For the last three years I’ve had the pleasure of watching my oldest daughter compete in the Miss America Organization; and organization that has been criticized by many as objectifying women. And I would sign her up for another three years if I could.

Like any good parent, at first I was skeptical about letting her compete in a beauty contest, especially one that requires contestants to prance around a stage in high heels and a bikini. This didn’t sound like a good idea for any girl, especially my own daughter.

But as a proud dad of a three-time, crown-winning contestant, not only am I excited and thankful for such an organization, but so appreciative that we actually helped sponsor our local pageant last year by establishing a scholarship to help support one lucky winner.

Miss America is actually a whole lot more than just a beauty contest, it’s the world’s largest provider of scholarships for girls, providing over $45 million in assistance annually. Our own local Miss Nebraska organization gave away over $70,000 just last year to hard working young women.

And the prance around the stage in a bikini? Turns out it takes a whole lot of discipline to eat healthily and work out enough to feel confident strutting your stuff. And it takes a bunch of skill to do it in a pair of high heels to fast paced music, too.

Plus each contestant has to answer an on stage question they’ve never heard before, and they have to do it on the spot. But that only comes after they’ve already been grilled with questions during a one-on-one interview with a panel of judges and already picked a cause they find important enough to serve and dedicate time to over the past year.

So while I’m not trying to convince any of us to sign up for the next beauty contest (after all, I’m pretty sure I’d look awful in a bikini) I am saying that things are often a lot more incredible than they look on the surface, and that we may be missing the real point if we don’t dig a little deeper.

And such it is with marriage. On the surface it may look like it’s just what you do as an adult. It’s the social norm and everyone is doing it. It’s the avenue to adulthood, and a step many take before having kids and establishing a household.

It helps people save money on taxes and lowers the cost of living as two people help cover the bills instead of just one. Get really lucky and your spouse may even mow the lawn or do the dishes for you.

But with such a surface level view of marriage it’s no wonder people are abandoning it even faster than their running away from their local beauty pageants. Thankfully, when you dig a little deeper, it’s a lot more incredible than that.

A healthy marriage gives you a shoulder to cry on when life falls apart. A cheerleader in your corner when you need it most. A confidant to share your deepest secrets and your biggest fears with.

A healthy marriage teaches you how to forgive, and how to learn to be forgiven. How to serve selflessly, and how let another serve you.

It teaches you the power of two in accomplishing any task, and the fun and joy that comes when you work together so well. And the damage that can be caused by just one when a selfish act occurs, and the pain you can feel when you’re the idiot who caused it.

A healthy marriage takes you to the highest highs and the lowest lows, and oddly enough at the same time becomes the most incredible journey of self discovery, humility, and pride you will ever experience. Indeed, as one well accomplished gentleman and worldwide leader proclaimed, “It’s the greatest education I ever received.”

If you’re living a surface level marriage, it’s time to look a little deeper. To dig a little deeper. To really gain the benefits that a healthy marriage can provide.

If Miss America was just a beauty contest, I’d never sign up anyone. And if marriage was just a way to get someone to do my dishes, I’d just buy paper plates.

But thankfully, both hold so much potential in helping us become the best we can become and bringing us more joy, heartache, passion and excitement than even the greatest roller coaster could ever offer.

Thank you to our local pageant directors Cheryl Engelhaupt and Jodie Shaske, my beautiful daughter has become such an incredible young lady under your leadership and friendship.

And thank you to my beautiful wife, too, who has not only helped by daughter become incredible, but is also doing an amazing job raising me through this journey we call marriage. I wouldn’t take the ride with anyone else.

Remember, relationships are easier than you think, but harder than you act.

For more relationship advice visit www.panhandlecouples.com

Mark Anderson, Ms, LIMHP is a mental health therapist specializing in couples therapy. He is in private practice at Oregon Trail Mental Health and can be reached at 635-2800 or online at www.panhandlecouples.com.