I took my family boating a couple days ago. I have neither a boat nor the means to get one to water, so in order for the paternal heroics of that first sentence to have happened I had to borrow a truck from one friend and a boat from another.
I have great friends.
It has been many years since I've driven a truck with a boat-trailer hitched behind me. Over the last couple of decades I have grown very accustomed, on the level of instinct, to driving down the road as a single vehicle rather than a connected two. As I towed the boat behind the truck I found my mind really resisting having these well-rutted instincts overridden. When pulling a boat, the stopping distances take a very different sort of consideration and caution than when it's just your car or truck. Simple turns take far more attentiveness and care. Parking, even just to run in and get ice, is a complete inconvenience. And backing up requires the patience of Job and some witchcraft.
It took me a bit to get used to it all and frankly, it would take several days of it for it to feel normal again.
I once read it requires approximately a decade to a decade and a half for a married couple to begin thinking of themselves naturally as a pair. That's ten years of marriage, or even more, before one or both of the individuals in the relationships begin to instinctively think of not only themselves in any decision, plan or act*. Until then, each person continues to use to some degree the mindset of the unmarried, driving their individual car down the road wondering why he or she has so many problems now that there's a trailer back there. I give this example often: at noon on a Saturday, when my stomach growls, I think "I need to eat." It's a normal response. But when Kristi's stomach growls she thinks, "It's time to make lunch for the family." This is also a normal response, but it fits the circumstances far better than my response does. It's more attuned and more mature, and speaks of her others-centered love against my continued self-interest. Though I am improving, I still think primarily in "I". Kristi thinks in "we". Note how I naturally took credit for taking my family boating in the first sentences of this post when in reality, Kristi was just as much involved. Old habits die harder in some I suppose. Sometimes I wonder if I might just be a chimpanzee with a blog.
Many couples don't make it to that sacred union of the interior. That me-to-We transition. Most don't even know such a thing exists. They have their wedding. They have their honeymoon period. They have their bumpy but bright early years. And then after five or seven or ten years they end up saying things like, "This just isn't working." "It shouldn't take this much effort if it was meant to be." "We used to have something, but I feel like we have fallen out of love/grown apart, etc." They believe on some level things would just start clicking, and unconsciously gave themselves far too few years for that to happen. Often times, and I'd argue most often, relational troubles aren't caused by some impossible circumstances that separate a couple. Most often it's individuals refusing to allow their now connected souls to learn to necessarily adjust to new ways of getting down the road. You watch as individual sports cars go zipping by, the semi-trucks who make hauling trailers seem effortless, and you can't even turn into the gas station without doing a 23-point turn and cussing. Something down deep wants to unhitch to make it easy again.
In a way, that's exactly what it would be. Easier. But would we really expect something than begins with vows to be easier? What else do we think we're vowing - pledging - at the beginning of a marriage but to resist the urge to go back to when it was easier to stop and turn and change lanes? What else is a marriage but a mutual oath against selfish instincts, that we will work to make two separate vehicles one and allow all the years necessary to make it a new, sacred normal? Aren't we vowing to push through a season (or several) of wanting to unhitch because we believe something holy will be found in the commitment to the other?
Perhaps if you're engaged or are in a rough patch, you need to be reminded: All acts of love are difficult. That's why we're commanded to do so. Only things we resist must be commanded. The difficulty in your marriage isn't necessarily a sign of failure or breakdown. It is the consequence of two single people working against their own nature to become one. That's why we hang out with other married people who have been married longer and talk to each other and go to counseling and all that. So we can learn how to gradually make individual components, with time and practice, get down the road as one. A new natural, with new habits, called family.
Being married is no more beautiful than being single. They both take many, many years to master. But should you choose to marry, may God grant you wide turns and a strong hitch, and all the patience required to get the hang of it.
*I've seen it take twenty or more for some couples. Don't think that you've failed if you're a longer study!