Years ago, I heard someone make an astute observation about marriage. The speaker stated even the most successful marriages typically move through five stages: infatuation, disillusionment, misery, acceptance, and true love.
There’s much wisdom in this assessment. On wedding day, both bride and groom arrive starry-eyed, convinced the ceremony’s just the start of perpetual, uninterrupted bliss. They see one another as the answer to their prayers, fulfillment of their dreams, the person to meet all their needs. This marks the “infatuation” stage. It might last through the honeymoon, maybe weeks or months more.
Inevitably the initial stage ends and “disillusionment” arrives. They discover their new mate isn’t so perfect after all, and what’s worse, they have no desire to be fulfiller of the other’s dreams. The marriage isn’t bad, but visions of perfection are forever shattered.
Next comes the “misery” stage, when memories of “I do” turn into “I did? Why?!” They begin wondering, “Who is this person I married?” Bliss becomes a distant memory. Thoughts of the relationship continuing into perpetuity cease to be pleasant. It seems more of a lifetime sentence.
Often marriages never escape this stage. Couples either grin and bear it, or reach a point when divorce seems inevitable. However, if willing to persevere – aided by the grace and strength of God – things start to improve, advancing to “acceptance.” Virtually every marriage spanning several decades has managed to endure the journey to acceptance. It’s the realization that when the words “better or worse” were uttered, there actually would be some worse times, but in hindsight, they weren’t as bad as they seemed at the time.
Happily, many whose marriages have spanned 30, 40, or even 50 years or more discover the “true love” stage is by far the best. And well worth the wait. It’s the love described in 1 Corinthians 13 – the patient, kind, humble, selfless, slow-to-anger, forgiving, honest, protective, trusting, ever hopeful and persevering kind that rarely if ever is portrayed on TV or the movie screen.
I cite this not as a marriage authority, although having been married to the same woman for more than 40 years, I’ve learned a lot. No, these five stages of marriage are important because in a sense, they parallel the stages of spiritual growth.
We could describe the first stage of faith in Christ as infatuation, the giddy sense of excitement that is centered on feelings, the unwavering conviction that from now on, it’s “me and Jesus all the way!”
It may take months or even a few years, but that childlike zeal segues into disillusionment. We realize God isn’t a divine sugar daddy who answers all our prayers the way we ask. He allows hardships, pain, and even loss to enter our lives. We don’t understand why.
Then comes the time of misery, when questions and doubts emerge. This prompts us to dig deep, asking ourselves what we really believe – and why. In best-case scenarios, we come through this process with faith stronger than ever, not necessarily having every question answered, but with a greater trust in a transcendent God who’s not unsettled by our uncertainties.
Acceptance, in our faith journey, involves being able to trust that although we won’t always know why the Lord does what He does – or when or how – we’re in this for the long haul, sharing the confidence of the prophet who wrote, “So do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Finally, our goal as followers of Jesus should be the true love stage, recognizing, “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. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19). This is what God desires for each one of us.
As with couples in marriage, believers do not arrive at this last stage in their faith walk quickly, or easily. But it’s well worth the travail to get there.
Romans 5:3-6 declares, “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”