No two couples are alike, but we have more in common than you might think. Here are 8 ways all marriages are the same.
Marriage is the joining of two individuals together. If you’ve ever met two individuals and known them for any length of time, you would know that despite how similar even the most similar people are, they’re still worlds apart in a lot of ways. As such, you look at any couple, and you’ll see areas where they are vastly different from other couples – how they spend their time, what they do with their money, who earns more than who, who does what for the kids and the home, differing family circumstances, career pressures, physical location preferences, culture in the home, views on faith, and conflict resolution techniques… just to name a few.
I know my marriage will be quite different to your marriage, which will in turn be quite different to the marriages around you.
And yet, there are some elements of marriages that remain the same no matter who is in them. Here are 8 ways all marriages are the same.
#1: He’s not that funny
You know, before I got married, I was under the misguided understanding that I was a funny guy. I used to have people tell me that I could be a standup comedian, for real. Alas, I now know the truth.
Behind every funny man, there is indeed a woman rolling her eyes.
The more men I talk to, the more I realise they have made the same discovery in their marriages. And the more women I talk to, the more I realise how many years they have been politely abiding us as we attempt to be hilarious.
It’s that, or we desperately need some new material. My wife knows the punchline for every routine I start before I even start it.
#2 Marriage is like having a mirror staring at you all the time
Okay okay, the first one wasn’t very serious (or true – I’m definitely hilarious).
But what is true is the constant reality check that marriage is.
Oswald Chambers famously wrote that perhaps holiness and not happiness is the chief goal of life, with multiple writers from Timothy Keller to Gary Thomas stating this purpose extends into marriage. And whilst I firmly believe there is a lot of happiness and that joy is a worthwhile pursuit, there is a strong case for how togetherness should prompt us to be better than we are.
I know a few months ago I was buying a present for some people and had spent several hours looking for the right things. One of the items I had found didn’t properly match the theme of one of the presents. My wife pointed this out and we went to the shop to find the right thing, but I was so tired and stroppy that it was an unpleasant experience indeed. But I knew even if I was tired or frustrated or whatever, it wasn’t the right way for me to be, and having her with me in her patient gentleness was a sharp reminder that I could have handled it better.
People often find the mirror confronting in general, and having one with you all the time is one of the challenges, and true blessings, that marriage is for all of us.
#3: There is always a low desire partner… for everything
Did somebody say SEX?
Sex therapist Esther Perel observed in one of her TedXTalks that in sexually active marriages, sex isn’t a big deal and makes up a very small part of what’s great about the marriage, but in marriages where sex isn’t frequent, it’s a huge deal and a large source of contention. This happens for men and women and the balance of power is different in every marriage. And as is the case in every relationship, the one who wants it least has ultimate control of the frequency.
I love an observation that Dr David Schnarch made on this phenomenon in his book, Intimacy and Desire. He points out that not only is there a low desire partner in the realm of physical intimacy – there is a low desire partner and a high desire partner in every area of marriage.
There’s always someone who wants sex more. There’s also always someone who wants to go to the movies more, someone who wants to see the friends more, someone who wants to go on that holiday more, someone who wants to snuggle or kiss or hug or just sit there and do nothing more. This reality check brings great equilibrium to married life when you realise there’s always someone who wants it more, and one who must decide whether or not they’ll want it too.
#4: You bring everyone with you
You didn’t just marry that person, did you? No matter who you are, the person you married brought everyone they knew with them into the relationship, and you brought everyone you know with you. Dr Kevin Leman in Sheet Music talks at length about this when he talks about “the crowded bed”.
You married them. You also married their family. You also married their friendship groups. You also married their drive or lack thereof for life. You also married their dreams. You also married every experience they ever went through.
As a husband or wife, your job is to prefer your new union. On our wedding days, we say that we “forsake all others”. The Scriptures would call this “leaving and cleaving”. Either way, you bring all of yourself, they brought all of their self, and both of you will need to ensure your marriage is the highest priority amongst all the things in your life.
As a result, in every marriage, both husband and wife are responsible for what will and won’t be allowed into the marriage. It will be up to you to either repeat or to redo what you’ve experienced previously in relational life. You will or you won’t allow words and voices that enhance or detract from your relationship. You are the gate keeper of your own life, your own heart, and indeed your own marriage.
#5: Emotional bank accounts need to be full
What happens when you continue to withdraw from a bank account? If you don’t replenish the account, eventually you go into overdraft, with the extreme being bankruptcy. When an account is too far overdrawn, you are eventually unable to continue to make withdrawals from it.
Dr Gary Chapman, author of the Five Love Languages among many other books on relationships and marriage, uses this example to illustrate what happens in any of our relationships, but especially with our spouse, when we continually try to take without also replenishing the account.
Are you investing as much as you’re taking? Are you getting enough emotional energy from your marriage and other sources to ensure you’re able to continue loving to your best? Or are you taking too much? Or expecting the other person to continue to give at a rate that is unfair to them? You may be bankrupting your relationship with the other person.
When we have an entitled spirit, we make demands. We determine we deserve to take what we want from the other person with no regard for what goes back into them. When insecurity is at its peak, this can even manifest in trying to control them. But what if you determined to be this person’s biggest fan and investor, rather than their biggest critic and source of exhaustion? What if we worked through enough of our own issues that we have surplus in our accounts to generously pour into them?
#6: Common human challenges – no, you’re not the only one
One thing I have really been reassured of during marriage is just how many things that we’ve faced are completely common experiences to other couples. Even if they’re not common with our immediate circles of friends (although they often would be), there are millions of people out there who have been in the same boat, whatever the boat at the time may be.
How reassuring to know that for every challenge we face in our marriage, there is a suitably qualified teaching series, book, counselor, or support group available with wisdom and answers on negotiating even the most trying circumstance.
Nothing has seized you except which is common to man. If you’re going through it, you can bet your life on the fact that someone else has gone through it before you. There will be people who made it through well, and there will be people who didn’t make it through. Whatever it may be, there is nothing new under the sun, and there is good help available.
As long as we still believe we are the only ones going through it, we may be keeping ourselves stuck. Good solutions may even just be a quick Google search, a phone call, a support group visit, or a chat with a counselor away.
#7: Our need for community beyond each other
It is unfair to expect all your relational needs to be met in one person. They may be able to do this for a while, but watch what happens as the years wear on.
We are communal beings. We need people. Not just “person”. We were made for people. The apostle Paul talks about how we are like a body, being knitted together, each of us finding our fit. Have you seen what happens to a body part that leaves the body and is disconnected? It withers up, dries out, and eventually dies.
If you’re not well connected outside of your marriage relationship, you’ll blame your spouse for “not being enough” for you as you shrivel up and die, rather than taking responsibility for ensuring you had enough healthy connections in your life to grow and develop yourself.
If you don’t believe me, answer me this – is there anyone in your life that you are able to be 100% of what they need in every area of your life? No? So why expect that of your spouse? It’s not realistic or fair.
Dr David Schnarch in the same book mentioned above talks about having a healthy sense of self, rather than a reflected sense of self. In other words, a reflected sense of self means I get my value from what you do and how I perceive you treat me, and not from anything else. In his studies he has discovered that those who rely on their spouse for their sense of identity also hold that person responsible when they inevitably can’t address every need in their life, and easily topple over. Those with a strong sense of self outside of their partner actually end up being more desirable, more sexually attractive, and more capable of loving their husband or wife than those who don’t. No one enjoys being with someone who is overtly needy or emotionally desperate because they’re the only person in your life you try to have your emotional and relational needs met through.
You are much better able to serve your husband or wife when you ensure you yourself are well connected to the world around you. That you have support networks, sources of knowledge and wisdom, an active and growing faith, and enough of the right voices to ensure you stay empowered to live your best life. Watch your marriage flourish as you allow your own life to flourish. And every marriage is the same in this regard.
Try to knock over an umbrella, and then try to use the same tactic to knock over a house. The umbrella will be easy because it only has one support. I’m sure the support tried its hardest, but you’ll find yourself blaming it pretty badly when it can no longer hold the weight. By comparison, good luck trying to knock down a house of many walls and supports. The weight is distributed in a way that doesn’t cause overwhelming strain or dependency on one or a few supports, and it will easily stand the test of time.
When the storms of life come, the size and quality of your support will either compromise you, or keep you strong through it all.
#8: All marriages need safety
“To serve and protect” is the famous motto of the Los Angeles Police Department. It’s also the motto for a great marriage.
Life is full of dark times, accusations, confusion, turmoil, and pain. Many people are facing things that should have taken them out.
And what a beautiful thing it is that our marriages can be a place of great safety for the one we love. Alternatively, they can be a place of compromised safety, where your spouse may feel like their physical or emotional wellbeing is unprotected. Out of all the people on earth, you’re the one entrusted with the care of this person’s heart in the most regular and frequent fashion of anyone in their life.
The customs of the Jews would say that even the rights of slaves (who were the lowest in society at the time) featured three requirements in a marriage: food, shelter, and conjugal rights. When those were not present, the person was not expected to continue, as a complete loss of those necessities was the destruction of the relationship in and of themselves. On that note, it would be remiss of me not to mention that if your safety is in jeopardy, please get help.
One of my favourite statements about marriage was said by the Shulamite woman of Song of Songs, where she says of herself that she became in the eyes of her husband as one who finds peace. What does your spouse find in your eyes? Peace, or turmoil?
Cherish her. Cherish him. Like no one ever has. Treat them with the value your commitment says they have. This is your opportunity. This is your calling. This is your ministry. Love that person with all the love you have to give.
There are many other ways all marriages are the same. There are also many areas where there are differences. But I think it’s really exciting, encouraging, and empowering when you realize that we have more in common that unites us than we do differences that divide us.
How about you? What are some observations you’ve made about how all marriages are the same? Or how they’re different?