I love a good list. I love how they distill information into quick, bite-sized pieces I can easily digest. But I’ve found that I don’t love lists about marriage. Such a complex topic can rarely be handled well in a handful of bullet points.
I stumbled upon a site recently that had lists about marriage prominently displayed, including this doozy:
“5 Ways You are Unknowingly Destroying Your Husband and Killing Your Marriage”
Yikes. That is a lot of pressure on one little wife. I’m almost embarrassed to say I read that article, secretly hoping it had a foolproof method for keeping my marriage happy or that it would give some new window into my husband’s psyche. Spoiler alert- it turns out there is no simple trick to a perfect marriage, even if a list promises you one. How do I know? Because I’ve done my best to follow the marriage rules from day one and this is still the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It’s not exactly the hand-holding, picnic on a blanket, gazing into each other’s eyes experience the pictures accompanying these “helpful” lists like to depict. At least not most of the time.
I have learned that being really good at following rules and internalizing lists does not mean you are really good at marriage. Marriage is so much more nuanced and complicated than “6 Ways to Show Your Husband You Love Him” can ever actually communicate. So if you need some encouragement to quit stressing over lists about marriage, I am helpfully providing you a list of reasons not to read lists about marriage.
1) Following all the marriage “rules” will not keep you from having marriage issues. I love following rules and I’m always sure life will be simple and smooth if everybody just does the same. But that’s the thing about marriage– it’s a two person game. You can follow the rules to the letter, but that doesn’t mean your spouse will do the same. And even if we both follow the rules, they aren’t always written with my struggles or my partner’s strengths and weaknesses in mind. When I believe I’m following all the rules, I can become oblivious to the ways I’m failing that The Rules never mentioned. I can become overly confident that my marriage must be awesome because I’m doing all the “right” things I’m supposed to do, never bothering to check with my spouse about what’s important to HIM. It has taken me surprisingly long to figure out I’m not married to the internet, so the internet’s opinion about my marriage shouldn’t be quite so important.
2) Breaking all the marriage “rules” does not destine you to marital failure. Every once in a while I look at married friends and think, “This marriage business is a mystery.” People can argue about money, whine about a burned dinner, leave dirty socks on the living room floor, and yet THEY ARE STILL MARRIED. Maybe not happily so, but maybe even happily so! We all want sweet, connected marriages, but the definition of “sweet” and “connected” may vary wildly between couples. Amazingly enough, it turns out there is no point system for winning at being married. So before you read some list about marriage and decide you are “unknowingly destroying your husband” maybe just ask your husband if you are destroying him. That may be a better indicator of the actual state of your marriage.
3) Believing our marital success depends on us being perfect is a recipe for disaster. If I read enough of these lists I come away feeling like there is something I can actually do to keep my husband happy, keep our marriage “spicy”, and MAKE this other person commit to me for life. More than one wife has been deeply wounded when she found out that wasn’t true. We can love our spouse, but we can’t love enough for both of us. We can be committed, but we can’t be committed enough for both of us. If the worst happens and our marriage cannot be sustained, what a deep hole of despair we will be in if we thought the success of our marriage rested squarely on our shoulders alone. If you do exactly what the marriage lists tell you to do to “Keep Him Interested” or “Have the Marriage of Your Dreams” but your spouse already has one foot out the door, you’re in for a rude awakening.
4) Marriage always involves two imperfect people. I can get downright depressed when I read a list of all the things I’m probably doing wrong. Maybe I’m not getting up before him to put on my make-up. Maybe I’m not reading enough current events to be able to hold an intelligent conversation without it devolving into talk about potty-training frustrations. Maybe my husband has gained a bunch of weight or he avoids interacting with his mom and leaves that to me or he tends to be a complainer. According to the List Makers, we’re probably doomed. Except that we’re not. We got married for better or worse, not because we both agreed upon a predetermined set of rules. There will be times where one or the other of us isn’t being the spouse we dreamed we’d be. That’s okay. We’ve got to have grace for each other even when we’re doing every one of the “8 Reasons Your Spouse Thinks You’re Boring” or whatever the list of the moment seems to be.
5) No one has written a book on your marriage. This is something my mom told me before I got married and many times since. We can read these lists or books about marriage or attend marriage conferences and still not have gained anything truly helpful to our specific circumstances. I believe in the importance of being informed and doing our best to learn about this journey of becoming one flesh with somebody else, but I also think every resource (except the Bible) has its limits. The best way to know if your husband is happy or if you’re being a good wife or if your marriage has lost the spark is to stop reading lists about it and JUST ASK YOUR SPOUSE. I know– sounds crazy, but it just might work.
Ultimately a good marriage is a marriage that works for you and your husband. I believe the Bible sets out important principals for having a healthy marriage. Here’s the world’s shortest summary of those principals: love your wife, respect your husband, and be faithful to each other. The Bible says shockingly little about who is responsible for the laundry or how often you should have date nights. Outside of Biblical principals, I think everything else is secondary. Lists can’t save your marriage and they also can’t doom it. So take them with a grain of salt. Even this one.