All Marriage is Hard Marriage

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.


89 thoughts on “All Marriage is Hard Marriage

  • I’ve said for years, “I’d much rather preside at a funeral than at a wedding, ’cause I’m pretty sure the funeral will take!”

    Your counsel to couples preparing for marriage is right on. My first marriage ended badly after 30 years – too much unaddressed disappointment, pain, a kind of stasis in which neither of us was growing with the other. Resentments abounded. Then, along came another. We’ve been married now for 17 years, much better equipped to follow the instruction you offer people getting married. I’m sure it’s hard for my wife – I’m not easy to live with. There have been and will continue to be times that are hard, but the love is deep enough to handle whatever comes. Thank you for your honest sharing.

    Grace and Peace!

    • Hey Gordon, great to hear from you. Yeah, I understand divorce much better than I did in my younger, “righteous,” more judgmental days – appreciate your vulnerability, and happy for you. Thanx for stopping by to post your thoughts.


      • Hi Mark, this is Kay, Gordon’s wife.
        You are so COOL to offer this at a wedding ceremony. I used to preach the same kind of realism when I did weddings. Then I got a divorce. If people realized how HARD it was to get a divorce, it would definitely get them to work harder, but in the end, we are so tremendously human we can’t help ourselves. The brokenness that caused my family to “blow apart” still hurts after all these 17 years. But, I would also have to do it all over again (thank God I don’t have to). Some people are mentally unhealthy and living inside a marriage like that is tantamount to treason in God’s-love-domain. I thank God God gave me Gordon’s love. In a broken world, I am so very very humbly thankful!!! God can live with that.

      • I think God’s way more cool with us than we’ll ever grasp in this life 🙂 And I agree with you about marriages/relationships where things are truly bad. I’ve wrapped everything in a neat little bow here, it’s not always that cut and dried is it. Thanx for stopping by to post your thoughts, and so glad that you and Gordon are enjoying life together. Great to make the connection!

    • Very good insight.Been married 35 years to the same woman so I feel you! It’s been about 50% pleasure and 50% pain.Marriage is hard work!

      Bishop GL Jones

  • For better or for worse, really means that, doesn’t it? When I’m officiating a wedding, I, too, am conscious of all those in the crowd, hoping that what I say to the couple will be a challenge or reminder or encouragement to the rest of them (and I agree, the couple doesn’t hear a thing!). Thanks for this reminder to love unconditionally, and the reward of pushing through and loving long.

  • Yeah, i’m no good at marriage either!

    i always in awwwe of the couples, like the such i meet a few weeks back! They had just passed their 50th anniversary…

    Funny, i could even make it one year..


  • I love this post. I’m only going into my fourth year of marriage, but I can attest to everything you’ve written. In those four years we’ve been through a military deployment to Afghanistan, getting stranded together with three big dogs in a hotel room for two weeks in New Orleans when our car and Uhaul trailer got stolen on a cross-country move, a second cross-country move, infertility treatments, and the agony and anxiety of wading through unemployment while getting established someplace new. Then there was also the usual stuff: jealousy, distrust, old baggage, anger, frustration… But through it all neither of us ever stepped back and just watched the other fall. We are an incredible team when we stick together and there is nothing in the world that can make me forget that, even if that realization gets a little faded in the fog of the moment. Divorce has cast its ugly shadow over us in the past, but we refuse to let it drop roots.

  • I wish you had officiated my wedding and renewal. My husband and I had some incredibly hard times and fought hard. In the end he felt the grass was greener elsewhere. I stayed for 10 years and we did lots of counseling (with our pastor and other clinicians). It took an incredible toll on my health. He finally decided to be with the other. Afterward, a friend who’s husband is a pastor told me God hates divorce and I should pray for forgiveness. It’s taken a while but I’m working through the guilt of failure. God is rebuilding the pieces.
    Thanks for the post and reminder of what marriage should be…

    • I don’t know the details but you said he decided to leave. Why do you need to ask for forgiveness? Church people often give really bad advice. I just want to tell you that God loves you and sees you as righteous. You are not defined by your divorce. You are Gods child. Someone once told me that guilt is a gift because it leads us to repent. Shame is from the devil because it causes us to feel unloved by the Father. God does not want to shame you. You are loved and safe. (((Hugs)))

      • Thank you so much and you are definitely right. She made this comment during the lowest point in my life. I was grasping at anything and thought the wife of a minister would be a good place to start. I was shocked with her words and decided to walk away to find others ways to find answers to healing. After doing a lot of reading and praying, I discovered exactly what you said. First, I had not control over my ex’s decision. Most importantly God loves his children not matter what. I’ve learned to think twice before I listen to well meaning people. {{Hugs back at cha}}

    • So glad to hear that! I wish Christians offered good advice at the right time. I have had my fair share of people wounding me further. I’m glad you found peace and were able to overlook that person’s bad advice.

    • Yeah, tell your friend to call me, I’d like to make her cry. Seriously though, we could talk for days about why Evangelicals think first of “sin” before forgiveness, but it’s misplaced to talk about what God “hates” when someone’s going through something difficult. I would add that there are tons of things that God really, really doesn’t like, and we’re all guilty of most of them. But yet we have grace and mercy and forgiveness and the promise of so much more.

      • So true! I had always sang about grace and mercy. However I can truly say that through this and many situations since; I truly know what those words really mean. I have never felt so close to God. He is Love. 🙂

  • I have to say, I finally am getting better at this marriage thing! What you say is so very true. My husband is a saint and has never stopped loving me despite my flaws. I love how you’ve written about what so many of us have gone through, or are going through. This was so very well said. Thank you for writing it.

  • Newlyweds don’t listen to anything lolol. That’s so true. I want to fricken puke at newlyweds and those engaged or in serious relationships. Not because I am bitter. I have been married for almost 18 years and it hasn’t been Disney land but I can tell you I love my husband more now than I did back when we were two idiots thinking it would be cool to get married. What the heck did I know? Nothing. Through hard knocks and experience we have come to where we are. Most of the crap people think about marriage and relationships is 99% bull shit. It’s from watching too much tv or reading too many romance novels. Real marriage, if written in book form, wouldn’t sell. Because it’s bruising and hard and your feet want to run but your brain reminds you to keep the commitment. As I speak, my husband is sick. He’s puked 2 times today and kept me up half the night coughing. Sure it’s maddening and hard, but I love that man. I will run all over town to get him what he needs because I love him. Do I get a bouquet of flowers and treated like a queen. I wish. Most days we just settle into patterns. But sometimes when the world seems against me and he’s there still with me, I remember why God gave us marriage. We hold each other up even when I am ugly crying and swearing at inanimate objects. That’s love. This man loves the ugly version of me. Isn’t that the most Christ like thing one can do? I get tired of this non sense about how perfect men should be or how a marriage should be or its grounds for divorce. Love always is a sacrifice otherwise it wouldn’t be love. People are self centered though and thing marriage is all about them. It’s taken me 18 years but I think I finally get it.

    • “two idiots thinking it would be cool to get married” – yep, that’s why I don’t officiate many weddings – too hard to watch, even though that’s where I was years ago.

      Also, bullshit is one word, not two. I’m from Texas, that’s where it was invented. Just trying to keep things grammatically correct 🙂



      • I tried to leave a comment on your blog but my phone didn’t like it. I will try later from my laptop. I need to meet you too! I like your post. I resonated with it. I am feisty too!!

  • Great post, completely agree. The harder the walk with your spouse, the deeper the relationship seems to grow. Marriage is never easy, but it is worth the hard work with a partner who is doing the same.

  • Great post–underscores much of why I didn’t remarry after my early marriage and divorce. If people can be honest with themselves that they just aren’t cut out for “real marriage”, then they shouldn’t enter into it. Not everyone can do the solitary life, but God gifts some of us to do so. I’m well content, alone with HIM. Again, great post! God bless you and your family abundantly.

    • The Apostle Paul seemed to be quite the advocate for the “solitary” life, as you put it. I’m always ranting about the fact that single is good, and married is good, unless you’re attitude about either is bad, then they’re both terrible.

  • I wonder if the couples who are willing to let you say that at there ceremony have a better marriage than those who don’t, since they’re willing to have a glimpse of the not-so-perfect reality of marriage.

    • Interesting question. I don’t do a ton of weddings, so my success rate is pretty high 🙂 Everyone’s still married so far. There’s only one couple I don’t stay in touch with, not sure how they’re doing. But you’re right, people who are willing to talk about the dark, ugly stuff are more likely to do well in Marriage, Parenting, and relationships in general.

  • Your post is spot on. We live in a culture that romanticises marriage and then does everything to rip any public marriage apart, gleefully. Regardless of the collateral damage i.e. the children. Everything is possible for God though.

  • Your last thought is so important. When our previous pastor did wedding services she always counseled the couple to “Love each other for who you are; forgive each other for who you are not.” When you go into a marriage knowing either of you can turn into Mr. Hyde at any moment and are committed to living with it, you have a better chance of surviving and growing.

  • All marriage is absolutely hard!!! But in the end of it all if you can really say you want the person you are with, it is worth every bit of it. I love this post!!

  • I am in a new relationship and this is great advice for me to hear. My first marriage of 45 years was ok, or so I thought, but we were living separate lives and basically sharing a house.. Suddenly the truth was revealed and my husband was arrested and sentenced. He was a pedophile. I was blindsided. This time, I am paying more attention to our relationship.

    • Ouch – I’m so sorry to hear that – for both of you. There’s some really broken stuff inside your ex I’d imagine. I’m sure you’re a little shell-shocked, but good that your eyes are open. I’ll be praying that your new relationship goes well, and that you’re well loved. Mark

  • Amazing and spot on with simplicity. I try to tell myself…and pretty much everyone who gripes about their marriage to me- hey! Marriage is not supposed to like the Disney princess movies- those are fairy tales- means of temporary escape from the real truth and purpose of marriage. That truth is this: for us to spur each other on- to become and love as Jesus loves. If it were romantically awesome all the time, we would never have the chance to let God fulfill our weakness with His awesome strength! (Please excuse my ramble as this subject has come up sever different times today.) Thank you for your awesome words and insight!

  • I popped by to have a look at your blog and I must say, this really spoke volumes to me. I’m still a “young thing” comparatively speaking, as my husband and I have been together 4 years, married for almost 3, but I have seen his darkness and he mine. We’ve managed to take our vows to heart and meant it when we said, “Till death do us part.” I couldn’t even imagine the idea of ever asking for a divorce, no matter how hard things might get. Even before we were married, we went through hardships. We went so far as to live in a car just to secure a job for two weeks. We had applied to the same place for a job but had been given alternating shifts for our training, and we lived an hour away with only one car. Since I am terrified of driving a car, he stuck it out and we lived in our car for two weeks, only going home to get a quick shower at best. I think after living through that together, and having children together, I am pretty sure he and I can take any hurdle thrown at us. He has put up with a lot from me, and I count my lucky stars every night that he is my husband. Though he seems to see it the other way around! Haha

  • It’s nice to read your post and everyone’s comments on the naked face of marriage rather than the dolled up versions we see in the community and media.

  • It’s nice to read your post and everyone’s comments on the naked face of marriage rather than the dolled up versions we see in our familit’s, friends, communities and media.

  • “A good relationship is about 2 things, 1st, find out the similarities, 2nd, respect the differences.” ~ Unknown
    Great post; Thanks for sharing your thought-provoking thoughts!

  • Wow, Mark, I am so glad to have found your blog. This article on marriage is absolutely excellent! I struggled for years with the way people brag about their relationships on social media and on blogs, and even in small groups within the church… And I wondered, is anyone else struggling? I mean, I know I’m feisty at times and I know I’ve got flaws, but dang! How is this so challenging to NOT try to change my spouse and get through those truly dark days? There are times where I’ve felt as if there’s this pressure to put on a smiley face about everything, and if there’s a problem, to secretly take it to a lawyer, or a counselor… But that’s what I think we’ve got wrong as Christians: the “secret” part. I pray that we can be more of an honest community to each other, especially during the struggles… I bet more marriages would be saved if we were all more honest and not so scandalized when a couple is truly struggling… Thank you for your honest and candid words here! May God bless you!

    shalimamma at

    • You bet! I appreciate your vulnerability and honesty. I don’t think things can change within a church without people who are willing to voice publicly (and loudly) what you’ve articulated above.

  • I would have let you say that at my ceremony. No questions asked. So many people need that reminder. In “Shall we Dance”, a movie starring Richard Gere, the wife has a great speech about marriage, stating that she got married so she could be a witness to her husband’s life. That she would care about everything: the mundane things, the great things, the hard and depressing things. She would be the book in which his life would be written and remembered. Your article reminded me so much of that and filled me with warmth. Weddings are easy; Marriages are hard, especially in the generation where it’s easier to replace a busted thing with a new one than FIX the thing we have. Only, of course, we can replace “thing” with “relationship” in this case. Wonderful words. Beautiful wonderful words. Thank you mark.

    • You bet – make sure and get someone involved who can help you think through it. Figuring it out on your own is relational suicide. (sorry for the unsolicited opinion, seen it happen too much…)

      • I disagree. In my years of helping people with relationships I’d say that “space” doesn’t deal with the issues you’re struggling with. They’ll be there when you get back.

      • That may be true but when dealing with one person who gets passionate about what she is feeling and another who wants to talk calmly in a house filled with children who don’t need to hear the problems, it can be like brain surgery trying to deal with and confront problems. I agree that the problems will still be there when we “return” but that space and time gives me a chance to have a cooling off period. I have expressed how I am feeling and the only thing I can do is wait for him to digest it and proceed to discuss it further. I am a fuse lit at both ends and he knows that, it is just a matter of time before more talking occurs. In our situation talking only does so much though…my qualm is that I am intensely lonely, feeling empty, and losing my identity. There is only so much he can do. He works an exorbitant amount of time at his job so when he gets home he is done; I can’t sit here as a stay-at-home-mom and complain that I am not getting more from him. I have literally not one single friend that I spend time with, I relocated here 6 years ago and am friendly with people he’s known. Going out is hard because he is removed from how the household is run, because he works so much. It’s a whole lot of catch 22’s so after 6 years and 6 kids…it has taken it’s toll. There is only so much talking to be had to “fix” things…

  • Completely agree with you that all marriages are hard marriages. I myself have faced lot of hurdles in my marriage but I think talking to each other and spending some time together can take the edge off. Communication and acceptance is the key.

  • I like to remember, though, that marriage itself is glorious. The “hardness” comes from the hearts that we bring to it.

    I really appreciate the message that you share with your wedding audiences. Fantastic.

    Blessings to you.

  • I was married and divorced a few years later. Then I met the love of my life but by then life’s cynicism and our society’s penchant towards fitting everyone into a very archaic mold had completely turned me off from marriage. We lived together for 10 years, having a daughter in the process. On our 10th anniversary, we got married. There was a lot that went into that decision … but this quote from the movie, “Shall We Dance,” by Susan Sarandon’s character has stuck with me and explains marriage in such a logical way:

    “We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”

  • Well hello there! I particularly like this post, because I’m particularly going through this problem. Funny how being a “Christian” can actually provide immunity to Christian advice. But never the moving of the Spirit! So I remain hopeful in his work in my family’s life. All the best!

  • I have been married 10 years now and the last 3 have been the most difficult time of our lives. My husband and I have been grappling with how the world problems and how they have affected our lives. We often look back at our wedding counseling session and wished that our pastor was honest to us about how that world really works. Love isn’t enough when all the chips are stacked against you. My story is a complicated on and i invite you to read about it at I wish my husband believed that he and I could get through this together. Now he believes that the only way to make it is by taking more spouses into our marriage. I’m having trouble loving him the same way.

  • Coming up on 27 years of marriage I so appreciate the honesty of this post. I am completely blessed by all you have said here and thankful you are saying it to young people about to embark on this journey.

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