Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thoughts on Marriage, Part 1

It's that other time of the year: the time when folks who got engaged over Christmas are starting to plan their weddings; for those whose weddings are this spring and summer, wedding planning is beginning to ramp up. Three of my Facebook friends who got married over New Year's are just beginning the lifelong journey that is marriage. And many of the rest of us are thinking about how to fulfill our resolutions to repair, improve, or find intimate relationships. I think the best way to evaluate and improve our relationships is to notice attributes of a healthy relationship and ask ourselves how we can better embody them.

A couple of bloggers I read have been thinking over this topic recently. My friend, Brother Anthony, has written the best definitely of marriage I have ever read. According to him, marriage is...
a relationship with another person characterized by mutuality, intimacy, exclusivity, commitment, and justice. By the grace of God, the love between these two persons may become, through the sacrament of marriage, a mirror of the love between Christ and the Church. That love is courageous and just, loyal and true, all-powerful, deeply creative, tenderly intimate, perfectly mutual, and indestructible. Every person should want their love to become this kind of love. To help committed couples attain this, the Church offers them the love of God in the sacrament of marriage.
Although Anthony is a Franciscan friar-in-training, he  has obviously thought a lot about this topic as he has discerned his vocation to be a celibate life of brotherhood. I think his lists of adjectives are particularly helpful for those who are seeking a lifelong relationship, discerning whether the person they're with now is the one they want to marry, or are already married. It's hard to answer the question, "Is my marriage/ relationship healthy?" But it's easier to answer the question, "Is my marriage/ relationship characterized by...?"


Anthony points out that these traits mirror God and the nature of God's love for us. Sometimes, when I hear someone say that marriage should be a reflection of God's love, I feel intimidated. I immediately see all the flaws in my marriage (and by "flaws," I mean things I have recently done badly), and I think of how inadequately God's love is reflected in my marriage (my actions).

Thankfully, Adam Hamilton points out in one of his recent sermons that marriage isn't about us, meaning it's not about me personally or my husband personally. In marriage, we focus on the other person and think about how we are meeting their needs and making sure their "love tank is full." Rev. Hamilton says that one of the most important ways to do this is to show affection to our spouse. Recently, I've been reading a memoir of a Lutheran pastor on my new Kindle (eee! I love it!). It's called Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery and it's by Richard Lischer. Anyway, he says that even saying grace at meals is like a kiss good morning/ good night because they are "the ritual tendernesses that make ordinary life endurable" (p. 60). Clearly, affection/ intimacy is a big part of a good marriage. But what about the other stuff Anthony mentioned? We'll look at a couple more and save the rest for next week.

Mutuality is also very important, but it takes effort to achieve. It is my opinion that mutuality is impossible without real equality. I used to hang out on a fairly conservative Christian online forum about marriage and relationships. There was a lot of talk about complementariansm, or the idea that men and women are intrinsically different and intrinsically unequal. I wrote all of it off until I read a post written by a cowboy from Colorado (yes, he owns a ranch) who has been married 25 years. His description of how the complementarian idea of "spiritual headship" plays out in his relationship was really a description of how he had a very equal and mutual relationship with his wife, but still managed to call it headship. It really worked for them, mainly because they shared everything, even responsibility and- yes- authority. And they stayed together happily, despite the challenges of 10 kids and life on the ranch.

Exclusivity, commitment, and loyalty all kind of go together. Staying together takes all of these things. They all spring from one another and feed into each other. You can't be an exclusive if you aren't loyal and committed. If you undermine exclusivity by having an affair, you break your partner's trust and your commitment to them. After an affair or another breach of trust, it's very hard to stay together and to repair the relationship, because you doubt their loyalty to you and commitment to the relationship. Rev. Hamilton seems to think that if we meet one another's needs, there won't be a need to have an affair/ cheat on our partners. He says he'll talk about that next week- I'll be listening!

So those are the attributes of a healthy relationship that seem pretty predictable and easily come to mind. What of Anthony's more unexpected attributes: justice, courage, and creativity? How are these part of a healthy relationship? What does it mean for a relationship to be just, courageous, and creative? Well, that takes a little more imagination, so stay tuned next week for Part 2!

Thoughts? Reactions? Stories to share? 

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