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You Weren't Ready for Marriage

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My daughter: she is a disappointment. She can’t seem to get anything right. Until just a few weeks ago she needed help putting her shoes on her feet. She can now get them on her feet, but she still doesn’t know how to tie the laces. She doesn’t even try to do it herself. She’s illiterate, too. She thinks it’s a big deal that she knows the alphabet, but she still can only write maybe half of the alphabet by hand. And when she draws, she draws like she’s drunk. She scribbles something that looks like Quasimodo got hit by a truck and she says “It’s YOU daddy!” as if I’m supposed to be all happy that she thinks I look like that. Sometimes I lie to her and say stuff like “Thanks, Hon. That’s a great drawing you made of me. Oh, I’m holding it upside-down? Sorry, dear… yes, it looks even more like me when I hold it this way.” Geez… She hasn’t made much of her life: no money of her own, no driver’s license. She acts like independence is a bad thing; something for others, but not for her. She’s never had a job, never been on a date, hasn’t graduated from college. She’s never accomplished anything meaningful. She’s got to be learning disabled, or in that Forrest Gump range of borderline intelligence or something like that because I expected so much more from her than this. I had all these dreams of who she’d be… smart… accomplished… hard-working… but she’s none of those things. Heck, she doesn’t even know how to fry an egg.

But maybe she can’t fry an egg because she’s not allowed to play with fire. You see, she’s turning four next week.

I don’t really think this way about my three-year-old. My baby girl is doing just what her mother and I would want for her to be doing at this stage of her life. Preschool in the mornings, naps in the afternoons and picking up her toys before bedtime every night is pretty much a full day of work for her. She still puts her shoes on the wrong feet about half the time, and she has to wear a bib or she’ll have to change her outfit after every meal. Sometimes she gets pushed to the limits of her maturity and she’ll misbehave or break down in tears. Most of her conflicts require the intervention of someone older than she. She makes a lot of mistakes. Lots. If we didn’t watch her closely… who knows what kind of trouble she’d find herself in?

And… that’s what it’s like to be three years into “life”. The stuff you don’t know easily outweighs the stuff you do know. At three years of age, a person needs a lot of help from older people. At three years of age it’s important that the few things that go well are celebrated with exuberance because it has taken most of that little person’s life to learn to complete simple three-year-old tasks. I’m thrilled that my daughter can draw a circle and call it a picture of my face because just drawing a decent circle wasn’t something she could do six months ago, and at this time last year she was still working on learning her colors and shapes. She’s doing very well – if you keep in mind that she’s only three.

Why do we show so much grace to three-year-old children when they make a mess of things, but so little grace toward ourselves when we only live up to our expected level of maturity? Expecting me to act 46 when I am in fact at the age of 46 is reasonable. But what if I’m 46, and my wife is 28 (What? It could happen!), but our marriage is only seven months old? What would you expect from my marriage at the age of seven months old? Perfection? If it’s OK to poop in one’s diapers several times a day when a baby is seven-months-old, then why do we so often sound the alarm when the marital equivalent of “poopy-diapers” happens to a seven-month-old marriage? Marriage, like life, is a developmental experience. We understand and accept that the maturation of an individual takes place slowly and in stages, so why don’t we accept the same for our relationships? If a person believes in the Biblical concept that in marriage the “two become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24), then marriage creates a new “life” that didn’t exist prior to the marriage. I like to say that a “Me” and a “Me” create a “We” when two people get married. And the honeymooning “we” is but an infant. It doesn’t have any history. It has no competencies. It must grow and learn and develop smarts and strengths from nothing. The “we” will poop its diapers. As it learns to walk and to do things, it will totter and stagger along. It will be anything but graceful. It will fall and skin its knees, and will cry when it’s hurting. It’s vulnerable, so you’ll want to pay close attention if it gets sick. Don’t expect much out of it for… well, a while. It will have be an awkward tweener before becoming graceful homecoming royalty. It has to grow up before it can live up to its potential.

Is your two-year old “we” “throwing tantrums”? Don’t ignore the problems, and don’t seek someone to punish over the problems; but rather, learn to discover the unique needs of your “we” so you can address what’s not going well. Don’t expect a new union to look like the marriage of grandparents. Those well-developed unions have been through much more than your little “we” and have learned to handle adversity. In fact, the problems of marriage are the very experiences required of anyone who would want a “good” marriage. As Dr. David Schnarch put it: “No one is ready for marriage. Marriage makes you ready for marriage.”

I’m not upset that my three-year-old daughter can’t tie her shoes or that she’s afraid of the dark. She’s exactly who she needs to be at this point in her life, and because her father and mother are not going to give up on her – but rather, are committed to helping her through whatever may come – I’m sure that she’ll learn what she needs to learn, and then some. Someday her parents will marvel at the woman she will have become.

We just need to believe in the process of growing up, and that is true for marriages just as it is for little girls. Don’t let the growing pains intimidate or discourage you, for those difficulties are often just a necessary piece of the process of maturing your “we”. Talk to your “we” and ask it what it needs, and be willing to sacrificially give your “we” the love and nurturing that it needs to grow.

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