You Always Marry the Wrong Person

Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become "whole" and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. 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. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is...learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

Stanley Hauerwas, "Sex and Politics: Bertrand Russell and 'Human Sexuality,'" Christian Century, April 19, 1978, 417-22. Quoted in Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage.

Hauerwas' remarks might jar you (I'm confident that was his intent), but his point is on target. Marriage changes us. Yes, we should be careful about choosing our mate. Yet, you never quite know the person you are marrying. And you do not know the person they will be until you get there. While compatibility might get the relational ball rolling, it is a shaky foundation for marriage.

The Kellers expand on Hauerwas' comment.

All who win through to a good, long-term marriage know what Hauerwas is talking about. Over the years you will go through seasons in which you have to learn to love a person who you didn't marry, who is something of a stranger. You will have to make changes that you don't want to make, and so will your spouse. The journey may eventually take you into a strong, tender, joyful marriage. But it is not because you married the perfectly compatible person. That person doesn't exist.

The Meaning of Marriage, pg. 38-39.

I've only been married 5 years, yet I resonate with what the Kellers are saying. I've changed quite a bit since being married. Through it all, Kashelle has adapted. She has learned how to love and honor the various new iterations of me.

I say all that to say this: if you're single, don't make "compatibility" the be-all end-all relationship criterion. Yes, your spouse should love Jesus. However, he/she probably doesn't need to be able to check every box on "the list" (you know you have one). When considering a person for marriage, I'd ask these questions:

  • Do I like the person he/she is becoming?
  • Does he/she repent?
  • Do he/she challenge me to grow and change?
  • Would I consider this person a sincere Christ-follower if I weren't marrying them?
  • Am I prepared to love the various iterations of this person for the next 60 years?