Marriage is hard. I think this is worth repeating. In caps and bold. MARRIAGE IS HARD.
It’s worth repeating because, well, marriage is hard! Ask any married person, and confirm it with their spouse.
Marriage isn’t just hard, it’s long. It’s for a lifetime. One man, one woman, one lifetime, without compromise on any of the three points. No variations. Don’t treat your marriage like any other dating relationship, where there’s always an escape hatch, a nuclear button. We should only be looking at marriage with a Plan A in mind – and Plan A is for the long haul.
Because #MARRIAGEISHARD – I thought I’d thrown in a hashtag just in case the point hadn’t been made – we can’t enter into it casually.
It’s worth thinking long and hard about what you’re getting yourself into. If you’re already headed down that path with someone, it’s worth both of you considering how to put into place habits and modes to ensure that you make it to the end with your relationship (and your sanity) intact.
And the best place to start is right at the beginning.
As a married man and a father, I’m often asked by those around me what it takes to make a marriage work. My first response is usually to feel unworthy of answering the question.
I think all married couples know what goes on behind closed doors, away from the public view. There are disagreements, friction, cold wars. However, I’ve learnt over time that this doesn’t mean my marriage is bad – it just means that we’re two perfectly normal human beings, simply learning how to get along.
Which leads to my second response: That it takes hard work. It takes the willingness to ask for forgiveness, and to forgive. It takes real sacrifice, real compromise. It takes the largeness of heart to be the one to breach the silence, even when we feel like we’re the one owed the apology.
To me, everything can be worked through. There is no disagreement so disagreeable that it can’t be sorted out. The problem is that so many things fight for attention: The right to feel wronged. The right to respond. The right for someone hurt to dish out hurt in return. Ego.
Everything must be worked through. Because #NoPlanB, remember? But over many coffees and conversations with couples, I’ve found that of all the things to be worked through, there are two major ones that are nearly impossible to overcome. Yes there are many other sources of friction – career choices, parenting styles, financial perspectives.
But these two issues are so, so much harder to work through. They’re fundamentally divergent. Which is why, when speaking to couples who are thinking about tying the knot, I make sure they speak about these two issues first. Better safe than sorry.
2 NON-NEGOTIABLES TO CHECK BEFORE YOU GET MARRIED
Faith, when properly practiced, should be an all-or-nothing scenario. The convictions of your faith in place before you get married should not be compromised by your marriage. The God you believe in should not be pushed aside to make room for your new spouse.
Your faith should determine your every action, big or small. Big: Career choice, how you treat your parents, how you raise your kids. Small: What you do on Sunday mornings, how you spend your spare cash.
When you marry someone of another faith, their principles will never fully be in alignment. Compromise can only get you so far. At some point will come a decision point so critical, but where your viewpoints are so divergent because of your faith, that the middle ground will be impossible to find.
If you’re from different faiths, it’ll be two valid but competing views. Both sides will be right and wrong all at once. Deadlock doesn’t bode well for wedlock.
This crossroads will differ between couples. It may come in the form of your parenting style. It may arise when you need Friday nights away from home while you serve in your place of worship. It may come at a funeral wake, and disagreements on which practices are acceptable or not.
If you’re from different faiths, it’ll be two valid but competing views. Both sides will be right and wrong all at once. You basically have to choose: Your spouse or your God?
Deadlock doesn’t bode well for wedlock.
A final big factor: When a relationship is at its lowest pit, faith is what determines if a couple stays together or not. If it comes down to two people focussing on what they want for themselves, there is nothing else – no higher standard – to hold you together.
But when the higher standard compels you to fight for your marriage to the very bitter end, regardless of how you feel, it reminds you that it’s more than about two individuals. And the promise is that that divine third party is always there to help you through the hard times.
2. DO YOU WANT CHILDREN?
This point is much more practical – but much more emotional.
There is nothing sadder than the person who wants a child, but isn’t able to do so because of the spouse’s refusal to entertain the thought. It leaves a void which you can temporarily fill – with pleasure, pets, hobbies, external relationships – that may go some way to assuaging the pain, but never fully fits.
This is not the same struggle as that of a couple who both want children, but aren’t able to conceive. That’s equally painful, but a different journey, where at least they have the comfort of knowing they’re both in it together.
I’ve met couples where one wants kids, the other can’t stand them. So they live the childless life. At first there is a certain tolerance or resignation to their fate. But this mushrooms into bitterness and resentment. One bears the blame of the dissatisfaction of the other, and there is no acceptable appeasement.
Similarly, I know of couples where one has given in, had a kid, then regretted it, and kept a distance from their role as a parent. No diapers, no late nights, thank you very much. The spouse who wanted the child is left to deal with it alone – neglected, exhausted, and angry.
One wants kids, the other can’t stand them. So they live the childless life. Eventually this mushrooms into bitterness and resentment.
I know this particular equation well because, growing up, I never once thought about having kids. No inclination, no chemistry. But my wife remains thankful that I wasn’t dead set against them; I wasn’t excited about it, but I did it for her.
To my surprise, from the moment my first one popped out, I was enamoured, hooked. But I can’t imagine what I’d be putting my wife through by refusing to have kids. I can’t imagine how it would feel to be the one pulling out the rug on her lifelong dream.
And I don’t want you to make that mistake either.
To be clear, if you’re married, don’t reconsider the marriage! You need to make it work. Find handles, seek help, look for marriage mentors, even professional counselling if needed.
But if you’re still in a position to determine your future, my personal view is to think hard about getting into a marriage where either your faiths are divergent, or where someone is going to be disappointed as far as having kids goes. Save yourself (and your intended spouse) the pain. It may hurt now, but it’ll save you a lifetime of pain.