Unlearning the Pursuit of Happiness in Marriage
By: Heather Riggleman
Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. - Psalm 37:4
Smoke filled my nostrils and burned my eyes sending my body into fight or flight mode. I tell myself it’s just a campfire, it’s just smoke on this cold wintery night. Yet, here I am filled with fear. I am unlearning, unraveling, undoing the memories and the moments of the last camping trip in August.
My husband woke me in the middle of the night. Ashen skin and wild eyes; all he could communicate was that he thought it was a heart attack. That night became my worst nightmare as I loaded him and our kids in the truck, racing like Danica Patrick to the nearest hospital. I watched his heart raced to 311 beats a minute and I stood in the corner as the ER team shocked his heart back into normal rhythm. This was only the beginning of several ER visits, hospital stays and watching my husband die before he was revived and given a pacemaker/defibrillator.
The campfire is where it all began but that doesn’t mean every time I smell smoke that my husband is going to die. The smoke blinds my eyes to truth in front of me—therefore it’s time to unlearn what I was conditioned to. Especially when it comes to the pursuit of happiness in our marriage. We need to unlearn the worldly messages that lie to us about what will make us happy, better, true.
We are conditioned by fairytales, movies, and the American Dream that we will find our Prince Charming or “the one,” and then we will live happily ever after. We’re taught to pursue love and marriage for our own personal happiness. The resolution of all of life’s challenges and the deep need to be known is to get married. Your happiness should not and can not be wrapped up and dependent on your spouse. He or she is not the key to your happiness. One of the best ways to ruin a perfectly good marriage is to make it your spouse’s job to make you happy. Happiness is an inside job that only Christ can do.
Real happiness never comes from the pursuit of happiness but instead from the provision of God. The trick is to unlearn what our culture has taught us and instead turn to God for our ultimate source of joy. We marry for pleasure not for joy. Psalms 37:4 doesn’t say, “take delight in your spouse and he will give you the desires of your heart,” it says to “take delight in the Lord,” This means pursuing Christ above your spouse, your happiness, above ALL else.
Your spouse is not perfect, he is flawed just as much as every other human being on this planet. Your spouse came packaged with past experiences, emotions, hang ups and bad habits. So when you come home looking for your spouse to be your source of happiness only to find him making your heart miss a beat, it’s because he wasn’t meant to be your source of happiness. You're putting your marriage in grave danger if you are.
Have you wrapped your happiness around your spouse? How have you pursued God for your happiness? How have you taken delight in him? If you’ve expected your spouse to be your ultimate source of sunshine and daisy’s, you can still turn to God and begin taking delight in him. I have a feeling as you unlearn what our culture tells us and delight in the Lord, he will give you the desires of your heart in marriage.
Heather Riggleman calls Nebraska home (Hey, it’s not for everyone) with her three kids and husband of 20 years. She writes to bring bold truths to marriage, career, mental health, depression, faith, relationships, celebration and heartache. Heather is a former national award-winning journalist and is the author of Mama Needs a Time Out and Let’s Talk About Prayer. Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman and Focus On the Family. You can find her at heatherriggleman.com.
It's time we get real about marriage & relationships! Join marriage coach, Dana Che, as she and her guests deliver witty, inspirational, real relationship talk from a faith-based perspective. New episodes of the Real Relationship Talk Podcast drop every Tuesday.
Originally published Tuesday, 17 October 2023.