As we enter the season of making New Year’s resolutions, trying to make life “better,” be careful that you don’t inadvertently undercut marital satisfaction in the process.
Voltaire warned us not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good. That’s not a bad motto for marriage, in this sense: can we call a good marriage a “good” marriage, or in your mind, is that a “bad” marriage? What I mean by this is that some people seem to think unless they have a perfect marriage, they have a “bad” marriage. They wouldn’t put up with a “good” marriage; they want something even better.
If we take our agenda from Matthew 6:33 (“Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness”), we know that much fulfillment in life must come from outside our marriage. So, in this light, a good marriage can be a pleasant place to live. If the only thing I have to live for is my marriage, I could imagine not being willing to put up with a good marriage. I might think I need to reach for a super-extraordinary one.
Some “cookbook couples” are in search of that elusive recipe that will make everything just a little bit…better. They unleash a force of resolutions and promises in the New Year, hoping to finally achieve that intimacy they think is their right as a married couple. Wanting to improve on your marriage is a noble aim in one regard, but without perspective, the pursuit of better can sometimes make the present feel worse.
The apostle Paul tries to rein in exorbitant expectations that can undercut gratitude when he writes in 1 Timothy 6:8, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
For married couples, perhaps he’d write, “If we have decent conversation, a genuine friendship, some special times of sexual intimacy, and occasional times of prayer and worship together, we will be content with that.”
I’m not suggesting we set the bar for our marriages too low. On the other hand, we can do equal harm by setting the bar too high: if we think a “great” marriage requires one hour of focused conversation every evening, enthusiastic sex at least three times a week, a date night every Friday, conflict free weekends, a quiet time together every morning, and never getting on each other’s nerves, you’re likely going to tire yourself out with expectations that then lead to massive disappointment. Your house will resemble a pressure cooker more than an intimacy maker.
No single human relationship between two imperfect people can ever be perfect. At some point, we have to be able to say, “This is a good marriage. Given all the other loves I have, with my children, my friends, my walk with God, my soul is overflowing with gratitude, even if my marriage never gets ‘better’ than it is right now.”
Solid friendship, walking with God together, being there for each other when you really need each other, facing the challenges of life together—this is a good life, even if you miss a few marital “goals” along the way.
This year, instead of resenting our marriage for what it’s not, let’s rejoice in what it is. We can call a “good” marriage a “good” marriage and be satisfied with that.
Gary Thomas, GaryThomas.com