The 64-year old gentleman had been married for 36 years. “We had a good run,” he said.
The entire Humans of New York interview is worth reading, it’s full of insights; but there are three things he said that particularly stood out to me:
“We just outgrew each other.”
“Neither of us was all that interested in changing.”
“So what’s the point in staying together?”
- “We just outgrew each other.”
This is a reality that many young people have a hard time accepting – we can outgrow anyone, and we can be outgrown by anyone.
When people ask me about “the one” I wonder if this is what they mean: someone they can’t possibly outgrow. But that’s opting in for a fantasy. The reality of finite, human love is this: you really can stop the feeling.
The key is to set a goal and a direction that is lifelong. Having companionship, passion, intimacy, children, house, and stability are not lifelong goals. When you’ve arrived at all of these things, what will remain of your marriage? Is there still a goal worth striving for? A sense of direction?
This is why it’s essential to ask the Third question in the Powlison book early on – “Are we headed in the same direction? Do we have the same mission?” And on your 36th anniversary to ask again, “Are we still headed in the same direction? Do we still have a mission?”
- “Neither of us was all that interested in changing.”
Problems begin where changes stop. It’s important to articulate a worldview that can spur us towards constant growth and maturity. What is the motivation for you and your spouse to change constantly?
In Christianity the ultimate motivation for constant change is our union with Christ. It drives us to grow more and more into the image of Christ (because we are his children). So when conflicts arise, we don’t sulk, blame, or build resentment, but strive for more love, more patience, more kindness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and more self-control. This is called sanctification, or discipleship – it’s the process of solving our everyday problems with the help of God’s Spirit who works primarily in our character. The world is busy fixing external circumstances, but God knows that the true change we need is in our hearts.
It brings to mind the Second question in Powlison – “Do you have a track record of solving problems biblically? Are you being counseled and discipled through the church?”
- “So what’s the point in staying together?”
Togetherness was never the point. Our marriage was never the point. Our marriage and our togetherness have always been about pointing to something more beautiful and glorious than ourselves – that is, the union between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). As long as that heavenly union is secure, then we have a reason to strive towards unity in our earthly marriage (to let His will be done in our earthly marriage as it is done in the heavenly one).
The strongest anchor for marriage is our faith in Christ. It’ll keep us grounded when our feelings fluctuate. It’ll keep us steadfast. (Is. 26:3) This way the length of our marriage won’t depend on the intensity of our feelings. It’s important we let our faith guide our feelings rather than let our feelings guide our faith.
This is why it’s important to ask the First question in Powlison – “Are you both followers of Christ? Do you have the basis for cleaving to one another as Christ has cleaved to his bride?” (Gen. 2:24)
No one’s perfect. If you’re anything like me, then your life constantly echoes the hymn that says “prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” But we are never too far from the reach of God’s grace. It’s never too early or too late to press into the essential questions that the Designer of marriage is raising for our sake. And the church is there, always ready to help you and walk with you.
God’s grace is ready to take us on this journey of redemption and restoration, so we can be realistic without being cynical, hopeful without being idealistic.
Remember, our marriage is not the point, we’re pointing.