Comparison or Contentment? Find Joy in Your Marriage
- Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
- 2003 4 Sep
It was just a simple visit to my neighbor’s house so my daughter could play with one of her friends. But I dreaded it. Our neighbors were wonderful, godly people, but somehow I couldn’t enjoy their company. At their house, all around me, were reminders of the marriage I wanted but didn’t have – the marriage they had, not me.
They had four close-knit children, and I had an only child. The husband worked at home, and mine worked long hours away from home. They had a house brimming with joy and laughter, and I had a house full of stress and tension.
Like most couples, my husband and I had stood at the altar on our wedding day with great dreams for our marriage. Sure, we had known to expect some difficulties, but little did we know how much reality would differ from our expectations. Our circumstances had turned out so different from what I’d hoped that I had a long laundry list of complaints. Of course, my husband had his own share of disappointments as well.
Now, when I looked at my husband, I seldom saw the wonderful person God had created. Instead, yearning, resentment, and bitterness clouded my view, and I found no peace in our relationship.
Slowly, we started to make comparisons God didn’t want us to make – comparisons that only increased our stress. I couldn’t help but feel twinges of jealousy when I saw other wives enjoying the circumstances I’d wanted for myself. And my husband would also sometimes compare our marriage unfavorably to that of others.
Finally, we lashed out at each other: “Why do you have to blow your top over little things? Can’t you be more calm, like Ben?” and “Why do you have to worry so much? Can’t you just relax, like Stacy?” Secretly, we wondered: “Why doesn’t God give us the kind of marriage we want?”
Happiness Or Joy?
Recently, my cousin’s husband left her and their infant daughter, with no explanation other than that he no longer felt happy in their marriage. I was outraged when I heard the news, until I considered how, in my darkest moments, I had been tempted to make that very same move myself. Only my desire to honor my vows to God had stopped me. It’s so easy to react to unhappiness by trying to escape our current circumstances. But for those who are willing to stay faithful no matter what, God has something better than happiness – joy.
Joy runs much deeper in our souls than happiness, and it’s not dependent on our circumstances, because it comes straight from God Himself. We may think that our marriages should make us happy, but God wants them to make us holy. His ultimate goal is to use them to help us grow into the people He wants us to become. And if we trust Him through that process, He will give us joy – which includes that peace and contentment that is bound to elude us otherwise.
Trusting God includes trusting His unique vision for our marriages. Just as no two people are the same, no marriage is the same as any other. God has designed it that way. But, oh, how we spouses like to make unfavorable comparisons!
The Green-Eyed Monster
You don’t have to look far to find a husband or wife enjoying circumstances you wish you could in your marriage. Perhaps you know a couple with a bigger house or yard. A sleeker car, maybe? More children, or cuter children, or smarter children? Maybe you long to have a husband like the one you know who regularly takes his wife out for romantic dates. Or perhaps you yearn for a wife like your neighbor has, who seems more charismatic and beautiful than yours. Envy can choke joy right out of your life.
If your spouse is struggling with a major problem like a serious illness, debt, or an addiction, you may find yourself wishing you could exchange him or her for someone else – sort of like wanting to trade in a problem car for a low-maintenance model. When you look around and see how easy other couples seem to have it, you can’t help but feel jealous.
No doubt about it – life isn’t fair. A woman I interviewed once for a newspaper article on caregiving discovered that the day after her wedding, when her new husband started to show some signs of neurological problems. Soon, muscular dystrophy launched an aggressive attack on his body, and he was confined to a hospital bed at home, barely able to move or talk. Many of her dreams for their life together slipped away as his strength did, and she has had to devote most of her waking hours to caring for him.
A Heart That’s Satisfied
There will always be someone who is better off than you in a certain area, but there will also always be someone else who's doing worse. And when you get to know someone you envy, you will inevitably discover that he or she has troubles you didn’t know about. Take my neighbor, for example. True, she had the large family I longed for, but she told me that she often struggled with the chaos, time stress, and financial burdens that came with it.
All of our lives are filled with mixtures of happiness and pain – and God has allowed those experiences to be mixed a certain way in certain people’s lives to accomplish His specific purposes for them.
He has great purposes in mind for you and your spouse to fulfill, but you won’t discover them if you’re busy comparing yourselves to others. God’s plans for other couples shouldn’t concern you, just as His plans for the disciple John didn’t concern the disciple Peter: “Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me’” (John 21:22). So take your eyes off other people’s marriages, and focus them beyond those circumstances to God, asking Him to show you His unique purposes for your marriage.
God is a Father who loves to give good gifts to His children (see Matthew 7:11, and James 1:17). He does want what’s best for you, but sometimes, in His wisdom, He chooses different gifts than those you expect. He has created you. Will you trust Him to know what will help you grow the most?
Friends of ours grieved a stillborn son, then celebrated the birth of a healthy daughter despite the wife’s advancing age and struggle with cancer. Like us, they cannot have any more children, even though they would like to and fully expected they could when they got married. But they don’t waste their time and energy comparing themselves to other families with at least two children. Instead, they have chosen to thank God for the beautiful daughter He has given them, and invest themselves fully into her life and the lives of her friends – her sisters and brothers in Christ. Seeing young lives changed through their service is yet another good gift from God for them.
Once you’ve decided to trust God’s unique plans for your marriage, ask Him to help you forgive your spouse for whatever shortcomings bother you. Another couple who are friends of ours had to deal with quite a bit of frustration while the husband was going through an extended bout of unemployment. Finally, he landed a full-time job, only to be fired shortly thereafter. Then he found a part-time job to help pay the bills, but was fired from that one, too. His wife could have made him feel worse by comparing him to other, steadily employed husbands. But when his wife decided to forgive him, it freed him to forgive himself and deal with underlying issues of anger. Then he found another full-time job and has been very successful with it.
When your eyes are on God instead of other couples, He will help you see the full potential of your marriage. And, as my husband and I can attest, following that vision together will heal your marriage and change your desires. Now my love for my husband has grown deeper and stronger. I see him as a gift from God, to be embraced no matter what comes our way. And I can honestly say that I’m more excited about what God has in store for my husband and I than what might have been with any other man. You and your spouse – no matter what your circumstances – can also trust in God’s famous promise from Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”