marrying an adult, someone who will function as well as their parents do. What a surprise to find that one’s spouse is more like one’s closest-in-age siblings — fun-loving perhaps, but maybe also messy, forgetful, irresponsible, bossy, self-centered, overly emotional, or otherwise ordinary and flawed. A child in a taller body.

Some think they’re marrying the perfect human being: someone from the perfect school with the perfect family with the perfect résumé. What a shock to learn that this paradigm of perfection is a regular person.

Most people think their spouse will be what they were like on dates — sweet, kind, thoughtful, patient, smiley, helpful, interested, and interesting. What a shock they get when their marriage partner turns out to be grumpy or moody, finicky or fussy, critical or judgmental, impatient or irritable. What happened to all the compliments, jokes, and friendly banter?

And then these people think they made a mistake. This isn’t the grown-up, perfect, wonderful human being they dated. They reason they must have been misled by others or blinded by their own desire to get married. They dream of what it would have been like if only they had married “the other one.” In their pain, they fail to realize marrying someone else would have been pretty much the same, different only in the details. People are human.

The Renovation

Those who don’t run for the hills will stay to do the “renovation.” They set out to fix their spouse, to bring about improvements, diminish deficits, and banish bad traits. The fighting that usually happens in young marriages is often about trying to get the other person to improve. While a little of this may be necessary and helpful (not the fighting part, but the boundary setting, guidance, and influence), most of the real work must happen within oneself.

The journey of growth is a personal one, referring to oneself. By engaging in the struggle to better our relationship, we develop new insights, skills, and capacities. We mature and become wiser. We learn to accept and work with what we’ve been blessed with both inside and outside of ourselves, eventually giving up our unrealistic demands for perfection in ourselves and our partner and allowing for a kinder, more humane view of both. We are the ones who undergo renovation and this is the purpose of the struggle.

What It Takes

There is just one glitch. The worldview around us has infiltrated our mindset. In that worldview there is no merit seen in suffering and disappointment, no riches to be harvested from pain. In fact, pain and suffering are seen as dire enemies to be immediately squelched. As a result, today’s young couples are far quicker to give up and give in to despair. Their resolve and confidence are lacking because they hear from authorities around them that suffering is unnatural and indicates a fatal flaw within their relationship. It’s so important that we normalize the struggle, encourage patience and hard work, and promise the rewards of meaningful lives and stable families even if we must face mockery, derision, or criticism for doing so. The option of divorce should be put in its rightful place (a rare and tragic necessity), while normal people with normal flaws should be welcomed, encouraged, and supported in the challenging, life-changing project we call marriage.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 831)

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