by Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu
‘What is this for BUTTER and for HORSE thing in the marriage ceremony’, a non-English speaking old woman once asked me? She made me think. What has butter and horse in common? Answer? Little and much. One melts when exposed to heat, the other doesn’t. Both cost money and also earn you money if you decide to trade in them. One is edible, the other is not.
That, of course, depends on where you live. The length of the list of things butter and a horse have in common depends on how much time one is willing to invest in thinking about it. The same is true about two people who fall in love and decide to marry.
Seriously! Did you ever wonder what this phrase is getting you to understand about a marriage relationship? Think with me through those FOUR words that have smoothly rolled off the lips of couples for hundreds of years: ‘I….take you…., for better, for worse….’
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
a. It is a promise
‘A promise is a promise’, you have heard people say often. What point are they making when they say this? They are saying that ‘what you have said you WILL do, you SHOULD do.’ A promise must be kept; it should not be broken.
b. to remain married to the person no matter what.
Stop and think a little about this. Each of the people entering into this special relationship called marriage were born and raised in a different family, with different interests, different ways of thinking about and doing a million different things, and different expectations from life. In other words, you are like ‘butter and horse’ to each other. The weight of the promise is understood better when seen in this light.
c. a promise of faithful commitment
I use ‘faithful commitment’ instead of ‘love’ because it is a lot better way to talk about love in a world where love means almost anything. For those who are Christians, the word ‘loving-kindness’ which the Bible uses to describe God’s love towards people adequately captures the essence of the ‘for better, for worse’ promise.
It accepts that the other person you are committing to is not perfect; s/he is not the same as you in every respect; s/he may not fulfil all your expectations from the relationship. All that not withstanding, you promise faithful commitment to him or her.
Again, from the Christian perspective, you are promising to be to that person what God is to people – faithful commitment. You are promising to show them loving-kindness in spite of how they may be towards you.
d. To remain in a relationship
‘For better, for worse’ faces the reality of a loving heart. ‘Love is blind’, people normally say. This blindness is not limited to beauty. It also includes character.
A person who falls in love can be likened to a person who leaves their home country and moves to a foreign land. There are advantages and disadvantages in doing so. If that person decides to stay in that country, he or she cannot have one and reject the other. In other words, success in that country is going to involve putting up with the disadvantages plus embracing the advantages.
Here are 5 things you need to know before making such a promise to anyone. Remember….
1. You are marrying who you are marrying
That may sound obvious, but it is not as obvious as you may think.
When you marry a person, you are marrying everything – warts and all – that person is at the time you marry them. How they speak, what they like, how they dress, their snoring or talking in their sleep, are they mammy’s boy, daddy’s little girl, how they manage their emotions, are they good on personal hygiene, are they good communicators, do they smoke, are they on drugs, and so on. You cannot marry them thinking you will change them into the people you want them to be.
Many people make this mistake failing to understand that the only person that changes a person is the person themselves. No one likes to be told to change. It is normally perceived as criticism and the result often is resistance. This does not mean, of course, that you cannot influence them to change; it only means you have to be aware of the difficulties this may present you.
Habits die hard. The longer you do something, the more ingrained it becomes and the harder it is to change. You are probably aware of the lyrics of Mick Jagger’s song, ‘Old habits die hard’. The lines of the chorus read, ‘Old habits die hard…
Harder than November rain…
Hard enough to feel the pain’
Be aware that when you marry someone with habits you may not be comfortable with, you are also taking on the responsibility to look for workable ways to influence them to change. This can cause additional stress to you that might negatively impact on the relationship especially if it is additional work and stress you do not want to take on.
2. Pre-marriage counselling is Essential and should be undertaken in good time.
There are many reasons why pre-marriage counselling is good.
When you are in love with somebody, there may well be very important weaknesses in the person that you may not see. Even if you see them, you may not consider them as important. You focus instead on the good things about the person.
What a good marriage counselling course does is that it creates a safe space in which you are able to identify weaknesses that could become problems during your marriage. You will then have the opportunity to talk about those weaknesses, consider the best ways to address them, and take the necessary steps to do so to your satisfaction before you marry that person.
The least advantage of this is that you at least know and acknowledge what you are taking on before you do so. Knowledge, as they say, is power. In this latter case, knowing your partner’s weakness before you marry them may make you develop strategies to put up with those weaknesses that they may not be able to change.
3. If you are uncomfortable in your guts about anything, deal with it straight away – knowing you are marrying the right person.
It is called gut instincts; and it is important, not least because it could save you from going into a marriage relationship that could end up as a nightmare of ‘had I known’ and regrets.
A gut instinct is a strong pull in your heart or stomach to act or decide or think in a certain way. It is a still small voice in your head urging caution or giving you permission to act in a certain way. While it may sometimes seem illogical amidst all the noise of advice from various people, gut instinct should not always be ignored. Sometimes it could be telling you something that you need to seriously consider, especially if it is accompanied with a strong desire to follow it.
One interesting thing about your gut instinct is that it often does not come from nowhere. It is informed by what you already know and is embedded deep down into your subconscious mind.
So, trust your instinct, especially if it is accompanied by a strong desire to obey it. No one can advice you when it comes to your gut instinct as ‘you are the only person who truly knows yourself and understands your inner workings without a shadow of a doubt.’ www.powerofpositivity.com
4. If your instinct is to break it off, listen to your instinct.
This point follows on from #3 above.
Breaking off a relationship may not be easy especially if you have been in the relationship for a long time and invested a lot in it. Your family and friends may think you are nuts for doing so. It takes great courage and integrity to tell someone you are breaking off the relationship. Most people don’t like it because they don’t like to be thought of as the ones who let down another person.
You may be wondering whether you are making a mistake that you’d live to regret. What if you never found another person to fall in love with? There are a host of other questions that would surface in your mind. But remember. Your gut instinct does not come from nowhere. You know this person well – habits, attitudes, weaknesses, strengths, and so on. Your gut feeling may very well be informed by one or several of these.
Here is the rule of the thumb: If you cannot handle it all your life, you probably need to end it now. The Bible warns people not to be unequally yoked. Many have understood this exclusively as saying you should not marry someone who is not a Christian if you are a Christian.
I think this warning extends beyond this limited understanding to include people who do not understand a marriage relationship the way you understand it. The fact that there are many Christian-to-Christian marriages that have ended up in a divorce should tell you that a Christian marrying a Christian does not necessarily mean that they are equally yoked.
5. A broken relationship or engagement is better than a broken marriage.
Whilst it may take you a year or so to get over a broken relationship, it may take you your lifetime to deal with a broken marriage.
It could prove to be a lot more difficult and messier, especially if children and property are involved. Think of the court appearances and the nastiness that is often involved. Or it may be a mediation service. That too is not without its costs. Both scenarios include emotional and material costs. If children are involved, think of the impact of a broken relationship on them as children and adults. Is that really something you want to get into?
FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE
All of these are considerations a responsible person makes before promising to love and be in relationship with someone for better, for worse.
When after making them you still think he or she is the person, go for it, knowing that even the best of our decisions may not always work out as we had hoped. You cannot control that. Whatever happens; however, you will have the satisfaction of having done due diligence. Every life decision has its risks. Love relationships are not different.
‘I have loved you with an eternal love’ (Jeremiah 31:3), God says to His people. A person who promises to love another ‘for better, for worse’ is aspiring to demonstrate godlike love. It is an admirable aspiration; but like every decision we make in life, it is not without its costs. Often, it involves huge sacrifices and humility on both sides.
Marriage is a give-and-take relationship. Sometimes one person gives more and the other takes more. But even when that is the case, if you marry someone to love them as God loves them, you are going to be much more able to deal with the sacrifice of having to give more and receive less.
In Strike the Original Match, Charles Swindol underlines the importance of commitment in a marriage relationship as follows:
‘It takes longer than you planned
It costs more than you figured
It is messier than you anticipated
It requires greater determination than you expected
Sometimes the only thing that keeps us going is hope!’
As John Hutchinson rightly says in his The Good Book Blog, ‘Commitment is a mindset . . . an attitude . . . a way of thinking that will enable you and your spouse to navigate through the still waters and the storms of a marriage relationship’.
I have met married couples who seriously committed themselves to their ‘for better, for worse’ promise and sought to love the other as best as they could in rain or shine. Their stories tell of challenges, indeed. But they also tell of rewarding relationships that made each a better person than they could have ever dreamed of.
Is this a commitment you can make?
Then go for it – for better, for worse.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.’ (1 John 4:18)