It’s our china wedding anniversary today and we have been happy for most of our first 20 years. We have had the privilege of preparing a few couples for marriage as well as the deep sadness of seeing marriages around us faltering. I thought I might take the liberty of offering you my tentative thoughts on what makes for happy marriage.
I think it’s a good idea to find the right person. Someone who you admire, find sexually attractive and agree with on issues that really matter to you. Yes this does mean it’s a good idea for atheists to marry atheists and muslims to marry muslims. I know that sounds horribly sectarian to the secular humanist ear, but marriage is about doing life together and differing motivating worldviews easily lead to unmanageable tension in finance, time and prioritising. It also means it’s likely a bad idea to marry someone you met last week who is fun, good looking and great in bed, but you might just find to be intellectually, morally, emotionally or professionally daft. Discerning the right person is not necessarily easy. For us it involved a great deal of anxiety, prayer and listening to the opinions of trustworthy friends and family (including the mutual friend who originally set us up).
I also think marriage is key to a happy marriage. A freely entered into partnership of two people for life, incorporating exclusive sexual intimacy (sometimes with the attendant possibility of children), recognised by the community and ordained by God. Being single was often brilliant. Lots of late nights with lots of friends, lots of mountain biking and drumming and church stuff, drop everything and scarper weekends (mostly more mountain biking) and unlimited shed-time. St Paul talked about his freedom to be single-mindedly focussed on God. Singleness is tough to surrender – the merging of two bank accounts, diaries, careers and lifetyles. The first year of marriage for all its tenderness and joy was one of the toughest. Which is why singleness should not be surrendered for anything less than life-long marriage. There will be times when cutting and running will be genuinely easier, but the understanding that this is permanent and that we will be committed to selflessly loving one another makes the possibility of better times ahead significantly more likely.
I recognise that these ideas are not rocket-scientific secret revelations and my observation is that human life in a fallen world is enough to place even marriage to the right person under massive strain. That said, these ideas have worked well for us and I have observed them working well for enough other people that I plan to stick by them as well as sticking with Jo. I’ll put up a confirmatory post on our Ruby wedding anniversary if Jesus does not return first.