I’ve heard it said many times from our pulpit at church: “A marriage is supposed to be enjoyed rather than endured.” Well that makes sense considering you enjoy things you like and endure things you don’t like. I enjoy my time at a hockey game. I endure my time spent at the garage getting my oil changed. There’s a whole lot of excitement for me at a hockey game, while there is absolutely nothing stimulating at all about getting my oil changed. I look forward to hockey games but not oil changes. That just makes sense…we enjoy the things we like…we endure the things we don’t like.
Maybe it was my naivety, or maybe it was my general optimistic sense of hope, but I just figured everyone enjoyed their marriage. It seems like a concept that is not far fetched at all. Couples with anniversaries of 10-20-30+ years showed commitment and longevity. They must be happy. They must be enjoying their marriage. After all, they are still together and haven’t divorced each other. I quickly found out that my optimistic sense of hope masked my ignorance on the matter of staying together all the while enduring a marriage and not enjoying it.
Why is that? I mean, I’m not talking about the Hollywood couples who get married for celebrity reasons. I’m not talking about power couples who get married to advance their standing in their social circles. I’m not talking about couples who met at a party in Vegas, got drunk, and got married at a drive-thru chapel. Those marriages with auspicious starts came about through a decision to use marriage as a means to an end, and very little thought was put into the marriage itself as a living, breathing entity.
What I am talking about are the marriages that are entered into in the more traditional way. Two people meet. Two people “fall in love.” Two people court each other and get to know each other and learn to relate to each other. Two people have enjoyed the time spent with each other during the courtship so much that at some point they get engaged and eventually marry. That’s the couple I’m talking about. That’s the couple that sadly can go from enjoying their marriage to enduring their marriage. Why? The reason is simple…marriage goes from easy to hard very quickly and then it requires work…and work is not as much fun as ease.
I have a dog and a cat. I’ve always wanted pets growing up, but the closest my parents ever got was maintaining a fish tank. Well, fish aren’t pets. They’re more like moving decorations than pets. If you take one out of the tank to play with it, it will die. So as an adult, I was determined to get a pet and (dare I say) enjoy my pet. Most pet merchants will warn you that having a pet requires a big commitment. In my mind, I was only looking at the fun stuff about owning a pet. Going for walks. Playing in the park. Showing her off to my friends and family. Of course I was told, and knew intellectually, that owning a pet was going to come with responsibility, and work, and I was going to have to accept that to keep my pet alive so that I could enjoy my pet. The enjoyment of the pet is actually the reward you get for all the hard work you have to endure.
If you neglect your pet…it will get lonely. If you don’t feed your pet, it will become weak and feeble. If you don’t water your pet, it will become parched and wither. Eventually, you won’t get the same enjoyment out of your pet as you once did for the simple reason that your pet CAN’T bring you that enjoyment anymore because it’s either dead, or near dead. Beautiful plants are the same way. If one doesn’t protect the plant from the elements, water it, feed it, prune it, and otherwise take care of it, it’s going to die, or be in such a state that you don’t admire that plant the way you once did. Well guess whose fault it is? The plant is dependent on you and your pet is dependent on you.
Your marriage is a living, breathing entity of two fleshes transformed into one flesh (Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:31; Mark 10:8). We have to agree that if one human being is living and if the other human being is living, when the two human beings are married and become one flesh, then that one entity has to be living also. So in order for living things to stay alive, they need to be protected, fed, watered, and nurtured…else they won’t grow and eventually die. So shall it forever be with your marriage. You HAVE to endure the work necessary to keep the marriage alive so it can be enjoyed by the both of you. Hence why I say you have to endure to enjoy. You have to do the things you don’t like to do so that you can enjoy the things you like in your marriage.
Why are newlyweds so characteristically happy? The reason is because they are living in a fantasy world for a little while after being married. They’re in a utopia relationship. Each spouse is perfect and without fault, and anything that could be remotely considered a flaw is “cute.” They move in together and the novelty of “playing house” for real is awesome. Now they add the element of sexual intimacy to their relationship. So much is going on that is new and fresh and fun and exciting and enjoyable and on and on and on… It’s been termed by people as “Young Love.” Remember that, because we’ll revisit that term in a moment. But these two young lovers are just so enamored with each other that they are unwittingly heaping loads of nourishment and nurturance into the relationship. Their marriage consists of the two of them and they are focused wholly and solely on each other.
At this point, that new marriage is a beautiful, vibrant, strong, and healthy flower firmly rooted in moist, nutrient rich, perfectly cultivated soil. Oh it’s a thing to behold. Oh the beauty that is enjoyed. But even if you water the flower and feed it, there is a threat that still comes in that you need to control…weeds. People misunderstand weeds. There is no such plant called a weed. Every plant has a name and was created by God. It’s just that sometimes they grow where we don’t want them to, or they grow too much, and we call them weeds. These weeds can choke a flower and steal from the flower what is vital for the flower to survive.
I would classify weeds as external factors that can affect the marriage. Jobs/careers are one of them, especially when they are not going well or take one or both of the spouses away from each other, thereby not allowing them to cultivate and nurture the marriage. A career that takes a spouse’s priority away from a marriage is a weed. Finances can be another weed if uncontrolled spending turns into debt. That debt, in order to be eliminated, requires more cash flow which will require a second job, or overtime hours worked…stealing precious focus on cultivating the marriage. Something that goes along with the finances and debt is desiring and maintaining a certain lifestyle (cars, house, country club membership, etc)…they all can lead to debt. More time and energy will be spent keeping the “nice things” rather than keeping the marriage the main focus. So those are weeds…things that are in this world…and are neutral…but given the wrong amount of them, can become bad for the marriage and begin to choke it.
Another danger to plants are sucker branches. These are part of the plant itself and must be controlled in order to get the best yield. Tomato plants are an example of a plant that has sucker branches. These branches don’t produce fruit, but rather take valuable energy and nutrients from the plant as the plant tries desperately to be what it should be. These are children. Children come directly from within the marriage itself. These are not external weeds choking a flower. Children are extensions of the marriage itself that can take precious attention away from the marriage. However, sucker branches aren’t all bad to the plant, as they have leaves and do provide some nutrients to the plant. So too do children add to the marriage, but they can also suck the life right out of it by the very nature of the time they require.
So consider this scenario that is repeated all too often in families. Dad is working and gone out of the house 10 or more hours a day, figuring in commute. A new mom, or a stay at home mom with several children dresses them, bathes them, feeds them, watches over them to keep them safe, cleans the house, does laundry, and whatever light housekeeping needs to be done. She never stops. But the dad works hard all day, so when he gets home, he wants to relax. Now the wife has a husband to tend to, and of course, if the husband wants to do “married people things” later, a wife can soon look at even that as something else on her list of things to do. Multiply that times many years and add to that the stress of children’s health scares, school experiences, driving, dating, puberty, etc and you can see how the marriage itself is threatened by weeds and sucker branches.
Think about an abandoned mansion in the Hollywood Hills that is showing signs of years of neglect. You could barely even notice it through the dense overgrowth that covers the stairs. The first thing that needs to be done is to clear away what needs to be cleared away to be able to assess the damage. Then, once you see the damage, you go to work on the most important element, like is the foundation damaged or is the foundation solid, or are the walls ready to fall down because they aren’t as strong as they once were and can’t support the weight anymore. People who never owned that house can sometimes see the potential in restoring it, but if you’re the owner, you already KNOW the former glory of that house.
Your marriage is similar to that abandoned run down neglected Hollywood Hills mansion. It is still there in its original form, with the potential to return back to its former glory, but it’s going to take work. So the question now is…are you willing to clear away stuff that is overrunning the marriage? Are you willing to endure the work necessary to enjoy the marriage once again? The marriage, like the neglected house, is still the same as it was decades ago…it just needs your attention again. It hasn’t changed since your marriage was labeled “Young Love.”
And speaking of “Young Love…” Proverbs 5:18 tells us to rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Simply explained, it’s like this. Regardless of how long you have been married, one should be able to find joy in their spouse as they once did when they were younger and first married. This strengthens my argument that the marital relationship really doesn’t change, but rather gets neglected because the Bible hints at the notion that we can still find the spouse of our youth at any age.
Ecclesiastes 9:9 tells us to enjoy the marital relationship to its fullest all the days of your life. So it’s possible to love someone at least the same…maybe even more as time passes. And since the Bible again makes it clear our love can last throughout the years, it’s possible to still see and find in your old spouse what once was there in the beginning during the early days of “Young Love.”
So if there are “issues” with the marriage, it’s probably a simple case of the marriage having been neglected. It has become overgrown with weeds and sucker branches. You need to endure some work in order that you might enjoy the marriage. Like that abandoned and neglected Hollywood Hills mansion, your marriage has lost its luster, and is unappealing, but the potential exists to get it back to its former glory. Again, endure the work to enjoy the marriage. And once you get it back…maintain it! Make the upkeep a priority. A living, breathing entity needs to constantly and consistently be fed, watered, nurtured, etc…and again, according to Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:31; and Mark 10:8 your marriage is alive…keep it that way.