Does Marriage Get Better? Is Marriage Worth It?

Recently a young friend, a fairly new friend, stood within the circle as four of us discussed the hurdles and highpoints of marriage. All of us, except for Ellie, are married to Army officers and were looking forward to a brief season of reprieve as scheduled leave drew near. We were being vulnerable, recalling couple and family vacations that we’d rather not remember, but balancing them with occasions we’d love to repeat tomorrow, and every day, forever.

Ellie, living with and deeply involved with an Army man, piped up, “You guys aren’t making this sound very optimistic!”

Quickly, I backtracked to highlight all the positive moments we’d shared. “Truly, it gets better! Not necessarily easier, but I promise marriage is worth it! It gets better!”

So what do you think?

Does marriage get better with age? Easier? Does it ripen and become more flavorful, or does it grow stale? Does time make it more succulent like a fully ripened peach, easy to peel, falling from the pit and sweetening every season of life? Is marriage worth it?

I’m sticking with what I told Ellie.

Marriage does not get easier, but with commitment, submission, deference and delight—it gets better.
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For a case study, lets compare a couple vacations my husband and I have taken in our 13.5 years of marriage. We didn’t get a honeymoon (thank you, Army) but a few years later, in 2005, we planned a make-up honeymoon in Mexico: all inclusive, Cancun, off season, basically newly weds … how could it get better?

As we packed our respective bags, each of us carefully, subconsciously, packed some undeclared baggage.

  • Him: fresh memories of two recent combat deployments, struggles with pornography after exposure at an early age resulting reservations about intimacy and emotional vulnerability.
  • Me: a scarcely concealed, 11-year eating disorder with angry tendrils still reaching into my life resulting in absolute terror of spontaneous circumstances, fierce anxiety surrounding food. And relaxation—forget it—I couldn’t skip a workout or lay my body still in the sand with a book if my life depended on it, and body image issues.

Both of us packed shame, unable to reveal our wounds and fears to each other. Instead, we chose to suffer in silence, hide our weaknesses and consequently slash and scar each other with our weapons of secrecy.

Honestly, after that vacation, I thought our marriage might not make it.

  • We couldn’t agree on what to do. (In hindsight, why did we have to agree? Enter: deference.)
  • We couldn’t enjoy the fellowship or intimacy of a meal together because I refused to eat. (Hmmm … learn to delight.)
  • We couldn’t sleep in and cuddle because I had to get up and workout. (And here, submission to the highest value of Jesus and others above my own idols.)
  • And I couldn’t seem to get him to open up to me, to talk with me until I felt the intimacy and companionship that would awaken me sexually. (And finally, we lacked dead-set, determined commitment in the face of all odds.)

I don’t think our experience is uncommon in the early “honeymoon” phase of marriage, and maybe that’s why so many couples suffer in silence and many marriages die. The facades and shadows of dating haven’t fully faded. They move into a lifelong commitment of oneness still hoping to impress each other, to hold onto each other with beauty, masks of maturity and feigned interest in the deepest parts of the other, all the while barely strong enough to identify and address our own deepest issues.

Contrast the trip we arrived home from just a few hours ago. Merely a trip to Fall Creek Falls State Park; we drove up Tuesday, played on Wednesday and drove home Thursday–super short, practically local and relatively cheap. But truthfully, it was the honeymoon we never had.

This is the second such short trip we’ve taken without the bells and whistles, without the best laid plans and in the ripening years of our marriage. What’s changed? Why were these trips so fulfilling?

Deference. Delight. Submission. Commitment.

The moment we dropped our bags in the room at the inn, Patrick turned on the TV. He stretched his legs out, folded his hands behind his head and proceeded to channel flip between Cake Wars and soccer. Not my idea of fun in a state park. Not my idea of quality time together. And before, I would have told him so.

This time, I plopped down next to him, laid my head on his lap and just waited in the bliss of knowing he was happy. It has taken some effort to defer to his desires, but I’m learning this technique works like magic. Less than 10 minutes later, he spoke up, “Give me a few minutes here and then I’ll walk around with you and we can explore a bit.” Sure enough, before I knew it we were cruising in the Jeep with the windows open through winding roads of Fall Creek and peering down the overlooks into dizzying gorges.

We went to dinner that night at the little restaurant within the Inn’s conference center. Never before could I find delight in food and the intimacy of sharing it with my husband. But I’m learning. We dined on the buffet, split dessert and talked some, enjoying the long pauses of conversation. I’m learning to delight in his presence as much as anything.

Back in our hotel room, we simply watched TV. We did nothing of “value” or significant meaning, but curled up together on the bed I relished being in the center of his heart. When he wrapped his arms around me in the morning, I found myself delaying my workout–who cares, really?

We ate breakfast together.

We hiked for miles–often without talking. (Girls, take heed–we don’t need to talk to communicate.)

Several times when I was certain he was done indulging my “do-er” attitude toward vacation and each time he surprised me by suggesting one more trail. After another afternoon siesta, he suggested we go out again into the park again. The weather was sweltering but his determination to give me something I enjoy was obvious. He repeatedly submitted his normal choices to mine and I began to practice valuing him above my habits and hobbies.

Finally, the nitty-gritty–the sexual intimacy and commitment. How does that factor in? What about when those needs and longings are different? Does time make those things better too? Indeed.

As we age, I am often the one most interested in sexual intimacy. It’s been difficult to endure the feelings of rejection when he’s not interested at the same time I am. But I’m learning to wait, to enjoy all the ripe deliciousness that we are enjoying in all the other aspects of our marriage and to sink my teeth into commitment regardless of how this element plays out.

Guess what? Omitting the details, my husband came to me and fulfilled that desire too.

I hope to share these thoughts with Ellie soon. Even as I write them, it becomes clearer to me all the ways God has seasoned and ripened our marriage over the years.

It’s taken more work, more conscious, continual effort than I imagined, but yes–emphatically yes–marriage worth it.
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Abby Kelly is a blogger, personal trainer, partner in Moms Who TRI, a journaler and a dog owner. She currently lives in Northern Virginia with her military officer husband. She writes on cultural, personal and relational lies that destroy women's lives and seeks to share the truth, hope and love of Jesus Christ.

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