Marriage is not about happiness

“Marriage is not supposed to make you happy. It’s supposed to make you married” (Frank Pittman).

Marriage might be our last best chance to grow up. So many marriage problems are a direct result of immaturity.

Think about it

An immature person thinks the world turns around his desires and comforts. He doesn’t tend to think much beyond himself and is therefore unfit for the kind of responsibility that comes with marriage.

If this describes you, “Grow up! It might save your marriage!” It also might surprise you to learn that a mature approach to life is more satisfying than a selfish one. 

Immaturity can make a marriage anywhere from difficult to miserable. But two mature people can overcome many challenges and find deeply satisfying companionship.         

But one problem is that many have an immature understanding of marriage itself. These are often people who want more from marriage than it can deliver. Some naively think that getting married will lead to a life of uninterrupted happiness. 

Marriage should be a mutually encouraging relationship, but when we expect it to meet our need for personal happiness, our expectations are unrealistic. To ask another person to make you happy is asking more than most people can deliver. 

Good marriages enjoy happy times as well as times of difficulty and sadness. The difficulties can lead couples to deeper love if they work through them together.

If personal happiness is your main goal, it’s time to grow up.

Happiness is a by-product of maturity and good priorities. In a strange way, when personal happiness becomes our primary focus, it becomes more elusive. Why does it often take so long to learn this truth?

We need to change our message on this subject. Some people (even professional counselors) consider it a counseling emergency when a person or married couple is not happy. But this reaction only feeds discontentment and can ultimately lead to obsessive dissatisfaction and perhaps even depression.

Is it possible that the people in our lives are not there to revolve around our felt needs? Happiness is discovered when people decide to be responsible and to serve others more than themselves.          

To experience satisfying companionship, we must think more maturely about marriage. Pittman wisely noted that,

“Marriage is not about being in love. It is about the agreement to love one another. Love is an active, transitive verb. It is something married grown-ups do no matter how they feel. It is nice when married people are in love with one another, but if they are loving enough to one another, that magic may catch fire again.”

One of the greatest obstacles to maturity is this cultural obsession with personal happiness as a fundamental right – if not a sign of true mental health.

Don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting we become stoic realists who are skeptical of pleasure and enjoyment. I am recommending that true and lasting pleasure come from a refusal to treat felt needs as the highest priorities of life.

Life can be hard and discouraging. To be satisfied in life and marriage, we must be mature. Selfishness is consistently listed as a primary reason marriage dissolves. It is a sure sign of immaturity.

But self-giving love enriches marriage. Jesus Christ set the supreme example of this love and the New Testament challenges us to follow his example.

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Phil. 2:3-5).  

A good marriage can’t be experienced without a grown-up perspective from both husband and wife. Selfish and childish tendencies must be acknowledged and conquered.

When couples understand that marriage is not about being in love but an agreement to love; not about feeling loved but valuing each other, then they will more likely find the path to deep and meaningful companionship. And (as an added benefit), they usually experience the feelings of love that come with the choice to love.

Steve Cornell

See: A closer look at marriage and To love and to cherish

This entry was posted in Broken Relationships, Choosing a mate, Christian Counselor, Conflict, Counseling, Divorce, Divorce and Remarriage, Love, Marital Separation, Marriage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Marriage is not about happiness

  1. Gary Thomas in Sacred Marriage suggests that marriage is intended to make us holy and I find his reasoning to be sound. Hopefully, maturity is attended by greater holiness, but that is sadly not always the case. Since God designed marriage at the start for their mutual enjoyment of Himself, it stands to reason that our marriages ought to have as its goal: the glory of God. This will result in greater holiness, and as you say, maturity. Blessings and thanks for the article- great food for thought.

    • Thank you! I am familiar with Thomas’ book. We’ve had groups in our church go through it together. A good work! My column was originally written for a public newspaper so it is not weighted with emphasis on spiritual maturity. It was more of a “common grace” offering pointing toward the gospel through marriage. Those who want to look at the heart of the difference Christ makes in marriage (and all relationships) are invited to listen to this message: “What should you expect?” https://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/what-should-you-expect-2/

      I wish all who desire to be married would take seriously what I present in the audio message.

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