People get married because they believe marriage is some kind of beautiful box filled with everything they desire in life: companionship, intimacy, friendship, and love. But the truth is that marriage is nothing but an empty box that gets filled with whatever the two partners bring into it. And it’s up to the partners in every relationship to define their marriage – not you, not me, and not even the state or the federal government.
If it was only that simple. Sadly, society today focuses more on the extravagant wedding or who is allowed to marry whom, instead of on marriage itself.
The person or family paying for the wedding often walks away with the equivalent to a luxury car loan for having had the opportunity to share three hours of fun with 500 of their closest friends. Wedding & Reception Venue: $10,000 – table linens and chairs extra. Dress: $8,000. String Quartet: $1,000. Sit Down Dinner: $12,000 – alcohol extra. You get the picture. Then we have churches, governments and political parties that spend millions of dollars each year to prohibit certain loving individuals from legalizing their loving and committed relationships.
Is this what marriage has become? Is this what marriage is really about? No, these are egregious examples of misplaced priorities. If we invested the same amount of effort into developing our relationships and subsequent marriages as we do into planning some weddings and preventing others, surely marriage success rates would begin to climb. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could start there, where our attention really belongs?
To do so, we must first understand that there is no love in marriage. Love is in people, and people put love into a marriage. They should also put in romance, commitment, hard work, and respect if they want a happy one. But those same people can also bring into their marriage things like estrangement, manipulation, and resentment. People are people – regardless of age, race, economic status, or gender – and they will get out of their relationships exactly what they put into them.
“Marriage is not what I thought it would be” is a common theme among disheartened newlyweds and empty nesters alike. Maybe they didn’t understand what they needed to
bring to “their box.”
When my wife and I married in 2010, we thought we understood what marriage would mean to us. We thought we knew what “the box” looked like. After all, we had each been married before – she for twenty-four years and me for just over twenty. And we had been happy: two best friends raising our children and building a community of friends that became so close we considered them family.
But post divorce we found ourselves falling in love. And it was terrifying. Terrifying to acknowledge the new feelings we were experiencing, “What if it’s a mis-read? And it was terrifying to consider risking the loss of the best friend we had always known for something that may or may not be real. We had been through enough heartache already, why risk more?
But it was real. And we slowly began to embrace it.
Every good relationship, especially marriage, is based upon respect. Our friendship had been based upon mutual respect, and that is where we started as we began this new life together. Respect for having been honest with ourselves and then with each other. Respect for the tremendous hoops through which we had to jump in order to actually get married (going to the courthouse to collect your license is a huge hurdle when you have never told another living soul about your relationship). Respect for understanding the marriage difficulties we had already been through as well as the marriage difficulties we knew we may well face in the future. Respect for understanding the risks we had each taken for the sake of the other and for our relationship, just to become legally married.
As residents of Texas, we weren’t afforded the opportunity to get legally married at home. And we soon found out that we couldn’t even get married in any of the states that offered same-sex marriage licenses at the time without proof of residency. So we went to Canada.
We were asked by the minister who married us, “How do you expect your relationship to change with marriage?” We answered with “everything and nothing.” Being able to profess our love to one another in a church, before God, meant everything to us. But we innocently believed that we would return home to Texas and continue to live our lives just as we always had. That would be the nothing part.
But we quickly realized there was no “nothing” in our marriage equation at all. Following the ceremony, as we sat in the parking lot of the church, we were struck with the immediacy of how everything had changed. We had just promised to trust and respect one another, to laugh and cry with each other, to love the other faithfully in good times and in bad, and to cherish our union more each day than we had the day before. We had already started filling our new box.
If society focused on what loving couples must put into their marriage boxes instead of what the outside of their boxes must look like, we could turn this whole thing around. The price tag of the wedding and the gender of the partners is wholly irrelevant when it comes to the covenant one makes with a partner in life and in love.
Falling in love is not a choice, but rather a gift from God. Our choice is what we do with the gifts we’ve been given. So fill your box wisely.