Young happy couple. What you can expect in a good marriage.

With all the destructive marriages out there, is it any wonder many young people are having second thoughts about getting married at all? Is “happily ever after” ever possible? Is “happily married” just a cruel joke? What can–or can’t–you expect in a “good” marriage?

Many things go into the success (or lack thereof) of a marriage: communication, compatibility, expectations, outside support, commitment, and more. And every marriage is the union of two sinners. Without God’s grace that’s a setup for disaster.

It’s enlightening to hear couples who have been successfully married for decades talk about how they handle conflict, how they care for each other, and the willingness to persevere even if things become difficult. Without fail, such couples display a deep commitment and willingness to serve each other more than focus on their own needs.

Certainly a successful marriage is much more than feelings. But what can you reasonably expect in a “good” marriage? And perhaps even more helpful, what can’t you expect?

10 things you CANNOT expect:

  1. Mindreading. Although the longer you live with your spouse the better you will come to know each other, he or she still cannot read your mind. Some things you will still have to verbalize to each other. That’s one reason communication is so important.
  2. Perfect harmony. If you never disagree, one of you is unnecessary. No two human beings will always see everything the same. Differences in needs, desires, thoughts, opinions, and more are expected–and normal.
  3. Every need to be met. No single human being can meet every possible need you have every time. There will always be some needs you will have to take responsibility for meeting yourself.
  4. Unending sexual ecstasy. Medical problems, differences in sexual needs/desires/expectations, old baggage, and other life challenges will affect your sexual life together. You are not entitled to sex. This area of your marriage will need your commitment, forgiveness, and resilience just like every other area.
  5. No future challenges. Life happens whether you’re married or single. It’s almost guaranteed that one of you will get sick, a child will have serious challenges, money will be tight, or some other major stress will happen.
  6. Never having to say “I’m Sorry!” The adage, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is wrong! Both you and your spouse will make mistakes. Both of you will need to become good forgivers if you want to have a successful marriage.
  7. Never being disappointed. Marriage means you’re connected to a finite human being, warts and all. How you handle disappointment makes the difference.
  8. No pain. Marriage does not remove you from this sinful world. Not yet. You will hurt each other. You will experience loss. And grief at the death of a spouse is the price for deep love.
  9. Not having to change. You come into marriage poorly prepared, some more poorly than others. For your marriage to make it you will both have to change. That doesn’t only mean your spouse; you will have to change too.
  10. No surprises. Before marriage it helps to know your intended spouse as well as you can, but there are always things you learn about them after marriage that you didn’t know. And you surprise yourself by your own reactions and vulnerabilities as well.

Now that you’ve become thoroughly disillusioned about the possibility of a “happy marriage,” let me show you the other side. Here are 10 things you can realistically look for, work for, and pray for in your marriage.

10 Things You CAN Expect

  1. Permanent commitment to each other. “Till death do us part” is possible. Having someone to go through the ups and downs of life with is what God intended for marriage. A husband and wife committed to each other for life is realistic–and necessary.
  2. Continual learning about each other. “Study your spouse” is a good recipe for long-term marriage health. A growing marriage is a healthy marriage.
  3. Meaningful communication. If you don’t know how to communicate “below the surface,” this may take some work. But it is a skill you both can learn, practice, and get reasonably good at.
  4. Friendship. To maintain this aspect of marriage takes both partners unselfishly choosing to be interested in what is meaningful to the other. It takes regular investments and choosing time together.
  5. Willingness to grow. If there’s one ingredient more important than any other, it’s this one. If BOTH husband and wife are willing to change where necessary for the benefit of the other, almost any problem can be overcome.
  6. Many needs being met. In a healthy marriage both partners get many of their needs met much of the time. Not always, and not always by their spouse. But both of you are doing whatever it takes to meet the other’s needs wherever possible.
  7. Honesty. No surprises over your spouse’s past, the way money is spent, who your spouse is loyal to (YOU!), what your spouse is doing at any given time, or what your spouse’s motivation is. Honesty is a must.
  8. Sexual exclusivity. In a healthy marriage the only legitimate source for sexual stimulation/satisfaction is your spouse. You have a right to expect that exclusivity from each other. (Porn destroys this.)
  9. Resolving conflicts. Good marriages do not involve the absence of conflict, but they DO involve two people committed to working through those conflicts. You can learn the skill of “fighting fair.”
  10. God’s blessing. Having a good marriage is not something two flawed human beings can do on their own. It takes God’s intervention in both individual’s lives, and in their marriage together. He wants to be there for you now and in the future.

Can you expect “happily ever after?”

Perhaps not. And not every marriage will be “good” in every way.

But if two people are both committed to learning, to each other, and to God, their marriage can be successful and happy.

Your Turn: What do you think someone can expect in a good marriage? Have I left out anything important? Leave a comment below.

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