There are a lot of really bad reasons to get married, and the internet seems bent on propagating them. I have been told variously that marriage is good for me financially and morally, that it’s good for society, that it will make me healthier, more attractive, and happier. While some of these things may be true, I don’t know anyone who entered into marriage after doing a careful cost-benefit analysis. Everyone I know got married for the same reason that I did: we loved another human being and we believed that marriage was the right way to honor that.
Since getting married, I’ve not encountered a great deal more wisdom. I stopped reading marriage books after I threw one across the room in frustration. The author’s basic premise was that all of the suffering he was experiencing in marriage was sanctifying him. Which is really great, because that’s what I had hoped for in marriage—that I could be the cause of great suffering in another human being. Then the author began praising his car for being much clearer about its needs than his wife was. “Why don’t you marry your freaking car!?” I yelled. Only I did not say freaking.
Now, instead of reading books that tell me what I “as a woman” need and want, and what my husband “as a man” needs and wants, I just try to apply my general principles of being a good human being. Don’t say mean things to or about the other person. Listen. Care deeply. Give. I learned these from the Bible, from literature, from my parents.
And we have had an almost incomprehensibly good and peaceful four years. I know it may not always be so. I know that every moment of happiness in marriage is a blessing, a gift of grace, and not of my own doing. And I believe firmly in seasons, in the very real likelihood that someday we may not be so happy, and that that will not mean we are bad people. After all, in the grand scheme of things, we are still newlyweds.
These four years have taught me something about marriage, and while it is certainly not a reason to get married, it is a blessing of marrying well. The thing that I “get” out of marriage is not financial solvency or a hale and hearty complexion, but another human being who knows me better than anyone else and who still believes in me more than I believe in myself. I invariably assume that I will fail—at everything; my husband, on the other hand, urges me, even bribes me, to take risks and face challenges. He sets deadlines for me, he dials the phone and holds it next to my face so that I have to talk, he even drafts emails for me that I would never dare to write myself. My husband fundamentally believes that I am strong, smart, and capable, and that the world needs me.
And, perhaps most important of all, he names my strengths. How rare it is that another human being looks you in the eye and tells you that you are good at something. And it is rarer yet that someone knows you well enough to venture beyond smart, funny, or nice. I do my best to return this great gift and to help my husband see himself the way I see him.
Apparently, if you are a little dense, as I am, it takes four years of marriage to learn this deeply empowering act. If you are not dense but are rather deeply insightful and
compassionate, you can learn this without marriage. I know this because the people in my life, other than my husband, who are quickest to name my strengths are all single. My sister, a coworker, a classmate. They too have this gift of looking you in the eye and saying, “You are good.” My coworker (and dear friend) recently gave me a postcard on the back of which she had written the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me: “If you saw yourself the way I see you, you would never have a dark day again.” The deep, deep power of those words and her utter lack of self-consciousness in writing them is a stronger gift by far than any that I exercise.
It only occurred to me recently how much I have grown because of my single friends who turn their love and compassion outward instead of focusing it intensely on one other human being, as I and my husband instinctively do for each other. If it were just my husband and I, we would go on loving each other as spouses for forever, but it would be like two mirrors facing each other, an endless regression of reflections. This is a good thing, but a limited thing.
But the beautiful thing about love is that we almost always reflexively return it, and so these three single women are teaching me how to show deeply affirming love to friends and even not-yet friends. It has yet to become second nature to me, as it is to them, and so I know I have much to learn. They do not say nice things they do not mean. They scour others for the deep good within. These women do not worry about coming on too strong. They simply see value in a human being and say so.
This, by the way, is also what God does.
Erin Zoutendam is a first year MTS student at CTS. She is a Kansas native and Mitten State enthusiast. She loves cats, well-placed commas, and her husband, Philip.