Many years back we had a conversation with one of our pastors because of a struggling couple. Now, understand that counseling relationally stressed couples are a regular part of what we do. But the question to our pastor in this case was somewhat different.
“When a pre-married couple has been in counseling with us for a long time, how should we advise them?”
It can be a pretty complex question depending on the circumstances.
Are they living together? For how long?
Are there children involved and are the children the product of the couple.
What holds them back from commitment?
Are their personalities just too different?
Our pastor’s response was this (paraphrased): “If it’s that difficult before marriage, it will probably be even worse after the rings go on. It should be delightful and easy during the dating phase, not stressful and difficult to navigate.”
This is not to say that there aren’t areas that have to be addressed. Negotiating our differences because we are separate people with different expectations is normal. But sometimes we are just too far apart in what we hold as our relational goals.
Family of origin and ethnic differences cannot always be smoothed out in a satisfying or practical manner. Unresolved addictions or unhealed early abuse may be too hard to overcome in this particular relationship. Or the timing may be off. The issues need to be resolved before the relationship can go forward.
I think about this every time we are about to teach another pre-married class. Couples come to the class, mostly with a hopefulness that this relationship might be “the one”. But some also come in with fear and skepticism born out of pain and disappointment from the past.
There has been a tendency to delay marriage more and more with each successive generation that we have encountered. There might be some wisdom in this, but as we know the biological realities of childbearing do not bow to the culture. This can add to the anxiety and urgency that motivates many couples to move forward and make a decision. Sometimes this is a good thing. But not always. There are no perfect marriages. But there are some that are just too difficult and should never have been formed. Waiting for the right match is hard because there are no guarantees. But living the wrong one is guaranteed suffering. Stay hopeful. Pursue health. Be wise.