Both beautiful and difficult: Marriage and its paradox

By Sabrina Peters

A paradox has often been thought of as something that is contradictory, yet true. I dare say, marriage consists of many. An intertwinement of antithetical elements that somehow simultaneously co-exist.

Author Timothy Keller, frames it like this, “On one hand marriage is an absolute source of joy, love, security and on the other it can be a great cause of pain, disappointment, anger and sadness.”

If you’re married, I’m sure you’d agree. Marriage can be both beautiful and difficult.

This is a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved.

So, what does that look like? I’m definitely no expert, but I believe the first step exists in acknowledging the tension, then playing our part in managing it the best we can. Here are 4 simple truths to explore.

1. Marriage is fulfilling, yet frustrating.

I think so often we can fall into the trap of believing that if something is good, it shouldn’t be challenging. But that’s just not the case. Yes, marriage is rewarding, but it can also be a very real place of pain, heartache and disappointment.

Because it’s impossible to exist in such close proximity with someone without vulnerability

When you give someone your heart, you also give them the ability to pierce it more deeply than any one else. Frankly, there have been very few people who have said or done things to hurt my feelings or let me down like my husband has (and vice versa). On the contrary, there is no one in the world who has loved me, cherished me, grounded me and comforted me like he has. With vulnerability comes great potential to be hurt, but it’s also the place where real intimacy is formed.

Marriage entails both risk and reward, pain and pleasure

Think of the way a pearl is made. An irritant (like a grain of sand) works it’s way into the oyster. As a defence, the mollusk secretes a fluid to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed. In the same way that an oyster makes a pearl, marriage has the potential to produce something beautiful over time as a response. It’s actually the frustrating parts of marriage that teach us how to be gracious. It’s the disappointments of our spouse that teach us how to forgive and grow in maturity.

No grit, no pearl. No friction, no growth.

2. Marriage changes you, by challenging you

Marriage often acts like a pressure cooker, revealing your deepest dysfunction and deep-seated brokenness. The things you’re able to mask from friends or colleagues is revealed in full form within marriage

I’ve written about this a few times. But I’ll share it again for context. In the early days of my marriage, I often found myself saying to my husband Ben,”Seriously, you make me so mad, I’ve never felt like this before!” (And that was the truth). But it had very little to do with Ben and a lot to do with me. What was inside of me (past hurt rooted in childhood pain and trauma ) just came out. In the same way when you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, toothpaste comes out. Whatever is inside you just reveals itself when someone starts to apply pressure.

Childhood wounds, negative thought patterns, bad attitudes and emotional triggers. If you’re unaware of how these things may be affecting you, you’re basically one big mine field just waiting to go off (I’m pretty sure that was me the first few years of my marriage ha). But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re brave enough to face your shadow, not turn from it.

Because nothing matures character like marriage

In a lot of ways marriage can make you better by bringing out your worst. Think of the way a precious metal is refined. It’s put over the top of intense heat and the impurities simply rise to the surface and are wiped off. When all of your brokenness, your selfishness and hurt rise to the surface, instead of blaming the other person or pushing it back down, see it, own it, acknowledge it and then allow God to heal your heart and renew your mind. Two things He is so good at doing!

3. Marriage teaches you to gain, by giving

Again, Author Timothy Keller expounds on this so beautifully in his book, ‘The meaning of marriage.’ The deep happiness that marriage can bring, then, lies on the far side of sacrificial service in the power of the Spirit. That is, you only discover your own happiness after each of you has put the happiness of your spouse ahead of your own, in a sustained way, in response to what Jesus has done for you. Some will ask, “If I put the happiness of my spouse ahead of my own needs—then what do I get out of it?” The answer is—happiness. That is what you get, but a happiness through serving others instead of using them, a happiness that won’t be bad for you. It is the joy that comes from giving joy, from loving another person in a costly way.”

Happiness in marriage lies on the other side of sacrifice and selflessness.

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. No person should ever be walked over, mistreated, used or abused. I’m simply saying a selfish marriage, will never be a happy one. It requires both partners to be willing to give, willing to prefer and willing to let go of, “it’s my way or the highway” kind of attitude. A healthy relationship unavoidably entails self-denial.

When the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone. In sharp contrast to our culture, the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. Throughout history there has been a monumental shift to peoples mindsets around marriage. Instead of finding meaning through the giving up of one’s freedom and binding oneself to the duties and parameters of marriage and family, marriage has been redefined as a “me first” relationship.

What’s in it for me? How does it benefit my life? In modern relationships, people have moved towards looking for partners who make their lives more fulfilling. But the fact is, a relationship only thrives when self-centredness dies.

Falling in love can be easy, growing in real love takes time.

I feel like falling in love is easy, effortless almost. But staying (and growing) in love actually takes time and requires far more intention and energy. Think of a garden. It needs to be kept and tended, watered and weeded. A relationship devoid of connection and intention will quickly end up looking like a dishevelled garden bed.

Most of the time ‘falling in love’ has more to do with how that other person makes us feel (key word being us). The attraction, the spark, the chemistry, the fireworks (all good things by the way) often take centre stage.

But real love, deep love evolves, adjusts and grows over time. It’s often proven in the absence of the instant physiological fireworks and anchored firmly in commitment, companionship, vulnerability and self-sacrifice.

Most people fall in love with the idea of a person, but marriage thrusts you into the reality of who that person actually is! And that’s both the challenge and the reward. Because deep down we were built for this kind love. A kind of love where we are truly known, yet fully accepted.

Love grows on the hard days, not the easy ones.
Love grows when you cry tears of pain, not just tears of joy.
Love grows when you see each other’s flaws and frailty up close, yet you lean in, not away.

Falling in love might be a rollercoaster, but growing in love is the most grand adventure!


Sabrina Peters is a Christian writer, an avid Sex & Relationships blogger and part of the team at Kingdomcity. She is married to Ben and mother to Liberty & Lincoln.