The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: A Short Handbook to Marriage

Introduction Dear Larry and Vickie: (Fictitious names of two young people I know who are very much in love and thinking about marriage.) For some time, I have been thinking of writing down a few observations about marriage, but have held back. My hesitation has sprung from a variety of sources. So many books about marriage already fill the stores; do we need another? And they are mostly written by experts, people who have spent years doing scientific research about what makes couples happy or sad, how to build a better relationship, how to avoid infidelity and divorce. I am not an expert! Then there is my own marriage, marred in past years by multiple maladjustments and still far from ideal. I can’t set myself up as the perfect example to follow, so why should I presume to share any of my ideas with others? To add to my doubts, I reflect on the fact that few men read books about marriage, and yet much of the happiness of any marital relationships stems from the attitudes and actions of the husband. If the man leads, the woman will often (though not always) follow. A loving husband will prevent most problems from arising, and will effectively – even if imperfectly – deal with the inevitable difficulties that come when two sinners live together. Finally, I am aware that very little of what I say will have any impact you, at least not for a while. That’s not a criticism, only a recognition that couples in love are generally impervious to advice. They know that “love is blind,” but they think that they can see! Yes, others have made foolish mistakes, but they are walking wisely. They think that they are fully aware of each other’s flaws and failings, and cognizant of the high level of misery in most marriages, but they are confident that they have considered everything carefully and can succeed where others have failed. They smile indulgently when married people offer well-meaning but – at least for them – irrelevant counsel, convinced that their relationship will be the exception that tests the rule. Nevertheless, I am convinced that I should at least try to pass on some of what I have learned over the past forty-two years since Dori and I became engaged and were required by my brother Peter, who performed our wedding ceremony, to read A Handbook to Marriage, by a Swiss name Theodore Bovet. Funny how I thought that having read that one book I knew all I needed to! But some of his words have come back to me since then, casting a beam of light upon an otherwise dark path. About two dozen other books on marriage have also proven helpful to me along the way. At the moment, I am re-reading Harley’s His Needs, Her Needs, with Dori and two other couples. It’s full of very practical advice, which I am finding most useful. Each chapter contains both analysis of why couples don’t get along, and precise prescriptions for healing wounded relationships. One theme that keeps recurring in this book, however, is the huge disconnect between dating/courtship and marriage itself. Repeatedly, Harley shows how people change radically after they say their vows, and how terribly shocked and disappointed most couples are when the “honeymoon” period comes to a crashing close and the harsh reality of daily life together sets in. I guess that’s a main motivation for writing. I want to help you (and others) think through what happens when two people tie the matrimonial knot, so that you won’t think that something strange has happened to you. If possible, of course, I would hope that I can alleviate, or even prevent, unnecessary pain. I say “unnecessary,” because so much of the sorrow that usually attends marriage can be avoided, both by wise choices before the wedding (or even before engagement) and by quick action when inevitable obstacles arise in the path. Our own experience, which has included going through almost a dozen years of marital counseling during the first thirty years of our marriage, as well as counseling others, forms the backdrop of much of what I now believe about marriage, but I hope that the Scriptures will provide the basic outline, structure, and even content of the main ideas that follow. So, I ask for your prayers as I begin this daunting project. I don’t know how often I’ll get to write, or how good it will be, but you can be assured of my prayers for you regardless of what you or I do! Just to let you know: My plan calls for looking at God’s original plan for marriage – “ the good ‘ - then at some of the causes of conflict, confusion, and collapse – “the bad” – and finally at what God can do with those married people who love, trust, and follow him – “the beautiful.” In His unending love, Wright