This is the final piece in a three-part series for young twenty-something couples pondering marriage – and those who love them. Please pass this article – and Part 1 and Part 2 – along to someone who needs it. If the twenty-something you know wants more practical help and encouragement for relationships, encourage them to sign up for our blog.
Let’s jump in to our final four roadblocks and action steps. As a reminder, if you are a young couple pondering whether you should move toward marriage – but dealing with a bit of fear – consider whether these assumptions have been swirling in your mind. Are you able to make the shift toward the healthier action? Or, if necessary, to realize that certain assumptions might be raising an important red flag? If so, you are well on your way to laying the groundwork for a great marriage, now or in the future.
Roadblock #5: “Is this person going to make me happy?”
Action: Ask yourself, “Am I willing to serve them?”
Many couples focus on concepts like “compatibility” when considering whether to tie the knot with their significant other. Are we compatible in temperament? In conflict management styles? In sexual interest? There’s nothing wrong with digging into all of that – as noted in Part 2, we should dig into all those questions and many others! But we also have to realize that “Are we compatible?” is often just another way of saying, “Is this person going to make me happy?”
By contrast, marriage is so often about serving our spouse. Being willing to:
- love and be kind to this person even when they are tired and grouchy
- serve them when they aren’t feeling well and we have a million things to do
- believe the best of their intentions toward us when they agreed to do the dishes in the morning and then ran out the door for work without doing them
As we discovered in The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages research, it makes a huge difference to the eventual happiness of the marriage when we are prepared to do all of that and so much more. For example, to think, I guess they’ll do the dishes tonight instead of automatically believing: They expect me to do all the dishes, and don’t care about how much I have to do!
So ask yourself: are you willing to shift your focus from your needs and desires, to theirs? Both are important, of course. But “in sickness and in health” requires a willingness to be other-focused more than self-focused.
(One caveat: A small percentage of people will go into marriage with that sort of goodwill … and discover that they are facing intense challenges such as addiction or abuse. What is required then is a shift to boundaries, caution, and counseling rather than blindly continuing to “try harder to serve them.” In such cases, establishing boundaries often is the best way of serving their spouse, the marriage, and themselves.)
Roadblock #6: “Half of all marriages end in divorce.”
Action: Don’t let fear (or mythology!) guide your decisions.
Many people cite a commonly circulated myth that 50% of all marriages end in divorce – an untrue statistic that is guaranteed to strike hopelessness into our hearts. This isn’t the place for a full discussion, but the research for my book The Good News About Marriage found that the actual divorce rate for society as a whole is not close to 50%.
It is impossible to pin down one “real” divorce rate, since that depends on all sorts of complex factors, but the overall divorce rate is probably closer to 25% than 50%. And newer data further confirms that the news is better than we think. (I’ll be doing a data update this year, so if you are not currently a subscriber to this blog please sign up to see that update when it comes out.)
As mentioned in Part 1, it is true that getting married very young does increase overall divorce risk, while marrying later improves it. Researchers theorize this statistical concern comes because young couples don’t yet know themselves or each other well and aren’t as prepared for the lifetime “for better or for worse-ness” of the commitment – which is one reason this series is focusing on exactly those questions.
It is easy to let fear guide decisions. But remember this important truth from scripture: Perfect love drives out fear. Over and over, the pages of scripture remind us not to let fear take over our thinking. It is right to take the marriage covenant very, very seriously. But if each of us succumbed to all of our possible fears about marriage, none of us would ever get married!
Roadblock #7: “It doesn’t matter if they don’t share my faith.”
Action: Be willing to put God first.
Confronting this particular assumption is crucial, because it points to an actual roadblock, not an overblown fear. The reality is: it does matter if your potential spouse doesn’t share your faith. This topic is so foundational, it requires more than just a few words in a blog. You can find many books, articles, and sermons on it. But there’s only one thing that needs to be emphasized here: Marriage was invented by God and it requires us to put God in the center of that relationship. That is impossible to do if one party in the relationship also does not put God in the center.
Much research has found that marriages in which one person is a churchgoing Christian and the other just isn’t interested, endure many unique heartaches. Many believers in those marriages have described feeling pulled away from God, or feeling anguished over the fact that their spouse won’t join them and the kids at church (or don’t want the kids to go to church at all).
So ask yourself whether you are blowing through an obvious red flashing light if you’re continuing to pursue an “unequally yoked” relationship toward marriage. If we are followers of Jesus, our first love must be Him rather than our significant other. After all, He is the one who knows what will allow us to thrive.
Roadblock #8: “Marriage is such a big commitment.”
Action: Yes it is. Be sure you can make it.
In our research for our book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, one factor jumped out as an essential pivot point for creating a happy, lifelong marriage. It wasn’t whether the couple “knew everything about one another before they got married.” It wasn’t whether the couple was financially stable. It wasn’t the couple’s age.
It was whether the couple went into marriage thinking there was no eject button.
In the end, every question we’ve been exploring comes down to this: If you and your significant other are indeed equally yoked, other-focused, and all the rest, are you ready and willing to make a lifelong commitment? It has been so clear in our research that when someone goes into marriage to “give it a try” without a rock-solid commitment there is nothing to hold them when times get tough. But when both partners say “this is for life, no matter what,” it is amazing how much that ensures they have to work things through.
As one long-married couple put it in our interviews. “What changes everything is going into the marriage knowing, first, that it is under God. That you’re equally yoked. But second, that it is forever. Knowing there’s no way and no reason for divorce and ensuring that that topic never even comes up in arguments. Sometimes the good feelings aren’t there. But with that ‘until death do us part’ commitment then it doesn’t matter. You stick with it. And what usually happens is that the good feelings follow. It’s the way God works.”
So, to wrap things up, the question we’ve tackled in this series is: Should we get married young? The answer to that question ultimately lies in the answer to a different question: Are you ready to make that big lifetime commitment?
There will be challenges no matter who you marry. So don’t cue off of rom-coms or let fear tell you that you’ll end up as a (false) divorce statistic. Marriage is a step of faith, no matter when you take the plunge. Make sure that you are being wise about the person, about the factors that matter, whether you share the same faith, and whether you’ve had enough time to talk things through. But then, be bold. Be willing to take that step of faith with full commitment. And enjoy the lifetime of companionship and delight that comes with it.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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