Given today is my wedding anniversary, I probably included too many exclamation points in the title above and should have considered leaving "stinking" out. I've no doubt my wife Katie thinks both would have been "healthy" omissions. The fact of the matter is, though, as we start our 18th year of marriage, I've discovered two very important things. One, being married is hard work (notice stinking has now been omitted). Two, and I'd better get to this one quick - again, being mindful of my health and mortality:
Marriage is worth it.
If you think my anniversary is a bad day to question the difficulty of marriage, maybe you're right. But I'll contend it's a worse day not to ask it. I believe the American divorce rate is so high - 40-50% depending on your source - because too many couples enter into marriage trusting happily ever after is something at least as promising as the sappy ending of her favorite chick flick. Then reality strikes. The reality that some days marriage isn't happy and occasionally ever after doesn't last much longer than a few months.
Reality didn't blindside me, though. I knew going in marriage was going to be hard.
I didn't get married until I was 35 years old. The reason? I could tell a successful marriage took effort. Even as a mere marriage spectator I could see marriage work was hard work. And frankly, I'd never found a good reason to trade in all the fun I was having in life, even as fruitless, irresponsible, and often self-destructive as most of it was, for the hard work of sharing that life with someone else.
Then I met Katie.
Let me be clear. Falling head over heels in love with Katie didn't change my thinking about how hard being married would be. It simply made it miraculously easy to believe the hard work would be worth it. Katie and I agreed up front our commitment to our marriage was a permanent one, some days keeping it would be hard, and unhappiness wouldn't be a good enough reason to abandon it. That's because we didn't enter marriage pursuing personal happiness. We entered it because we saw our unique love as a unique opportunity to honor God. If we could keep that in mind every day of our marriage - happy and unhappy days alike - our marriage and the work we put into it would always be worth it.
The bible frequently compares the relationship between a man and his wife to the relationship Christ has with his church. (Ephesians 5:31-32). There are several things I draw on from that comparison when marriage gets to be a struggle:
Too many marriages end because couples experience rough patches and believe that's a sign of a bad marriage. But for me, challenges in my marriage are usually a sign I'm putting too much emphasis on happiness and not enough on honoring God. Our culture sets that trap for us. How many times do we look at other couples and quietly or not so quietly judge their marriages based on how happy they appear?
I'd say a lot.
I don't want to dismiss the value of happiness in a marriage. I absolutely believe marriage can bring a lifetime of happiness. It's just that I've personally discovered the more happiness is the stated goal of a marriage, the less happiness there is.
Today I'm as thankful as I was 17 years ago that I married Katie. God finds ways every single day to remind me exactly why He chose her for me. Why I love her like I do. Through Katie, God found a way to demonstrate just how much He loves me and that he always remembers His promises to me. After 18 years of marriage, God is bigger and more present in our marriage than ever, which means we've achieved everything in our marriage we ever hoped for.
Here's looking forward to the next 17.
I put the video below together for our 14th wedding anniversary. It is still so true today.