“Pendulum: a popular opinion characterized by regular movement from one extreme to another.” This figurative dictionary definition adequately describes what seems to be happening in our society with a number of values considered basic to the well-being of every culture, one of which is marriage. For too long, spouses have suffered in secret because of the taboo that one’s private life was not to be talked about. Many feel deeply relieved that in today’s social climate we can finally admit and openly discuss the abuse, control, and exploitation that can make what should be a life-giving intimate relationship into a living hell.
Despite this healthy step forward, it is one thing to honestly deal with real suffering, and to take responsibility as a community for one another’s well-being; it is another thing to prostitute a person’s most intimate suffering at the hands of a spouse on TV talk-shows. It is one thing to finally publicly acknowledge that life-destroying marital relationships are not made in heaven and ought to be dissolved; it is another thing to opt out of a marriage because “the spark” is gone and personal fulfilment is not experienced. These trends are stark examples of the pendulum, definite movements from one extreme to the other.
Yet, even though a pendulum swings back and forth between extremes, I draw comfort from the fact that, sooner or later, God-given values reassert themselves in refreshing ways. Reading about a book written by two of America’s leading sociologists, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, on the topic of marriage confirms this truth for me. The title itself says a lot — The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially (2001, Broadway Books). In a most “politically incorrect” manner the authors challenge the high number of divorces, wondering how necessary some of them are. Notwithstanding the experience of real suffering in marriage, the authors nevertheless point out that many couples who choose to resist thoughts of divorce can actually grow deeper in their marital commitment in ways that reach far beyond “the spark” or self-centered emotional and mental satisfaction.
This piece of wisdom resonates deeply with my own experience of marriage. Given the differences between Jim and I, we would have parted company years ago if our relationship was based solely on some romantic spark or the illusion of perfect personal fulfillment. I admit, digging for relational gold has at times felt too demanding and almost impossible. Yet, these moments have proven to be times when our vows and commitment have taken over, making the sacrament of marriage truly come alive, spurring us on on to dig ever deeper for that cherished relational gold. Somehow in the midst of times of frustration or distance, we do find the energy to begin again, somehow we find the courage to tap into God’s mercy and forgiveness.
To know that we can make a new start every day has been the greatest encouragement of all. Inviting God’s active presence in our marriage, we can choose to be free from destructive and hurtful actions both past, present and future even while inadvertently our humanity keep sabotaging our best efforts. Acknowledging that our ultimate fulfilment lies in God alone, we become free to free each other from unrealistic, “idolatrous” demands. And it is thus that we strive, so help us God, to grow in grace as we are growing older 🙂
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