In ten years, you will be married to a different person than you’re married to right now. Your spouse will change. And as they change, God calls us to fall in love with them again. But how?
Pastor and Author Tim Keller talks about this in his book The Meaning Of Marriage. In a chapter titled Loving the Stranger, Keller shares a quote from Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Ethics at Duke University:
We never know whom we marry. We just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while, and he or she will change… The primary problem is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
Embedded in the traditional wedding vows—”for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health”—is an admission you make to your spouse that you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, but you’re going to stick it out no matter what. Nevertheless, when marriage throws us a curveball, we are often surprised.
The truth is, your spouse will change. You may think you know them. But if you’ve never watched them become a parent, worry about money, ask hard questions about their faith, achieve a lifelong dream or accept the reality that they probably never will, then you don’t know the person you will be married to five to ten years from now. Neither do they.
This is a disenchanting reality for many couples who enter marriage expecting a happy ever after. In fact, some couples become so discouraged in their marriage that the only possible option they can imagine is to separate. They’ll even use language like, “We grew apart.”
Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, recently used similar language when he announced his divorce from his wife:
“[W]e are separating and will continue our life together as friends. In recent years, some significant changes have taken place in both of us. It is with sincere love for one another and understanding of our unique story as a couple that we are moving forward with this decision.”
Does this response reflect God’s heart for your life and marriage? Is there a better way?
While everyone’s story is different, and no cookie-cutter recipe exists for how to make a relationship work, Tim Keller does give some helpful perspective:
“What if… you begin your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God has created? Then you will actually be expecting the ‘stranger seasons.’ And when you come to one, you will roll up your sleeves and get to work.”
Keller says the secret to learning to see marriage through this lens is found in Ephesians 4:15—“[S]peaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.”
According to Keller, love, grace and truth act as superpowers in our marriages. “These three powers,” Keller says, “will do their best work in us during times when we find it hard to love the semi-stranger to whom we are married.”
We must strive to speak truth to our spouses when we see them veering from the road God has for them. At the same time, we must have grace for them as they grow and morph into the man or woman God has called them to be, which may not be the person we envisioned. All the while, we must strive to love them no matter who they become.
Your spouse will change. But God has called us to patiently love and cherish the person they become. Let’s all fight for our marriages with truth, love and grace.