This one may get me some disagreement – I’ve read plenty of folks who have said this, in some way. I have not seen anyone do it recently, so this is a good time to let this pet peeve out for a walk without looking like I am going after anyone in particular.
The other half of this, what follows the “marriage is not about happiness” lie is God made marriage as a way to prefect us, grow us up, help us work things out, make us holy, or something like that. I would agree God uses marriage to do these things, but He uses many things. Just because something is used for our perfection does not mean it is why God created it! Really, does Pr 18:22 say, “He who finds a wife finds a way to holiness?”
If we want to discuss why God created marriage, we need to look at Adam. When God decided Adam needed a wife, Adam did not need to work through anything – he was without sin. If marriage was created for a man who did not need perfecting, then perfecting cannot be why marriage was created. Why did God give Adam a wife? Because it was not good for Adam to be alone. Apparently, not even walking with God in the cool of the evening was enough, Adam needed something more.
I can hear some thinking “Okay, but it’s still not about happiness”. Actually it is, at least in part. Back to Deut 24:5, which we discussed yesterday. Here is the last part of the verse as various translations render it:
“… he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.” ~ KJV
“He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.” ~ ESV
“For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” ~ NIV
“…he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he hastaken.” ~ NAS
“…he is to be free of external obligations and left at home for one year to make his new wife happy.” ~ CJB
“He gets one year off simply to be at home making his wife happy.” ~ The Message
Clearly, and the Hebrew backs this as well; God wanted a man to dedicate a full year to learning how to make his bride happy. Some versions make it a mutual thing, making each other happy. God wants us to make our spouse happy, and He wants our spouse to make us happy. I know that does not fit with much of what is taught today, but it has the annoying advantage of being in line with what Scripture actually says!
Why do so many teach our marriage is not supposed to make us happy? The cynical answer would be to say those folks are not happy in their marriages. While that might be part of the truth for some, I think there is more to it. Our society is overly concerned about being happy, having it all, never suffering. The “prosperity gospel” is a big problem, and I am with those who oppose it. My guess is the “my marriage should make me happy” mantra was close enough to the prosperity gospel it was sucked in by those trying to stand against that lie.
Am I saying our marriage is supposed to make us happy? Given God made a significant concession to make that happen, I would say yes, it is His intention. A good marriage is a huge blessing, and it does bring joy, peace, happiness and many other good things. Where we get in trouble is when we are more focused on what we should get than what we need to give. Your job is to bless your spouse, and make them happy; your job is not to nag, whine, or gripe when your spouse fails to make you happy. Let me be clear, I am not saying if you are unhappy it is your spouse’s fault, nor am I saying you can’t be happy if your spouse is not doing what they should. Happiness is, first and foremost, a choice we make; others can only build on the foundation we provide.
I know some couples do not find happiness in their marriage. I wonder if hearing repeatedly their marriage should in no way contribute to their happiness sets them up for being unhappy. Why do we tell them the lie marriage is not supposed to be about happiness? Let’s stop lying, let’s tell them the truth – God intended the joining of a man and a woman to be a source of great joy and blessing. Let’s make that the expectation!
By the way, do you think happiness in and from marriage is a dream few ever catch? Several studies the last few years have shown otherwise. For example, consider the abstract from Is Long-Term Love More Than A Rare Phenomenon? If So, What Are Its Correlates?:
Some individuals in long-term marriages report intensities of romantic love comparable to individuals newly in love. How common is this? Are correlates of long-term romantic love consistent with theoretical models of love? In a random sample of 274 U.S. married individuals, 40% of those married over 10 years reported being “Very intensely in love.” Importantly, correlates of long-term intense love, as predicted by theory, were thinking positively about the partner and thinking about the partner when apart, affectionate behaviors and sexual intercourse, shared novel and challenging activities, and general life happiness. Wanting to know where the partner is at all times correlated significantly with intense love for men but not women. For women, but not men, passion about nonrelationship factors significantly correlated with intense love. In a random New York (NY) sample of 322 individuals married over 10 years, 29% reported being very intensely in love and our predicted correlates cross validated.