(My series on marriage continues…pt 1 here.)
When you marry someone, you marry all of them. Not just their body, but their character as well. This means, there might just be potentially destructive things inside of them – memories, wounding, character weaknesses, lies, self-protecting behaviors, sins, addictions or addictive tendencies, negative family patterns, lie-based beliefs or unhealthy communication styles. And you are marrying all of that too. Since no one can hide their inner selves forever, these traits will almost certainly show themselves at some point during your marriage. Of course there are positive things inside each of us as well, but my experience has been that the positive things aren’t buried. Instead, they are grown through the years by intentional effort. In other words, they aren’t a surprise, and almost no one hides them. The negative however…well, we all know we try to hide that stuff until we just can’t anymore. This means, they usually show themselves in the middle of a mess, when we, or our circumstances are out of our control, and our filters are down. Which makes the internal potentially very, very dangerous. And it makes knowing what is inside of us very, very important. Imagine walking into the middle of a minefield (which is sort what marriage is) and having no idea where the mines are. You are always one step away from not just ruining your day, but your life. This is what it can be like, marrying someone with internal hidden “mines” waiting to get triggered.
Let me preface some of this by saying, having darkness inside of us doesn’t disqualify us from marriage. If that were the case, no one would be married. We are all twisted compilations of woundedness and dysfunction. My point is that, because of the reality of the potential dangers in our inner world, before you get married, or early on in your marriage, it is a good idea to…
4. Date in such a way that you get to really know who they are and something of what might be inside of their heart. We all know that much of our dating practices are deceptive. We wear our best clothes, put on our best manners, give more thoughtful gifts, hide our crazy relatives, sacrifice sleep to help, etc. It’s a game we all play and it isn’t without its charming merits. But, what would it look like if young people who think they might marry each other, said something like, “Because we should both know as much as we can about what we might be getting into, I am willing to do a few things that enable us both to see something of what might lie inside each of us. (Counseling, sitting with older, wiser couples, taking tests, reading and studying together, etc) And I commit that, when (not if) we find things that hold destructive potential, I won’t hide them and I’ll begin working on them now, before we go any further.” Yes, I know. This sounds really weird. And probably unrealistic. But I promise you, there are a bunch of 40 something married folk who are cheering from the sidelines, “Do it! Do it! Do it!” Because it can be a rather terrifying experience, after you are married a while, to see something unexpected and potentially destructive pop out of your spouse that you had no idea was there. I’ve previously written about what this can look like here. And since I’ve already gone to places you might be uncomfortable with, let me just go ahead and push it a bit.
5. Invest in professional pre-marriage counseling. Or invest in preventative, proactive counseling to build a stronger marriage, especially before problems arise. In an ideal world, older, relationally healthy couples would voluntarily meet with, love on and teach younger couples how to be married well. In reality however, we all know it is hard to find a marriage mentor. (Don’t quit looking though! There are some out there. If you find a couple like this, thank Jesus for this blessing, and then learn to be that to younger couples later.) Fortunately, there is a wonderful profession out there with people who not only study the institution of marriage, family, emotional health and how to integrate their spirituality with it all, but they have done a lot of personal work in this area and have wisdom to offer. They are called professional counselors and marriage and family therapists. Pr. 4:5-7 says, “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” We invest in our cars, our homes, our retirements, etc. That which is important to us, we don’t leave sitting out in the rain, trusting it won’t rust or decay. We pay attention to it and spend money to maintain it. Why would our marriages be any different? Invest in it. With the help of those who know what they are doing. And don’t be afraid to pay for it if you have to. There is something very helpful about sitting with a non-involved third-party, someone who can lead conversations, ask probing questions, moderate conflict and create an environment for couples to talk about things that may never come up if not brought up very intentionally.
6. Look for a spouse who is learning the spiritual practice of transparency and openness with others. (and learn to practice this for yourself) This can take a lot of different forms and names. Some people join accountability groups. Others have Bible study groups. Some have mentors, spiritual directors, counselors, spiritual friends, pastors, etc. The central idea is that they understand a vital part of their spiritual development is to open themselves up to others in honesty and authenticity. They invite someone else to look at their inner world, their dark stuff, and speak to it or offer guidance around it. Telling our stories and being known by others is a vital part of our spiritual growth. You want to be married to someone who is walking this path. Because one day, if you do marriage authentically and deeply and don’t run from the pain, an issue, problem, crisis will arise in your marriage or lives. And it will require you and your spouse to do some soul-searching. It will require you both to open some very personal and probably very scary things about yourselves to others. And it will be terrifying if the first time you have to do this is when you are in pain and afraid and in crisis. It is worth it as a young person to spend a little time learning how to do this, so that, when you really need to do it, you already know how to do it.