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Why Marriage Won’t Fix You or Fill You

a couple holding hands - why marriage won't fix or fill you
A marriage is composed of two individuals — but you’re only responsible for one of them.

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I am facilitating a Hope Restored marriage intensive with a young husband and wife — let’s call them “Simon” and “Jillian” — who have been married only two years but are just…over it. Jillian reports a declining satisfaction with the marriage. Simon, she says, shuts down quickly, and conversation does not flow as easily as it did in the beginning of their relationship. He is on his phone often, and she is feeling less and less important to him.

From Simon’s perspective, he “is not happy, and doesn’t know how to make Jillian happy.” Jillian, he explains, used to be so easygoing and fun. Now, there is a distance and disconnection between them that he struggles to put into words. They just feel like roommates. Both Jillian and Simon are longing for their old independent lives and wonder if they would be better off without one another.

Countless people, whether married two or 62 years, come to Hope Restored with skewed ideas of what marriage was supposed to look like. Frustrations boil, fingers point, and discouragements deepen as spouses question why their husband or wife “isn’t the person they married,” whether they made a mistake, or if they should even stay in the marriage.

Healing begins with you

Why have I never heard this before?” is perhaps the most common question I hear as a marriage therapist when clients consider the following:

Marriage is not the problem, nor is it the solution. In a Hope Restored intensive, we value working to help heal the marriage, but way before that, we work to empower and help heal the two individuals in it. Each person first, then the relationship.

Simon, for example, might be making the mistake of thinking that all his problems are because of his relationship with Jillian and her moods, while Jillian may have made the mistake of thinking that marriage to Simon would fix everything wrong in her world.

Surprisingly, it will not be helpful for Simon to focus on “making” Jillian happy, because the reality is he cannot “make” Jillian feel, think, or believe anything. Jillian, in turn, will be disappointed at any attempt to “fix” Simon’s dissatisfaction or “change him,” because the reality is she does not possess the capability to do anything of the sort.

To untangle the disappointment, Simon needs to start with Simon, and Jillian with Jillian.

Movement toward healing involves identifying emotional wounds and dissolving false belief systems that may go all the way back to childhood, as well as reorienting expectations and shifting responsibility where it belongs. Men and women regularly report to me that they wish they had been pushed to think through several of these things when they were single, as well as when they were dating.

A wrong view of singleness

Both Jillian and Simon reported believing “marriage was the goal,” and felt the need to rush through important seasons of maturing as single adults. Before they were dating, each admitted to interpreting their singleness as “less than” and “something to fix.” Additionally, they both thought marriage represented a credibility toward adulthood. Such ideas are painfully inaccurate distortions of singleness.

Any beliefs that hold some version of, “If I am x, then I will be y” are hazardous illusions. “X” may represent “chosen,” “engaged,” “married,” “sexually active,” “wanted,” or any other number of ideas. “Y” may then be some romanticized false promise of satisfaction such as “happy,” “enough,” “content,” “safe,” “rescued,” or “an adult.” If/then thinking, whether idealized or demoralizing, does not provide real hope or peace because it is conditional and threatening.

Where have your beliefs about singleness come from? Perhaps they have been shaped by endless comparisons from social media or shallow scripts from Hollywood and the music industry. Maybe the family you grew up in contributed to an inaccurate narrative about being single, or perhaps they fueled healthy and celebratory foundations for the fullness of singleness. Consider what beliefs are worth keeping and which ones are worth changing. Marriage is a way, not the way through life.

Marriage won’t complete you

A man is a whole man before he is ever a husband. A woman is a whole woman before she is ever a wife. Personhood completion is not contingent on marital status. Jillian is not Simon’s “better half.” She is first fully Jillian, and he is first fully Simon. The “us” is not the truest thing about either one of them, even in their marriage.

Hopefully, all of us are growing and healing while living in this broken world. But guess what: A spouse is not needed to do this. Sadly, this is contrary to what is often taught or thought today, even in Christian circles and churches. Life is about journeying toward the continued redemption and unleashing of who God has called and created you to be. Romans 8:28 reminds us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Even in the difficulty, God is moving. Any relationship, not just a spousal relationship, will contribute to the experiences of health or heartache, and the people in your life will likely bring a steady mix of both joy and disappointment. Unmet longings are a reality for everyone and will continue to be present even in the healthiest of relationships.

Connected very closely to your beliefs on singleness might be your expectations of marriage. You might have drifted into thinking that marriage is the “cure-all” for your stuff. Often, the “two becoming one” idea misleads us into thinking that a husband and wife become a merged blob of oneness where each makes the other content, meets their needs, heals their wounds, saves them from the pain of the past, and…and…and…

Make no mistake: This assumption will set both parties up for disillusionment. Jillian and Simon find themselves in this very place. A difficult dependency came for them in their misplaced expectations. When Simon blamed Jillian for his state of discontent, he shifted the responsibility of his self-management to her. He was dependent on her to think, feel, believe, or behave a certain way so that he could experience contentment. As Jillian looked to Simon to be consistent for “everything wrong in her world to be fixed,” she missed the opportunity to manage herself, and instead placed an expectation on Simon to “show up” how she wanted. She was dependent on this to experience peace.

Responsibility for you lies with you

No matter what your relational status or stage of life as an adult, you are responsible for yourself. You are in charge of and accountable for the management and care of you in every one of these areas:

  • Physically: in your actions and behaviors
  • Mentally: in your thoughts, beliefs, and intellectual growth
  • Emotionally: in your feelings
  • Spiritually: in your walk with the Lord
  • Relationally: in your boundaries and extension of trust

If a person becomes dependent on someone else to manage these, a misplacing or even an abdication of that responsibility occurs. Simon is responsible for his own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions — not Jillian. Simon is not responsible for Jillian’s mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational care of herself; Jillian is.

Marriage does not change this. You do not lose your identity or your responsibility for you when you marry. You are still “you” in marriage before you are a member of an “us.” While spouses do impact and influence one another in marriage, they are not responsible for the management of each other. When each spouse manages and cares for themself well as an individual, different things are possible in the relationship.

Few of us have had healthy self-management modeled for us. In each of the points above, do a self-assessment and reflect on where you could improve or enhance your investment in them. When that management becomes challenging, be curious about yourself. Judgmental postures toward ourselves keep us stuck and frustrated. If Simon or Jillian find themselves engaging in damaging internal or external reactivity, emotional pain is usually present, fear might be hijacking either spouse, and some deep woundedness needs attention.

Sometimes, knowing how to care for self, how to slow down and regulate, or how to experience health or healing can feel new, awkward, or overwhelming. For Simon, Jillian, or any of us, working with a counselor to help identify how to bring intentionality and care can be helpful.

Start with “real oneness”

“Oneness” is first and foremost about you and the Lord. No person was ever designed to fix you, heal you, change you, or save you except Jesus Christ. He is our Healer and Savior, not anyone or anything else. If Jillian slides Simon into that spot, or even the marriage itself into that spot, idolatry occurs. If Simon needs Jillian and just wants a relationship with God, he has it backwards. In truth, Simon needs God and deeply wants Jillian.

Oneness and intimacy with the Lord come from time spent with Him and from Him being the primary source of all that is needed. It serves to protect you from transferring the longings for deep fulfillment, purpose, belonging, love, protection, identity, and comfort all onto a significant other. To do so would inevitably lead to deep disappointment. Important foundational clarity is critical here: “I need God; I want my spouse.”

The fact is, you matter; just you — not you with a boyfriend, spouse, child, or white picket fence and a “happily ever after.” You are complete, whole, and enough. God wants to move with you, in you, and through you for His plans and purposes in every realm of your being. Your relationships matter to Him. Your life matters to Him.

So don’t lose yourself in dreaming about a life partner, and don’t lose yourself in marriage if and when it eventually happens. You have what it takes to take responsibility for you. Jump in today!

Copyright 2024 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Sarah Young
Sarah Young

Sarah Young is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She considers it a great privilege to work as a Hope Restored Intensive Therapist as well as the Site Clinical Director at Hope Restored, Michigan. Sarah has been married to her husband, Lance, since 2003, and they have three young adult children.

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