None of us goes through life baggage-free. But some of us seem to accumulate more than our fair share of negative stuff in the “personal relationships” category. That type of baggage often sets a person up for misery or failure if and when they get married. Preparing for marriage can seem like preparing to be hurt, damaged, exploited, or just another “statistic” in a long list of failed and miserable life experiences.
But such misery or failure is not inevitable. I want to share with you what I learned about preparing for marriage – and doing it successfully – even while carrying bad baggage in that department. When I told my friend Evelyn Davison my story, she said “You’ve got to share this with people! There are lots of them who need to hear this.”
The messages, models, and memories I had accumulated growing up did not afford me a very positive outlook when it came to marriage. I knew intellectually that God created marriage, intimacy, and families, and that He intended it all to be “very good!” But I also had my own bad baggage that interfered with my emotional reactions to those topics. And it was all mixed up with my spiritual life as well; there were verses in the Bible and words or phrases in the hymns/songs at church that would make me cry or cringe inside.
By the time God brought my husband into my life I’d come a long way. I’d learned how to be truly happy by choice. I was enjoying my professional life, had solid friendships with people, and was investing regularly in helping others. But when I was surprised by love, I didn’t want to take a chance that my bad baggage would mess up the marriage God was blessing me with at age 48.
Here are four things I did that I know made the difference for me. And they can for you too.
- Learn to be happy. This was something I had to learn long before I met my husband. If you don’t learn to be happy single, you’ll never be happy married! I had learned what it meant to take responsibility to feed my own soul, and stay filled up. As beautiful as a good relationship with your spouse can be, it’s no substitute for a resilient, satisfying relationship with God.
- Read the Song of Solomon. Much of the bad baggage I carried, and you may carry, of course surrounds the area sexual intimacy. To refill that part of my mental storage tank I read the Song of Solomon over and over again, slowly, with prayer. I read it dozens of times, probably 50 or more, during the six months prior to getting married. The rich images of intimacy as God sees it became imprinted in my soul. I can’t stress enough how critically important this was in my own marriage success.
- “Study your spouse.” Not long before I met my husband I heard a talk on the radio where the speaker recommended two things for marriage success: 1 – study your spouse, and 2 – stay on your knees. Studying your spouse begins long before you say “I do.” No human being is perfect. For marriage to work, you need to be able to see, know, and truly love someone without trying to change them. Get the stars out of your eyes, and get as honest as you possibly can about who this person is.
- “Stay on your knees.” Yes, I prayed. A lot. Over and over. Repeatedly I went to God and said, “I know what my feelings say, and what I want. But as much as I humanly can, I put my feelings aside. I want to know what YOU say about this marriage. If you’re in it, I know we can overcome any problems that arise. If this is not what you want for me, I know I’ll only end up miserable. Please talk to me.” I stayed on my knees until I heard from Him. And every time, He gave me a green light to go forward.
I know these steps made a world of difference for me in developing a happy marriage. Our wedding night was wonderful. Sure, there have been challenges since then, but they’ve been challenges Al and I have faced together, not fighting each other. As we approach our seventh anniversary, it’s obvious both to ourselves and to anyone else who sees us that we’re more in love now than we’ve ever been.
If you carry bad baggage in the personal relationships department, don’t believe that relegates you to failure and misery forever. I can’t guarantee whether or not God will bring a happy marriage into your future. But I can promise you that preparing for marriage, even with bad baggage, is both possible and critically important. It will make the difference between success and failure if and when you do say “I do!”
“And Honey, I’d say “I do” again today!”
Your Turn: Do you carry bad baggage in the “personal relationships” department? How has that impacted your feelings about marriage? Leave a comment below.
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