Like most of you I grew up with the fanciful notions about marriage and family described in romantic books, songs, and movies. Cinderella found her Prince Charming "And they lived happily ever after." Song lyrics echo with the promise "I will always love you." These books, songs, and movies often get the main point right, that marriage is a wonderful design. However, they often forget to mention, that in addition to the wonder of wedded bliss, marriage and family is filled with incredible challenges and heartaches. They also miss the key ingredient for a successful marriage, self-sacrifice. Consider that Scripture compares a husband's relationship with his wife to Christ and the church in Ephesians 5:25-33 (WEB).
25) Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it; 26) that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, 27) that he might present the assembly to himself gloriously, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without defect. 28) Even so husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself. 29) For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord also does the assembly; 30) because we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. 31) "For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife. The two will become one flesh." 32) This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ and of the assembly. 33) Nevertheless each of you must also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
I don't know about you but this is an extremely uncomfortable comparison. Christ had an extremely tumultuous relationship with his disciples. He patiently led. They complained. He humbly served. They sought glory. They rebuked him for going to the cross. He pressed on. And most difficult, many that Christ died for still remain separated from him. Yet Christ still loves them deeply. The Christian recipe for serving your spouse is to first take all your self-serving desires and nail them to the cross of Christ.
I don't like to think about these unromantic elements to the marriage and family relationship, but at least the Scriptures offer real hope instead of pie-in-the-sky. So don't be surprised if your marriage has challenges. You are not alone. But do hold on to Christian principles and the victory Christ will win in the end. We may not like it but marriage is one of God's key instruments to grind smooth the rough edges in our lives to shape us into Christ's image.
Perhaps instead of saying, "And they lived happily ever after," we should say, "And they challenged one another's selfishness for a lifetime cultivating a deep longing for true Christ-likeness."