In today’s list of rules for relationships, “Don’t Settle” ranks close to #1. A quick search will yield thousands of articles, books, and (of course) memes that warn against this pitfall.
--“4 Reasons Not to Settle in a Relationship.”
--“9 Signs You’re Settling in a Relationship.”
They all beat the same drum.
It sounds like good advice. And some of it certainly is. Girls, don’t settle for the guy voted the “Most Likely to Go to Prison” award his senior year. Guys, the stripper you met at last weekend’s frat party might be smoking hot, but don’t slip a ring on her finger.
In marriage we all settle for the okayest spouse we can find.
Don’t settle for lazy. Don’t settle for abusers. Don’t settle for mean or narcissistic or dumb as a rock.
Have standards. Have non-negotiables. Have a healthy, clear-eyed, honest image of what you’re looking for in a spouse.
But also have this in mind. In marriage we all settle for the okayest spouse we can find.
MARRYING MR. OR MRS. WRONG
Find out as much as you can about the man or woman you’re considering as a spouse. Date. Have serious conversations about things that matter. Meet their family. Find out their priorities in life.
Then, take a deep breath, swallow hard, and admit this truth: if you marry this person, you’ll be joined for life to a flawed, selfish, imperfect specimen of humanity.
In other words, you’ll marry someone just like yourself.
In Bed and Board, Robert Capon writes, “The only candidates available for matrimony are, every last one of them, sinners. As sinners, they are in a fair way to wreck themselves and anyone else who gets within arm’s length of them.” Marriage is the union of two sinners who’ll have boatloads of opportunities to practice loving and forgiving and sacrificing for each other.
As such, it seems like God really knew what he was up to when he came up with the idea. Let’s create a selfless relationship, the Creator seems to say, in which to stick two selfish people who will be forced, by dent of circumstances, to grow from an I into a We.
We all marry Mr. or Mrs. Wrong.
This may seem like a pessimistic view of marriage. And maybe it is. But, like it or not, it’s just the way life rolls in our world.
None of us marry Mr. or Mrs. Right. We all marry Mr. or Mrs. Wrong. Our spouse will be wrong in more ways than they’re right. We’ll have to settle for a fellow failure at always being nice, always caring, always patient, always on time, always giving, always loving. We will make them suffer and they will make us suffer. Alain de Botton is right: “Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”
THE SACRIFICIAL SCHOOL OF MARRIAGE
All of this is good news for those who truly want to learn how to be a decent, loving human being who reflects God's image in our world. Because we can’t be that decent, loving human being all alone. It takes other people. And when those “other people” include especially one person, our marriage partner, it’s even better.
They’ll get on our nerves, and we’ll get on theirs. They’ll spout unkind words and so will we. We’ll bring pain into each other’s lives. And thus we’ll be given the opportunity, over and over, to do what love does: gives, sacrifices, forgives, practices patience, and squashes our own selfishness for the sake of the one to whom we are committed.
Sometimes marriage will hurt like hell, but whoever said love was easy?
Marriage is the ideal school in which to learn that we are not the center of the universe. We’re not created to live for ourselves. We find our true humanity only when we live for other people.
For Christians, this means that marriage is that unique relationship in which God does his thing: he kills us into order to make us alive. We who are forgiven completely in Christ, are given ample opportunity to let his forgiveness flow through us into another. We who are part of the spiritual bride of Jesus—the church—for whom he gave his life, give our own lives for our spouses.
And in so doing, God is at work within us to put to death our own self-centered ways that he might raise us again into a newness of life in which we serve, sacrifice, and forgive.
MARRIAGE IS A CROSS-WRAPPED GIFT
When we find our spouse, and they us, we find an unexpected gift: a fellow human with weaknesses, struggles, scars, and flaws similar to our own, with whom we can embark on the lifelong quest to find contentment in considering the needs of another more important than our own.
Marriage is a gift that comes wrapped in a cross. It’s the round hole our square-shaped hearts are hammered into. We and our spouses are exposed to a life that doesn’t revolve around us. There we die a little. We live a little. And we learn that the perfect love of God covers all our imperfect marriages to the okayest person we can find.