A young couple on the precipice of getting married once asked me: “What is the most important thing that we need to know about marriage”?
I love questions like this. It forces me to put aside the “techniques” and tools that are often the merchandise of a marital therapist and delve into my fundamental beliefs about the project of marriage, its foundation and purpose.
To preface, in addressing this question I am speaking specifically about marriage in the traditional sense: Two people committed exclusively to one another for as long as they are able. Not “living together”, “dating”, “going out” or any variation thereof. Further, I am speaking about marriage based upon a deliberate choice that this is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, not a means to an end like wealth or citizenship (to name just a few of the many ulterior reasons people get “married”)
My most fundamental belief about marriage is: The person that you marry is the person that you were destined to marry. Always.
This is a belief. It is based on my understanding of the spiritual and psychological purpose of marriage. Beliefs are powerful motivators, and whether you believe that two individuals are destined for each other or not, you’re right!
The source of my belief is not primarily anecdotal experience but based on my understanding of Biblical text.
The Bible uses very few words to say an awful lot. It’s view on marriage is condensed into one brief verse:
“Therefore, a man should leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, so that they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
The verse is telling us three things:
- A man should leave his family of origin.
- A man should attach himself to his wife.
- This attachment should be so complete that they become one.
In order to truly understand the injunction of becoming one, we have to look at the story that precedes it, which can be summarized as follows:
God creates Adam, an androgynous human being, that cannot find a mate. Adam sees the other animals connecting and unsuccessfully tries to connect to them as well. Seeing Adam’s distress and acknowledging that a state of loneliness is indeed undesirable, God performs a surgery and separates the female dimension from Adam and presents her to (what remains of) Adam, who is thrilled to finally find his soul mate, someone he can truly connect to on all levels.
Precisely at that point the Bible gives the above command regarding marriage. Therefore, my assumption is that “becoming one” in marriage is seeking unity on a physical, psychological and spiritual level. Two halves of one entity, striving to deeply connect and reclaim their original wholeness. That is the marital mission and the person that you marry is the one that you can accomplish this with. If you are willing to work at it.
The core belief that you have found, not just a great guy, but your husband. Not just someone you love, but your wife, is fundamental to your commitment to one another. This is the person with whom you can achieve the level of wholeness that is the raison d’etre of marriage.
If your guy is successful, sweet, kind, handsome, intelligent, funny, etc. that’s great, but good qualities alone do not make a marriage. I promise you, there is someone out there that has all your guy’s qualities, and more. When the going gets tough, really tough (and it will), why settle, why struggle? What reason do you have to stay married to this guy (who is making you miserable) and not go search for another that has all his great qualities and more? AND the new guy won’t make you crazy!
But if he is your husband, the man you were supposed to marry, the other half of an ontological existence that you share, there is work to be done. The question becomes, not: “Who else is out there?” but “How do we figure this thing out? What’s getting in the way of our connection and how do we create the relationship that we have always wanted?”
Marriage is a beautiful, lofty ideal to strive for. If you believe in marriage, believe that the person you are marrying is not just a “great catch” but your husband. Believe that you were brought together by forces beyond your conscious mind and that the ulitimate goal you are working towards is the deepest connection humanly possible.
This faith will bolster you with the courage to push through hard times with the conviction that you will succeed. It will provide you with the energy you need to achieve the goal of marriage, to “become one flesh” and reunite two halves of one soul that have been longing for one another. Forever.