I’m rounding the final turn in my sixth year of marriage. Despite the struggles Tiffani and I faced the last 12 months, I can say with certainty that we’re closer and enjoyed one another more in year six than any year so far.
Why? First, struggles inevitably do one of two things: tear a relationship apart or bring it closer together. For that reason, I’m thankful for the hardships we’ve experienced. A deeper understanding of life and its meaning go through struggle and hardship.
Another factor leading to growth in our marriage—maybe a product of our struggles, I’m not sure—is the realization that most, maybe all, of what I believed about love, romance and sex going into marriage was a lie.
I have years of movies, songs, books and, unfortunately, the Church, to blame for this. There’s no shortage of voices in our culture when it comes to love, and they speak quite authoritatively on all matters of love and romance: What to value in a relationship, how to handle conflict, what real love looks like, the importance of sex and so on.
The cultural perceptions of love speak so loud, in fact, and with such consistency that we would be naive to think we don’t enter into romantic relationships with a picture based largely on our surroundings. “Love has a history,” and we’re influenced by the voices more than we realize.
For nearly five years of my marriage, I listened, and my marriage suffered. Chalk it up to perseverance or maturity, but this year I stopped listening. And while Tiffani and I have by no means arrived, our relationship is healthier today than ever.
Regardless of your position in life’s journey—married, dating, single, whatever—tuning out the cultural lies about love, romance and sex is essential to experiencing healthy relationships and, in particular, healthy marriages.
Love is a feeling.
Almost all cultural signs point to this dangerous lie, that love is something you fall in and out of, a volcanic eruption of emotions and passion.
After seven years of marriage, I can say with 100 percent certainty love is not a feeling. Some days, I feel like throwing a temper tantrum because this marriage thing is hard, really hard. Magically, however, I feel different the next day or after sex. This is the reality of feelings. They come and go, kind of like the wind, except that’s giving feelings to much credit. The day Tiffani and I were married, we made vows to one another. Countless times, we’ve rested on our vows because that’s what love does, it never fails.
Love is more powerful than failure and disappointment, it perseveres through sin and even death. That version of love—the real one—doesn’t sell tickets or books. It’s not popular or trendy.
But really, what are we saying about love and, more importantly, God if it rests on a foundation as weak and shallow as feelings?
I can almost hear my grandmother saying it now. “You know, son. It’s like they always say … opposites attract.”
Who is “they”?
In our culture, magnetic attraction, butterflies are a confirmation of true love, almost as if values and commonalities are insignificant.
But despite the many ways we’re different, it’s the one thing we agree on that brought us together (and continues to do so today).
When I met Tiffani, the magnetic attraction was there. But I’m convinced we wouldn’t have made it without our common love for God. Don’t be fooled by the opposites attract myth. Strong, stable relationships need commonalities to survive, specifically a common faith.
If you find the right person, your relationship won’t fail.
Cultural romance makes you believe one person exists for you. And only one. Therefore, your greatest task is finding the one.
This creates a family of problems. First, you expect perfection from everyone. Flaws of any magnitude are red flags signaling that person is not the one.
Another member of this family is co-dependency. If there’s only one person for you, you can’t lose that person. You need them to be complete and whole. Losing them means you lose love. They become your god. I’m not a relationship expert, but that sounds unhealthy.
Another problem with “the one” thinking is it naively believes failed relationships are “their” fault. It never assumes, in other words, the problem could be the person in the mirror.
Maybe this explains why someone with a track record of break ups or multiple divorces usually believes the next one will work out. You probably know a person or two like this.
This great lie seeps into our minds at a young age. So, you can imagine how I responded when my first year of marriage was a mixed bag of arguments and failed expectations. At the time, I thought Tiffani was the problem. Turns out the opposite was true.
Looks are more important than character.
The cultural picture of men includes qualities like strong, rich and powerful. Women are painted as beautiful and perfect. Just watch a movie or music video about love. I’ll just say this: If looks or money make your top five values in a future spouse, you’re doing it wrong.
My wife is gorgeous. But I didn’t marry her for looks. And she certainly didn’t marry me for money. What I saw in her was a woman whose relationship with God far outweighed her relationship with me. She had values, and she refused to comprise them.
For a relationship to last, you must choose someone whose identity isn’t found in you. They love you, but they don’t need you. They tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear.
You can change someone if you try hard enough.
This is the classic example of Beauty and the Beast. If I try hard enough for long enough, I can change him (or her). More recently, Frozen featured a song with the words, “He’s a bit of a fixer upper,” as if men are dilapidated real estate whose only hope is Chip and Joanna Gaines. Shout out to Fixer Upper.
In our culture, the belief that we can change someone is a huge threat to healthy marriages.
What you will see more is that when you focus on changing you, the other person changes as well. But you haven’t changed your partner. In fact, your partner hasn’t changed at all. You’ve simply changed your perspective.
You realize your spouse isn’t the problem. You are. Few realizations bring freedom and peace to a marriage like this one.
Conflict is temporary. Marriage is easy.
Culture says conflict in relationships is temporary, and all healthy relationships reach a point where everyone is happy, rides unicorns and chews on Skittles.
In real life, marriage is hard, probably the hardest work you will do. Why? Two broken people are becoming one flesh. This involves tension, and this tension is healthy.
The gospel isn’t a “get out of conflict free” card. Jesus didn’t avoid pain and discomfort. He stepped into it, transformed it and gave us new life. Marriage is beautiful because, unlike any other relationship on Earth, it depicts the gospel.
Christ followers have an opportunity to live out the gospel in their marriage everyday. Rather than viewing conflict as the second greatest evil, conflict is an opportunity to grow and give the world something beautiful, a picture of the gospel, a picture of God.
True love will solve your problems, all of them.
Does your life suck? Is your existence meaningless? Are you struggling with porn? Are you insecure and selfish? No worries. I have a quick fix for you.
It’s called love. True love fixes everything, always. Until you find it, your life will continue to suck and you will continue to struggle with porn.
So says culture, at least.
In reality, whatever baggage you carry before finding love follows you into the relationship. If you don’t unload the baggage beforehand, you’re throw it onto your partner. And some of that junk smells like crap.
Love is in desperate need of redemption. Maybe some of the voices are well-intentioned—like youth pastors who reference their “smokin’ hot wives” or preachers who promise mind-blowing sex if you abstain from sex before marriage—but we can’t be content with motives. Lies about love impact lives, maybe even eternities.
I’m for love, romance and sex. I’m for marriage. I sincerely hope yours flourishes.
This article originally appeared on frankpowell.me. Used with permission.