Seriously! Whether you realize it or not, you’re entering a river with a thundering Class V rapids downriver. Not to alarm you, but there will probably be a few, so you’d better know what you’re doing.

You’re standing at the base of a rockface rated 5.13, what the British would call “extremely severe.” Not difficult. Not severe or even very severe. Extremely severe. And if your heart’s not pounding, you don’t really know what you’re getting into. You’re entering a cave, at least you think it’s a cave. It could be as life threatening as it is awe inspiring, and you don’t have a map. There is no map. It’s all new. This cave is unexplored, your skills untested.

That’s a glimpse of the marriage adventure, a look ahead at the marriage challenge.

Why would anyone even try an activity with such consequences? Because, just like any extreme sport, we know that where the risk is great, so is the opportunity for reward. We could be badly hurt or, man, what a blast this could be. Intuitively, we know the awesome potential of marriage. And we also know how strong our natural desire is to be in relationship. Marriage is the ultimate risk/reward proving ground. It has as much upside potential as downside risk. There is such an opportunity for know-and-beknown companionship, and yet there is also no lonelier place than a failing marriage.

What I have in mind is mastering a long-term, ever-changing, complex activity that has as much potential for extreme pain as it does enormous satisfaction. It will affect every area of your life and soul. It is the lifetime process of learning to love more effectively and completely the person you’re marrying, the one you think you know, the one who is certain to change, maybe positively, maybe negatively, in response to challenges you can’t even predict.

What’s in it for you? The incredible rewards of intimate relationship! Generally, people on the outside of an extreme sport looking in don’t understand the motivation or the exhilaration of those involved. They watch and wonder, How do they do that? Why do they do that? The same is true with a successful marriage. Often the outsiders looking in just don’t grasp the sacrifice and skill required — or the tremendous satisfaction that comes from doing it right. We’re talking about extreme marriage. And if that is not your goal, then cop a squat, grab the remote and a bag of chips, and prepare to ooze into middle age. Unless you’re planning on rising to the extreme challenge of having a great marriage, count on yours being a source of frustration, disappointment, pain, indifference, or maybe just a chronic sense that it should be more?something.

The rules of the game? Well, there is no official rule book of marriage. No group of wise people have convened to agree on a formal set of rules for the marriage game to ensure fair play. No stripedshirt official is going to be assigned to oversee your marriage, ensuring your compliance with rules. You and your spouse will have to determine how best to apply biblical relationship guidelines to your marriage. The guidelines won’t change, but the specifics of how you apply them over time will as you, your spouse, your family, and life circumstances change. And if the Bible is not the basis for the judgments you make, what is?

Television? Popular magazines? The relationship into which you were born or in which you grew up? Many influences have shaped the values you have. The values you have will determine the judgments you make. And the judgments you make will ultimately determine the quality of your marriage.

A failure in extreme sports may get you injured or killed. If you fail in marriage, parts of you and your spouse will be hurt and quite possibly will die. Your hope for the things that might have been, your confidence in your ability to be a good partner, your ability to trust and to give of yourself — all those things and more are badly damaged, perhaps fatally, in a failed marriage.

But the reverse is true as well. Get it right, and you can’t imagine the possibilities. Your marriage will be a source of connectedness, motivation, confidence, and satisfaction. The bonding that occurs as two lives continue to grow together is an experience that many people, even many married people, never have.

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The desire for connection and companionship is a need that is hardwired into our souls by the eternally relational God who created us.

It’s as strong in men as women, though how we express it and experience it may be different. Marriage offers us the greatest opportunity to satisfy that need, but it also creates the greatest potential for pain and disappointment. Get it right, and you can’t imagine the possibilities. Get it wrong, and you can’t imagine the consequences.

For Reflection

1. What experiences and relationships have been most significant in preparing you for the marriage adventure?

2. Describe the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and the effect it had on you.

Taken from Extreme Marriage by Terry Owens

Copyright © 2005 by Terry Owens

Published by Waterbrook Press, Used by Permission.

Terry Owens has a Master’s degree in communications from Wheaton College. He is the author of Extreme Marriage and lifelong fan of the National Football League. Terry and his wife, Tari, have been a marriage team for twelve years. They teach in the marriage preparation seminar at Willow Creek in the Chicago area.