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Sunday, July 4, 2010
I was prompted to ask a question by this article on The question: should happiness be the goal in marriage?

You hear this kind of thing a lot as you peruse books and websites on marriage: How to Have a Happy Marriage, The Keys to Marital Happiness, Find Happiness with Your Spouse, How to Make Your Spouse Happy. But is happiness the right thing to be seeking after in your marriage?

At first blush happiness, either for yourself, your spouse or your marriage, may seem to be a worthy and appropriate goal. After all, who doesn’t want to be happy? But should that be what we strive for, what we long for, what we make our main goal? I don’t think so. Read on and see if you share my position.

As I often do when it comes to questions about marriage, I seek out the spiritual, bridal paradigm equivalent for insight. So, in our relationship with Jesus, our Bridegroom, is happiness the goal? I can’t find much in scripture to support that idea. I can see all kinds of things we are called to pursue in our spiritual journey, but happiness seems to be conspicuously absent.

To me, happiness has the connotation of relying external influences. If I could just have…, If my spouse would only…, If one day I can…, then I’d be happy. I have a theory that if you strive for happiness, you will never actually find it. It's always "out there" somewhere. You see, I think happiness happens as a result of going after the other, more important things.

So if it’s not happiness we are after, then what? I don’t claim to have the definitive answer, but let me list a few alternatives.
  • Selfless Surrender – If you’ve read much here at Journey to Surrender, then you know how important I think it is to give of yourself to your spouse. You can call this what you will, mutual submission, sacrificial love, biblically ordered marriage, etc. The bottom line is that when a couple is fully engaged in a lifestyle of giving to the other, happiness flows freely.
  • Oneness – The Bible describes marriage as being "one flesh."  For me, this is a call to marital intimacy,  a key component of our marital happiness. Intimacy comes from being fully known and yet completely loved. An atmosphere of being “naked without shame” before each other is blissful and tremendously freeing.
  • Reaching Your Full Potential – It’s hard to be happy if you feel like your are being stifled, either by your spouse or by circumstances. A marriage partnership is about each helping the other to obtain your full potential, to be all that God intended you to be, to continually grow up in God and in your marriage relationship.
  • Joy and Peace – These are sometimes confused with happiness, but the difference is that these come from inside instead of outside of you. Joy and peace come from God, from knowing who he is and who you are in him. They lead to contented living and a lack of striving.
  • Holiness – The original article cited above talks about feeling called to holiness instead of happiness. While I don’t agree with everything the author stated, I do agree that ultimately God must be the source of our happiness and fulfillment. If you are waiting for your spouse to be perfect before you are happy, you’ll be waiting a long time. You can find what you need in God, even when your spouse disappoints or frustrates you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below. What do you define as the goal in your marriage?


Kathleen Quiring | Project M said...

I'm totally with you on the idea that the purpose of marriage is not happiness. For all the reasons you suggested.

I also love everything Corey Allen from Simple Marriage says on the topic (Sorry, I don't know how to make hyperlinks in comments). He talks about how happiness is too fleeting, unpredictable, and dependent on circumstances to be a reasonable goal for life. Ultimately, he argues that the purpose of marriage should be to "grow us up" -- to make us into more mature, whole people. I agree with all of this, too.

Happiness is nice; and like you say above, it tends to flow naturally from a marriage that is based on surrender and self-sacrifice. But it shouldn't be the goal. God has more noble things in mind than happiness.

Paul Byerly said...

This is an interesting concept that I first stumbled on when Corey said you don't work on marraige, marraige works on you.

I wrestle with this. I don't disagree with what you say here, I've just never seen it this way. I tend to agree with Kathleen, happiness will be a natural, long term result of doing marraige "right".

As to goal, I will admit my bride's health, happiness, and pleasure have always been my goal. I want to make her life as great as possible, in as many ways as possible. Sometimes that means letting her hurt and suffer (which I hate) because that is necessary to healing and health.

Scott said...

Kathleen and Paul, thanks for your comments. I read Corey's Simple Marriage blog too and find his perspective on this helpful. I fully support the idea of working on your self instead of working to change your spouse.

I hope I wasn't misleading in that I am not in any way against happiness. I think it's wonderful when it happens, and it's especially OK to bless your spouse in ways that make them happy. But I think a marriage that has happiness as it's main goal is going to miss some deeper underlying and longer-lasting aspects of marriage.

Paul Byerly said...

"But I think a marriage that has happiness as it's main goal is going to miss some deeper underlying and longer-lasting aspects of marriage."

Well said, I'm with you on that. I'd say the same thing about life in general.

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