We don’t like feeling uncomfortable do we? Cold? Turn on the heat. Hot? Turn on the AC. Don’t want to wait? Order on Amazon, drive thru the fast food place, get it delivered. Patience and discomfort are not our favorite things. And yet, these two experiences can offer us some incredible rewards in life. Three years of uncertainty, dozens of injections, 9 months of pregnancy, plus 20 hours of labor got me my daughter. Totally worth it. I think marriage can be the same way.
A good marriage takes patience, discomfort, vulnerability, and time – none of which we look forward to, but all of which pays off in numerous ways.
American culture is one of instant gratification and independence – autonomy is prized above most else, and everything is at our fingertips. There has never been a time of such ease. And yet, there are drawbacks to this ease and individuality. True connection to ourselves and others is an endangered value and Americans report overwhelming loneliness these days. Marriage, or commitment to a life partner, is the ultimate in connection and intimacy, and it is one of the few aspects of life that still take a lifetime of effort. And I think that has value. This relationship is one of the last places where we feel supremely uncomfortable and yet we forge ahead, where we consider being our most selfless, where we love, grieve, worry, and rejoice. Children can do this to us, but eventually they grow and move on to begin their own families. Your partner is an equal, whose main commitment is to stay by your side for the long haul. This is a recipe for what some call a ‘crucible’ – an intense trial of self that creates so much energy we are forever changed. It can be scary to see change due to a relationship as a good thing – but truly, relationship is where the deepest transformations and healings are born.
Relationships, whether we want to admit it, are vital to our ability to survive and thrive.
The human brain is a perfect example of this. The section of our brain most devoted to bonding in relationships is nested in the middle of all the other brain structures. If it isn’t healthy, nothing else will work as well. We humans are built for deep connection, and without it, we suffer in more areas than we ever imagined.
But deep connection isn’t fast, it isn’t easy, and it can’t be done on our own – it requires a long term relationship with someone else. When something goes wrong in a marriage…conflict, infidelity, grief…it can feel easier to walk away, but there are personal and relational rewards that can be gained only through staying. That’s not to say I advocate for people to be miserable or stay in unhealthy marriages. However, I do believe marriages are inherently difficult and that doesn’t mean they aren’t right for us. Life is full of joy and sorrow, love and grief, hope and fear…it’s all a part of it. We can’t avoid these things unless we choose to hide ourselves away. Marriage is no different.
This intense relationship will inevitably bring us sorrow and grief and fear, but it also holds joy and love and hope beyond our wildest imagining, if we stay and spend the time and effort to grow.
I’m not here to tell you to stay or go, only you know what goes on inside your marriage. What I am saying is hardship in life is a given, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you are in the wrong place, the wrong relationship. We can embrace it, allow the energy of the crucible to change us, or we can run from it. But running from hardship only means we run from that hardship, and are none the wiser. When we can face it, offer it our best efforts, and come out the other side we can be stronger, wiser, and less afraid. We have gained something only possible by allowing our crucible to exist and venturing in to see what it holds for us.