When my husband, Jarrod, and I married four years ago, we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, but we had no idea how to actually be married. As children of a divorcing generation, we had seen marriages crumble with alarming frequency. We wanted a "good marriage," one centered on God and filled with love, respect, and kindness, but we weren't quite sure how to transition from "me" to "we."
Seeking Satisfaction in Statistics
As a Type A problem-solver and ardent bibliophile, I quickly devoted myself to devouring as many marriage books as possible. After all, I reasoned, being married was a learned skill, just like baking cupcakes or fixing a leaky sink. If I could learn how to do those things by reading, I thought I should also be able to learn how to have the best marriage possible by distilling the suggestions in each book I read into a super-marriage of sorts.
However, Jarrod felt differently. He quickly tired of my never-ending recitation of marriage tips: Spend 10 minutes after work each day reconnecting! For every negative interaction between a couple, you need at least five positive interactions to keep the relationship harmonious! Sandwich your complaints about your spouse in between compliments to express your criticisms without making your partner defensive! After a few too many discussions of my latest read—which always seemed to be accompanied by my gentle suggestions about what we might be doing wrong, along with a plan to fix these glaring errors—he lovingly told me that if I read and attempted to apply yet another piece of marital advice, he was going to lose his mind. I didn't understand. Couldn't he see that I was just trying to do what was best for our relationship?
Stung, I took a hiatus from the bookstore. At the time, I thought y husband didn't care as much about our fledgling marriage as I did. I now see his words as the wise warning they were. As I reflected on what he had said, I slowly realized the damage I had been inflicting on our relationship. I had failed to honor both our individualities and the God who endowed us with traits that might not be considered ideal by relationship experts but make us an excellent match for one another.
Marital advice can be a wonderful thing if taken in the proper context. Titus 2:4 explicitly commands older Christian women to train the younger women to love their husbands and children. As Christians, we are called to share one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2), and giving and receiving sound advice certainly fits into this category. I did glean a few nuggets of good advice through my incessant reading that have helped me to be a better partner. Unfortunately, I was also comparing nearly every aspect of our relationship to an impossible standard—and I feared that our marriage was constantly falling short.
The Cost of Comparison
In our materialistic, competitive culture, it's easy to get caught up in insidious comparison. It's impossible even to buy your groceries without being bombarded by magazine teasers suggesting that, if we all just followed the advice inside, we could quickly become perfect: the perfect cook, the perfect lover, the perfect woman with the perfect body. While I diligently read all the relationship books I could get my hands on, I silently compared our marriage to the case studies and statistics. Did we argue too much? Did we make love enough? Did we spend enough time together? Too much time together? I was trying to live up to a myriad of expectations, many of which conflicted, all in the name of having the best marriage possible. Instead, in trying to meet these unrealistic markers for a "perfect marriage," I was miserable—and quickly making my husband miserable as well.
I thought I was nourishing our marriage, but more often than not, I was just magnifying our existing problems and occasionally even creating new problems. By turning our marriage into a research project, I was scrutinizing variables that authors with no knowledge of us or our marriage thought were important while forgetting to ask what Jarrod—or God—thought mattered. I was holding a microscope up to our imperfections and closing my eyes to our unique strengths. In essence, I was rejecting God's gift of marriage by trying to exchange what God had so graciously given me for what I suspected to be a better model.
Affirming God's One-of-a-Kind Design
God created us all as individuals, equipped with unique needs, desires, hurts, and hopes. As Genesis 2:24 explains, when we marry, two individuals become one flesh. I mistakenly equated this "one flesh" unity with conformity, overlooking our particular gifts in a well-meaning effort to make our marriage align with the type of union deemed "best" by relationship experts. But one unique individual plus one unique individual cannot equal one standard marriage. God calls us to approach our spouses with the agape love described in 1 Corinthians 13, working in unison to build a God-honoring marriage that reflects the strengths and preferences of each person. In this way, marriages are like snowflakes, each one a beautifully unique prism designed to reflect God's love for humanity into a hurting world.
I still enjoy reading books and articles about marriage, but now I keep them in perspective. Instead of comparing my marriage to someone's latest theory, I remind myself that my husband and I were both uniquely designed by God and that our marriage isn't a statistic; it's a gift. Today, I don't seek to make my marriage "perfect"; I try to make it a place of grace, a model of God's love, a genuinely good marriage.
Alexandria Lopez is a freelance writer and editor. She and her husband, Jarrod, live in central Kentucky.