Tough Love

Working with High School and College students, relationships (serious or not) are often a topic of conversation. I have seen great relationships that have flourished, but I have also seen relationships fall apart. It hurts me every time a pair of students break up, because it leaves the ones in the relationship thinking that there is something fundamentally wrong with them. In talking with these students, they often look to young married couples and say “they are so perfect, if only we could have been like them.” This is a dangerous assumption to make because it idolizes marriage as a cure to relationship struggles.

“If only we could be as cute as they are,” or “why can’t we have a relationship like theirs?” These are very dangerous ideas because it establishes an unrealistic expectation for marriage. It sets up the assumption that marriage will cure all possible struggles. It doesn’t solve your struggles, it amplifies them. Marriage doesn’t solve underlying issues of trust, communication or pride. If you go into marriage expecting everything to be wonderful and easy, you are going to be very disappointed.

The truth is, marriage is hard. 

There isn’t any other way to explain it. Marriage is difficult. My wife and I have only been married for about nine months, but we have already experienced many difficulties (as well as many wonderful experiences, don’t get me wrong). The idea of two becoming one is especially prevalent in my mind because it is no longer about me, it is about we. It has been difficult learning how to live with one another, how to work with one another, and how to take out the trash even though I don’t want to.

When my wife and I started pre-marital counseling (which I highly recommend, it is a great tool for any couple), we were asked what we thought marriage would be like. I remember saying that my expectation of marriage was that it would be the hardest work I have ever done in my life. I still stand by that because marriage is really hard. You have to submit to one another in love. That means cleaning the toilet, taking out the trash and dealing with the leftovers in your fridge that have been there for three weeks. Marriage is sacrifice. That’s not to say you have to totally lose your identity in your marriage. Quite the contrary, I am a firm believer that a married couple should be striving to not only grow together, but help each other grow as individuals. My dreams and desires are now my wife’s dreams and desires. Her hopes and accomplishments are now my hopes and accomplishments.

She is my wife, but she is also an individual who is greatly talented and extremely gifted. Growing together and growing individually are not mutually exclusive. You help each other grow, but that also requires sacrificing your own will for the sake of the other. There have been times when my wife has been there for me when I have been too busy to be there for myself. There have also been times where she is so tired from work, that I need to take on the responsibility of cleaning and cooking (even if I had a tiring day as well). Marriage is constantly putting your spouse’s needs above your own. It may suck sometimes, but that is what it takes. That is what I think youth don’t see very often. They don’t see the effort it takes to put your spouse’s wellbeing ahead of your own.

It is a lot like Instagram, where it often shows only the best parts of someone’s life. I have yet to see someone’s Instagram account that shows nothing but their lowest points and darkest days. When youth look to young married couples of an example of a “perfect match” they are just looking at the Instagram account of married life.

Something else that I continue to reflect on from pre-marital counseling is the role of communication in marriage. I cannot stress this enough. Communication is key to helping a marriage grow and thrive. It is vital to any relationship that you are striving to be in meaningful and intentional conversation with one another. Communication is the lifeblood of a marriage. If you aren’t willing to talk with your spouse, then your marriage isn’t growing.

This is something youth need to know about marriage, there should be absolutely nothing off limits for your spouse to talk about or ask you. Any barrier you put up for your spouse, will only make communicating harder. My wife knows that she has free access to any part of my life. Only in this transparency is trust grown. She knows that she can ask me any question at any time about anything. Intentional communication is the only reason my wife and I are able to work through this difficult, messed up thing we call life.

If this post has been a little bit of a downer, don’t worry. Marriage, for all the hardships and struggles it brings, is completely and totally worth it. The exhaustion, the misunderstandings, the struggles, the tension, all of it is worth it knowing that I get to spend the rest of my life getting to know my wife. The hope I have for our future far outweighs the stresses of the present. I know that one good day with her is better than a hundred bad ones on my own. Even if that means taking out the smelly trash, waking up with her by my side is worth ten thousand trips to the trash can.

What I have come to realize about marriage is that it is not about being obligated to submit yourself, it is about feeling compelled to do so out of love. Having my wife stand beside me as we journey through life is worth bearing every single inconvenience, argument, and stress because it means that we are still going to be walking side by side for as long as we both shall live.

Marriage is hard, but I promise you, it is worth it.

– J

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