Marriage Lie: God didn’t create marriage to make us happy

Happy couples |

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.

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14 Comments on “Marriage Lie: God didn’t create marriage to make us happy

  1. Thank you for sharing this article on marriage and what it’s meant to bring, scriptural references were spot on.

  2. Perhaps this is just clarification, but I believe that God indeed designed marriage for our pleasure and happiness. And I agree with your point that we, as men, should seek to make our women happy, to please them and cherish them. Absolutely! It would be a disgrace to use a phrase like, “Marriage is Meant to make her Holy, not Happy,” an an excuse for selfish behavior. Just as using the versus about submission as a battering ram, forgetting that these are commands for HER, not US (MEN).

    But this is a fallen and sinful world, and the ultimate purpose for marriage is laid out for us by Paul when he tells us that Marriage is a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). For many, where both spouses are in pursuit of Christ, this will result in great pleasure and happiness. And we should be thankful and praise God for this great blessing.

    However, I hardly believe that Christ and His bride have had a “happy marriage.” Sure, ultimately we will have a perfect and “happy marriage” in heaven, but for now, its not even close. We hurt God constantly with our idolatrous (adulterous) lifestyles. And if Christ is our example, and we seek to glorify Him, then through living out the Gospel, we WILL suffer. We all must learn to die to self, sacrifice our own desires for the sake of our bride. But this looks different for different people. And for some of us, its easier than others (its easier to forgive a wife who is forgiving you, but not so much the spouse whose holding a grudge). It’s about living out the Gospel, loving our spouse and honoring our covenant “until DEATH do us part.”

    For some of us, its easier than for others. For some, I don’t think this will be happy. I can never sin against my wife more than I have sinned against my God. Understanding this, forgiveness overflows and makes it possible for a man to forgive an adulterous wife, and stick with her and love her even when it hurts, even when she has forsaken the marriage and moved on. Sometimes there is restoration, for we should NEVER give up Hope that a happy marriage is possible, even from the rubble of the most broken of marriages (God is THAT BIG). But sometimes it ends tragic, and the marriage never is restored. This kind of commitment hurts. But its not without reward (for those who love their wife as Christ loved His bride).

    For we are to learn that in this life, no man or woman, thing or substance can satisfy our souls (or truly make us Happy). Only the Living God, the Creator of all things, and the source of everything good. Whether my wife is crazy in love with me and satisfies my every sexual desire, or whether she is a dripping faucet never ceasing to tear me down and attempt to starve me with sexual manipulation; I can be satisfied in Christ (Phil 4:11-13) and be JOYFUL even when my heart is torn apart (James 1:2).

    Perhaps its just the word we are choosing to use (happiness versus joyful), but I believe there is an important distinction. Happiness is a fleeting feeling, although a good one and a blessing from God. I do not believe that we can or even should be happy all the time in this broken and sinful world, for Jesus told us it is indeed blessed to mourn (Matt 5:4) and He himself was a man of sorrow (Isaiah 53:3). Yet Joy is God granted satisfaction that when we are mournful and sad, when we are hurt and wounded, we can be satisfied in the surpassing value in KNOWING Christ (Phil 3:8). And THIS is the reason so many people do not find lasting joy and happiness in their marriage…. they have not found it in CHRIST.

    I believe that Marriage SHOULD be a blessing. In it we SHOULD find happiness. But I do not think that those things are its ultimate purpose. It is for the sake of the Gospel that Marriage exists. And that is the highest of callings.

  3. In years past I might have disagreed. I think anyone that’s read John Piper’s Desiring God or heard him speak on it would have to agree. Our purpose in life is to enjoy God and in marriage, we enjoy God by enjoying each other. God designed us to want to be happy.

  4. So, I’m guessing you’re not a huge fan of Sacred Marriage. :)

    I’d be one of those people who would say that “marriage wasn’t designed to make you happy” but I don’t totally disagree with you either. Yes, I think God wants us to enjoy marriage and be happy and satisfied with each other; he certainly didn’t design marriage with the intention of us being miserable. Being miserable certainly indicates that there are problems between the two of you. However…my problem with emphasizing the happiness aspect is that I’ve seen it abused and misunderstood so many times. People think that if God designed marriage to make them happy, and they are unhappy (because of their actions or their spouse’s actions), that they are in the wrong marriage and therefore have justification for ending their marriage because “God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy”. I’ve had more than one friend use that justification and they are now divorced or almost divorced. Maybe it comes from defining happiness in a flippant shallow way…solely as an emotion…when happiness (or joy maybe is a better word?)

    I guess I would sort of mix both concepts…God wants us to enjoy marriage, but that’s not all He wants. Happiness is not the sole goal of marriage. Maybe we should be finding happiness in knowing that part of marriage is a refining process that makes us more like Christ.

    • Elisabeth – I actually like a lot of what Thomas has to say. I think the subtitle shows the balance fairly well “What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy”.

      In a fallen world God uses anything and everything to perfect us – and I’m glad He does. But too many take it from what Thomas says and make it “God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy NOT TO Make Us Happy”.

      When I think of my kids, their being holy is more important to me than their being happy – but I still would like them to be happy! Why would God be different?

  5. You and I have quibbled a bit about this notion of happiness over on my blog a few times. I see where you are coming from and agree that God’s intention for us all in marriage is that we find all kinds of good things (joy, peace, pleasure, and yes, happiness). My argument is that if we make marriage all about our personal degree of happiness, then when times get hard, we just bail out to find happiness with someone else rather than doing the work that makes true and enduring happiness possible.

    “Where we get in trouble is when we are more focused on what we should get than what we need to give. ” Well put. My concern is that in our entitled society we overemphasize personal happiness as the primary measuring stick for marriage. To most that means getting what you want or feel entitled to.

    I guess the real question is “What is the best path to happiness?” Many seem to think that happiness is about getting everything you want out of the bargain, about fighting for your rights and position. The true happiness that God designed into marriage is found when we understand that He made it as a reflection of His relationship with us. That means loving your spouse with unstoppable, unselfish, unconditional love, laying down your life, relentlessly pursuing and letting grace fill your every interaction.

    • Scott – I suspect we are approaching very close to the same point from different directions. The idea that God did not intend marriage to bring happiness seems wrong to me. Of course I’ve never seen you say that, but I’ve seen more than a few who have. They may not mean it as I take it, but that what I get from their words, and I react strongly to that as I find it wrong on several levels. As you indicate, we need balance.

      In short, I am reacting to those who are reacting to a society that is all about self. I see the pendulum moving past centre for some in the church, and I would like to keep it from going too far the other way.

      Yes, the real question is the path. For me the path is more about doing and giving than about receiving – which is just what you said.

  6. In the famous words of Switchfoot: “Happy is a yuppy word.” I don’t think the issue is with the word, but what we perceive happiness to be. I don’t know as if the intent of “happy” in that passage is what we in 21st century North America think happiness is. We think of euphoria, excitement, things going our way. Is that what Moses meant? Ultimately, over the length of my marriage (I was married in 1987) “happiness” in that context has been changeable. Contentment? That’s a different story. Does happiness depend on things going well? Does happiness depend on agreement? That word has a lot of connotations now that may not have been there originally.

    • Kim – I would agree with you that our modern meaning of “happy” is shallow.

      The Hebrew word, “Samach“means:

      to rejoice, be glad
      to rejoice
      to rejoice (arrogantly), exult (at)
      to rejoice (religiously)

      I can’t see how that is NOT about feeling good, feeling glad, feeling happy. It seems like more than contentment to me.

      That said, when happiness becomes our goal for our self, we are in trouble. When it’s our goal to do all we can to make our spouse happy, I think we are in a good place.

  7. Interesting perspectives I’ve read here.

    Having walked through 14 years of refining (holiness) in which I learned about: unstoppable, unselfish, unconditional love, laying down your life, relentlessly pursuing and letting grace fill your every interaction — to quote Scott’s reply.

    My husband, Darrell, was unsaved and my constant cry to God was, “I’m just not happy, why do I have to stay?!”

    On the other side of this ‘holiness’ season, I now find myself married to a Darrell that has been spiritually born. What I’ve witnessed is that it’s not happiness versus holiness. But rather, one is a springboard into the other – holiness leading to happiness. There were many experiences and Bible verses that the Lord used to teach this. However, His hallmark lessons, for me, came from Jesus’ teachings in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5.

    In this, I found the fulfillment of my marriage vow: “for better or for worse.” I had only been willing to accept the ‘better’ part of marriage — the happy part. I learned that the better parts follow the worse parts. Because life, the human experience … marriage, is not static but a series of never ending cycles of: holiness(es) leading to happiness(es).

  8. I read in the book “Each for the Other”:

    “(pastor to engaged young man): Marriage is designed to crucify you.”

    In my experience, he is spot on. And only after the crucifixion can the resurrection be. God crucified that which he intended to resurrect for the benefit of His bride. Allowing God to crucify us will be to the benefit of our Bride, and will always be God’s will. And if we look at Jesus, the Living Word, we see it is possible to be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and kindness, and still be crucified. Tall order, fellas, but we have been CREATED to fill it. That’s how we were designed to be, and we won’t function right if we try it any other way. At least that’s what I believe.

  9. I have been unhappily married for 27 years.  What if your spouse could care less about wanting to make you happy.  I have been a believer for about 16 years, but not my husband.  It is only the love of God that makes me want to keep trying, but I feel I keep failing.  My husband is a good man, but have no feelngs or concern for my needs and only care about his needs…food, money, sex.  I feel lonely, unloved, and empty in marriage, but my only hope is my Lord.  Then I have been convinced that maybe God did not want me to be happy in marriage, but for me to become more Holy.  If holiness leads to happiness, then that could be a long wait since I am a long way from being lonely.  I just always felt I married the wrong person at the wrong time for the wrong reason.  Contemplated leaving so many times and starting over, but the scripture tells you that it is a sin.  Just feel trapped at the same time I am not pleasing the Lord either by me feeling this way.  I don’t see a way to be happy in this life.  But I will strive to be holy because I do love my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

  10. JSVPE  I don’t think what you have is God’s will. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world, so having things outside His will for us is all too common.
    That said, He certainly will use anything for your growth and good, especially if you let Him.
    You can build a life beyond your marriage, especially as your kids get older. Find ways to give and be helpful.

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