Saturday, June 23, 2012

Marriage and Fulfillment

I was born at the dawn of the era of "free love" and grew to adulthood in the "me" generation.  While I was raised in a conservative home, like most young people I thought the purpose of relationship and marriage was to be "happy" and "fulfilled."  In fact, I think we thought it our right. The shocking divorce rate of my lifetime is testament to this belief.   But what if there are other reasons for marriage?

At one time, relationships were preludes to marriage and marriage was an economic as well as a social arrangement. For most of our human history, the majority of marriages were arranged and love had little (if anything) to do with it.  Fulfillment was not part of the arrangement.  It was an institution based on cooperation and commitment.

One of the main purposes of marriage was to produce progeny.  Staying in marriage ensured the future of those children.  If marriage was a challenge, or a struggle or an outright trial, that wasn't really surprising.  Fulfillment was not expected but cooperation was.

Before people get up in arms, let me clarify that I'm not suggesting a return to this system which was an easy set-up for abuse.  I believe every person has the right to choose his or her spouse; I believe no person should be expected to endure ongoing abuse (of any kind) from another.  I believe children have to right to be raised in a home without fear.

That said, I do think we can "take a page" from history.  The guiding belief that marriages should be mutually fulfilling -- that the other person is responsible in some measure for our happiness --is not working.  If we are going to stick to that principal we are going to see the final destruction of the family.  Relationships do not move in a steady straight line; rather, relationships have seasons.  We have fair weather and foul.  We must learn to weather the storm and not abandon ship at the first sign of rough seas. (Sorry for the nautical tangent there.  Aye, matey!)

In any long term relationship, there will be seasons of discontent -- yours or theirs -- you can count on it.  These seasons may seem longer and tougher than the seasons of joy but perhaps that is because we think we deserve the joy and we don't deserve the other.  Thoughts can morph quickly into expectations which morph just as quickly into rights.  We don't have a right to happiness, we have the right to pursue it.

How will our children learn to weather the storms of their life if not from our example?  Our examples of grace and forgiveness (or the opposite!) will be the brick and mortar they carry to their own marriage.  If I am honest about my my process, if I talk openly about love and marriage and all that is required, perhaps they will be well prepared.  They have their own way to make but I can equip them for that task.

I think it is time for re-framing both relationship and marriage.  There are a million books on the subject but in the end, there is no quick fix.  The change must come from within.  What if we just let go our expectations and dealt with what is, right here, right now?  What if, instead of trying to get the other person to meet my needs, I take that responsibility as solely my own?

What if there is something to be learned from occasional suffering?  I am not suggesting martyrdom here, in fact, quite the opposite. I am suggesting that in time of trial, we see what is being required of us, and rise to the challenge.  Perhaps there is something to be learned from the old timers.  It is rare these days that someone marries from a sense of duty or responsibility, but that does not keep us from taking up that mantle.  I am free at any time to recreate my purpose for the relationship.

Fulfillment starts with me.  It ends here too.

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