When you make a commitment to marry someone, it shouldn’t be because you expect that person to make you ‘happy.’

Perhaps this sounds crazy. It seemingly runs counter to what much of our culture teaches us to hope for from marriage. But there it is.

I have seen marriages break up for both a variety and a combination of reasons—money, addiction, and communication issues being some.

But another top reason why I have seen marriages end: too high of expectations. Some go into marriage with an unspoken expectation that their spouses will single-handedly give their life meaning and fill all their voids; that their spouses will be the prime cause of their happiness. Really, it’s a form of idolatry that’s unfair to the other person. When someone goes into marriage with this unrealistic attitude, eventually (and inevitably) he discovers that his spouse is not a god, that she has flaws, that she doesn’t always love him perfectly, and disillusionment ensues.  

As NPR reports, a new study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has examined this very phenomenon:

“The study examines the premise that modern-day couples load too many expectations onto the institution of marriage — that it will meet their needs for intimacy, autonomy and friendship, to name just a few.”

The study tracked the relationships of 135 couples in Tennessee over four years from the time they were first married. What the study found, according to NPR’s summary, was this:

“The trick, then, is to demand enough of the marriage but not too much, after the honeymoon glow has faded.”

I think that’s right, though I would add the following: You shouldn’t marry someone in the hopes that they will be primarily responsible for making you happy—that’s selfish, and it isn’t fair to the other person. You should marry someone because you love them, because you are freely choosing to love and sacrifice for them, and you believe that is a good. Feelings of pleasure—which is what too many mean by “happiness” these days—are byproducts of doing this good, but not necessarily ones that you can always summon at will.

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