Why Some Optimism about Marriage Disturbs Me

Perhaps this is an odd topic for me to tackle. But I promise I’ll get to marital intimacy in a bit.

In the recent past, I’ve been exposed to several optimistic statements about good marriages. While I’m generally optimistic about marriage myself, I’ve always bristled a little when I hear certain insights that should be inspirational, but discourage me instead. Let me share what I mean.

Why Some Optimism about Marriage Disturbs MeWe’ve never had a single fight in our marriage. Now and then, a happily married couple suggests that the key to their buoyant joy is a lack of conflict in their relationship. It sounds marvelous, right? Except that it’s so unrealistic for the average marriage.

If a lack of conflict is necessary for a great marriage, many of us would have waved a white surrender flag and walked away years ago. The truth is that happy couples vary in their level of arguments, and the important issue is that they treat one another fairly and respectfully throughout (see The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work). Moreover, some couples who never fight may merely be stonewalling each other or, as Sheila Gregoire has said, peacekeeping rather than peacemaking.

If you and your spouse come from very different backgrounds and/or arrive with some degree of brokenness, you may have more to work out in your marriage. You may have some conflict. Don’t lose hope if you’re not like that cute old couple at church who swears they’ve never raised their voice a single time. Good for them! But good for you too. You can still have a wonderful marriage.

Marriage isn’t supposed to be work. For me, marriage has included a truckload of work! At times, it’s been grueling, frustrating, and exhausting. But I’d work this marriage twelve times over to have what I have.

Some of that work was harder than it needed to be, because I was working hard not smart. But some couples just have more issues, more rough edges, maybe even more selfishness to tamp down and humility to build up. If marriage currently feels like work, that might be okay. This might well be the season you need to invest some real effort into the relationship to gain the health and happiness you can have.

It is, however, true that a happy, mature marriage won’t feel like nearly so much work. I think it’s a bit like a house. Some marriages start like brand-new homes, with two happy individuals joined in a healthy relationship, but they still need have to take care of that home with regular maintenance or things will go awry. But it’s not back-breaking work, unless something breaks.

Other marriages feel like fixer-uppers, with two floundering individuals who desire a healthy relationship, and they need to put in some extra effort to make their marriage a home. A lot of work is needed from the get-go, but once the home is renovated, only that regular maintenance — which is far less work — is required.

Wherever your marriage is, it is. Put forth the effort, make the investment, do the work, or simply do the regular maintenance. And you can have a great marriage.

Marriage is wonderful when you find your soul mate. Let me be clear: I don’t believe in soul mates, because there is nothing biblical or logical about that concept. In the Bible, marriages came together through various means — including family arrangement, political alliance, and romantic attraction. Yet, God seems to believe that our marriages can be successful if we both attend to his godly principles (you know, like kindness, gentleness, patience, love…).

What disturbs me about this concept of soul mates is that it can lead to believing you may have married the wrong person and then fantasizing about another life — instead of getting down to the business of investing in your own marriage. Assuming your husband is not abusive or adulterous in nature, you can likely make this marriage work and become a blessing.

Stop worrying that this guy isn’t the right one. He’s the guy you fell in love with, chose to marry, and you’re still with. Take today and make it the best you can, then do that with tomorrow, and so on and so on. Maybe he’s not your soul mate, but he is your sole mate, so focus your efforts on making your marriage the best it can be.

Just spice things up in the bedroom and your sexual intimacy will be good. Hey, I’m not opposed to spicing things up. I wrote a whole book, Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design, with lots of ideas on spicing things up. But the idea that this is a one-size-fits-all, easy fix for marriages struggling with sexual intimacy? It just doesn’t take into account how complex we human beings are.

Some marriages are struggling with sexual baggage, others are plagued with porn, certain wives experience pain or an abnormally low sex drive, and plenty of women have poor body image that makes getting naked a real challenge. And none of those issues will be solved with 10 Ways to Unleash Your Inner Sex Kitten!

Real problems call for real solutions. Which is why I try to share as much as I can about what God’s Word says about sex, because the Creator of sex knows more about this gift than anyone else. He‘s got answers. (Which I also share in Hot, Holy, and Humorous.)

But, of course, God’s answers as standard and as varied as the many ways in which Jesus dealt with people. Jesus pointed everyone to His Heavenly Father, but not all traveled the same exact path to get there. Don’t give up hope for your sexual intimacy if a bid to “spice things up” didn’t resolve your issues. Sometimes that’s exactly what your marriage needs, but it’s no cure-all. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but not the whole thing. Look at your own situation and reason out what’s going on. This is also why I devote one day a week to answer reader questions, so that you can see how to approach specific situations.

Am I an optimist about marriage? Yes, of course I am! I’ve seen too many redeemed situations to not believe that marriages can become happy and marriage beds a place of great pleasure and intimacy. I just want to provide real answers, rather than platitudes. Be optimistic about what you can achieve, and realistic about how to get there.

24 thoughts on “Why Some Optimism about Marriage Disturbs Me

  1. Marc White

    Sister J,

    Insightful observation and comment. Good job, and well thought out. Thanks. In the same vein, I asked a older Christian couple that I know fairly well over lunch a few months ago what were their top regrets. The woman quickly answered with a smirk and interrupted her husband by declaring, “None, of course!” Of course, that’s nonsense to the saint that looks reality clearly in the eye.

    Blessings…one day closer to Home and Him….

    Reply
    1. Eric Wiggin

      Ditto to what Marc said. J, I appreciate your balanced approach between solid, practical godly advice and willingness to deal frankly but discreetly with delicate topics. Keep it up!

      Eric

      Reply
  2. Dacia

    Very well written article. I have heard some of those “optimistic” comments, especially early on in marriage, and it left me to wonder what was wrong with me. Especially the soul mate one. Which I think is a lie straight from hell, because that one little idea can demolish a whole marriage if it makes you feel like maybe you missed out on “the one.”

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  3. e2

    I don’t believe in “soul mates” either. It puts way too much pressure on people to try to find “the one,” with the fear that, if they don’t, they will have missed God’s will for their marriage. I know of a man in ministry who divorced his wife to marry his “soul mate,” reasoning that, since he had married the wrong woman, his first marriage wasn’t God’s will. Therefore, it was God’s will that he divorce her to marry the one God had really chosen for him. His marriage to his “soul mate” didn’t last long either.

    Knowing God’s will for marriage isn’t about finding the right spouse; it is about *being* the right spouse. And, now, after all my whining on this and other marriage blogs about my wife’s low libido, I’m learning to love my wife in a way that actually speaks love to her. I accept that she’s not like me. While a passionate kiss screams love to me, it doesn’t to her. But other actions speak love to her and my job is to learn to speak her language and perform those actions.

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  4. Bek

    We are one of those couples who have never had a proper, heated, yell at each other fight. Granted, we are only 2 years into our marriage, and I think it is more to do with our personalities (we are the same Myers-Briggs personality type) rather than having the perfect match or marriage. Yes of course we disagree on some things; some small, some big. But our conflict style is to talk it out rather than fight. Of course we have been angry at each other, but we mostly just discuss things calmly and openly. Sometimes because we dislike conflict we will put off talking about it for a while, but eventually our need for harmony in our relationship will cause one of us to do the brave thing.

    Why am I writing this? I guess to reaffirm what J is saying. A couple who says they don’t fight may simply mean “we don’t yell at each other”. It doesn’t mean everything is perfect or harmonious all the time. There are ALWAYS things to be worked out. It may also mean that they are of certain personality types, which means that there is no way that others should expect themselves to be the same or even similar. God made us as individuals, unique people. Therefore each couple is also unique. Also, although our marriage has been “fight” free, it is not work free. We’ve had to work so hard at it, especially in our first 12 months.

    Thank you J for trying to dispel some of the myths we attach to marriage, especially what a healthy marriage looks like. I am so grateful for the mentors we had before we married who refused to perpetuate such myths and give us a rosy view of marriage.

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  5. William

    Any one using the term soul mate for reasons for divorce is just lying to themselves not to mention they are also saying God made a mistake and are fool’s that’s straight from the word of God if they weren’t the right one to begin with God would have blocked at the start sorry

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I’m with you through most of that…except the idea that God would have blocked the marriage if he/she wasn’t the right one. Knowing people who ended up with a very abusive or perpetually adulterous mate, I can’t believe that was God’s will. But He can heal our broken places.

      Reply
      1. Eric

        J,

        I don’t believe God prevents us from marrying the “wrong” person, ordinarily. But from experience, I know that He sounds loud warnings. I was once engaged to the wrong person. She decided, for invalid reasons, to not return to the Christian college we both attended. She’d also previously quit another college and broken another engagement. That’s TWO warnings. I listened. At last report, she was married to a no-good bum; I’ve enjoyed 53 years with a great wife.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          Yes, I think if we’re walking with God, we get warnings. It’s up to us to listen. And I’m glad you ended up with your lovely wife!

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        2. sunny-dee

          Yeah, this. God won’t stop us from anything because we have free will, but I do believe, in His mercy, He’ll give us warnings or nudges

          Reply
  6. Richard Schnur

    I say to folks that I didn’t marry my Janet because she was my soul mate, but that she became my soul mate because I married her. After 42 years that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Not every year has been stellar, but we are still standing to tell about it in spite of cancer, heart surgery, financial issues, and all of it. Like you say I think its unrealistic to expect all up and no down. How else would God offer us chances to grow.

    It is the hardest work I have ever done, but oh the rewards.

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  7. Charlie O.

    Marriage begins with two fallen creatures. After years of being saved, the Apostle Paul said, “. . . in my flesh dwelleth no good thing” Romans 7:18. Opposite personalities tend to attract, and the differences between a man and a woman are huge. So, we should expect adjustments, many of which will be difficult. Because of our gender differences, many times we speak the same language but don’t mean the same thing–creating communication problems. Add to that the extremely unfortunate problem that many people don’t know what love is or really understand what marriage is really about. If all of this gives you the picture that marriage is impossible, you are wrong. However, it should convey that it will be a challenge–one that should prove to be well worth the effort. When Paul writes of the Christian marriage in Ephesians 5, beginning in verse 18 he mentions the need of the power of the Holy Spirit. Believers have a wonderful advantage. Platitudes probably won’t work, but love, effort, patience, prayer, and time can do wonderful things. Faerie tale marriages take a lot more work than is evident in the last line of the story.

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  8. Jon

    I’m tired of people railing on the idea of “soul mates.” They absolutely are biblical and I believe that it’s crucial for people to understand what a soul mate is. The problem is that pop culture has totally maligned its legitimacy. The problem is that when most people think “soul mate” they think sappy, we’re a perfect fit, Jerry MacGuire-style, “you complete me”, nonsense.

    But step back: for those of us with a reformed theology, we believe that God knew us, before we were formed in eternity passed. We believe that he also knew our (future) spouse, and that in his sovereignty and perfect foreknowledge, he knew who everyone would marry. It’s not even that there’s someone that you’re “supposed” to marry, it’s that God already knows who you *will* marry.

    In Genesis we are told that God knows that is is not good that man is alone and based on Adam’s song, there is a very real sense in which Eve does “complete” him.

    From our finite timeline though, it’s true that we can’t know who we “should” marry, we simply have to feel it out. But, once you’re married, you need to understand, that that person IS your soul mate, and they always were.

    The other thing to remember is that marriage is not primarily about your joy, happiness, completeness, or fulfillment. It is about your sanctification. And no one is more uniquely suited to helping you in your sanctification process than your spouse. And the reality is, at the end of your life, when your sanctification is over and you go to meet Jesus you will be happy, joyful, and fulfilled.

    So to recap: in eternity passed God knew that you and your spouse would be brought together, you will be united in a lifelong endeavor to help the other grow in godliness and that will result in your sanctification and all its benefits… Gosh, that sounds like a soul mate to me.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Maybe we’re looking at the elephant from different angles (if you don’t know what I mean by that, see here). But the origin of the “soul mate” idea and the current connotation is that there’s one person out there who is your “other half” — and that I wholly reject. Once married, though, yes, you are one flesh and together — heart and soul — in a covenant relationship. And did God know what would happen? Sure. I don’t think He’s bound by time like we are.

      Reply
      1. Jon

        Yes, but that’s my point. I know the Greek origin of “soul mates” and the idea that Zeus split people in two and we wander around looking for our other half, and I know what pop culture means by the phrase, but rather than reject it I would prefer to redeem the term “soul mate.” I think it is a true and wonderful thing that God will sovereignly directs to the person best suited to help us be more like Jesus. Why wouldn’t we want to promote that idea and that view of the “purpose” or marriage?

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          Because I think the terminology in our culture already means one thing, and trying to adopt it for another doesn’t work well for most. Sounds like we’re debating semantics, rather than the actual concept.

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    2. a. nony

      I see what you’re saying. I’m Reformed myself, and I reject the concept of “the One” or “Soul Mates” because of that theology. From God’s perfect, eternal, outside-of-time perspective, he knew and determined and planned from eternity past all the events of my life, including the circumstances around my meeting the man who would eventually become my husband. From that end, there was no one else for me. But the other side of that coin is that, from my frail, time-limited perspective, there were in my life any number of men whom I could have married and had a godly, long, fruitful marriage. Christians throughout history have acknowledged this mysterious compatibility of God’s viewpoint and sovereignty and our limited perspective and actions — it’s even got a name, “Compatibilism.”

      What I object to, as a Reformed person, is the mystical notions underpinning the idea of “the one” or “soul mates.” God’s will is accomplished through MEANS, like being set up on a blind date, or responding to someone’s email on eHarmony — even means like input from friends, butterflies in the stomach, attraction, etc. It isn’t accomplished through trying to “discern” whether or not someone is “the one” in some mystical way.

      In other words, my objection to the concept has nothing to do with a rejection of the idea that GOD has sovereignly determined my marriage, but a rejection of the idea that he is obligated (or even likely) to communicate to someone that a particular person is “the one” BEFORE marriage, because I reject the idea that our actions are dictated to us by God in some mystical way. As Matt Chandler has said before, the way you know someone is “the one” is that you’re married to them.

      I have seen too many younger folks moan and worry about whether or not so-and-so is “the one,” rather than actually having a look at so-and-so’s character, godliness, suitability for being a husband/wife, attractiveness, etc. It’s not our job to worry about those things. It’s our job to trust that God will use our (hopefully obedient!) choices to guide us.

      Reply
  9. Charlie O.

    “It [marriage] is about your sanctification.” Sorry, Jon, God uses our marriage in the sanctification process just like he uses our job, our friends, trials, chastening, etc. However, to see marriage as one-faceted is neither Scriptural nor logical. In Genesis God said that it was not good for man to be alone, so He made Adam an help-meet. A thorough knowledge of the Bible demonstrates that God meant for marriage to be a blessing to man and to mankind on numerous levels–spiritual, emotional, social, sexual, societal, domestic. Without question the Lord will use our marriages in our spiritual growth process, but to say that He does not intend to us marriage to bless us in other ways, is to deny the obvious.

    Reply
  10. Claudia

    “And none of those issues will be solved with 10 Ways to Unleash Your Inner Sex Kitten!”

    That’s actually funny 😀

    Thanks for being bold and honest. You’ve saved many married persons from much heartache just by this article.

    God bless you.

    Reply
  11. Deb

    I don’t believe in “soul mates” either, very much like I don’t believe in the “perfect child.”
    Our mates are individuals and the children we have been blessed with are individuals each with their own unique personalities, temperaments , strengths, and weaknesses. None of the people in our families are exactly like us or exactly the same as each other (including twins).
    We learn to relate to each person the way they understand and respond the best.

    Do we dump a child on the street or adopt them out because they didn’t turn out the way we hoped they would? No, we love them as our child and raise them with the best of our abilities to help them reach their true potential.
    Shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy and love to our spouse?

    Sexual Intimacy solutions?
    You don’t add spice to an open wound. Healing needs to occur first.

    Reply
  12. Mavis

    Like you say some things are not biblically,but apparently they sound so true to the naive.

    Some say 5 things wife to do to affair proof your marriage.That’s not a guarentee.There are blind spots.if you do the 5 and still there is an affair,then what

    Humanity is more complicated than that.

    Reply

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