A recent shift in American culture has now made it more appealing to be single. In fact, there are now slightly more people staying single than getting married. But for those of you still searching for your soul mate, this post is for you.
While the waiting game can be long and tedious, it’s important to have realistic expectations about what you’re waiting for. I feel many are searching for their soul mate and dreaming of their fairy tale wedding without a real understanding of what marriage entails.
So for all my single friends out there, keep this advice in mind when you’re searching for Mr. Right:
1. Marriage is a blessing, not the blessing. There is a difference. Getting married and having a family is not the universal Plan A and those who miss out on it are somehow fated to live out Plan B. God’s plan for each person is unique and one shoe does not fit all. We were all single at one time and some will choose to stay that way. And that’s not a bad thing.
2. Be choosy but don’t overanalyze. Choosing who you marry is one of the most important and permanent decisions you will make in life – especially if you believe marriage is for the long haul. So make sure you give it some thought. But don’t over think it. You can easily feel your cosmic fate – where you’ll live, what you’ll do, what kids you’ll have – wrapped up in the decision that’s weighing on your shoulders. Analyzing and overanalyzing on who you should be with can lead to all kinds of stress and anxiety and the loss of a good relationship. The truth? Don’t fall into the trap of using your decision as a way of navigating the best possible scenario of happiness. Overanalyzing gives your decision and your spouse too much power while denying the sovereignty of God. God, not your spouse, is the One who controls your destiny and determines how your life will turn out. It’s unfair to expect your spouse to provide the happiness you want and shield you from pain the rest of your life. He is human and a sinner after all and is guaranteed to make mistakes. He will hurt and disappoint you. It’s just part of being in a relationship. So take the pressure off, but still be choosy. There are some real jerks and drama queens out there. How can you discern the good from the not so great? After years of dating, my decision boiled down to two things: 1) his relationship with God and 2) his character.
A person’s relationship with God (or lack there of) will determine where they go in life. In other words, it will become their guide for every action and decision. The Bible talks about not being “unequally yoked” because the one who walks with God will be walking in an entirely different direction in life. You will save yourself a lot of heartache if you hook yourself up to someone whose relationship with God mirrors that of your own.
A person’s character will determine how they handle life. In other words, it will fuel the way they handle stress, prioritize, treat others, etc. Are they honest? Are they responsible? Do they keep their word? Do they give into peer pressure? Are they hardworking? Do they have a short fuse? Are they sensitive to others’ feelings? These character traits will shape their role as a spouse and parent and affect your daily family life.
3. Your husband will not complete you. Face it, at some point after you say “I do” you will be hurt or disappointed. Your spouse is not perfect. Fairy tales and chick flicks usually end with the wedding day and fail to show the reality that follows. I’m sure there were days Cinderella thought her Prince was Not-So-Charming and the Prince wished Cinderella would just grow a backbone. Most people put their best foot forward during the dating years, letting their true colors show later down the road. Sadly, this becomes the reason for many divorces today when the disillusionment of unmet expectations results in an “I’m just not in love with you anymore”.
The problem is that we consider our spouse to be our “other half” and expect them to complete us. Or we expect them to save us from our former, unsatisfying life. We expose this way of thinking by looking for someone to “balance us out” or “be our better half”. When we think we’re better together with someone rather than as an individual, we’re agreeing with an underlying message that we’re not complete on our own. Looking to someone else to fulfill your loneliness or make you a better person will influence you to marry for the wrong reasons. Then when you discover that your loneliness never subsided and you still struggle with the same issues, you’ll believe your spouse is to blame or that you just “didn’t marry the right person”. The truth? Only Jesus can complete you. He’s the only One that can fulfill your loneliness and change you from the inside out.
4. It is better to be single and alone, than married and lonely. It’s amazing how often we buy into the lie that marriage will cure our loneliness. We think that somehow if we hate being alone, another person will make it better. The truth? You can also be lonely in marriage. And most of the time feeling lonely in a relationship (or in a crowd for that matter) is worse than actually being alone. An article I read stated that true loneliness is when you feel unknown and unloved. It would be easy to think that marriage would cure both of these. Unfortunately you can still be misunderstood and mistreated while married, leading to greater loneliness. Instead of looking for a spouse to fill the void or pretending to be someone you’re not, find safe people in your life that you can trust and open yourself up to them. As you expose parts of yourself you’re afraid to show to others, you can experience acceptance and love and in turn approach marriage as a healthier individual.
5. Your husband is not your dad. So stop expecting him to be. Psychology says that many of us will gravitate toward marrying someone who is similar to our opposite gender spouse (Dad for girls, Mom for boys). This happens because it’s familiar, it’s what we grew up with. That being said, it becomes way too easy at the beginning of a marriage to compare your spouse to what you’re used to. Unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of relationships damaged in this way. The guy comments that his wife’s cooking isn’t quite like his mom’s dish. The girl comments that her dad would know what to do or never would have acted that way. This comparison to your parent is damaging to your spouse and completely unrealistic. Your spouse is not your parent. In fact, they are two completely different people. Were you around when your Dad was newly married in his 20’s? I think not. So don’t compare a man who is now seasoned in his 50’s or 60’s to a young man who is still figuring things out in his 20’s and 30’s. Give your spouse the chance to learn and appreciate him as he grows.
6. You will inherit his family whether you like it or not. Truth be told, marrying your spouse automatically means you will inherit their family whether you like them or not. The in-laws will become a regular part of your life – the good, bad, and ugly. It’s still his family, so watch what you say and how you treat them. Accept it, embrace it, and set some good boundaries. Establish your own family unit and make each other first priority. But realize family is forever and loving them is also a way to love your spouse.
7. Unpack your baggage before dragging it down the aisle. If you think getting married means you become a new person, think again. You will walk down that aisle dragging a whole suitcase full of personal issues, fears, and unhealthy behaviors behind you that have compiled from your past experiences. Make no mistake, your baggage will affect your marriage. So use your singleness now as an opportunity to work through your personal stuff. The healthier you can walk into marriage as an individual, the healthier your relationship will be as a whole. Use your gift of singleness as a time to focus on becoming the right kind of person instead of searching for the “right” person.
8. A healthy marriage will have conflict. So don’t be surprised. When you combine two individuals with two opinions, free-will, and ways of doing things, conflict is bound to emerge. Too often we think that a great marriage should be easy, smooth-sailing, and bump-free. In fact just the opposite is true. But there’s a difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict. Unhealthy conflict results in things like name-calling, uncontrolled anger, manipulation, control, and even domestic abuse. These need to be dealt with swiftly and may need to involve counseling. Healthy conflict, however, is learning how to work together to find a compromise or solution that both people agree on. It includes sharing and acknowledgement of feelings and opinions, listening, respect, finding common ground, and working toward a common goal. Being married doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything. You will have differing opinions and it’s ok to agree to disagree. The important thing about conflict in marriage is that you handle it in a healthy manner that builds trust and deepens intimacy in the relationship. Important note: discuss a method of handling conflict with your spouse before it happens. Setting expectations and ground rules will create a better chance of success.
9. Learn how to forgive and get good at it. A lasting, happy marriage hinges on forgiveness. Make no mistake about it. If you give into the temptation to hold grudges, keep a mental list of wrongs, replay the hurt, give into resentment, or view your spouse with suspicion, disappointment, and mistrust – you’ll watch your marriage die a slow and painful death. Forgiveness is the fuel that keeps a marriage going. When your spouse fails you, you have a choice to make. You can either show grace or contempt. One will deepen love and intimacy, the other will destroy it. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so learn how to do right when your spouse does wrong.
10. Marriage matters. There are many singles today who are considering abandoning the idea of marriage altogether. I’d ask them to reconsider. Your marriage doesn’t have to be your parents’ marriage. Your relationship will be what you make of it. Marriage is not about happiness. It’s not an conduit for a better life. It’s not a cure for loneliness or a way to better yourself. Marriage is not an end in itself. It’s another means of mutual serving and glorifying God. It also serves to reflect God’s relationship with us – a relationship based on trust, unending faithfulness, and unconditional love. A good marriage is not something you automatically start out with on your wedding day. It is something that is carefully and intentionally crafted over time. It may take a lot of work and effort up front but the result is worth it. Going into it with the right perspective and doing it God’s way will lead to a greater sense of companionship, enjoyment, intimacy, and fulfillment. To have a forever partner, confidant, and friend who will stand by you in the hard times, celebrate the good times, and together grow in faith, joy, and selfless love is what makes it all worth it in the end.