Here is a brief glimpse at my personal history, the "everything I previously imagined" element of my response. Even as a young believer, as well-intentioned (and they really were well-intentioned in retrospect) as my hopes and dreams may have been, my view of relationships (especially marriage) was so skewed. I had this notion that the man whom the Lord brought into my life would fawn over me, cave to my every wish, and treat me as the "princess" I knew I should feel like. As sweet and fairytale as this sounds, when I really got down to the heart of my desires, I found them to be dripping with self-centered dreams of mere infatuation. Ironically enough, the only young man to ever have such feelings toward me didn't last long on my adolescent radar screen as I was simply disgusted by his gushy, ungrounded affections. (Sadly for him, it took me years to realize why I was so annoyed.) I had in mind the fairytale aspect of relationships, what I thought was the picture-perfect image of marriage... Little did I know that my outlook was riddled with gaping holes. Having what I thought was the perfect view of marriage never accounted for the reality of living with a fellow human being, a fellow sinner equally in need of daily grace.
My naive perspective was made apparent when I began dating my husband six years ago. I had demands and ideas of how this relationship was supposed to work, and I would get angry in instances when I realized he wasn't meeting my expectations. How dare he call me out on certain matters about which I am obviously wrong (knowing I was wrong but stubbornly fighting it still), and how dare he desire my good in a situation rather than simply being concerned with my feelings? My feelings were of prime importance, right?? Umm...no. And that is the truth that can be a crushing blow to women who have a self-serving view of how human relationships are intended to work. It is when we start insisting that our needs and feelings should come first that we are setting ourselves up for disaster, heartache, and in doing so are often sinning against the other person. If we are always insisting that our petty desires are of central importance, then that is the very place we are insisting we belong: at the center of the relationship.
All of that leads up to my answer when asked the question "has marriage turned out to be everything you thought it would be?" My answer is No. This is not what I imagined things looking like a year-and-a-half into marriage. On the contrary, this marriage covenant has proven gloriously better and more difficult than I could have ever imagined. When you commit to this great mystery of marriage (and a mystery it truly is!), you embark on a daily journey of living with another human being despite whatever struggles or events come your way. I am a better person because of my marriage to my husband, and that is of no credit to his strength or mine, but rather to the ways in which the Spirit has worked in and through him. We have had wonderful days, and we have had dark days, all of which we promised to face together. I am amazed more and more each day with how the Lord chooses to use my husband as such an instrument of grace, learning, and exposing me to my own sin. It is when both husband and wife acknowledge their desperate need of grace that they can live with one another in an understanding way and grow deeper in relationship with Christ.
How the Gospel is manifested in daily, practical ways is going to vary between couples. What the Lord deems as a means of grace in our relationship is probably going to look very different than His activity in the lives of others. That is a good thing, and should be of encouragement as we see evidence of how the Lord knows our unique, individual needs better than we do. This, too, is contrary to the world's view of relationships. In our sin nature, on both an individual and cultural scale, we are so often insistent that we know what is best for us. Is it any wonder that there is oftentimes such a negative view of Christian marriage in our culture? Frustrating and sad, yes, but not surprising. The very vows which are traditionally cited during a marriage ceremony are even counter to our culture's marred perspective. Everything about sin and how it taints our outlook is magnified within the context of marriage. If husband and wife are not grounded in Gospel truth, to what will they cling when faced with the spectrum of small disagreements to trials on a much larger scale?
"It’s a wonderful, freeing thing to realize that the durability and quality of your marriage is not ultimately based on the strength of your commitment to your marriage. Rather it is based on something completely apart from your marriage: God’s truth. . . . Marriage was not just invented by God, it belongs to God…. Marriage is not first about me or my spouse. Obviously, the man and woman are essential, but they are also secondary. God is the most important person in a marriage. Marriage is for our good, but it is first for God’s glory." (D. Harvey, When Sinners Say 'I Do,' p. 23, 25)
"What do all of us do in our marriages in some way? We all tend to deny our sin (while pointing out the sin of the other). By denying our sin, we devalue grace. . . . in ways that are very practical, Jesus is the only solution. . . . grace makes new beginnings possible. It challenged me to live like I really believe I can be a tool of God's grace. . . . We must not ignore our sin, because it is the very context where the Gospel shines the brightest. Grace is truly amazing because of what we were saved from." (Harvey, p. 12, 16)