First, being unmarried is better than being in a “bad marriage.” Just about anyone who has experienced both can tell you this. The evidence is everywhere; it’s called “divorce” (or “death.” Some husbands kill their wives or vice versa. It’s not a very uncommon phenomenon. And those who don’t murder their mates might wish and hope for them an early death.) They hate their spouses so much, or are so traumatized by the relationship, that, given a choice, they would gladly live without the spouse rather than with him/her. They are absolutely desperate to find peace by getting away from them. They cannot imagine living the rest of their lives with them.
Anything else has got to be better, yet, we need not rely on experience to know this. When Jesus informed His disciples that they could not divorce their wives, they responded, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10). Precisely! Their thought was that the possibility of getting into a marriage they could not get out of made it not worth the risk. It’s just better not to get married in the first place. Or, try this one: “It is better to live in a desert land [or] a corner of a roof, than [in a house shared] with a contentious [and vexing] woman” (Prov. 21:9,19). You can be unmarried and happy, but many have found it hard to be anything but married and miserable.
This is a gloomy, if not frightening, picture of marriage, to be sure, and we would like to think it represents only a minority of marriages. However, for those who are so desperate to get married that they take what they can get in a mate, this is something to think soberly about. So, if you think you are miserable unmarried, find consolation in the fact that, yes, it could be worse. You could be married and feel much more miserable. You might get what you wish for and spend the rest of your long life regretting it. Instead, don’t get desperate. Don’t lower your standards. Don’t settle. Above all, be faithful to the Lord and find your utmost joy in Him.
Work on the virtues which would make you attractive as a spouse and as a Christian and make yourself available. If you can’t find a mate under those circumstances, then it’s good that you didn’t get married to begin with. When God said it was not good for men to be unmarried (Gen. 2:18), He uttered a generality. There have probably been millions of adults who have never gotten married and died virgins. One of them “ Jesus, the greatest who ever lived “ managed to live a very fulfilling life without getting married. Paul, arguably the second greatest human, also was not married (1 Cor. 7:7, 8). So, it is not necessary to get married in order to live a good, happy, robust, meaningful life. In fact, it is arguable that, at least in some cases, marriage inhibits such (cf. 7:29-35). So, if you’re unmarried, take comfort “ you’re in good company. You can live a happy, God-glorifying life of service that many married people would love to have, and then go to heaven and be in good company again. That’s not a bad deal!
Second, don’t go into marriage unsure about your partner. Marriage can be difficult enough under the best of circumstances; it doesn’t need to start off handicapped with dissatisfaction. Don’t increase the odds of its failure by going into it despite doubts you entertain about the suitability of your prospective mate. This is not to say that you have to wait until Mister or Miss Perfect comes along. After all, it’s the nature of life to have to learn how to make a success out of it while living and working with flawed human beings in all facets of our existence. Marriage is no different. Yet, if you’re unhappy with your mate before you wed, it’s even less likely that you’ll be happy with him or her afterward. Marriage has a way of magnifying faults. After marriage, couples can begin to feel trapped. While you might have found refuge by getting away and retiring to your home after a spat, now you find yourself having, not only to live, but even to sleep, with the person who has hurt or infuriated you. Here is something which might help you to distinguish between major and minor shortcomings: identify anything which bothers you, or is less than desirable, about your future mate. Let’s say your fianc? has a habit of sucking his teeth every once in a while. No big deal, right? Now, ask yourself: “Will I be able to tolerate this 24/7 for the next 50-70 years or so?” If not, don’t marry that person, because that’s probably what you’ll have to do if you do marry him/her. The fact of the matter is that there is a big difference between what a person can tolerate on a three- or four-hour date and what he can tolerate every hour of every day of every year for the rest of his life. What a person thinks is trivial in courtship quickly looms large under the marital microscope. And it’s probably only going to get worse. For instance, if your boyfriend is packing an extra ten pounds over his ideal weight, you would probably be safe to double or triple that after ten years of marriage. A dripping faucet might not bother you for a few minutes, but try going to sleep with that incessant sound (cf. Prov. 19:13; 27:15). One of the worst mistakes a fiancé or fiancée can make is to think that he or she will change the other and take off the rough edges once they get married. Don’t count on it! The age of miracles has passed! You’ll have your hands full dealing with the many other annoyances you didn’t anticipate, let alone the ones you did. So, here’s the deal: annoyances tend not to get better, but worse, in marriage, just by virtue of the fact that you’re around each other a whole lot more. So, if there is something about your fiancé or fiancée you don’t like, especially if you can’t imagine yourself living with it, either get him to change well before you’re married or resolve to live with it “ because odds are high that’s exactly what you’ll be doing for a long, long time. So, all you young women who look at old men and say, “I couldn’t stand to be married to that old geezer,” trust me: if you and your husband live long enough, you will be!
Now, the silver lining to all of this is that, not only do most people understand the need to tolerate others and love them despite their imperfections, but they also mature and learn to adjust to them and be happy despite them. You count your blessings and understand that, whatever your mate’s shortcomings, what he brings to your life more than offsets them. And, then, you will get to the point where you simply won’t care about some of these things after ten, twenty, or more years of marriage. And that’s probably because you’ve managed to keep pace with his weight gain.
Third, don’t expect to find a marital partner better than you are. It’s hackneyed but true, and it applies to marriage: “Birds of a feather flock together.” In other words, what you are is what you get. If you want a good, upstanding, virtuous husband or wife, look to yourself first. If you’re lacking in your character, it’s unlikely you’re going to find someone of good character who would be interested in you. If you want someone better than you, your prospects are doing the same: they’re looking for someone better than you. There are exceptions, but they’re exactly that. When it comes to virtue, people tend not to marry up but in their own class. If you’ve got serious spiritual, moral, mental, or social problems, then the one you’re considering good enough probably isn’t considering you good enough. After all, if they’re as good as you think they are, why would they be considering someone like you’ When it comes to marital mates, it’s more likely we’ll get a mirror than a portrait.
Again, this sounds rather negative, but it’s not as bad as you might think. The simple fact is that the solution to this lies as close as you. If you want a better person as a mate, then be a better person. If you want a faithful Christian as a mate, then be a faithful Christian. We’re not talking about changing personality here; we’re talking about character. Being a better person is something everybody can do and ought to do “ whether you get married or not. If you’re looking for good marriage prospects, then start by looking at yourself!
Fourth, don’t expect marriage to be like courtship. None of this is said to excuse a failure to encourage love and romance in a marriage or to approve of spouses taking each other for granted, but that’s another subject. Courtship is a thrilling time of life, but it won’t last. It can’t. This is the nature of life. Courtship involves novelty. We’re relating to members of the opposite sex and considering them in ways we never have before and never will again, and, often, in the near-vacuum of life without the typical adult responsibilities. The rose-colored conception which might have prevailed about marriage during courtship must give way to reality. Otherwise, a disappointment that marriage is not the fairy tale one was led to believe it would be eventually sours into bitterness. As the ardor of courtship cools and its thrills are replaced by the hardships and humdrum of ordinary life, mates, and perhaps usually wives, might begin to feel neglected, as if the other is not fulfilling the promise that marriage would be an extension of courtship. They long for the lost thrill they experienced in pursuing and being pursued. The ensuing dissatisfaction rises to resentment and might even ultimately seem to justify seeking, in flirtation and adultery, a restoration of the excitement one had known in courtship. When it comes to excitement, few partners can compete with paramours. So, going into marriage with unrealistic expectations is not just juvenile “ it can be quite dangerous!
Again, if this makes marital disappointment seem inevitable, a few consolatory considerations are in order. First, this is the way of all life. What gift have you ever received that you continued to feel the same level of excitement about as you felt when you first received it? Do you feel the same way about your aging car the way you did the first time you drove it off the dealership lot? Life dictates that feelings be ephemeral. Second, this is best. To be frank, feelings can get in the way of functionality. The growing responsibilities of marriage and family life place demands on the time, attention, and resources of the suitor-now-turned-husband-and-then-father. If he were to pursue his wife with the same passion with which he courted her, he would soon exhaust himself and flame out and everyone would lose. Likewise, it is impossible for wives to devote to house-keeping, an outside job, or children the attention they require while, at the same time, giving to her husband the attention she gave to him before they married. Some choices have to be made here; someone has to be content with less, in some areas, than he or she once had. Marriage has to become something of a trade-off with courtship. If you can’t live with that, then spare yourself and someone else the misery you would encounter in getting married.
Fifth, What might be lost in romance in the move from courtship to marriage is eventually replaced by something at least as good, and probably better. In the place of that excitement is calm, contentment, support, security, trust and even “ a greater kind of love. In other words, marriage gives you something “ something in the long run more valuable “ that courtship, for all its thrills and wonder, can’t give. And that’s why, regardless of what courtship gives, those who enjoy it want to move beyond it to marriage. New shoes are shiny, but give their wearers a chance, and they’ll take them off as soon as they can and exchange them for some comfortable old ones in the only place they can have them “ right there at home.
~Gary P. Eubanks