Marriage is hard - italics hard. Sometimes it’s HARD - bold, capitals, italics HARD. Of course, it’s often a joy, too, but it’s surprising how many months of joy can be unravelled in a single night of HARD, and how long it can take to repair the damage caused by that one night.
I borrowed this book from a friend last week, and when, after a couple of chapters, I commented on how much I was enjoying it, she confessed that having access to such honesty about marriage felt to her a little like gossiping. At first I thought this was ridiculous – she read autobiographies, didn’t she? – but after reflecting on what she said I now think she’s on to something. I find that it’s not just the hurtful words or the foreverness of the promises or the same sins popping up again and again that make marriage hard, it’s the fact that it’s really difficult to talk honestly about marriage.
This could be partly because today’s church seems to have glorified marriage to the point where even a sermon on 1 Corinthians 7 (“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do” [v. 8] , “...those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this” [v. 28]) finishes with a prayer for all of the single people to find spouses. Whether explicit or not, the message we hear from the pulpit seems to be marriage = good, singleness = bad. It's a fallacy that not only sucks for the single people, but leaves many of the married people wondering what they're doing wrong if at that moment marriage just feels HARD and singleness looks pretty sweet. Possibly more ranting on this in a future post...
Primarily, though, I think it’s hard to talk honestly about difficulties in marriage because usually that involves revealing not only a glimpse of your sin but the sin of your spouse as well. Marriage is like a magnifying glass that lets you see – large and clear – all of your flaws and self-centredness and messed-up-ness and hypocrisy; unfortunately, equally large and clear, are the flaws and self-centredness and messed-up-ness and hypocrisy of your spouse. It’s hard enough knowing that my husband has seen the depths of my sinfulness; it would be a devastating betrayal find out that he’d shared the details of that awfulness with someone else.
Besides, as my friend revealed, sharing ugly information about someone else easily falls under the ‘gossip’ banner, and we’ve all been warned against that (well, we women certainly have). And so many wives and husbands suffer quietly and alone, until the wounds begin to heal with time or conversation or counselling, or until the pain gets too much and someone decides to walk away from the marriage.
This is an important book for that reason. Davis has interviewed 20 wives on “the mess, mystery and miracle of marriage” and written on behalf of each of them, exploring in short chapters themes like submission, infidelity, sex and that scary realisation that maybe the whole marriage thing isn’t anything like you expected it to be. I empathised with each of these women; even though the voices cover a range of ages and marriage-lengths and experiences, I found myself relating to pieces of almost every story. It’s a beautiful thing to have 20 different reassurances that you’re completely normal, and your marriage is too.
The church is good at marrying people but could do much better at supporting couples after their wedding day, when the things they learned in theory in pre-marriage counselling become day-to-day reality. This could mean training an older couple in the congregation to pastor the married people, to check in every now and then on the health of their marriages and offer an understanding ear if ever needed. It also means that we need to hear more balanced views of marriage and singleness from the pulpit; teaching that recognises that, as sinful people, marriage will be hard and singleness will be hard – life will be hard (sometimes it will be HARD), and we are all in desperate, desperate need of Jesus.
Read the book.