Friday, April 10, 2015

Maybe We Marry Just The Right Person

At our 50th anniversary August 2014
“Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become ‘whole’ and happy.  The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person.  This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage.  It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.  We never know whom we marry; we just think we do... The primary problem is…learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.”   
- Stanley Hauerwas

I agree with Hauerwas, but believe there is something just "right" about the "wrong" (imperfect and imperfectly matched) person we choose to marry.

I often meet with couples in my office who are on the verge of breaking up. Each is angry and vindictive, and all they seem to be able to do is to disrespect, blame and accuse each other.

On one such occasion, in a moment of inspiration, or maybe a bit of desperation, I said, “OK, imagine if you were to split up, and the only way you could be relieved of your partner was to persuade someone else to take them off your hands. And to do that, you would have to create an classified ad listing all of the virtues of the other person you could think of, much as you would do if you were advertising a vehicle, ‘One owner, well maintained, nice looking, in excellent condition, etc.’"

I suggested this tongue in cheek, of course, to help them recall all of the good qualities that attracted them to their partner in the first place, qualities that sooner or later someone else would be sure to find attractive, just as they had years earlier.

Those good assets in our marriage don't tend to just go away, but typically a mound of negative behaviors begins to get in the way of our seeing and appreciating our spouse as we first did. But in spite of everything that blocks our vision and hinders our appreciation, those good qualities are likely still there, along with the not-so-great ones.

Of course, I'm not encouraging staying with an unrepentant adulterer, abuser or addict. But under normal circumstances, we need to recognize that each of us comes as a package, with our own mix of assets and liabilities. And since our marriages weren’t arranged by others, we need to remember that we chose each other because of what we really valued, and chose to minimize the other person's faults, much as we continue to minimize our own.

So we probably deserve each other, and need to be remind ourselves regularly of why we made the fateful choice we did, based on our own best judgment at the time.

So what if could each stop blaming the other for our lack of happiness, and to go forward with the belief that we are somehow just right for each other, a perfectly matched couple. That doesn’t mean we’re a perfect couple, which would take two perfect people, but what if our unique mix of assets and challenges were seen as just right for us to experience the optimal amount of growth that may have never happened with any other combination of two human beings?

Then we could stop complaining and start putting our efforts into building a satisfying and God-blessed relationship.
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