When I first got married, I had a lot of preconceived notions about what marriage was supposed to be like (despite all that we learned in our premarital counseling). Some of the ideas I had were actually true, but not fully fleshed out (like what it means for me to be the “head of the household”). Others were complete and utter nonsense (like “my wife should want to be intimate whenever I feel like”).
Now we all bring into our marriages a ton of baggage, but where our baggage gets dangerous is when it’s founded on the lies that our culture and sinful natures tell us. Over the next couple days, I want to look at three big ones I’ve noticed a tendency to fall prey to. Here’s the first:
Lie #1: Marriage is about my happiness
We live in a “me” centered culture—everything’s about what I want, what I need. My priorities always come first, everyone else’s are always secondary. So when problems come into our marriages, what do we do? We look for a way out. Why?
Because we’re not happy. Now, happiness is not a bad thing—in fact, it’s a very good thing. We should want to be in our marriages. But happiness is a byproduct of a good, Christ-centered marriage. It’s not the point.
The point of marriage is to bear witness to the gospel (whether we realize it or not). Ephesians 5 explains that the “mystery” of marriage—why we do it, why it makes sense, how it works—is that it’s a picture of the gospel. Just as Christ humbled himself and submitted himself to death on a cross for his bride, the Church, husbands are to humble themselves and set aside their rights in order to serve their wives—to see them flourish and grow into the image of Christ.
In our marriage, this has been a hard thing for us to work through. When Emily came home to raise the kids, it was really difficult for her to see her value—her identity was so wrapped up in her diploma and career as a graphic designer that she didn’t know how to be anything else. And despite my fumbling attempts to encourage her, there were more than a few times when I was really frustrated by her bouts of mopey-ness. This was not a happy time in our marriage and we had a couple of options:
- Emily could stick with it and figure out how to make it work; or
- We could compromise on our values and she could go back to work, despite neither of us wanting it.
The reason we bail on our marriages or compromise on our convictions so easily is that we’ve got our understanding backwards. We think that our feelings offer a sound measure for whether or not marriage is “working” and if we’re not happy all the time, then it must be broken. Better to pull out before anyone gets hurt too badly and find true happiness with someone else (until they don’t make me happy anymore).
What we fail to recognize is the truth of Jeremiah 17:9, that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
The solution to the happiness problem in marriage isn’t to find someone new to be happy with, despite what our hearts might tell us. We don’t need new circumstances either. We need a heart change. This is what the gospel offers us. When Christ is the center of our marriage, and his relationship with the Church is our model, then it changes how we approach our desire for happiness. Instead of putting our own needs first, we consider the interests of others more significant than our own.
In my case, it meant pushing back against the temptation to needlessly express my irritation when Emily was having a bad day and instead help her celebrate the “wins” of each day, like learning to cook, figuring out a schedule for the kids, or sneaking in a nap. It meant starting to tell her how much I appreciate all that she’s doing and all that God is doing in and through her.
I realize that for some of you, the “happiness” problem takes on far more sinister forms than that which I’ve described. Honestly, Emily and I don’t have a lot of serious conflict, which I’m extremely grateful for. But some of you might have a husband who thinks it’s okay to demand sex because he “needs” it. Some of you might have an emotionally manipulative wife, who pushes you into situations you’re not comfortable with because she wants to be “happy.” There’s some really dark stuff that this lie brings into marriages. But if this is your marriage (or maybe it’s you), understand: It’s not too late to repent, to ask forgiveness of your wife for unreasonable demands, to ask forgiveness of your husband for manipulating him in order to have your own way… The gospel is bigger than the lie of happiness. Will you believe it?