Marriage is a complex and important relationship that encompasses every area of life. Yet despite this fact, most couples get married with little or no preparation. They expect to succeed without ever having read a book on marriage or attended a seminar — without ever having sought out any information at all. They give their marriage far less preparation than they would give any other life-changing event. I suspect most married people spend more hours on computer training than they do developing their marriage and family skills.

This is not to say that most people totally dismiss the possibility that their future spouses will have needs and issues that will need to be fixed or healed. But instead of preparing for their part in that healing process, they expect the “magic” of the wedding to fix whatever is wrong. And that’s a prescription for disappointment.

If the weddings that I’ve attended over the last decade are indicators, then old-fashioned, traditional vows have fallen out of favor. One popular wedding website offers 81 different choices of wedding vows, ranging from traditional to unconventional.2 Can’t find what you’re looking for? Then follow one of the website’s handy guides for creating your own!

The demise of the traditional vows coincides rather tightly with the rise in the divorce rate in this country. Coincidence? I don’t think so! You see, the traditional wedding vows were plainly intended to put a couple that was getting married in touch with harsh reality.

For instance, do you remember that part in the vows in which the bride and groom promise to stick together through richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health? Right there in the marriage vows we have a reality session. The bride and groom say to each other, “Hey, you know something? I am getting married to you, and I am prepared for the worst. I do not want the worst, but I am prepared for the worst. I do not want to go through being poor, but if poorer comes, I am prepared for it. I’m not looking for sickness to come, but, if it does, I am prepared to go through that with you, too.” By founding their hopes on fantasy instead of facts, the modern bride and groom ignore what traditional wedding vows were plainly created to do — put the couple in touch with reality.

Even if these traditional vows are used, a deeply imbedded delusion often prevents most couples at the marriage altar from accepting the real blessing of their vows. Even as these couples repeat these vows, they think to themselves, This is not going to happen to us. Yes, I know I am saying “for better or for worse,” but our marriage is going to be nothing but “better.” Yes, I noticed some things wrong with the other person — but I am just sure that God is going to fix those things during this ceremony. And besides, I believe I can straighten out anything that God doesn’t fix pretty quickly after the ceremony.

This is not reality. After the ceremony is over and the couple begins sharing their life together as one, their dream of marriage as a paradise is quickly assaulted by reality. The result is often bitter disappointment. On this count, Karen and I can speak from experience. During the first several years of our marriage, I wrestled with deep disappointment. I had absurdly unrealistic expectations of what marriage would be, and when those expectations were shattered, it ripped my heart out. To be frank, Karen and I were on the brink of divorce, because I was convinced that I had made a mistake.

Not only had the devil convinced me that I had made a mistake by getting married, but he also constantly reminded me of the girl that I “should” have married. She was a girl that I dated off and on in high school — usually during those times when I was trying to be mean to Karen. (I told you I was a real piece of work!) The devil would come to me and say, “You know, you should have married that other girl instead.” Of course, the devil was wrong. He is a pathological liar.

I am so glad that I married Karen. She was and is the very best person for me! But because of my disappointment at that time, I began to think, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’ve got to get rid of Karen in order to be happy. We need to divorce. I don’t want to live without her, but I don’t know how to live with her.

And do you know what? Karen was thinking similar thoughts! She was being crushed by disappointment, too. But the truth is that we didn’t make a mistake. We just got married with all the wrong expectations.

Here’s the problem: We’ve been afraid to get real about marriage. Getting real does not mean giving up on the idea that marriage is designed to be the most meaningful, happy relationship on Earth. What it does mean, however, is that to experience the paradise that marriage makes possible, we first have to recognize the deep needs that each of us as men and women carry into marriage. Only then will we begin to see the real romance of this nurturing, healing institution.

If we are not willing to get real about our marriages, we are in for a shock, because reality will eventually come and kick the door down. The fantasy can last for a while, but a day will come when our eyes will open to the fact that we and our spouses — and everyone else in the world — have real needs and issues to be dealt with. That’s the day we wake up to reality. Go ahead, take that first stop along the path to paradise.

From Our Secret Paradise, © 2006 by Jimmy Evans. Published by Regal Books, Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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