How delighted the devil would be to see us do this.
In a recent blog post, Tommy McGrady wrote that “marriage isn’t just hard. It’s sneaky hard.” But a friend of mine read it, and then she responded.
“When you learn to communicate, love your spouse more than yourself, learn to compromise and accept that not everything in life is going to be the way you want, marriage is not hard at all,” she wrote.So which is it?
Is marriage hard, or not hard? If it is hard, should it be? And what about dating? If that’s hard, should we call it quits?
I can agree with my friend, that marriage won’t be that hard if both people can communicate with each other successfully, love selflessly, and negotiate healthily. But I am compelled to declare what I hope we never forget: not all of us are currently equipped to do that.
Whether a person communicates successfully, loves selflessly, or negotiates healthily isn’t simply rooted in a willingness to do it. It’s rooted in a complex set of factors — insecurities and egotism, stories we don’t like to tell about wounds we don’t want to expose, the unhealthy attachment styles we picked up in our families of origin.
Few of us can know how equipped we are for a serious relationship until we’re in one. Many of us learn in them that we’re not very equipped. All of us need to be told that that’s ok, because we can fix that.
What we are told, by varying sources for various reasons, is that marriage is hard or not hard. When I shared McGrady’s post last week on Facebook, a discussion followed in the comments.
Some readers said that to spread the message that marriage is hard will discourage people from pursuing it. I argued that calling it easy can discourage couples who already are married from staying that way — and that it can deter people who need to grow from admitting it.
That’s because it’s easy in our culture to convince ourselves that what’s hard is bad and what’s easy is good.
It’s easier to declare somebody unfit for me when being in a relationship with him is hard than it is to consider that relationships will always be hard for me if I don’t let them do what they’re supposed to do: change me.
But hard doesn’t negate good and easy doesn’t confirm it. In many cases, what’s hard helps us transcend the status quo and what’s easy helps us maintain it.
Some relationships are easy because the people in them don’t go deep enough to clash — it’s easy because it’s superficial, but superficial isn’t good. Other relationships are hard because the people in them go deep enough to learn about the parts of themselves that need improvement. It’s hard because it’s formative, but formative isn’t bad.
When we don’t admit that, we quickly can convince ourselves to sustain a superficial relationship because it’s easy, or to end a formative one because it’s hard. In either case, we opt for minimal discomfort.
Some of us do that simultaneously as we claim to aim for a marriage that results in our becoming holier, healthier, and happier.
And that disturbs me.
It disturbs me because becoming holier, healthier, and (truly) happier always takes work. It always means you’ll need to change some of your behavior. That will necessitate discomfort, and sometimes tears, and for a lot of us, counseling — but we run from that.
It disturbs me because how delighted the devil would be to see all of us pick a partner whose presence stunts our growth instead of promotes it, to see us all settle for what’s easy at the expense of what’s good — stifling growth not solely in ourselves, but in our families, communities, cultures.
How happy he’d be to watch us discover our capacities to become holier and healthier — and then to watch us walk away from relationships that would help us do it.
Arleen Spenceley is author of the book Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin (Ave Maria Press, Nov. 2014). She works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She blogs at arleenspenceley.com. Click here to follow her on Twitter, click here to like her on Facebook, and click here to follow her on Instagram.