Thoughts after Thirty-One Years

By Litho Printers (wedding rings) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I have a friend who broke up his second marriage because he wasn’t satisfied. Within a month, he found someone new through his social circles. He was in love and they began living together. After two years, he gave up on this girlfriend because she wasn’t going to change.

Within a month, he found another woman on a dating site and was living with her. Once again, he was in love. At about two years, he would speak openly of their differences and their conflicts. But this time, he was determined to make it work.

My friend’s relational career was educational to me. In a purely humanistic way, it made some sense – and in some ways was even attractive – to do what it takes to find that person of perfect compatibility.

The rebuttal to this line of thinking is that my friend really isn’t any better off. He hadn’t transcended the basic problem of two divergent personalities coming together and trying to make a go of it. He thought that if he would find the right person, the problem would go away. But it never does.

When we first fall in love, God curses husband and wife with chemicals that make us think that we are completely one in thought, motive, and desire. Somewhere along the line (and especially after financial testing or children hit the scene) the hormones recede and reality breaks through our well-crafted romantic fantasy. We discover that we are not as alike as we thought. The art of a successful marriage is whether or not we successfully forge compatibility amidst these differences. Some put off this problem focusing on externals and children until one day they find themselves lonely together in an empty house.

A counselor told me years ago that they can help any marriage until one of the party turns to contempt and despises the other. What I have learned as a basic point of Christian spirituality is that sin is committed long before the act in what false narrative the heart chooses to embrace and cultivate.

I can take my spouse’s faults, her perceived weaknesses, her alleged inflexibility, and objectify them out to be the guiding narrative of who she is. Tie this to my emotional hurts, and now I have a resentment that is difficult to overcome.

However, when I loosen my tenacious grip, seek to work on my character defects, and commit to be present and engaged with my companion and bride, these resentments recede and intimacy is created. When I work on me, my wife’s faults disappear. Imagine that!

My heroes in marriage are Tevye and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. Their marriage was arranged so they didn’t follow their heart of look for the best compatible fit. They lived in a culture where they depended on each other so forming destructive resentments was not an option. They had to find a way to transcend their differences, be faithful, and do it for a very long time. Though not the makings of a love conquers all romantic movie, their love was more substantial, earthy, and real than the fluttering hearts that we may have naïvely thought would hold us together.

A Jewish teacher taught me that the reason God gave Adam a woman is to give him someone who is somewhat like him in one respect but very different in another. They had to learn to rise above their differences and love the “other”. Marrying someone who is a clone of myself is narcissistic and forges nothing towards the true nature of love. Love is only proven when there are differences between personalities. Love is deepened when it is committed to and cultivated for a very long time.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts after Thirty-One Years

  1. Almost 46 years ago, I asked the question,”Will you marry me?” She thought I was joking so she foolishly said “Yes”. Being a complete romantic, later, as the date approached, I told her that I realized that in marrying her that I was exchanging one set of problems for another. Sweet. Today, she’d tell you that I was right.

    In exchanging problems, in giving up self for the other and eventually the “others” that came along, we lost ourselves and gained from the experience. When Jesus made breakfast for Peter after His resurrection, He asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” What He really asked was ,”Peter, do you love me above all others including yourself?” Peter knew better. He had denied that love three times in one night after proclaiming that he would follow Jesus to the death. “Peter answered, “I love you like a brother.” One denial down. Jesus asked again,”Do you love me with everything you are and hold dear?” Peter replied,”Master, you know I love you like a brother.” Two denials down. Then Jesus changed what He asked, condescending in love to the admission on Peter’s part that he didn’t know how to love Him as he should. “Peter, do you love me as a brother?”

    Jesus, as God, is the Self which needs love no other self, being sufficient in Himself yet He gave Himself in demonstration of the love He desires us to have for Him, meeting our insufficiencies of love with the sufficiency of His own love, the love that makes us one with Himself.

    This is the model we have for what love should be in marriage, but ultimately marriage is not the union of two small egos, it is perfected in the union in love of two small egos and the great Ego Himself.

    Hi Dave! Great article!

  2. Yes.
    “Sunrise, sunset . . .
    sunrise sunset . . .
    swiftly through the years,
    one season following another
    laden with happiness and tears.”

    Our experience, in almost 38 years now, is that the sweetest fruit of marriage is tasted in the mature stages. This precious ripening is best described with one word:
    Companionship,
    which is, in the mellowing vintage years, so much better than what the alternative would have been . . . loneliness.
    And I think our Lord knew this when he ordained it . . . fidelity in marriage brings companioned satisfaction in the latter stage of life– when it is most needed, and most appreciated.
    When you get old, you can’t beat it.

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