Marriage: Work, Labor or Vocation?


People commit to marriage for different reasons, but regardless everyone realize that it takes work

There are times when relationships are full of fun - when planned activities in the summer go well, when there is more daylight time to do fun things with those we love, when agreement comes easily. Then there are times when lots of effort is needed in order to allow things to work the way they should and to sustain the relationship. At some point marriage therapists often remind their clients that marriage can also be tough work. As Americans we celebrate Labor Day, not Work Day, what can we learn from the differences in these words?

When we speak of labor, we are taliking about something that involves great effort. Labor is not easy work. Neither so, is the work that is involved in sustaining a marriage. There are times when it is light work - paying attention to the periodic small thing. However, at other times it requires everything that you have to be able to face challenges that you are encountering together. At these times, marriage really requires labor.

Another phrase that we have in our common language is "a labor of love". Just because something is hard work or requires great effort on our part does not mean that it is a chore that cannot give us pleasure. Something that you have you labor to complete can be a labor of love depending on your attitude and approach to it. Most women who give birth look back on their labor with positive thoughts, even though it involved lots of effort and pain. Finding ways to keep the romance in your marriage may take a lot of effort and ingenuity, but this labor can be something that is pleasing not only in the outcome but in going through the challenge.

While nothing will stop the need for the labor of marriage, there are ways to make that labor into a labor of love rather than a chore. One of the keys to this is to have a deep understanding of why you are married. For a person of faith, they may feel that it was part of God's calling on their life for them to get married. The Christian vocation of marriage comes from God's call on the individual, from an understanding of the marriage vows having been taken before God and that God remains with the couple in married life. Relying on the fact that marriage is a vocation affects how a Christian can engage in the labor of love to which they are called.

To get to this point, it is important to ask questions about how you came to get married and what you believe about marriage. This can lead you to both an understanding of how marriage is a vocation for you (just as your chosen career field might be a vocation for you). It can also lead you to an understanding of your marriage as a larger picure that allows you to look at things that you do in a way that can make them labors of love. The key things engaged in also can be identified - some of these are large things (such as considering the other's desires as important) and some of these are small things (such as putting down the toilet seat). Engaging in these is a labor, and hopefully a labor of love.

Coming to these understandings may be something that you do on your own, that you do with your spouse (over time or when you chose to set some time to focus on it) or that you do with the help of a therapist or other advisor. Which method you chose will depend on you as well as what is going on in your marriage (critical marital conflicts make it more likely to be helped by a therapist and smooth times may make it more likely to do it on your own). Whatever way you do it, thinking about how your marriage is work, labor and vocation can lead to wholeness and peace in this area of your life.