One of the most common questions I get about my book for singles, The Sacred Search, which gives a lot of advice about what to look for and what to avoid when choosing someone to marry, is, “What if I can’t find a person like the one you describe?”
Singles who ask this question reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of marriage. Marriage is a journey, not a destination. To explain what that means, as well as the difference that makes, let me ask you a couple of questions:
- What did you imagine your future spouse would be like?
- How close is that “imaginary” spouse to your fiancé/fiancée?
What is better than imaginary? A real spouse
In his book Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, C. S. Lewis told a friend, “You and I have both known happy marriage. But how different our wives were from the imaginary mistresses of our adolescent dreams! So much less exquisitely adapted to all our wishes, and, for that very reason (among others), so incomparably better.”
The real will never equate to the imaginary; we naturally assume that means the real will never live up to the imaginary. But Lewis suggests (and he’s correct) that though the real won’t seem to be as good a fit in theory, the real will actually be much better than the imaginary.
How is this so?
It’s the nature of fulfillment in a fallen world. When we “dream” of a spouse, we don’t dream of things to overcome; we dream of battles already won. We dream of the victory, not the fight; the ecstasy, not the moments of doubt.
We dream of the moments of tenderness, not the storms of misunderstanding. We dream of intimacy, not lonely nights of distance. But it’s the battles, the fights, the doubts and the storms that make up so much of what marriage actually is; it’s having to overcome those challenges that make us grow; and the presence of those challenges makes overcoming them all the sweeter, richer, purer, and ultimately more fulfilling.
That’s why the question, “Where do I find someone like this to marry?” fails to take into account that marriage is a journey, not a destination. It’s a journey toward each other, toward God, toward growth, toward maturity, perhaps toward children, eventually, toward heaven. Enjoy the journey; don’t let it be eclipsed because you haven’t yet arrived at the destination. Overcoming obstacles is part of every “championship season.” Writing as a man who is now in his thirty-third year of marriage, I can honestly say that marriage has never been sweeter.
Let your spouse be part of the journey, not the destination
My wife and I had some difficult seasons early on, but there are moments now, just going on a bike ride or seeing the sun catch her smile just right, that make me swoon like a teenager. She is the delight of my life. But it was a journey to get to this place. Marriage has brought me many of my happiest moments in life, but it has not been one solid state of always being happy, or even being increasingly happy. You might, along the way, have to walk through a few dark valleys that feel like a setback. Some of you, with high expectations, hope to inherit heaven immediately by making a wise marital choice. But be forewarned: the only way to get to heaven is to die, not to get married. Here on earth, we travel toward heaven, and I’ve found, as many have, that my preference is to travel with a lifelong companion, even one who is not perfect.
If you ask your future spouse to be your destination—the one who completes you, makes everything better, and leaves you always feeling completely satisfied (which is what we thought our imaginary spouse would do and be), you will bury him or her with your expectations and resent it when your spouse’s ill health inconveniences you. You’re not choosing a destination; you’re choosing a traveling. The joy of marriage isn’t that there are no more battles; it’s that you never have to face a battle alone.
Fantasy spouses don’t exist
You’ll discover soon after you are married that one of the reasons “fantasy” spouses don’t exist in real life is because just about every relational strength comes with a corresponding weakness—the patient man may be, at times, a little too passive. The fun woman may, at times, be a little too irresponsible. The pious man may, at times, seem to hold you accountable just when you wish he wouldn’t. The organized woman may feel controlling. These are the layers of relationship, and they’re what makes growth possible.
Until you desire the real more than you do the phantom, you’re not ready to be married. Remember: you’re accepting your spouse’s weaknesses as you receive his or her strengths. That’s the only attitude that will help you fulfill the call to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11). There would be no need to encourage and build up your spouse unless your spouse occasionally breaks down. Marriage is often about helping each other get back up even more than it is about entering an early paradise.
Heavenly Father, help me to accept my future spouse as a traveling partner as we journey toward your will for our lives. I know we will struggle at times; I realize we will frustrate each other; I’m sure the day will come when marriage will feel like a lot of hard work. Help us to embrace these moments as part of the purpose of marriage—to encourage and build each other up as often as life seems to break us down.
Adapted from Preparing Your Heart for Marriage. Copyright © 2018 Gary Thomas, published by Zondervan, used with permission, all rights reserved.