Here’s a story to explain how I see the benefits of marriage: Britney is in her early 30s, and most of her friends are married. As a single, Britney told me she sees marriage from the perspective of what you gain, but almost all her married friends see marriage from the perspective of what they’ve lost. They seem frustrated with what their marriage isn’t, while Britney sees so much of what their marriage is and provides.
“When I get married,” Britney told me, “I hope I can remember that it’s such a blessing just to have someone who is there for you. When you’re single, you’re all alone all the time. I hope I can remember what this feels like.”
It’s helpful for me to talk to people like Britney. I got married when I was 22, so I never really had an independent “adult” life without a spouse. If Britney had been my friend back then, she’d probably have seen in me what she sees in her friends now — someone who takes the benefits of marriage for granted while complaining about the frustrations and losses.
But during the past three decades, I’ve gained much from this holy union, and it’s good to be reminded that the personal benefits of marriage are enormous. In particular, I’ve seen how marriage has benefited me in three important areas: personal healing, happiness and growth in holiness.
Marriage benefit: Finding healing
The spiritual art of “accepting” each other is one of the best and most healing aspects of marriage. It’s also a biblical command: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7, NIV).
One day my wife, Lisa, and I met two friends for dinner after work. I arrived first, and then the couple; Lisa came last since she was traveling from home. When my wife slid into the restaurant booth, she snuggled right next to me, giving a little exclamation of delight.
“Are you cold?” asked the young woman.
“No,” Lisa said. “It’s just that he’s been gone all day. I haven’t seen him yet. I miss him.”
Her comment, at that time 30 years into our marriage, made me feel like a king. She missed me.
One of the most healing aspects of marriage for me has been the fact that I live with a woman who knows me better than anyone else ever has or ever will and she still likes and respects me. Even with all my peculiarities, bad habits and weaknesses, she truly wants to be with me.
That brings a lot of healing to a basically insecure man (and says some even more marvelous things about the graciousness of my wife). When Lisa married me, the only job I had was part time, and my prized possession was a decade-old Ford Maverick Grabber. I had a college degree in English literature, which meant my first job offer after four years of study was as a busboy.
But Lisa chose me and continues to choose me. I’m in a world where everything I do is evaluated — every sermon, every book, every blog post. But no matter how poor the sermon, how misguided the blog post or how boring the book, Lisa’s going home with me.
Healing from shame
Shannon had a “colorful” background as a single woman before she became a Christian, which was about a year and a half before she met Jason. Jason had been a committed believer his entire life. He was raised in a home-school family, and his regular prayer since the time he was 12 years old was that God would provide a “godly virgin” for him to marry.
As they got to know each other, Jason told Shannon about his early prayer, not knowing anything about her past. Shannon wondered if she should end any romantic hopes right there.
But the rest of the relationship seemed so good that eventually she took a deep breath and told Jason that before she became a Christian, she had been with … several … men. Jason smiled — he smiled! — and said, “Yes, but none of those men will love you like I will.” Jason’s acceptance of her past told Shannon, “You’re not damaged goods. You’re the woman I want to spend my life with.” Shannon found great healing from past shame.
Marriage benefit: Discovering happiness
Many funny articles have been written about how awful family vacations can be and the hazards waiting for a married couple who dares to get on the road with their kids. But a long trip with her entire family helped Alison see just how happy marriage has made her.
“I realized this summer what I love most [about being married],” Alison told me. She had previously gone on a few trips to visit her family while her husband stayed home to work. After a few days, she missed her home. She says, “This summer our family of five took an almost two-week road trip and there wasn’t one second I wanted to go home. I looked at Greg one evening and told him he was my home. Wherever he is, I am home.”
Ever notice how if someone is laughing alone, you kind of wonder if the person has a mental illness, but when two people laugh together, you wish you were in on the joke? That demonstrates the happy-making potential of marriage. Michelle, a mom of five, told me, “Eric makes me laugh. That might not seem like much, but when you have a pile of laundry that grows faster than you can wash it, five children who get hungry before the last meal’s dishes are washed and too few hours of sleep with which to face the next day, a good laugh in the morning and the evening can do wonders for your soul.”
When Jesus tells us to seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33) and the apostle Peter tells us to “make every effort” to add to our faith by growing spiritually (2 Peter 1:5-15) and the writer of Hebrews tells us to “make every effort” to be holy (Hebrews 12:14, NIV), it stands to reason that the fundamental human relationship — husband and wife — is made by God to help us grow in holiness.
I found marriage to be a giant mirror, helping me see character flaws I was blind to as a single man. I’m not alone. Rhett married Kristy in part because she was so low maintenance. Rhett’s a high-powered attorney who works long hours; Kristy kept everything running at home until a medical issue threatened to put her on bed rest.
On the way home from the medical consultation, Rhett confessed, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“What do you mean if you can do this?” Kristy asked. “I’m the one getting the operation!”
“I know,” Rhett answered, “but that’s the problem. I’m high maintenance. [Our dog] is high maintenance. The only way our family has worked is that you’re so low maintenance.”
But Rhett rose to the challenge and learned how to care for Kristy. In God’s providence, Rhett was given the opportunity to grow his soul as he accepted one of the fundamental aspects of marriage — loving each other in sickness and in health.
One of the benefits of marriage is that it gives us everyday opportunities to abandon our selfishness and embrace service; to get rid of being harsh and learn gentleness; to stop expecting perfection from an imperfect person and learn the art of patience. The more I accept the biblical call to take spiritual growth seriously, the more I appreciate my marriage.
Going through the years
When my wife of 34 years had to undergo an operation to remove a fast-growing tumor on her lung, she had two requests — that I be there to pray over her and kiss her as the nurses wheeled her away, and that my hand be holding hers when she woke up.
For many, their view of marriage is about being young together, filled with energy, experiencing excitement and moving from passion to passion. Those are all wonderful things, but as Lisa and I go through the years, we’ve learned that some of the best parts of marriage are growing old together, remembering the past and facing new, unforeseen challenges side by side.
The wonder of marriage is that it reveals new benefits every decade, while some former benefits fade into the background. Holding hands after a serious surgery may not sound “sexy” to a young couple, but it can knit the heart of the middle-aged or older couple. What aging takes away from us, long-term marriage replaces with previously unseen benefits. In fact, the longer you are married, the more you can appreciate the wonder of this union.