The month of June is “Anniversary Month” in much of my family. My parents and one set of grandparents were all married on June 1st. My brother and sister both celebrate anniversaries next week, as does my one of my brothers-in-law. Marriage is in trouble in our society– many marriages are ending in divorce, while others are choosing to wait longer before making a commitment or choosing not to marry at all.
We tend to celebrate marriage as being all about feelings of love, but marriage is really about making and keeping promises. Two people stand before witnesses and take sacred oaths to be faithful, to love, honor, and cherish (and yipes! sometimes even to obey) one another for the rest of their lives. And most people who take such oaths do so with honest intent. Why, then, does it seem to be failing so often?
One of the reasons has to do with expectations. We expect the same giddy feelings of delight we have during courtship to carry us dreamily into the future. And we expect that the way we act during courtship will be the norm– the “happily ever after” fairy-tale life of story books and romance novels. We expect that we will always be the same as we are now: young, carefree, beautiful/handsome, and eager to please and be pleased by the boy/girl of our dreams… This is unrealistic. And even when we say we know better, we hang on to unrealistic expectations for our relationships, just as we do for other situations and circumstances. Even our “soulmates” can disappoint us, fail to understand us, suffer failures and setbacks, battle depression or addiction, lose their youth and good health, and even question their feelings for us.
Another related issue is that we usually take vows when we are young and our future looks bright. Circumstances can change; plans can fail. War, disease, financial ruin, the loss or miscarriage of a child or children, forced changes in living arrangements or work schedules– all can put enormous stress on a marriage.
But not all marriages crumble under the weight of unusual or unexpected circumstances. Some seem to erode slowly, even under “good” circumstances. Why?
One reason I’ve seen as I look around is a seeming inability to make and keep small promises. We make big, broad promises at a wedding– “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health..” “’til death us do part…” But we don’t promise to forgive him when he leaves the toilet seat up for the fifth time this week, or wait for her while she tries on every one of the six outfits she can’t decide on for the upcoming class reunion. We don’t promise to compromise on which family we will visit for Christmas each year, or what color we will have in the dining room. We think of marriage as a series of negotiations (which it IS), but ones in which one of us “wins” and the other “loses.” And if we consider that we are the “loser” in enough negotiations, we feel entitled to “break” our little promises.
Almost two years ago, my husband suffered an injury at work. He “punctured” his leg–the injury wasn’t huge, but it was deep, and on the back side of the leg, where he couldn’t see it. He knew it hurt, but thought it would heal up. Instead, it became infected. We had to go to the local wound clinic for several months, but between visits, I had to change the dressings, wash the wound, apply the various antibiotics and salves, redress the wound, etc.. David was still working full time, so the dressings would sometimes get sweaty and dirty on top of everything else. I promised to be faithful “in sickness and in health”– and that included washing out the pus-filled wound and caring for the pus-soaked dressings; it included wrapping his leg every other night for weeks. We went through hundreds of yards of gauze and anti-stick dressings, tubes of several different antibiotic salves, special compression socks, etc. Hundreds of dollars and hours later, his leg is slowly getting back to “normal.” During this same period, I was diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes. David has had to be patient with me as I learn to eat (and cook) differently. He has had to help me with glucose testing, dealing with low-sugar episodes, and put up with mood swings (even more than normal!).
And our health odyssey could be much worse– what about those who have to deal with cancer or dementia? But I think sometimes we minimize the commitment needed for the smaller, chronic conditions. The stress may be smaller, but it piles up, just the same. Our promises need to hold in the daily crises– big and small. And our promises need to hold when there is no crisis– and no adventure, either. Many marriages fall victim to “smooth sailing.” Things settle into a routine, and promises that were made to sustain the marriage in the face of “richer or poorer” fall apart in the settled comfort of middle class complacency. Vows take for “better or worse” fall apart in the “blah” and boredom of “good enough.”
Marriage is designed to be a picture of our relationship with Christ. As Christians, we are the “bride” of Christ! But we may need to review our vows and our commitment. Christ is eternally faithful; are we? In our flesh and our frail humanity, we cannot remain faithful on our own. But where are we? Have we lost our first love? Are we committed to Christ even in the midst of chronic illness or small setbacks? Are we flirting with the world because we have become “bored” with our Christian Walk? Has our joy been eroded by our failure to share our little stresses and secret sins with the Lover of our Soul?
Often, when we take a moment to remember our wedding day, we are reminded of the commitments we made, and the joy we felt on that special day. It can be bittersweet, if we have let circumstances or feelings pull us away from the one we love (or if they have moved away from their commitment). But it can be a wake-up call, as well, reminding us that promises made and promises kept are what leads to long-term joy and security. It can be helpful to take a few moments (or more) every once in awhile to remember when we came to Christ, and be reminded of the commitment we made– and the promises He has kept!
Use the link above to read more about marriage in the context of Christ and the Church