Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Good Enough Marriage. . .

From Henny Youngman's old joke Take my wife. . . please to the oft repeated zing, I have been married 40 years, 6 of them happy, marriages have long been the fodder for humor and humorists.  The truth is, however, that we have high expectations of our spouses and of the institution called marriage.  Many shy away from marriage because they fear their expectations will not (or cannot) be met.  They are probably right (not to shy away from marriage but that our unrealistic expectations will probably not be met).

There is nothing essentially wrong with wanting it all but it will most certainly lead to disappointment if we are unprepared for the routine and ordinary side of marriage.  Indeed, the essential character of marriage is that of a sacrificial calling -- by its very nature.   Our pursuit of the great and magnificent marriage may leave us victims of an unfulfillable dream and cause us both to despair and ditch marriages that are anything less than our hopes and dreams.

Mark Regnerus, blogging for First Things, has begun a conversation about a marriage which may not be star quality but which is "good enough".  I think he has done us a service by asking some good questions.  As we prepare for another stressful holiday season, some of those married may wonder if it is not about time to depart from marriages that are not reaching the heights of glory, deciding that good enough is no longer enough good to justify remaining therein, and seeking something better.  A "do-over" that starts with a divorce and another stab at marriage may seem attractive but it brings to bear its own problems.  Would it not be easier to try a do-over with your spouse now? 

Read Regnerus and see if you do not come out asking with me: “Wouldn’t it be better to limp to the finish line, with the help of others, than quit the race?”   It is our great temptation to idealize, romanticize, and fantasize about marriage.  Living in the dream world of such impossible goals, it is also our great temptation to diminish and demean our spouses and our lives together.  Such are surely recipes for despair and, at the same time, recipes for future disappointment.

Frankly, I do not know many people who don't think "I am not happy with my marriage" at least every other day.  It happens.  Marriage is where the masks come off, where the stresses and struggles of the day are unloaded, and where we dump on one another -- not out of meanness or rudeness but because it is the place where we have a listener and a support to depend upon.  If marriage is a place where we practice the kind of sacrificial giving that Scripture envisions, then marriage will also require labor and cost us something.  Most certainly there will be times when our sinful nature asks if we are getting a decent return on our investment.  Yet it is at times like those when marriage is most noble and beautiful -- love that does not count the cost of loving!  Surely this, too, is a Christian mark of marriage.

Some studies suggest that the more we try to tune into ourselves, define and pursue our individual happiness, and weigh the costs and benefits of marriage, the greater the danger that we will give up on our marriages.  Interestingly, those deep into social media are seemingly less happy about their marriages than those not into these things.  In the end, there are a thousand reasons why to ditch a marriage and there is one very large reason to stay, to work it out, to tough it out, and to endure. . . for better or worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish til death parts us. . .  Marriage that judges beyond the snapshot of the moment has a much better chance of enduring and marriage that endures is a good thing.

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