Understanding Relationships – Expect the ‘Stranger’ Seasons in Marriage 


By Gary Moore 

Professor Stanley Hauerwas wrote the following: “We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem…learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.” 

Hauerwas’s realism rings true to people who have been married for a long time. Marriage changes us. Having children changes us. A career switch changes us. Age changes us. On top of everything else, marriage brings out and reveals traits in you that were there all along but were hidden from everyone including you, but now they are all seen by your spouse. 

Most people enter marriage through the “in-love” experience, and at its peak it is euphoric. Two people can become almost obsessed with each other. Dr. Gary Chapman argues that the in-love phase, which he believes usually lasts several months to two years, includes the illusion that the beloved is perfect in every aspect that matters. 

Dr. Chapman goes on to say that we are not totally naïve. We know intellectually that we will eventually have differences. But we are certain that…we will [quickly] reach agreement. We are caught up in the beauty and charm of the other’s personality. Our love is the most wonderful thing we have ever experienced. We observe that some married couples seem to have lost that feeling but it will never happen to us. “Maybe they didn’t have the real thing,” we reason. 

The in-love experience passes when the flaws in the other person come home to us. Things that seemed small and inconsequential now loom large. We begin to feel that we did not really know the person after all. And this presents us with the challenge of loving a person who, at the moment, seems in large part a stranger, not the person you remember marrying. 

When this happens, people respond in a number of different ways. If your purpose in marriage was to acquire a “soulmate” – a person who would not change you and would supportively help you reach your life goals – then this particular reality of marriage will be deeply disorienting. You wake up to the realization that your marriage will take a huge investment of time just to make it work. Just as distressing will be the discovery that your spouse finds you a stranger and has begun to confront you with a list of your serious shortcomings. Your first response will be to tell yourself you made a bad choice and failed to find someone truly compatible. 

What if, however, you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? Then you will actually be expecting the “stranger” seasons, and when you come to one you will roll up your sleeves and get to work. 

What are the “tools” for this work? How can we engage one another in spiritual friendship to help us on our journey toward our future selves? How do we love each other so that our marriage goes on from strength to strength rather than stalling out in repetitive arguments that end in fruitless silence? According to the late Timothy Keller, the basic answer is that you must speak the truth in love with the power of God’s grace. 

Ephesians 4:15 reads, “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” 

That statement sounds platitudinous, until we break it down. As a divine institution, marriage has several inherent powers that we must accept and use – the power of truth, the power of love, and the power of grace. As we use each power in the life of our spouse, we will help him or her grow into a person who not only reflects the character of Christ but who also can love us and help us in the same way. These three powers will do their best work in us during times when we find it hard to love the semi-stranger to whom we are married. 


Gary Moore served as associate pastor at Cloverdale Church of God for 15 years. He does couples’ coaching and leads couples’ workshops and retreats called MUM’s the Word. He has a weekly radio program – Life Point Plus – on KBXL 94.1FM at 8:45 a.m. on Fridays. His website at www.mutualunderstanding.net has video teachings and other resources for couples. He may be contacted at [email protected]. 



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