What do cold feet, long engagements, and runaway brides have in common? They all stem from the myth and the fear that marriage changes everything.
I’ve seen it countless times in real life, on TV, and in movies. A couple gets engaged, but starts to waver when it comes to actually making it to that alter. Or, in a similar situation, a couple stays together for years and years, supposedly committed to getting married one day, but postpones engagement for all of those years, or even goes through breakup scares or “on again, off again” cycles. It always makes me wonder, why do people make marriage so intimidating and complicated? Or more accurately, why do people have such trouble with commitment?
The way I see it, marriage is simple. It is a commitment to be with another person for the rest of your lives, to love and care for each other, and to be partners in life. To agree to such a commitment would be a scary thing if you weren’t sure about yourself, or the person you were committing to. But what does it really take to be sure?
I’ve heard many answers to this question. Some seem to think you need to know everything about your significant other to be ready for marriage. Some believe you need to resolve all of your issues as a couple first. Others think that a certain age, or educational, financial or career goal must be reached before marriage. My own marriage counselors seemed to believe that in order to be ready for marriage, a certain level of spiritual maturity, assessed by them using some arbitrary process I wasn’t aware of at the time, was necessary. But all of these answers are really just excuses.
I’ve been married for five years now, and I still don’t know everything about my spouse, nor does he know everything about me. We still have issues we need to work through, and we find new ones sometimes too. We were married young, before finishing college, and without having established careers or even the financial strength to support ourselves; yet none of those factors had a negative effect on our marriage. We have enjoyed these last five years growing together spiritually and in maturity, and building our lives together, despite the fact that many people said we “weren’t ready.” We were sure, and we were 100% committed to our marriage, and we had Jesus at the center. That was all that mattered.
So, I ask again, how can one be sure? I think the truth is, it’s simpler than it seems. As cliche as it sounds, when you know, you know. But also, it takes time to build a relationship to that level (but not that much time). What I mean is that it’s a process–you meet, you date, you get to know each other, you fall in love, you create memories together, you experience conflicts and struggles and learn to resolve them, you test your compatibility, you choose to love each other… and somewhere along the way, you discover that you know. Even when the newness and excitement wears off, and you start doing real-life together, you still feel that knowing. You find that you are not afraid of committing to this person. You find that you are already there.
When somebody is ready, engagement is a promise to demonstrate your commitment, and marriage is the final seal to that promise. Engagement and marriage are the proof that you are committed, but they aren’t the commitment itself–that comes before. In other words, the commitment should already be solidly and firmly in place when you decide to take those vows. It’s not a decision you can make on the spot after you’ve already walked down the aisle! It’s not even a decision you can make on the spot when your significant other is down on one knee. It’s something that you already know in those moments, because it has grown naturally and is ready to blossom confidently into marriage.
Marriage doesn’t change everything. It just declares what is already there. A wedding isn’t the beginning of a life together, it’s just one of the many steps along the way. A wedding won’t solidify a commitment that’s weak to begin with, but it can very easily expose that weakness. On the other hand, when it’s right, weddings can be a beautiful way to celebrate your love and commitment as a couple. But it has to be right, first. (And, sidenote, a marriage can start before a wedding happens, if financing the wedding is the hurdle holding a couple back. Personally, if I could go back in time, I would have gone and gotten married at the courthouse a year before I had my wedding, because we were ready then!)
So if you’re in line to get engaged or married, ask yourself: is it there, or is it not? Are you compatible, or are you not? Are you sure, or are you not? If the answer is “not,” then maybe the knot is not something you should tie. If you’ve been together for many years and you’re not sure (or they’re not sure), it’s likely you never will be. The truth is, marriage doesn’t make a relationship easier or harder. Time is the only thing that changes things, and those changes are out of our control. We can only control ourselves, and decide in our hearts and minds that we will stay the course. Are you ready to do that, or are you not? The answer should be simple.