A lay counselor who has worked with hundreds of premarital couples told me that he particularly looks forward to the session when he lays out what he calls the “tough love truths” to the future bride (why he picks the bride for this, I’m not sure). During this session, David tells the woman that sometime in the first few years, she will wake up one day with the following three thoughts:
- You’re not the man I thought you were.
- You’re not meeting my needs.
- Marriage is difficult.
David sees these three things as basically universal truths, and most people who have been married five years or more are unlikely to disagree with any of them. We don’t really know who we are marrying—there is always something more to find out. No one person can meet all our needs. And every marriage is difficult.
These “3 Truths” are healthy reminders for every married couple (it works for men every bit as much as it works for women). So often we want to particularize the challenge of our marriage, making it our spouse’s fault instead of admitting that no one fully and completely knows the person they are marrying; no marriage supplies all our emotional needs; and no marriage is always “easy.”
The trick is to keep a universal truth from becoming a specific attack. For example: “You’re not who I thought you were” can lead to, “Therefore you must have lied to me or hid from me or misled me intentionally.” You’ve taken a universal truth about marriage and used it as an individual assault.
Let me add a caveat here, however, for one particular situation: Some abusive men are master manipulators and they really did commit fraud prior to the marriage, about who they were, what they value, and how they live. In such cases, that second statement may be necessary to evaluate the way forward. And some women truly can actively and intentionally cover up major issues (psychological, drug dependence, etc.) from their future husband that also amounts to fraud.
For most husbands and wives, though, it’s not about fraud as much it is about discovery, having our eyes opened to distasteful things, short of abuse, that are unpleasant and maybe even shocking to discover. Even if your spouse managed to be one hundred percent honest while dating, you’ll still find out a few unfortunate truths about him or her as the marriage progresses.
The second universal truth, “You’re not meeting my needs!” implies that someone else could meet all your needs. It can turn into a poisonous disappointment and contempt, all because you accepted the premise of a lie—that your spouse is supposed to meet all your needs. Imagine a coach berating Lebron James because during one game he missed half his shots or only pulled down three rebounds. Try to find any player who doesn’t usually miss half his shots!
Finally, “Marriage is difficult” can turn into “you’re difficult so something must be wrong with you.” No matter how prepared you are, growing close to someone who stumbles in many ways (James 3:2), submitting to each other out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21), loving your wife as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25), trying to honor your spouse more than they honor you (Romans 12:10), wives maintaining their respect for a fallen husband (Ephesians 5:33)—spiritually, these are excruciating calls. Our flesh, pride, selfishness and love of comfort scream in protest against these biblical commands. They will never, ever be easy to uphold. It’s not entirely your spouse’s fault that marriage is difficult—in fact, it’s partly the fault of your sinful soul that grates against God’s high ideals for marriage and Christian living.
So let’s step back and remind ourselves of what David says we’ll experience when we wake up next to our spouse:
- You’re not who I thought you were.
- You’re not meeting all my needs.
- Marriage is difficult.
When these universal truths become obvious to you, remember that this doesn’t mean you made a bad choice. It doesn’t mean you got a raw deal. It just means you got married. And now it’s time to make that marriage work.
This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.