Marriage today has become a status symbol, a highly regarded marker of a successful personal life. No matter what we achieve for ourselves, nothing says “achiever” quite like marriage, it has become the icing on the cake.
Looking back at generations before us, marriage has always been important, but nowadays, it is important for different reasons. In the past, there was nothing exceptional about marriage; people got married because it was a decent way of sharing a life and raising a family together. Today, marriage has become the ultimate experience of personal life- the last brick put in place after everything else is set. People now get married after the career is established, after they travel, after they satisfy themselves with wild partying and crazy dating. It is no longer something we save ourselves for; it saves us from everything else once we are tired, hence we call it, “settling down”. Marriage is now about showing friends and family that we have grown up, life is going well, and love has rewarded us with someone who will be with us forever.
You can be a CEO, an entrepreneur or a famous artist, but somehow, at the back of everyone’s mind lingers this thought; if you are so wonderful, why aren’t you officially taken? To be married has fast become a statement of note, it’s as though marriage validates us, and the ring confirms that we are loved and our children are proof that we are desirable or wanted.
At reunions, social gatherings or work functions, married people proudly and boastfully talk about their spouses and children while the single listen and quietly wonder when their moment will come. What is the big deal about marriage, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked. As a society, there is something that we have come to expect when someone says they are married, and we envy them for it, it’s called happiness. We associate marriage with happiness, love and fulfillment, just like in the movies. We are smart enough to know that we don’t have to be married to be happy, but the truth is, we’d like to take our chances. We want to be married and discover this for ourselves.
To be a Mr & Mrs is one of those things that we long for so desperately because we hope that it will say something significant about our identity and hopefully, it will fill the void in our hearts and eliminate any sense of inadequacy. I assume that marriage speaks of our being loved (we want people to know we are loved). For example, it is great – but not enough- to be introduced like this: Nono Cele is a published writer, an award winning TV producer and an incredibly powerful speaker etc. That does not easily impress us, we want all those accomplishments to be coupled with this important phrase: She is also a wife. That says a lot about our need for belonging…to someone.
Marriage today is like a plan B that cannot fail; when our careers plummet, we get to tell our friends stories of how we quit working so we can be more supportive of our spouses and we are cheered for our great sacrifice. Better yet, we get to say we (willingly or unwillingly) stopped working so we can raise the kids, and we are admired for it. We see marriage as a sign of growing up, rightfully so, but we also see it as an escape from things that made us feel unworthy or inadequate.
One of the many reasons we are so obsessed with marriage is that we hope that it will heal and complete us. But it seldom does. Why?
Marriage in itself is a wonderful thing, a union of two souls. But one thing marriage is not, is a cure or an antidote for our fears, insecurities and issues. As beautiful as marriage is, we need to be aware that it cannot heal what is broken within us. If anything, the problems that existed between two people before they got married will not magically disappear just because they said, “I do”. Problems demand to be dealt with, otherwise they will worsen. Marriage does not serve as a band-aid to hide our scars, brokenness or shame, but it allows us a safe place to be vulnerable and still be loved.
Prior writing this article, I spent numerous hours studying the origins of marriage, and reading about how God intended marriage to be; it is shocking to discover how far we have strayed from God’s original intent. The mere fact that marriage was to be entered into by two beings who desired to honor God is astounding~ we have become so accustomed to building our marriages on (our) feelings that we cannot fathom what it’s like to centre it on the Creator.
It is sad that as a society we have twisted marriage into something it’s not; we’ve made it a measure of how well we are doing in life, we’ve turned this union into status, a show, and a commitment that’s easy to discard. It was never meant to be any of these things.
In preparation for this post, I went to my sister and confidant for her opinion and views on this subject and having survived a difficult marriage, she had much to share. As always, her wisdom brought such enlightenment.
Things I wish my unmarried friends knew:
Marriage is work
Marriage like all things in life requires work. For some of us we have this dream of a perfect wedding and a smooth floating, self-running married life. It is not like that. Marriage requires work to keep it going and that is not a bad thing. As human beings we were created to create (work). We seem to get the principle of working to maintain and improve our lives but somehow when it comes to marriage we assume that it must just flow. For better grades we work, for healthy bodies we work, for financial stability we work, we even work to get better at our hobbies, similarly marriage needs work. The amount of work you put in determines how great the marriage will be. You and your spouse do not work equally but you give it your best, depending on a lot of things, background, culture personality, etc. Some things will be easier for your spouse than for you. I guess it makes logical sense to let the one strong in that area to run with it mainly, so the other spouse does not neglect it completely. If one is a good and efficient cook then, they should do most of the cooking. The other must still learn to how cook, yes it will probably not be as efficient and good but the effort must be made to know how it’s done.
Marriage is a beautiful process
I am still to see and experience something as beautiful as watching things unfolds. Generally we appreciate and enjoy the beauty of finished things but I believe the ones who enjoy it the most are the ones who experienced it unfold from its beginning phase to the completion. Marriage is beautiful because it gives you the platform to be involved in the unfolding of the Creator’s master plan. You don’t just see a person changing and growing but you know exactly what happened. You know things that they would not even speak of. Things that even those dear to their hearts get the shortened version of and not because they opened up to you, it’s just God has blessed you with the platform to see things unfold. I guess the best beauty of it all is not in watching the other person unfold, it is watching you unfold. You see, marriage reveals what you can be.
That is the beauty of marriage; it gives you just a small taste of God. That small taste is very huge from the love, giving, sharing, sacrifices, forgiveness, hurt and healing we experience as singles. If you are not married, you are single. You are still a single even if you have been dating for 50 years. That’s another beauty and mystery about marriage. There is something about standing in the saying “I do” in the presence of the Lord, something even cohabiting cannot come close to.
Marriage is sustained by two people based on an individualistic decision
When getting married you (as an individual) commit and covenant with God and your partner. In return s/he (as an individual) commits and covenants with God and you. As long as you remember that then your marriage will keep growing and improving. Society has somehow taught us that we must look at what the partner is or not doing and the measure our commitment based on this, marriage does not function like that. This is not to say that you are not to address issues or areas of improvement in your spouse, by all means do so because if handled correctly growth is the result of addressing those issues.
In addressing those issues remember that if your partner has to do the changing you also have to make a decision to give him/her the time required to make the change. The same holds true for him/her. Constantly in marriage as you are working to be that which God has promised you, issues and challenges will crop up. For our context a challenge is anything that you will have to face or fix together, an issue is anything that one person has to mainly face or fix. Death of a family member would be a challenge for an example whereas over spending by one spouse would be an issue. If you are overspending you have to make a decision to change and trust that the other person will be there and patient with you as you change your habit because the truth of the matter is that it will not be easy and it will take time. S/he or he cannot break the habit for you. You as an individual have to make that decision but both of you have to maintain it. Similarly to stay married is an individualistic decision that needs both parties to be maintained.
Love and light,
Nqwesh Mtshizana and Nono Cele