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.