Greg Koukl asks: why are people disappointed with marriage?

I found a post on Reformed Seth’s blog that discusses an interesting article from Stand to Reason.

Here’s how Reformed Seth starts the article:

Fun. Laughter. Happiness. Good times. No worries. Is this how life is supposed to be? Is our definition of loving life and seeing good days measured by the amount of happiness in our lives? Now, this isn’t just aimed at the “singles,” rather the post is aimed at marriage and what people tell us a good marriage is.

I was contemplating the notion that a marriage is defined as “good” by how “happy” the couple is. Now, I don’t want you to get the impression from me that I think a couple isn’t supposed to be happy in a marriage, no-no, I want to give you something to “munch” on. I found this article by Greg Koukl. The topic was on happiness and this is just one gem from the article:

“In the pursuit of happiness, human institutions are valid not because of transcendent ethic but because of temporal fulfillment, which is essentially self-centered. For example, marriage is a valid commitment as long as you’re happy. If you’re not happy anymore in the marriage, then you have reason to dissolve the marriage. But I would contend that if you’re getting married to be happy, then you’re getting married for the wrong reasons. Not that personal fulfillment is not a valid goal in some measure, but that’s not what it’s all about.”

Notice Greg didn’t condemn happiness in a marriage, rather he was making the point that happiness isn’t the goal of marriage. So, what is the goal of marriage?

“You marry as a covenant agreement between two people to maintain a family unit in society to accomplish certain things, to help each other and embrace the events and issues of life together as helpmates, to raise a family and provide a stable environment for them. Though all of those things may breed a measure of happiness, they breed a measure of misery as well. That’s why the covenant, the agreement, the commitment between husband and wife is not based on happiness. If it was you’d have to amend your vows to say, ‘Until unhappiness do us part.'”

Did you catch it? We don’t marry to be happy. Why do we marry? To “maintain a family unit in society to accomplish certain things, to help each other and embrace the events and issues of life together as helpmates, to raise a family and provide a stable environment for them.” That’s why man and woman marry. A person pursuing happiness alone will be horribly disappointed with marriage because marriage is not an institution for happiness alone.

Recommended read!

This post made me think of another post I saw on Neil Simpson’s blog about Phil 4:13.


Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through him who strengthens me”) is one of the most misinsterpreted verses in the Bible. I used to misquote it. I can’t remember the last time I heard it used correctly. It is one of the top 10 searched verses on, along with another frequently abused verse, Jeremiah 29:11.

[…]It is technically true that we could accomplish great things with Jesus, of course, but that isn’t what Philippians 4:13 means. The verse refers to Christ’s power doing something very specific in the believer, not some sort of general power.

I love using Phil 4:13 as an example of how to read in context. You don’t need to read the entire Bible, or all of Philippians, or chapter 4 or even a paragraph to get the real meaning. Just go back one verse!

Philippians 4:12-13 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Verse 13 is Paul’s secret for being content in all situations. That’s it. Do every thing through Jesus and you can be content in everything. It isn’t about what you accomplish, it is about how you do whatever you do.

Phillipians is one of my favorite books in the New Testament, but you have to read the verses in context.

So is marriage about happiness, or something else?

I actually do think that there are many other uses for marriage other than the “produce super-kids” plan that I always talk about. I think that men and women complement each other well, so I would look forward to have all of my nasty parts worked on, like the messiness, laziness, meanness, snarkiness, selfishness, driving too fast, and so forth. I really enjoy the feelings I get from self-sacrificial love for someone, especially when I try to lead a woman upward, and she follows my lead, and I can see her getting stronger and better.

I think the appeal of marriage for me, other than the super-kids, is that I would have someone to watch over and protect and nurture at really close quarters. Normally, I just send people books to read, or mail checks for apologetics events, or reply to e-mails. Marriage would be much better, because we could work on things together everywhere we went. I have these daydreams about being surprised in the kitchen with a hug from behind, because I am washing the dishes without being asked to. That would be fun for me. Or of coming home from work and having the children all cleaned up and dressed and hugging me right when I get in the door, because my wife has been pumping up my reputation with them while I was at work. I have lots of things like that I would like to try out that I can’t do on non-wife and non-kid people. I could do all kinds of good things if I had a family.

I think a pretty test to see if you are ready for marriage is to see how much you enjoy taking care of other people, and to a lesser degree, pets and cars and stuff like that that need maintenance. If you spend all your time trying to go places and do things and trying to squeeze a lot of fun out of life, that probably isn’t the best training for marriage. But if you like teaching people new things, and cleaning out the bird cage, waxing the car, and mowing the lawn and performing acts of service for others, then I think that’s a good sign you are ready for marriage.

I am still struggling a lot with this… on the one hand, I would do anything for my pet bird. But on the other hand, I struggle a lot to read what people ask me to read and to reply to e-mails and stuff. I haven’t waxed my car all year! This is an area where I really need to improve – getting used to being helpful to others. I seem to be able to avoid the need to be happy, but I just pour all my time into learning and writing, and not doing hard things to help others.

5 thoughts on “Greg Koukl asks: why are people disappointed with marriage?”

  1. Being married I experience a different kind of happiness then I did before. It’s a quiet, content kind of happiness. I feel at peace. I never really experienced that before. I think there are different kind of joys in life, such as the joys of a baby being born (I can’t even begin to describe it) to the joys of success or the kind of happiness you feel when you have accomplished something important in your life.

    I think marriage is about learning to love others more than yourself, putting others needs before your own. When children come along, you really have to put others before you, sometimes its whether you like it or not.

    Your spouse becomes a part of your new family, you cleave to one another and help each other. That was what God called Eve, she was a “helpmeet” for Adam. God said that man was not meant to be alone, and He was right.


  2. Good post WK. In the early stages of dating my then girlfriend-but-now-wife, I had to get used to her being so loving to others. I was a very selfish individual at one point in time (still working on it, but my wife has helped me come a long way). Some may wonder why my girlfriend didn’t get rid of me if I was so selfish. Well, I liked her, so I did things for her. If I liked you, I didn’t mind sacrificing my time or happiness for you, but if I didn’t like you then I was very cold to you. She is the opposite. She also enjoyed having family around, I didn’t. I learned a lot from her in our friendship, then courtship, and am still learning from her in marriage.

    I’ve definitely had “my nasty parts worked on, like the messiness, laziness, meanness, snarkiness, selfishness,”


  3. First of all amazing post! Secondly, I think Jared makes a good point here when he says, “Well, I liked her, so I did things for her.” I don’t think men realize how much potential they have to love until they try. Marriage naturally tests the man’s willingness to love. For a woman it is very important that we understand that men need to feel rewarded for passing that test. They need to know that their love is being recognized and appreciated. Depending on the man this appreciation will need to come in different forms. In my own situation, a hug from behind while doing dishes is something I very much want, however having the dishes done and the house in order and hot food on the table are acts of service that some men respond to, and that is what I busy myself with. If you’re a woman who finds it difficult to meet all of your husbands needs or vice-versa, than suffering can enter and the happiness can wane. Communication is very important, and because women are better at communicating a lot of the burden rests on us to create opportunities for happiness. But there is something Greg misses here. Marriage was not created for the mundane pleasures of this world alone, but rather for us to understand the creator and develop spiritually. Forgiveness is key and grudges are not an option in marriage. Marriage is about understanding and living in self sacrificing love, which is really the only real kind of love. We know what love looks like from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Love is a constant doing and renewing. It is real and it is powerful, but it is not to be confused with happiness. If we understand love as a window to our Creator we see that when there is happiness love goes untested, but when there is suffering love is allowed to grow and transform the individual who chooses to love. Couples who love together can grow and transform their marriages and the lives around them, unfortunately couples who don’t love together will most likely grow apart as they become unequally yoked. Again, the spouses job is always to encourage the spiritual development of the other while also caring for their basic physical needs to the very best of their ability.
    “I really enjoy the feelings I get from self-sacrificial love for someone, especially when I try to lead a woman upward, and she follows my lead, and I can see her getting stronger and better.”
    Sounds good to me!


  4. One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve studied human history is how marriage has changed over the centuries. One thing that is pretty unique to the modern era is the idea was even a choice. As in, people were expected to marry, whether they wanted to or not, but also people generally didn’t get to have much say as to who they would marry. Yet we were still expected to love our spouses, not “fall in love” with them. Love is a verb. Love is action. It’s not passive or reactionary. Sure, it’s nice to get the “in love” feeling, but that doesn’t last.

    I think one of the reasons so many marriages fail is because people went into them with all these idyllic, romantic notions about how this other person was going to fullfill them and make their lives sooooo woooonnndddeeerrrffuulll… Then they’re all surprised when the honeymoon stage is over, and they find that they really hate the fact that their spouse never remembers to put the cap on the toothpaste or something silly like that. They expect their spouses to make them happy and keep them happy. They see love as something that happens to us; that we can fall in and out of. Then when their marriages his a difficult time, they throw in the towel.

    My husband and I eloped at age 19, for a variety of reasons. We were repeatedly told we were “too young” and that our marriage wouldn’t last. Because our marriage was by a Justice of the Peace instead of a priest in church, my mother was told by a priest that we weren’t really married (as though we somehow ejected God from the courtroom, I suppose). She spent years convinced that it would never last, my husband would cheat on me, and he would leave me, etc. We’ve now been married 23 years and our marriage outlasted many others that had all the churchly trappings. We’ve been through a lot of tough times over the years, but such is life. I never expected it all to be happy-happy-joy-joy. Too many people do.


  5. I love this post WK, it’s absolutely fantastic :)

    And it’s nice to hear you say something about marriage, without waxing on about your “super-kids” (though I think your newly coined phrase “super-kids” is great!)


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