I have been to many weddings officiated by my childhood preacher, and he always admonished the couple with these words: “Today, you are marrying three people: the person your husband/wife used to be, the person he/she is today, and the person he/she will be in the future.”
We all have a past.
And that past affects who we are today. Some of us look back on an idyllic childhood, and some still bear the scars of hurts suffered. Some of us were raised with siblings, some weren’t. Some of us dealt with the pain of our parents’ divorce, while some grew up in healthy, intact families. Some knew early on the insecurity of money woes, and some grew up without a financial care in the world.
Most of us unknowingly project our relationships with our parents onto our relationship with our spouse. For instance, if nothing you ever did was good enough for your dad, you might have a hard time taking even the slightest criticism from your husband. But the opposite is also true! If your mother thought you could do no wrong, you might have trouble accepting it when your wife points out an area in which you could improve. Listen, your new job isn't fixing your spouse.
I’m a big believer in Christian counseling, especially if your past includes some of these serious hurts: divorce, abandonment, abuse (of any kind), or severe financial insecurity. We could all use help from time to time in identifying our sore spots and learning new ways to deal with them effectively.
We all have a present reality.
We have hopes and dreams for ourselves, and when those dreams don’t become a reality, it can hit us hard. When we married, the plan was for my husband to go to medical school and eventually become a radiologist. Our reality during that first year of marriage was that he didn’t make it into med school on the first try, got discouraged, and went into another line of work entirely. Our challenge was to accept our present reality and work through that disappointment together.
Many couples struggle with infertility and don’t get to live out the life they’ve planned together (at least not on their timetable). Their challenge is to believe in and celebrate the fact that they became a “family” the day they married each other, regardless of whether they ever get to add children to the mix.
And one of the harsher realities is that the person you’re married to – for at least the first few years – is a relative “rookie” in the realm of marriage. Ladies, we can’t expect our husbands to be the tender, understanding mind-readers that it seems like our dads are after decades of marriage. And guys, your mom might have had the gift of keeping a lot of plates spinning without ever seeming to break a sweat, but those skills take time to cultivate. Our challenge is to accept each other right where we are without demanding perfection.
We all have a future.
And just like your present might not resemble the plans you had envisioned, your future might look quite different, as well. I can honestly say that God has blessed our marriage far beyond what I could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). But I also know after 29 years of marriage that it could all change tomorrow.
- Car accidents happen.
- Jobs are lost.
- Bad diagnoses are received.
- Investments tank.
- Children make harmful choices.
We don’t know what our futures hold, but we can determine whose hand we’ll be holding as we walk through those future circumstances. When you stood before the minister, your family, and friends, you promised to hold the hand of your spouse. His hand from the past, his hand in the present, and his hand into the future.
Jennifer Bell has been married to her high school sweetheart, Brant, for 30 years. They’ve raised three sons and one daughter to adulthood, and are still best friends. She recently became “Mimi” to a new grandson, Elijah. She enjoys being part of the worship team at church, reading and spending time with her book club friends, and just hanging out with her family in Franklin, TN.