June 13, 2016

The Question that Can Destroy Your Marriage: “Did I Marry the Right Person?”

Gary Thomas — 

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.

The Question that Can Destroy Your Marriage-“Did I Marry the Right Person-”

One of the least productive, and indeed most destructive mental exercises in marriage is to spend any time asking ourselves a spiritually dangerous question: “Did I marry the right person?”

This question saps energy from something that can be done—focusing on taking a less than ideal situation to a better place—at the cost of solving a “problem” that can’t be solved: rewriting history.

Once we have exchanged our vows, little is gained and much harm can be done by asking this question. A far better alternative to questioning one’s choice is to learn how to live with one’s choice. A character in the Anne Tyler novel A Patchwork Planet comes to realize this too late. The book’s thirty-year-old narrator had gone through a divorce and now works at an occupation that has him relating almost exclusively with elderly people. As he observes their long-standing marriages, he comes to a profound understanding:

“I was beginning to suspect that it made no difference whether they’d married the right person. Finally, you’re just with who you’re with. You’ve signed on with her, put in half a century with her, grown to know her as well as you know yourself or even better, and she’s become the right person. Or the only person, might be more to the point. I wish someone had told me that earlier. I’d have hung on then; I swear I would. I never would have driven Natalie to leave me.”

People dwelling on rewriting history usually do so selectively, ignoring even obvious benefits that have arisen from their first choice and naturally assume that virtually any other choice would have been easier or better. I’ve talked to too many people in second marriages to believe that this is always true. Second, it ignores a rather huge issue: if you had married someone else, your children wouldn’t exist. I’d put up with a lot of disappointments in marriage if that was the price I had to pay for my kids to be alive.

Instead of wishing you could do something that can’t be done—rewriting history—why not put all that energy and focus into trying to make tomorrow’s history a little better? That’s achievable, at least.

The root of this question, “Did I marry the right person?” usually flows from an examination of “compatibility,” which, though it can definitely make life more pleasant, can also be over-rated.  Our kids sometimes laugh at how incompatible Lisa and I seem. I doubt either of us would be the “perfect” person for each other if we were matched by a computer. But it’s a relationship that we cherish and thank God for every day. Rather than spending time wondering if we married the right person, we can take all that energy and work on creating a beautiful story of how two imperfect and at times somewhat incompatible people made their marriage into something wonderful — creating kids, finding purpose, worshiping God, and being loyal to each other to the very end.

Besides, learning to cherish a woman who is amazingly like me sounds almost narcissistic and shallow, maybe even creepy. Learning to love a woman who is so unlike me in so many ways has made me a better man, a better Christian and given me a much more varied life. If you think life would be better and the world would be richer if only everyone was more like you, to be honest, I feel a little sorry for you.

In regards to the struggles of “incompatibility,” look at it this way: what’s more inspiring—the story of a man who climbed a mountain without breaking a sweat, never encountering bad weather, never slipping backwards, never fearing for his life—or a climber who battles the elements to reach the top? Isn’t there a certain nobility in struggle?

There’s a very popular British novelist who, believe it or not, has never received a single rejection letter from a publisher. Not one. Her first book submission got accepted, the book sold well, and she’s had a long and successful career. Well, good for her. But it’s hard for me to relate when I went through an 8-year journey of over 120 straight rejections before I got a magazine article—just a single magazine article—published. Yet today, there are over a million books out there worldwide with my name on the cover. And that story has inspired a lot of would-be writers whenever I’ve shared it.

In the same way, there may well be some marriages that, from the outside, may appear to be unusually easy—the couple made a wise choice, are compatible in all areas, and have never struggled significantly. Likewise, good for them. Do their lives inspire others, or just make others envious? Isn’t there room in the world for all kinds of marital stories? Some Christians have been through a metaphorical hell on their way to salvation, while others seem to have grown up Small Sacred Marriage Image - Croppedfollowing Jesus. The church needs to hear from both.

Half the victory in marriage, then, is just keeping our particular marital story alive, refusing to quit, believing that if we keep hanging in there, we’re giving God more time and more opportunities to work his grace into our lives—and we’re contributing another unique marital story that God can use to inspire others. Some couples grow together easily, some seem to struggle all the way, but everyone has a lesson to teach and people to inspire.

I love how author Jerry Jenkins encourages us to revel in our own marital story:

“Tell your [marital] story. Tell it to your kids, your friends, your brothers and sisters, but especially to each other. The more your story is implanted in your brain, the more it serves as a hedge against the myriad forces that seek to destroy your marriage. Make your story so familiar that it becomes part of the fabric of your being. It should become a legend that is shared through the generations as you grow a family tree that defies all odds and boasts marriage after marriage of stability, strength, and longevity.”

Don’t abort your history with the spouse whom God now calls you to love. Don’t short-circuit growth today and happiness tomorrow by trying to recreate a yesterday that can never be rewritten. Look at your marriage now like a novel where the hero and heroine get into a seemingly intractable mess—but then thrills every one of us by how they emerge victorious, triumphant, and faithful together to the very end.

The same God who resurrected Jesus can resurrect difficult marriages. Resurrection is dependent on a prior death. Simply wishing you could rewrite difficulty out of your past could inadvertently cause you to short-circuit a glorious finish.

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6 responses to The Question that Can Destroy Your Marriage: “Did I Marry the Right Person?”

  1. anonymous because of an ex who is violent June 13, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Gary,

    Most of us who wish we had married a different person wish that because we chose someone who pretended to be a different person before marriage… a kind person, a Christian person, a reasonable person… and found that we married a tyrannical bully who used control, harsh words and violence to keep us walking on eggshells and living in fear. When that person sometimes acts calm and kind and charming, we wonder if the person we thought we married can remain, if that out of control person can be forgiven and if that bully has gone away forever… we hear promises of never again. Only to be terrorized again. If we try to leave we are humiliated and scolded for not being Christian and til death do us part. Then when we finally leave we are tortured for years in family court by a boatload of lies and custody battles. We love our children… we got a bait and switch.

    • I’m so sorry for what sounds like an absolute nightmare. I have spent much time and effort trying to help singles make wise marital choices to avoid similar scenarios. But some people are good liars and actors and that means some get caught, as you did. And I grieve when your hurt is magnified by a “cookie cutter” response rather than understanding and empathy.

      Whenever I write a general post, I know there are valid exceptions–and yours certainly sounds like one. I don’t, however, believe that “most” who wish they married someone else are living in your situation. I believe the notion of a “soul mate” is so unquestioned that many people respond to “normally imperfect” marriages with a mental habit that will only make things worse, and that’s who this is written for.

      I truly hope this post didn’t add to your pain; that wasn’t my intention at all. But it has led me to pray that God would guide you in the days ahead. I’ve seen so many blame God for the response of some of His followers, even when their response no doubt grieved Him most of all…

  2. Thank you, Gary, for the inspiration you give to marriages everywhere, in all phases of life and difficulties. In my own marriage, having learned things the hard way, I ask myself ” Am I the right person for my husband?” and by that, I mean am I kind and tenderhearted, am I loving and respectful, am I doing him good all the days of his life, and so on. It’s a self-check done on myself because I am the only person I can change. I love my husband because God first loved me. It’s not dependent on anything else which takes my husband off the hook. As a result, we are best friends as well as husband and wife, regardless of the difficulty of our circumstances.

  3. I never once thought or never question what God had for my person in my life and my marriage of 25 years. This person committed three different affairs and destroyed our family at the end. I never question it or second-guessed only offer love grace and acceptance and reconciliation for this loss person during that time or during the final end of her distraction. Now that it is completely over and she’s well into her depths of destruction and destroying other lives now. I have a question was this the right person should I have ended it during anyone of those biblical foundations of adultery drugs or just ruction earlier. With a different person it may have given the family or the kids a better foundation with a healthy safe person that could’ve been a real partner.

    • I’ve written to singles that there are wiser and less wise choices. Once we’ve married someone, it’s our job to make the choice work, but in circumstances like you’re describing, it’s not easy to determine when to let someone go. I admire your perseverance and tenacity–it sounds like you went beyond the normal call of duty to try to hold things together. And I’m sure your kids will (at least eventually) understand that you did all you could to keep their home united. I’m not sure anything will be gained by trying to revisit the original choice to get married now, unless you plan to get remarried and want to figure out what you were drawn to such a woman in the first place. Also, don’t forget that persevering in such a marriage ;likely turned you into a stronger person who learned to draw from God when enduring some barren times.

      I pray God will grant you healing, your ex-wife conviction, and you great wisdom and discernment as you move forward.