What do You Mean by Married?
Closer to Others: Part 4-Marriage Style to Run From
Marriage Styles to Run From
This will conclude our series on different marriage styles, taken from my book, The Sacred Search. I’m grouping the problematic styles, the ones that aren’t healthy, together. You might wonder why anyone would choose a marriage like this, but the truth is they often do it without realizing it. You’ll likely recognize every one of them in other people. Just know this: it’s possible to desire marriage for unhealthy reasons. You don’t want to participate in that!
The HORROR-SHOW House
This is a relationship style that has no upside, and I mention it so you can avoid it. Some people become interested in a relationship only when they are terrorized by or terrorizing their partner. It’s true. These couples fight, argue, make each other miserable and afraid, and may even have quite vigorous makeup sex. Exhausted and spent, they peacefully coexist for another short season until routine sets in and they start the horror cycle all over again.
The problems with such a relationship are many. Often, the one who once felt comfortable being terrorized eventually gets tired of it. And this form of love is so directly in opposition to agape biblical love and marriage that it’s a relationship doomed to fail.
If you feel most connected to someone when they are terrorizing you, or you feel closest to someone when you are terrorizing them, you need to know this is a spiritual sickness and a fake intimacy. You need to get healed, not married, and in that order. You can’t build a healthy relationship on an unhealthy pattern of relating. You need to deal with this before you even think about making a lifelong choice. Not only is it personally destructive, it’s a prescription for parental disaster. Kids crave stability and are harmed significantly by never-ending crisis.
Some people find themselves energized by a police arrangement— either they want to have somebody they can keep checking up on, or they need somebody to keep checking up on them. If one spouse is or was an addict, the other spouse will regularly check the garbage for bottles, the Internet history for sites visited, the bank statements for unexplained withdrawals.
Some people feel most comfortable fulfilling the role of a traffic cop, as it preoccupies their attention and keeps them from having to think about their own shortcomings. It gives them a sense of purpose, and sometimes even feeling fear and suspicion is more energizing than feeling bored or apathetic.
Other people like to be policed; it absolves them from having to look after themselves. They’ll keep running into trouble because their partner acts like a safety net, ready to catch them so they don’t hit the ground too hard. They may act like they resent the interference, but deep down, they know they need it.
There are considerable problems with entering this kind of marriage. First, if you’re the “police,” you’re assuming you don’t need someone to hold you accountable. If you’re the criminal or in the save-me-role, you’re indulging your laziness by refusing to love, look after, or serve someone else. That makes this relationship character-corrupting rather than character-forming.
There can be a sense of satisfaction in thinking you’re the only one who really understands her, and you’re the one he desperately needs, because it can feel good to be needed. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help someone out; there is something wrong with choosing an untrustworthy, crisis-prone person to become your spouse. When it comes to choosing a marriage partner, avoid the messianic complex. There is only one Savior, and it’s not you.
We’ll touch on this more later: do you really want to raise kids with someone who needs to be rescued from himself or herself? You’re almost guaranteed to become a de facto single parent. Is that truly the kind of father or mother you want to give to your children?
One engaged man admitted he was already “exhausted” with his fiancée’s clinical mood swings. If he is exhausted now, in a dating relationship, how tired do you think he’s going to be when they have three kids and he has a fulltime job? Plenty of other men could handle this without being depleted by it. Be honest about what you’re capable of handling for the rest of your life.
Some people like to fight. Maybe it’s what they grew up with; it’s how they process emotions; it’s what keeps life from being so boring. And they may even think that makeup sex is the best kind of sex.
Fighting releases adrenaline, which can make us feel more fully alive. But it’s a destructive way to stave off boredom, and it’s a disastrous living arrangement in which to raise children. If you can’t express what you really feel about each other without using four-letter words and hurtful comments, you lack the basic relational skills necessary to build a satisfying marriage. Either you’re not ready for marriage, or the person you’re with isn’t capable of having an intimate marriage.
There will be seasons of life when you need encouragement, forgiveness, and acceptance; a marriage style defined by fighting usually lacks these essential qualities. Conflict is an inevitable and necessary part of every healthy, mature relationship, but I wouldn’t want to be married to someone who is energized by altercations. I’d rather they be energized by service, motivated by love, and moved by compassion, kindness, and God’s gentle leading.
One person likes to learn; one likes to teach. The most common form is the much older, usually financially successful man or woman marrying a considerably younger spouse. He thinks it’s “cute” that she is enthralled by fancy restaurants she’s never been to before, and when he explains the wine list to her and she looks at him with awe, it makes him feel like a man.
Women can get an ego rush having a younger man chase after them, and for a while they may enjoy doing “younger” things, reliving an earlier life. But if that’s the main attraction in your marriage, how long can you sustain that kind of bond? Your “young” man won’t be so young in another decade.
There can also be a “spiritual” parent/teacher relationship—the mature believer leading an unbeliever to the Lord and being his or her primary spiritual influence.
The most solid marriages are mutual—where each partner contributes to and challenges each other, and influence shifts rather than centers on one or the other. Students eventually grow up and want to be in a more mature relationship. Being a student is okay for a while, but eventually you want to graduate. If the person you’re married to won’t let you do that, resentment is inevitable. You want to kill a sexual relationship? Sow the seeds of resentment. It works every time.
These are short-term situations at best and usually don’t make a healthy basis for a long-term marriage.
Finding Your Match
Perhaps I’ve yet to describe your ideal marriage style. That’s okay; I’m just trying to get the conversation going. Jennifer2 liked to go out several times a week; she was a social butterfly. Her husband, Riley, developed properties for contractors and worked long days. The hard labor made him want to plop on the couch as soon as he got home. When Jennifer mentioned a party or friends getting together at a restaurant, Riley felt that taking a shower and heading back out was the last thing he wanted to do.
Neither Jennifer nor Riley were “right” or “wrong” in their evening preference. Working hard was what Riley did. Needing to enjoy a good dinner party on a regular basis was part of Jennifer’s DNA. Jennifer and Riley eventually got divorced. I’m not saying their dramatically different social preferences were the main cause, but they certainly didn’t help. This is something I wish they would have considered before they got married.
Take the time to write out a description of your ideal marriage style. It might not be one that I mentioned above. Describe with detailed scenarios what sounds most exciting and rewarding to you.
• How will you spend your evenings?
• How close will the two of you be?
• Will you try to spend every hour outside of work together, or will you sometimes pursue separate hobbies and ministry opportunities?
• How central will church involvement be in your life?
• Will you take vacations with the kids, without the kids, or even perhaps individually?
• When you’ve daydreamed about the most satisfying moments of marriage, are you and your loved one walking on a beach, scouring antique stores, working on a mission field, taking your children to the park, or doing something else?
If you’re already in a dating relationship, compare your answers, and then bring them up in a group setting. This group step is important because sometimes men and women are more likely to be honest when they see others sharing their views. Guys might be shy telling their girlfriend, “Yeah, I’m not so into the handyman thing,” but when another guy says it first, your guy can laugh and say in a little moment of truth, “You got that right.” When a woman says, “You know, I don’t really know if I want to have children,” your girlfriend’s unfiltered facial expression in response will tell you a lot about how she really feels.
Labels aren’t nearly as important as how well your assumptions about married life match up with those of the person you’re thinking about marrying. If your partner is antagonistic to an activity or style that’s important to you, don’t try to make yourselves fit into each other’s lives; there are other people out there. Remember, if there’s not “one right choice,” there is likely a more compatible person out there with whom you can share your life in a more fruitful and satisfying manner.
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