“You must know for which harbor you are headed if you are to catch the right wind to get you there.” – Seneca
“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;” – Bible
Last week we discussed the results of research that outlined three basic models for marriage over the last couple of hundred years in the United States. Early on it was because of basic needs, such as food, shelter and protection. Later on the idea of a “compassionate” marriage took over, with marriage for love and companionship.
The final model for marriage, which we are experiencing today, is called the era of the “self-expressive marriage.” Marriage is expected to give us personal benefits: self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth.
According to researcher Eli Finkel, professor of psychology at Northwestern University: “Fueled by the countercultural currents of the 1960s, they [Americans] have come to view marriage less as an essential institution and more as an elective means of achieving personal fulfillment. ‘You make me want to be a better man,' from the 1997 movie ‘As Good as It Gets,' could serve as this era's marriage ideal.
“In the words of the sociologist Robert N. Bellah, love has become, in good part, ‘the mutual exploration of infinitely rich, complex and exciting selves.'”
I believe Finkel captures the root cause of today's marital problems and, for that matter, the decay of the family and hence our society in general, in his words defining marriage “less as an essential institution and more as an elective means of achieving personal fulfillment.”
Dennis Rainey, in his book “Preparing for Marriage,” suggests people choose to get married for a variety of reasons.
Some get married for person fulfillment. They are looking for joy and happiness for the rest of their lives. However the joy and happiness will disappear periodically, or at least will lose their intensity, and then the trouble comes.
Others marry for companionship. They don't want to live alone forever. Many with this goal are disillusioned when their spouse turns out to be a different person than they thought they were getting on their marriage day. They would rather be alone.
Of course, many marriages are driven primarily for the passion of the moment, and/or the desire for that passion to continue, i.e. they marry for sexual fulfillment. “I can enjoy sex anytime I want and never feel guilty or fearful.” But if the object of your passion changes, there is no commitment to hold the marriage together.
Marriages also may simply be “arranged,” in the American sense. People marry because it's expected, and the arrangement for the moment seems convenient to both. The probability of failure here is high, since conveniences and opinions change, and again there is no commitment.
Economics may be a reason for marriage. If we find someone financially able to take care of us, we think we will be happy. But money and financial security are never an end; they are simply a potential means to some more significant end.
Even if marriage takes place for one of the above reasons, it can succeed and actually provide happiness for husband and wife. However, a change in attitude must first occur.
First we must recognize that marriage is an institution, defined by God, and hence not open to redefinition or elimination. It is not an elective and is not intended to provide personal fulfillment. A successful marriage will be personally fulfilling, but that is a wonderful side benefit and not the goal.
The ultimate goal is to bring honor to the relationships, putting the other first. As the Bible says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord,” and “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
The primary reason to marry is to demonstrate a commitment of unconditional love for someone else for the rest of your life. If both serve the other, it's a win-win situation.
The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, Executive Director, FAMCO, 803-640-4689, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.aikenfamco.com.