When you think of being married, what pops into your head? Is it the warm fuzzies of pursuing that “perfect” mate? Understandably, if you are single and looking for a mate, or you have been divorced and are ready to try again, you are hyper-focused on the pursuit phase of marriage. Remember the movie Princess Bride and its famous marriage scene? With the thickest accent ever, the priest bellows out “Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today. Marriage, that blessed arrangement, that dream within a dream… And love, true love, will follow you forever. So, treasure your love.” Great movie, real funny, in that scene the bride was getting married to a prince. Unfortunately, the Prince was Prince Humperdink, not Prince Charming. Prayer and preparation are essential to avoiding catching Prince or Princess Humperdink.
Christian author and blogger Ngina Otiende has been quoted as saying, “Marriage is meant to keep people together, not just when things are good, but particularly when they are not. That’s why we take marriage vows, not wishes.” Our culture is obsessed with the pursuit phase of marriage, but we are generally ill equipped to handle the challenges each phase of marriage after the pursuit, selection, and honeymoon phases. As a result, once the honeymoon phase of marriage wears off, we stumble into the harsh reality that we are unprepared for marriage. That friction reveals that we instinctively have unspoken expectations for marriage. When those expectations fall short, marital discord is spawned. A lack of appreciation, understanding, or preparation for each phase of marriage can result in marital discord, separation, or even divorce. You may be interested in our blog about strengthening your marriage as well.
The Pursuit and Mate Selection Phase of Marriage:
This phase of marriage receives the most focus in our culture currently. Movies, songs, and mass media are focused on the pursuit/dating phase. Preparation during this phase of marriage requires intense effort because our feelings during this time are usually white-hot and can often distort our thinking. II Corinthians 6:14 reminds us of the importance for us to be equally “yoked” with our potential mate. Think of three items of preparation during this phase:
PRAY and pray some more. I Thessalonians 5:17 says “Pray without ceasing.” Aside from following the Lord, this IS the most important decision you will make in your life. Pray with your family and seek their guidance if it gospel centered. Surround yourself with a Biblical community of people who will lovingly speak into your life and your selection of your mate.
Take a personality test with your potential mate through a licensed Christian counselor. There is no doubt that opposites attract. However, focus on the word “ATTRACT.” Attraction doesn’t automatically equate to peace, tranquility, or even long-term happiness. Couples that are exactly the same may result in boredom or a lack of excitement during marriage. God made everyone wonderfully different, so find out if your personalities are a good long-term fit. A licensed Christian counselor can help you find the right test to take and help you understand how God wired each of you.
Attend premarital counseling with your pastor. Attending pre-marital counseling sessions with your pastor is essential. These sessions can help level-set unrealistic expectations, help you explore your heart and desires for marriage, and ensure that you understand the challenges that will face you during the difficult seasons of marriage. You likely seek guidance or research for purchasing homes, cars, electronics, or things. Why wouldn’t you seek professional guidance and advice for this super important decision.
Tommy Nelson brilliantly explained that if you’re single, and you want to know who to marry, “[r]un as hard and as fast toward Jesus as you can and if, out of the corner of your eye, you see somebody running in the same direction, take a second look.”
Honeymoon – Leave and Cleave Phase of Marriage:
“Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Genesis 2:24. While the honeymoon phase can be amazing, Scripture makes clear that this is the phase to ensure priorities are correct. Prepare yourself during this phase to shift all your priorities.
Leaving your father and mother. Being married requires a radical shift in priorities. This doesn’t mean abandoning your family, not communicating with them, or even spending time with them. This may require you to have difficult conversations with your friends or even family about your priorities, time allocation, or even routine commitments to others will need to change. Your #1 priority now must be your spouse, not your family or friends.
Cleave to your spouse. Similarly, after leaving all other priorities (family, friends etc… pursue closeness with your spouse now over everyone else.
Where Are The Warm Fuzzies?
No marriage is perfect! You will have conflict. During this phase, the honeymoon has faded. You are starting to see differences in your spouse and some of them (or a lot) are irritating you. You have no idea why, but you are starting to fight about stupid things that you never fought about when you were dating or during the honeymoon phase. Perhaps you even feel unmet expectations regarding friendship, sex, money, or family with your spouse during this phase. RELAX. This is normal. You will fight. Be prepared to do the following:
Commit to one another to putting Christ (not each other, or even your desires) at the center of your marriage. Both you and your spouse are selfish. Your entire life leading up to marriage has been a constant flow of reinforced ideas that you are the star of your own personal movie/life. Now you are sharing equal billing with your spouse and it is causing problems. Sacrificial understanding and compromise is needed. Pray that the Lord will continue to reshape your heart, desires, and feelings so that you and your spouse’s relationship will continue to grow;
Fight Fair! Be prepared to fight in marriage. However, fight fair. This means, NEVER use the word “Divorce.” Don’t threaten to leave when you encounter difficulties. Guard your tongue. Your words have the ability to cut deep wounds in your spouse. Instead, recognize that you will encounter seasons of difficulty.
Don’t HIDE the conflict! You will be tempted to reflect what you think people want to see (e.g. the perfect Facebook or Instagram life). Marriage is work and it will be messy at times. Be prepared to share openly and honestly with available resources, like your pastor, Christian counselors, and your friends to be transparent.
The Growth and Completion Phase of Marriage:
You have avoided catching prince or princess Humperdink, you have refocused and reshaped your priorities, and you have dealt with seasons of difficulty and marital discord, you will likely enter the growth phase. Hopefully, this will be the longest phase of marriage. During this phase, the white-hot love you felt for your spouse during selection and honeymoon phase has transformed into a rich and enduring flame that is constant and never ceases. You may have children, experience boundless joy, go through periods of sorrow, and deal with all the challenges or blessings this world has to offer. Be prepared to keep your priorities in check: God, Spouse, Children…in this order, no matter what life throws at you. Marriage is for life! This means that as you near completion, be prepared to:
Teach your children of the importance of marriage. If you intend to have children, you (not your pastors, counselors, friends, teachers, or family) are responsible to teach and train your children. This is vital and so important for the next generation who will be going through the same phases you experienced;
Be plugged into your local church and generously serve where the Lord has gifted you. Likewise, the Lord will bring people to you that haven’t had the same life experiences as you. Pray that you would be able to serve, learn, and assist anyone the Lord brings to you and your spouse. Your marriage will produce visible fruit/signs that others will notice. Be conscious of this fact and serve others whenever possible.
No matter what phase of marriage you are currently in or whether you are still in pursuit of your mate, remember to prepare your heart, mind, and body for marriage. Marriage will push you, challenge you, and inspire you. Remember, you are not perfect, and neither is your spouse.