Whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask the couple if, during the ceremony, I can say something akin to the following:
There is something that you’ll run into – something about your spouse that you can’t stand – something dark and unattractive about them. When this happens, you’ll be on the fence for awhile, thinking that you’ve made a mistake, that you’d be happier alone or happier with someone else. If you get past that stage you’ll be tempted to change the other person. “If I can just get them to be different everything will be ok.” But if you can learn to love your spouse, darkness and all, you’ve entered into a deeper love. It’s easy to love when everything’s perfect. But to love without condition is to step into a deeper world, a place where most people won’t go.
For the couples that let me get away with the above (understandably, not everyone’s comfortable with it), I end with a charge to pursue this unconditional love.
I don’t do it for the benefit of the couple (newlyweds don’t listen to anything), but for the people in the audience. Most marriages aren’t going well, especially for people in their late 30’s and early 40’s. We’ve somehow gotten it in our heads that when we get married it’s some kind of picnic. If not it’s because we married the wrong person. People who stay in bad marriages either spend a good chunk of their energy trying to change the other person, or live, day-to-day, for the rest of their married lives, bitter about their situation, pining away for their soul-mate.
I’m an Evangelical pastor, so, culturally speaking, it’s verboten to divorce. But let me tell you that I’ve entertained the idea. So has my wife. So has every one I know. Years ago I sat with a friend, someone who I respect very much. He was pushing me about some areas of laziness in my life. “I have a high maintenance marriage” I said, shifting blame like a 3 year old. “So do I” he immediately fired back. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.” This shit’s hard.
My wife and I have navigated some difficult things. We’ve walked through hell. Together. For some reason, when two people experience hardship, even if it’s at their own hand, they grow closer. Elaine is my best friend. I know that she’ll grind whatever grist the mill requires to stay with me. There’s not enough room on the internet to list the crap she’s had to put up with. The older we grow, the more thankful I am for her. The more attracted I am to her. We’ve learned how to fight, to express our issues with humility, to listen, to apologize – when to stand firm and when to let things go. We’ve learned how to love each other. I’d be a fool to do anything but learn to love her more.
The difficulties of our marriage have forced our hand, pushed us into a deeper ocean. A better life together. I know it sounds weird, but the other person’s difficulties/darkness/imperfections, well loved and accepted, are one of the fundamental elements of a great marriage.