Will marriage stifle who I am?
I’m sending an excerpt from my journal entitled “Heebie-Jeebies” as it reflects one of my major fears with marriage.
For the past couple of weeks I have been seriously having second thoughts — as per usual. It makes me wonder if I am really meant to be in a relationship or if I’m meant to stay single. Without a doubt I feel as though there are things in my life I still need to or want to do, though I don’t know what they are exactly. The thought of getting into a serious committed relationship, therefore, scares me not because I’m afraid of taking such a big step, but because I’m fearful of putting my life, my hopes and dreams into the hands of another. That sounds pretty extreme, but isn’t that in essence what marriage is?
I will marry someone who I will go the extra mile to please, to be agreeable with, to be accountable to, to consider and so much more. My biggest concern is being limited because of what my future husband thinks is the best way.
Don’t I need someone who can accept me as I am now as God completes His work in me? Someone who can see and know my great, but different, personality and character traits, and encourage them rather than stifle them?
I’m made in the image and likeness of my Creator and so is my boyfriend, but how does one strike a balance in a relationship so as not to limit the other because of our differences?
I know it can sow seeds of doubt when you feel scared or have second thoughts about a relationship. The truth is that you have every reason to be afraid when thinking about marriage. That’s completely normal. Relationships are scary in that we give our heart to someone in hopes that they will love, honor and cherish us in return. It’s scary putting your life, your hopes and your dreams into the hands of another. That’s one of the most vulnerable acts a human being can make because there is no guarantee that we won’t get hurt along the way.
Although I understand the meaning of the old Alfred Lord Tennyson quote, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” it still doesn’t make relationships any less scary. Let the fear you have been experiencing be OK. Don’t judge it or try to stuff it away. Instead, ask the Lord to reveal if the specific fears you are experiencing about your relationship is Christ speaking to you about your boyfriend (that still small voice we often ignore) or if it is Satan trying to create doubt. We have an adversary who hates marriage and what God can do through your relationship. He wants to “kill, steal and destroy” your marriage from the beginning.
Again, the key is to seek God’s truth if you are meant to be in a relationship or if you’re meant to stay single. Understand that Satan wants to create fear, insecurity and self-doubt. You are out for the “truth” — God’s truth. Your heavenly Father may be using uncertainty to move you away from this relationship, or He might be using your anxiety to draw you both closer together. I don’t know what is true, but God does. This is why I love 1 John 3:19-20. “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us for God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything.”
Defining the essence of marriage is tough. If I asked the Boundless audience to define marriage, I’d receive countless answers — all different. In the context of your question, a key part of being married is making room for both people in the relationship. Marriage should never be at the expense of one person. I believe marriage is about two people dying to their selfishness and trying to help and out-serve the other. This is why the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). Notice the word helper. Christ went on to say, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21) and “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Notice the themes of mutual submission and giving up oneself for your spouse. Helping, serving, selflessness and sacrifice are all ingredients that make a marriage work.
I think one of the best ways to be a servant to your spouse is to become a dream-maker — helping him realize his dreams. My wife, Erin, and I have been married for almost 20 years. Early in our marriage Erin wanted to go to graduate school for a master’s degree in counseling. The moment I heard her dream, my goal became how to make that a reality. After talking about this goal, we agreed that I needed to finish my doctorate first (I was already three years into my doctoral program) and then she would start. By the time I was done with graduate school, we already had two kids, and Erin was afraid she wouldn’t get to realize her dream. I eventually accepted a job based on the fact that I could work four 10-hour days. This allowed me to stay home one day a week with our kids so Erin could complete her master’s degree.
The point isn’t my work schedule or finding an employer who is flexible — that may not be possible for you. Instead, the point is that I would have considered any option to help Erin realize her goal. Marriage is about helping each other, dying to self, teamwork and finding solutions that both people feel good about. It’s about sacrifice to help the other realize her dreams. It’s about being committed to helping your spouse become the person who God created him to be.
The Lord was not lying when He said, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). God has gifted you in amazing ways and has planted wonderful plans deep within your heart. I can’t imagine that your future husband would want to limit or stifle you in any way. At this point, you need to discuss with your boyfriend your fear about being stifled.
Satan wants your fear to shut your heart down and disconnect you relationally. Don’t let that happen! Instead, validate your fear and use it to have some great conversations about your hopes and dreams. You can always use fear to help your relationship move into the deepest levels of intimacy by talking about them. Don’t let Satan rob you of this amazing opportunity to grow closer together.
Copyright 2011 Greg Smalley. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Greg Smalley, Ph.D. is the executive director of marriage and family formation for Focus on the Family. He helps lead marriage seminars around the world and together with his wife, Erin, does intensive relationship coaching for both married and engaged couples. Greg is the author or co-author of 11 books including The Wholehearted Marriage, Before You Plan Your Wedding, Plan Your Marriage, The DNA of Relationships for Couples and The Marriage You’ve Always Dreamed Of. Greg earned his doctorate degree in clinical psychology from Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University. He’s a fan of the Oklahoma Sooners, diet lemonade at Chick-fil-A and sports memorabilia. He and Erin have three daughters and a son.