News Flash: You don't have to be married to be happy. You may be thinking, "I already knew that", but you would be amazed how often this has come up over my years in the ministry. Single folks don't actually say they have to be married to be happy, of course. They don't say it, but many do live it.
How do they live it? There are a lot of ways. Sometimes you see people's belief in their attitudes. They are frustrated, angry, depressed, unsure, hurting. When you begin to ask questions, somewhere along the way, it comes up that they aren't married yet. Other times, you see it in people's life focus. All arrows point to finding a spouse, as though that accomplishment is the pinnacle of their lives.
The Must-Get-Married Trap
I see basically three groups of people who are most prone to fall into the "must get married" trap.
1. Women. Age doesn't seem to matter. I've seen little girls whose main focus was their future wedding, 70 year olds who were scouting out looking for a man, and everything in between. I have seen every known tactic and emotion surface. Somehow, it gets instilled in women that marriage equals happiness, and nothing else will suffice.
2. Men. I see this "hurry-up-itis" mostly in men who have past some magical "I-should-be-married-by-now" age in their own minds or the minds of their well-meaning friends. Generally speaking, they seem to be immune until they reach that age, but often fall into depression after they reach it.
3. Singles called into the ministry. This is a big one. Somehow, we have been given the impression that you can't really serve God unless you're married. It seems to be an unstated law -- Thou must be married to serveth thy God. (Catholics excepted, of course. They go to the other end of the spectrum and forbid marriage for those serving in ministry. Don't worry, I'm not opening a theological debate here -- just talking casually about beliefs of different denominations. If this upsets you, please refer to the title of this post and remember my topic.)
But are these people right? Do you have to be married to be happy or to serve God?
The reality is that whatever is in you, you will take into the marriage. If you are unhappy, discontent, or always looking for the next great thing to make you happy, those attitudes are not going to disappear just because you got married. You take it with you. Now that you're finally married, it will be something else. "If my husband would just pay more attention to me, then I'd be happy" or "If my wife would just take better care of my physical needs, then I'd be happy" or "If I just made more money"... The list is as vast as the people who believe it.
If you believe that marriage is going to magically fix some issue in your life, you will find yourself very disappointed. Often, I have seen people get married to fix two main issues: Loneliness and lust. After nearly 20 years in full time ministry, I have yet to ever see marriage fix either one. In just a few years, the people that thought marriage would solve their problems end up in our counseling office because the issue is worse. You take the issue with you. If you want to marry to cure yourself of loneliness, I will tell you that there is no place more lonely than a room full of people. Your spouse cannot fulfill that need in your life. To start a marriage in that way is to start a very needy and dependent relationship. If you believe that marriage will cure you of lust, I will tell you that the new wears off very quickly. A wandering eye that isn't trained to stay home will not magically obey the rules just because there is a piece of paper to make things official.
It's All About You
The reality is that starting a relationship to make yourself happy or to fix a problem, whether it's loneliness, lust or any other issue, cannot make you happy for one very simple reason. It's all about you. That is the common thread in all those reasons people want to marry. Selfishness. Me-ism. A relationship can never be truly happy or healthy as long as it's all about you.
The Road to a Healthy Relationship
If you want to be happy, it starts by thinking more about what the other person is getting than about what you are getting. What's in it for them, rather than what's in it for you? I heard one minister say, "It isn't so much about finding the right person as being the right person." Our focus should shift from trying to find a spouse and end our misery. Instead, we should focus on being the kind of person that adds value to those around us. We need to focus on becoming a person of character. I believe that the best way to shift the focus off ourselves and our own needs is to do two things:
1. Worship God -- There is something about worshipping the Creator of the Universe that puts things into perspective. It is hard to spend time with the Maker of All Things, and keep thinking only about yourself.
2. Serve -- When you put your heart and actions into serving other people, it has a way of getting you out of your own little world and it's problems. It is a great cure for loneliness. It gets your mind off of what don't have. As long as you sit around thinking about what you need and what you want, you cannot ever be happy. But when you get out there and live your life for others, you become the kind of person that is capable of sustaining a healthy relationship.
As my husband often says, "It is better to want what you don't have than to have what you don't want." That goes both ways in a relationship. Don't push a relationship too fast because you're tired of being single. If you do, you are much more likely to find that you have what you don't want. But also, make sure you are the kind of person that will make your spouse glad they married you. Make sure your future spouse doesn't end up with what they don't want.
If you have anger issues or control issues, NOW is the time to deal with that, not after you marry. Ask yourself how you handle it when someone says or does something you don't like. The Bible tells us that if you marry, you will have "trouble in the flesh" (1 Corinthians 7:28). You can't expect two people with flesh (carnal natures) to live in the same house without encountering some rough spots. It isn't a question of "if", but "when and how often". You future spouse WILL irritate you. They WILL do things you don't like -- REALLY don't like. How will you handle it? Use your time as a single to fix those issues and you'll spend a lot less time in my counseling office once you're married.
I'm certainly not minimizing the frustration and emotions a single person feels when it doesn't seem like they will ever be married. However, I often have the opportunity to follow the progression from "the desire to be married" to "trying to stay married". I have watched countless people waste the time they had to prepare for a healthy marriage because they were too busy craving a marriage. Don't let that be you.
Have a great day!
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