By Dr. Jared Pingleton, Relationship360° Guest Expert
No one wants to become a statistic. Yet we know that nearly half of all marriages fail legally. More significantly, most marriages fail functionally. According to marriage satisfaction research, only about 5-12 percent of American marriages are mutually satisfying. And the little secret here is that 90 percent of those have been married 30 years or longer!
Consequently, many people cohabitate to attempt to insure against relational failure. At first glance, the “try before you buy” strategy appears to make logical sense to determine compatibility. After all, don’t we test drive new cars?
Yet the bigger irony (and tragedy) is that whereas about 40 percent of marriages end in divorce, about 80 percent of cohabitants break up. Why? Because there is no foundation of trust and security where there is no commitment and covenant (which is the key to marital success). Ugh! What are we to do?
These are sad and sobering statistics to be sure. Intuitively, we all realize that mediocre, mundane, monotonous marriages are miserable. Therefore, it’s not only perfectly normal, but actually pretty healthy for us to have an implicit concern about marrying the wrong person. Unfortunately that fear can paralyze us, inhibit our relational growth and cause us to be desperately lonely (which is the only thing the Creator created for His creatures which He declared to be “not good” – Gen. 2:18)!
To compound the problem, the typical dating scene is based on fraud and deception! What I mean by that is we are taught to base our relationships on physical appearance/attraction, put our best foot and face forward, invest a lot of energy, expense and effort into looking our best and being on our best behavior. We’re rarely authentic.
Now that’s not really the problem—the real problem is that the other person does the same thing! Our dating culture encourages us to wear psychological masks, exaggerate positive traits, embellish accomplishments and minimize defects. Our flesh still instinctively hides (Gen. 3: 8).
In our desperate search to fill the empty lonely place within our soul, we blindly seek out Mr. or Ms. Right. We hope they will somehow magically and marvelously satisfy the aching void within, meet our deepest needs and fulfill our greatest expectations. Destined to fail, this subconscious sophisticated strategy typically deteriorates into destructive, dysfunctional dependency.
The good news here is that while we can’t control the other person’s pretentiousness or posturing, we can decide to be relationally real. We can be honest, forthright and transparent. We can choose to take relationship risks and be ourselves, warts and all.
But won’t we get hurt? In a fallen world, most likely. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken…the only place perfectly safe from all the dangers of love—and it is a horribly cold and lonely place– is hell” (The Four Loves). But that’s why the wisest man who ever lived implored us to “Above all else, guard your heart because it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23).
So how do we safely guard our heart while we’re looking for our better half? To begin with, the cultural mantra to find someone to ”complete” us is the wrong focus. We can never “find” our better half, because two halves don’t make a whole—just two halves. Only two mature, individuated adults can make a magnificent marriage.
See, marriage is neither a shortcut nor a substitute for individual growth. The biblical prescription for becoming “one flesh” requires two complete adults. Fragmented, fractured people who co-dependently expect their mate to complete them are bound to be disappointed, and yes, hurt. Only two individually whole and healthy people can make a whole and healthy marriage. Thus God did not intend marriage to be the cause of maturity but the culmination of it.
Therefore, the goal of mate selection must be very different than we naturally think it is. We may think it’s about where we can find the “right” person (or just settle and spend a lifetime trying to get the other person raised right). This approach can get very cosmic very quickly—for example, what if God’s ideal mate for us is in Tuscaloosa or Tucumcari, or worse yet, Tibet and we don’t know it? Or what if we were meant to turn left when we turned right and missed running into whom we were destined to marry?
So…what’s the bottom line? It’s this: a healthy marriage is not about finding the right person as much as it is about becoming the right person. When both people create and keep their marriage covenant whether their spouse does or not, marriage works. And it takes ongoing work to make a magnificent marriage. But it’s worth it!
I’m glad you read this far, because it means you’ve learned a lot of good information that will help you when put it into practice. Here’s what I want you to do next…
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