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Warning: ranty material ahead.

I love Corey from Simple Marriage. You know that. I keep linking to his site and raving about all the wisdom he offers. I adore his blog and feel he has given me so much.

But recently he wrote a post entitled A Good Marriage is the Enemy of a Great Marriage.

It’s a good post, don’t get me wrong. But in truth, this kind of post is the kind of thing that destroys me.

And I’m seeing it everywhere: “Be excellent.” “Be better than you are.” “Excel at all you do, plus more.” These are the messages I get everywhere I turn, especially from the blogosphere. Everyone is offering to teach me how I can become better. Because apparently, I’m not good enough.

All the other marriage blogs want you to have “stupendous” and “extraordinary” marriages. The people who write them are wonderful, brilliant, ambitious people, and I admire them. And their philosophy probably works wonders for certain people.

But for people like me, it’s unspeakably taxing.

I was born a die-hard perfectionist. My Mom tells me that when I was two I refused to say aloud any word I couldn’t perfectly pronounce. On the second day of kindergarten I cried because I couldn’t read yet. In first grade I cried because I couldn’t draw my favourite cartoon character. Ever since I can remember, I have striven for distinction in all I do, and have demanded nothing less than perfection from myself. In the last nineteen years of my life I have constantly pressured myself to be an exceptional student. In my adult life I have striven to be an extraordinary cook, and impeccable housekeeper, a successful writer, an accomplished artist, and a perfect wife.

It’s killing me, man. I can’t do it. I’ve never been able to do it. I’m not extraordinary.

I can’t even remember what if feels like to not be under constant pressure – pressure to achieve more, to impress more, to produce more. I live in constant despair over not being good enough.

This is a taste of what goes through my mind every single day:

“You are not achieving enough.”

“It’s your fault you’re not successful.”

“You don’t work hard enough. You’ll never succeed at this rate.”

Honestly, the last thing I need to hear is that my marriage isn’t good enough!

I would give anything to hear just one voice say, “Your marriage is good enough. You’re achieving plenty. Sometimes satisfactory is good enough. Kathleen, sometimes you need to be happy with ‘pretty OK.’”

Since no one is telling me this, I guess it’s up to me to step up and tell myself:

You’re doing fine. You don’t need to conquer the world. You don’t need to be extraordinary. Just be happy for once.

God doesn’t care if you never publish a book or get a thousand pageviews on your blog. He doesn’t care if you never become a public figure or tour the country giving important talks. He doesn’t care if you never get your PhD. All he wants is for you to love him.

And your marriage is fine. You’re still together and you care for each other, right? And you’re committed to stay that way, right? Good enough.

Chill.

At this point, I just want to be able to make it through each week without killing myself. I often have to tell myself at the beginning of each morning, “If I make it through this day alive I will have succeeded. I will have accomplished my goal.”

I wish sometimes that other people would affirm this as a legitimate goal.

Sometimes I wonder if we don’t need to be taught to just be content – to settle a little bit. Sometimes I wonder if our culture puts too much pressure on us to be extraordinary, sensational, magnificent  . . . more than human.

But “pretty OK” isn’t good enough for most people. We’re told we can “do anything.” Maybe I’m drifting off topic here, but sometimes I also wonder if it wouldn’t be healthier to be told you aren’t actually capable of absolutely anything: some things are just out of your control. I sometimes think all this “You can do anything” stuff breeds a lot of self-loathing when we don’t succeed.

Since I’m told that I can do anything, I blame myself when I can’t.

I blame myself for being unable to conceive a child.

I blame myself for having acne.

I blame myself for not being a famous writer/blogger.

Since I’m told I should be able to do anything, I understand the above shortcomings as personal failures. But maybe it’s not my fault. Maybe these things really are out of my control.

So last night at 2 a.m., as I rocked myself to sleep, I decided that I am going to do an experiment. For the next week, whenever I start thinking my usual bad thoughts, I am going to repeat these things:

Kathleen, you are good enough.

You do not have to be famous. You can die without ever landing a book deal and you will be just fine.

You can perfectly happy with “OK.”

Even if no one else likes you, God does. And he’s the only one who really matters. He never said you had to be extraordinary.

Oh, and your marriage is pretty downright a-ok. In fact, it’s peachy.

If this new kind of thinking causes me to be less “successful” – to achieve less, to sink even deeper into obscurity – that’s probably OK. I can’t possibly be any unhappier than I am right now, so you can bet that if I fall off the radar I am probably better off in my new universe of “pretty OK.”

I’ll let you know in a week what I discover.  Maybe.

And if it works, I’m going to introduce a new focus on achieving “the pretty OK in marriage.”

Does anyone else ever feel like this, too, or am I alone in this?

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Marriage has all kinds of romantic and spiritual functions. I’ve tried to explore them in my previous four posts. But it also has some practical functions. The practical ones are the ones I’m focusing on today.

Ultimately, if nothing else, I believe God invented marriage to take care of some essential human needs.

Basically, I believe marriage is meant to guarantee that every human being who chooses to be married has a partner to care for his or her needs for the rest of his or her life. It hasn’t always worked that way, to be sure, but I believe that’s what it’s meant to do.

The conjunction of male and female means that the unique gifts/strengths/abilities of each sex are available for meeting the needs of daily life. Marriage between a man and woman increases the number of talents and abilities to draw from more than any other relationship because it combines the strengths of both genders. And I really believe that each sex has unique strengths to offer.

When thinking this through, at one point I actually concluded that marriage is primarily designed for the benefit of women. I have since reconsidered, and decided that it was made for both sexes equally, but I still concede that marriage is pretty important for women.

Marriage was designed in part as insurance that each woman gets properly taken care of.

Here’s how I thought about it. I figured God must have been able to foresee that because he made men physically bigger and stronger, and designed women’s bodies to bear children (thereby making them more vulnerable, especially when pregnant), that men would abuse and exploit women. And he was right: they have, and they do.  Men quickly began to wield all social and economic power, too. So God decided, “Every woman should have a husband to protect and defend her, and her offspring, against other men. Each man must commit himself to only one woman, and not go around impregnating all kinds of women and then abandoning them. He must take care of her, and all the children she produces, for life.”

See, the difficulty with creating women to bear the children is that it makes them intrinsically tied to their offspring, and thus more susceptible to neglect and abuse, unlike men. A man can technically walk away from the relationship the moment he has impregnated a woman and never look back. A woman at least has to bring the child to term, and then feed the baby from her own body. So God said, “No way – you’re sticking around, gentlemen. ONE WOMAN AND THAT’S IT – FOR LIFE. So make it good.”

So he came up with marriage, to serve that practical function.

(Unfortunately, lots of men decided to take lots of wives anyway. And even within monogamous marriages men have abused and exploited women horribly throughout history. But the principle behind it makes sense).

But then I later came to understand that women are just as necessary for men as men are for women. God created women to save men, too. After all, he called Eve Adam’s ezer kenegdo. That’s the Hebrew term used in Genesis 2 – the term that has been lamely translated as “helper” or “helpmeet” in most English translations. According to Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, though, ezer kenegdo is better translated as “sustainer beside him” or something to that effect.[i] In fact, ezer is often used in the Old Testament to describe God when he saves his people. You know that verse, “I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”?  (Ps. 121:1-2, emphasis added). The word that’s translated as help here is the same word for Eve – ezer.

That’s what Eve is to Adam. His ezer. His lifesaver. His help in times of desperate need.

And what did Eve save Adam from?

I personally think she saved him from isolation. And that’s what all of us women do: we rescue men from eternal isolation.

I mean that on a deeper level than just the literal. Sure, Adam was literally alone at first, and so when God made Eve she saved him from physical solitude. But I think it’s more than that, too. I think that if God had populated the earth with thousands or millions of Adams, the problem would still be there. Men would remain isolated, because they don’t have the gift of relationship that women have.

Men tend to be much more violent, reserved, self-absorbed, and territorial. They’re not nearly as good at empathizing, bonding, nurturing, sharing, reading people’s emotions, or expressing themselves as women are. I’m not just listing stereotypes, I’m repeating what I learned in Psychology 101. Women are much better at all of these things. Guys, in general, suck at connecting.

This is clear from history: men have almost always had the majority of the power in most human communities and civilization, and as a result have flooded human history with violence. Men stab and blow each other up because they can’t connect. They can’t get outside their own egos. I truly believe that as women gain influence in societies, they bring with them their powers of empathy and connectedness, and this is a good thing. These qualities help civilizations get along. Men need women to help them not kill each other so much.

I’ve heard it said, “Behind every successful man there is a woman.” I deeply believe that this is true. Often it is a wife, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be – it could be a mother or sister.  Every successful man must have a woman somewhere who made him who he is.  Without wives, mothers and sisters, men would not be able to come out of their caverns of self-absorption and learn to love.

I believe that this is true of mankind in general but also on an individual level. Most men need women to help them connect with other members of the human species. I know my husband needs me for this purpose.

I once read that statistically, that if an elderly woman loses her husband, she can usually go on living for many more years if she is physically healthy. But when an old man loses his wife, he usually dies shortly thereafter. He has lost his link to humanity and thus expires.

I’m not saying by any means that woman’s only gift to humanity is her relational powers, nor that a man’s only contribution to a marriage is his strength in beating off violent offenders.  But I think that these are some of the practical reasons God instituted marriage. Eve’s ability to nurture and empathize rescues Adam from his self-imposed isolation, and Adam’s bodily strength protects his physically vulnerable wife.*

Men need women and women need men. That’s why God created marriage – to enable men and women to rescue one another, from man’s violence and from eternal isolation.

This is my theory, anyway. What do you think?

What am I forgetting? How else do husbands and wives or men and women save one another? How else does each of the sexes contribute to the cohesion, health and success of the human species? How else does marriage serve a practical function? Also, is there a better way of describing Eve’s strength than ”gift of relationship” or “relational powers?” I sense that these terms are lame.


[i] Eldredge, John and Stasi. Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul. Nashville: Nelson, 2005. 31.

*I’m also not saying that every woman and every man has these gender-specific gifts, or at least not in equal share. But in general, women are better at the one thing and men are better at the other.

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I’m taking a break from my somber “What’s the Point of Marriage?” series to bring you a stupid and rather pointless story. It is also a scandalous story. So, siblings, parents, or other easily-scandalized friends: you may want to redirect your browsers away from this page rather than reading on at this point. If you ignore my warning and go ahead, and as a consequence get the jibblies, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

* * *

This Christmas both sets of parents – that is, Ben’s parents and my parents – pooled their money so that Ben and I could get ourselves a couch as a Christmas gift. We needed it. Ben and I have a long, narrow, empty room in our house on the main floor that hasn’t had any furniture in it since we moved in two years ago. We refer to this empty room as our “gallery.” It makes it seem not-so-purposeless-and-weird. The walls are bedecked with framed Pre-Raphaelite paintings (prints, of course), medieval weaponry (OK, one sword) and a few of my own medieval-inspired drawings. Ben and I went to a few furniture stores to find the right couch and, with the money from the folks, picked out a sleek, mocha-coloured leather sofa that would fit in with the décor. Me likee.

We picked up the couch from the furniture store in Ben’s truck a couple days before Christmas. We unwrapped the plastic and cardboard coverings and set it up in our gallery. We then proceeded to test it out, with him seated normally and me sprawled out across the length of the couch with my legs over his knees. It felt so nice and cozy. We were both very happy.

“It’s long enough to lie down on!” I said happily.

“You know,” he said slowly, “We could totally have sex on this couch.”

I rolled my eyes. Of course that was the first thing he thought of when we were testing out our brand new couch in the gallery. He could turn anything into a love bed if he put his mind to it.

“We could also have sex under the Christmas tree,” I pointed out, motioning to the glimmering gold wonder in the corner. It was the only other substantial thing in the room.

Inexplicably, his eyes widened as if I had just made an outrageous request – as if I was being very foxy and seductive. He liked it. He was obviously totally misunderstanding me. I protested.

“I’m just saying! We – or anyone – could technically do it anywhere! There’s nothing especially sexy about this couch!”  I wanted to be clear: I was not making a request, I was making an observation. You can do it anywhere, technically, is what I was trying to say.

But he had already decided how to interpret my words.

It didn’t come up again (I swear!) until a few days later when we were at our friends’ house with a bunch of other married couples.  Ben and I were sitting on the floor next to their Christmas tree, and a couple of guys were sitting together on the couch nearby.

“You know, the Christmas tree here and you guys on the couch over there make me think of something Kathy said to me the other day,” Ben began.

This is where I began to wish my husband had a mute button.

He retold our conversation on the couch, repeating my words in a liquidy voice, dripping with lust: “We could also have sex under the Christmas tree.”

The room filled with hoots and whistles. Above the noise I tried to holler, “I so didn’t say it like that!!”

When the room finally quieted down I was able to shout, “You are so completely twisting the way I said that! I was just making a point that all it takes is a horizontal surface.”

That was only met with multiple objections – “Not technically!” – and a few more winks and understanding nods.

“No . . . you guys . . .” was all I could muster. “I’m just sayin’!”

But it was no use. Of course. There was no changing the thoughts happening in the room. Ben and I were now the sex-crazed couple of the bunch, and I was apparently the more adventurous of the two. Not a word more could be said about couches or Christmas trees without knowing nods in my direction.

“I don’t know why you had to tell them that,” I whined to my husband in frustration after the third reference to me and Christmas trees that night.

“Hey, if Ben hadn’t told us the story, you would have eventually written about it in your blog,” one friend argued.

“Why would I ever do that?” I shot back.

* * *

I tried really hard, but I couldn’t come up with a life lesson or anything for this story. I really want to be a good blogger with lots of good life lessons but it is difficult.

The only “lesson” I learned from this very annoying episode is that no matter what I like to think, I will never have any real amount of control over my husband. He is his own person. This incident was a vivid reminder that Ben and I can be totally united in so many ways, and yet his mind and his mouth are his own. I will never possess a mute button for him or anyone else I love.

And I guess it’s a good thing. It can be irritating, realizing we can’t control our loved ones, but it is also the reason we are able to have relationships: because we are two distinct people with our own thoughts, each bringing our own unique ideas to the table. Er . . . couch. If we really could control or predict what the other was going to say all the time there would be no room for a relationship. It keeps things . . . interesting.

I guess I could also point out that married life is far from boring, and that hanging out with other married couples can be way more scandalous than you’d think.

I’m not sure if that counts as a life lesson but that’s all I’m giving you. It’s the weekend and my brain is tired from all the “What’s the Point of Marriage?” stuff.

Just to inform you, though, we have not AND WILL NOT ever use either of the aforementioned pieces of furniture (if you can call a Christmas tree a piece of furniture) for the aforementioned purposes. Although my friends would love to convince you otherwise, you have no reason to ever feel weird or ickified if you find yourself seated in our brown leather couch in the Quiring gallery.

I PROMISE YOU THIS.

Stay tuned next week for the final installment of “What is the Point of Marriage? To Fulfill Basic Human Needs.”

For a comment, feel free to tell me story about your spouse saying something completely embarrassing in front of your friends. It will make me feel better.

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If you’ve been sticking with me for the last week or so, I’ve been exploring the purposes of marriage. So far, I’ve explained that I think they are (a) not to achieve happiness; (b) to grow us up; and (c) to teach us about God.  Another purpose of marriage, I believe, is (d) to teach us what it means to be human.

Let me explain.

# 1. Being human is about acknowledging and balancing our “composite nature” – in other words, the fact that we are both material and spiritual.

I, along with the majority of humanity throughout history, believe that human beings are somehow both earthly and celestial; both mortal and immortal; both carnal and divine. Aristotle called human beings “rational animals,” highlighting our paradoxical nature. Philip Yancey elegantly describes us as “angels wallowing in mud, mammals attempting to fly”[i]. He elaborates: “Although our cells may carry traces of stardust, we also bear the image of the God who made those stars”[ii]. We are a mysterious blend of earth and heaven.

I believe that marriage allows us to see this fact most clearly.

The sexual union which takes place in marriage is both the most animalistic and the most transcendent of human experiences. On the one hand it is merely biological – the meeting of organs and bodily fluids. It is an act we share in common with toads, cats and antelope. But on the other hand, it is one of the most personal and intimate of acts between two people.  In human sexual expression, souls touch.

We know that sex is different for humans than it is for animals because no other species on the planet makes such a big deal out of sex. No other creature seeks privacy in copulation. No other animal seeks exclusivity so intensely, and expresses such rage and sorrow at having that exclusivity intruded upon (Just think of how passionate lovers feel when they find out their partners have had an affair). No other species makes jokes and feels embarrassed about sex, as if it were somehow unnatural. Only humans recognize that there is something profound and otherworldly about sex.

No other act makes humans more aware that they are a strange and mysterious blend of the earthly and the divine.

Moreover, the experience of purposefully spending a lifetime with a single human being also teaches us how paradoxical we are, as we must take care of one another’s most basic, physical necessities at the same that we must consider each other’s highest emotional needs. We are an odd species indeed.

#2. Being human is about living in community and learning that we need one another.

Homo sapiens are a communal species. We are social by nature. Yet, we are eternally plagued by a desire to be selfish, to serve our own needs at the expense of others, and to pull away from one another when we experience conflict.  A part of us wants to be individual, to be special, to be above one another. In these times, we fight against our nature, as we fight to be separate from and better than one another.

Life by ourselves makes us less human. Life with other people makes us more human.

One of the most basic and natural ways in which we humans forge community is through marriage – through falling in love, making commitments to one another, living together, and creating families.

One of the most natural pulls we humans have to one another is that of sexual attraction and desire. That attraction and desire brings us to do all kinds of unnatural (or, one might say, transcendental) things, like swearing to remain loyal to a single human being for the rest of our lives. That powerful, instinctive drive for a sexual partner ensures that we seek out communion with another human being, even when we would often not choose to.  The instinct for marriage draws us into community.

The instinct for marriage, in short, keeps us human.

#3. Being human is about making sacrifices for one another and finding out that we’re better off for having done it.

Commenters on my previous posts have already pointed out that marriage creates an atmosphere where you need to make sacrifices to one another, and in doing so you become more like the person God wants you to be. Jesus and experience teach us that when we willingly sacrifice ourselves to others, instead of losing ourselves we actually gain.

Again, I think that no relationship exemplifies this fact like marriage. We have to surrender our time, our comfort, our desires, and our energy to make our relationship work – day after day after day.  And in the end, we win. In the process we get a constant lifelong companion who makes all kinds of personal sacrifices for our sakes, too.

As C. S. Lewis puts it, “one of the first things Eros [which he defines as “being in love”] does is to obliterate the distinction between giving and receiving”[iii]. When you are in love, giving and receiving become identical. When in love, you delight in giving good things to your beloved so much that it is like giving yourself a gift.

The same is with sex: when you give your body to your beloved an act of supreme vulnerability, you win.

Marriage, then, teaches us the truth about giving and about the nature of humanity.

In these ways, then, I believe marriage teaches us what it means to be human.

What do you think? Do you think marriage helps us to understand what being human is all about? Does my second point, especially the last part, even make sense to you? (My husband wasn’t so sure). Am I overlooking any other very important aspects of being human, or marriage?

*Note: For my next post, I think I’m going to take a break from all this heavy philosophizing and tell you a dumb story about my husband, and what he said to my friends to make me wish he had a mute button. It is a teensy bit very scandalous.

Then I want to finish my series with What is the Point of Marriage? Part 5: To Fulfill Basic Human Needs

Also: Yes, that’s me and my husband on our wedding day in the photo. Is it cheesy to post my own wedding pics on my blog?? I’m nervous about taking other ones from the internet and inadvertently breaking the law.


[i] Yancey, Philip. Rumours of Another World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. 38.

[ii] ibid., 39.

[iii] Lewis, C. S. The Four Loves. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960.

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So I’ve been explaining what I think is the purpose of marriage in my previous two posts – the first point I made was that the purpose is not happiness, and the second was that it’s designed to grow us up. Now I want to move on to more theological considerations.

I am no theologian but I have spent a good portion of my life seriously thinking about these things. I know I have readers who come from Christian backgrounds, like me, and others who do not, so I’ll do my best to speak to everyone.

I believe that marriage reveals things to us about the nature of God.

I believe that all earthly experiences and all learning endeavors can teach us about God. Since God invented everything, the more we learn about things – all things – the better we are able to understand the nature of the One who created them. I think all education is essentially about Him, though not everyone realizes it.

But some things in life teach us more vividly or more essentially about his nature than other things do. I think marriage is one of those things. Here’s why.

1. Marriage teaches us about masculinity and femininity, which are both important attributes of God.

I intend to explore the issue of gender more deeply in a future post, but for now I just want to say this: God is both masculine and feminine. I refer to God with masculine pronouns, in accordance with the longstanding Judeo-Christian tradition (as I believe there are good reasons for this tradition), but I truly believe that God is equally masculine and feminine. God is both Father and Mother. God created male and female to express both sides of the spectrum of his nature; a part of God’s nature is revealed in woman and a part is revealed in man.

When the two are unified, as in marriage, I believe we get a slightly fuller picture of God.

2. Marriage helps us to understand God’s relationship to us.

I believe that God invented marriage in part so that we could get a better understanding of His relationship to us.

How does marriage do this? First of all, when a man or a woman falls in love, he or she gets a small taste of what God feels for us. When someone falls in love, she begins to understand what it feels like to be completely selfless towards another human being. Her beloved’s desires become her own; she begins to desire his happiness as much as she desires her own.

In the book of Isaiah, God says, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (62:5). In short, then, the depth of wild, selfless, desperate love that I feel for my beloved, and that he feels for me, is a tiny picture of God’s love for his beloved: us.

The Bible often figures God’s people – first Israel, later the Church – as a woman to whom God is betrothed. This woman is often figured as being unfaithful, and God is a brokenhearted lover (cf. Isaiah 57:7-8; Hosea 2). But someday the bride and groom will be married. The day that Jesus returns to reclaim his people will be the wedding day (Revelation 19:7). “‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘you will call me ‘my husband’” (Hosea 2:16).

On the one hand, you could argue that God uses the earthly imagery of a wedding to help us mortals to understand his unfathomable love for us. However, I think it’s possible that he actually designed marriage to reflect and imitate his relationship to us. I think he had the Great Wedding in mind when he thought up marriage, saying “This will help them understand how I feel and how I am going to bring them back to me.”

3. Marriage helps us to understand the relational nature of God.

As a Christian, I accept the doctrine of the Trinity, which teaches that God is one but exists as three persons. This is a complicated and mysterious doctrine, and I don’t want to get into too much detail here, but essentially the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God lives eternally in relationship within his Triune nature. Throughout eternity God has existed in relationship between the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit. God’s essence, therefore, is relational.

I said earlier that all learning leads us to a deeper understanding of God. But learning about and experiencing relationship is especially important, since God’s very essence is relational. The more we learn about what it’s like to live in relationship, the better we understand God’s nature.

Just as all relationships enable us to grow up, so do all relationships teach us about God’s relational nature; but marriage is special because of the unique way it unites two individuals, both in body and in spirit.  The Bible says marriage makes us “one flesh,” and no other relationship between two people is simultaneously as intentional and as permanent as marriage.  Marriage brings together bodily union (sex), emotional union (romance, friendship), and commitment. Marriage is – or ought to be – the most intimate relationship a person can ever experiences. As we experience this level of intimacy, we begin to get at the very heart of God’s nature.

In these three ways, I believe that marriage teaches us about God.

What do you think? Are there more/different ways that marriage might teach us about God? Do you think I’m wrong? Of course, if you don’t believe in God, none of this will make any sense to you.

In my next post, I plan to explore how marriage teaches us what it means to be human.

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As I mentioned in my last post, Corey Allan of Simple Marriage argues that the purpose of marriage is to make us more grown up. It is not a tool designed to make us happy, but rather to make us more refined, more emotionally mature.

I couldn’t agree more.

But what exactly does maturity look like?

Corey paints a pretty clear picture of maturity, explaining that growing up “involves balancing two fundamental life forces: the drive for separateness and the drive for togetherness.” You should read his article on the subject to learn more.

Here are some additional things that I think characterize maturity:

  • A capacity for bigger-picture thinking. Before sleeping with someone, a mature person thinks, “Will this be good for my future and overall well-being?” Before totally giving up on school, a mature person asks, “Will it be worth it for me to quit now or will it pay off in the long run?” A mature person can postpone gratification for the sake of the bigger picture.
  • The ability to look past other people’s short-comings because you recognize your own. This might mean saying, “Man, my husband is an insensitive jerk when it comes to my fear of childlessness, but then again, I’m kind of a knob when it comes to his fear of job failure. I guess I should give him a break.”
  • A less demanding mind-set, because you know you can take care of yourself. This might mean saying, “I don’t need my wife to fill my every emotional need because I’m a self-sufficient and resilient individual.”
  • The ability to admit that you need other people in your life, even though you’re a self-sufficient and resilient individual. This might mean saying, “I could totally walk out of this relationship right now. But in the end, I still need to be loved, and I may never find love anywhere else. Plus, I totally can’t cook. I would starve if I left him.”
  • The ability to eventually shrug off the stupid things that other people do and say. This might mean saying, “Yeah, he totally shouldn’t have said that. That was unbelievably heartless. But . . . Meh. I’m over it. I have better things to do than cry about his emotional constipation.” (Of course, you want to help your spouse become less emotionally-constipated and less heartless, but sometimes you will also just have to get over the stupid things he says. He’s never going to be perfect.)
  • A willingness to make sacrifices for someone else. This might mean saying, “She totally doesn’t deserve this. I don’t have the time or resources to do this for her. . . . I’ll do it for her anyway.”

But how, exactly, does marriage make us more like this?

Basically, I think marriage forces us to foster the characteristics I’ve listed above. You have to start thinking bigger-picture, and to start sacrificing of yourself, or your marriage is never going to work. Your spouse is going to drive you crazy unless you start embracing these characteristics. You’re going to kill one another if you don’t start growing up.

Marriage throws challenges your way every day, and you have to learn to deal with them. Your spouse will be lazy, unkind, manic-depressive, forgetful, unsupportive and annoying. And you will be too. And you both have to learn to deal with that or go nuts. You both have to become bigger, better people.

Marriage teaches you that you’re not the center of the universe. It teaches you that you are a flawed human being, just like your spouse, but you are willing to live together anyway because you know you need each other.

You also learn that the choices you make affect other people, and they in turn affect you, so you better make good choices.

If you live on your own, you don’t have to face these challenges as much. You might become tempted to think you’re the most important person in the world. You might forget that you need other people.

Of course, all relationships allow for the developments I’ve talked about here – relationships with parents, siblings, girlfriends, roommates, coworkers, classmates. But I think marriage does this to a greater degree because it’s lifelong and daily.

With other relationships, you get to go your separate ways at the end of the day or at the end of the semester or whatever. When your lab partner or your cubicle buddy challenges your life by being unreasonable, irritating, or downright evil, you have plenty of opportunities to become more mature. But you can also get out of it by saying, “At least I’ll be graduating soon and then I never have to see him again!” or “At least she’ll be on mat leave soon and then I’ll get a break!”

Not so with marriage. When you’re married you have to learn to overcome emotional obstacles because you are stuck together for life. There’s no getting around it. You have to deal with your conflicts.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work, anyways. Many people don’t let their marriages shape them into bigger people, and in those cases the marriage fails. Many people duck out of marriage through divorce, too, but then marriage isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, either.

The other major difference with marriage is that you love each deeply other and have invested a lot of time and emotion into your relationship, so you’re more willing to make it work. Out of love. With your coworkers or roommates, you have less motivation to work on becoming a better person because you don’t have that profound emotional bond that you have with your spouse. With your wife or husband, it’s a different story.

In this way, love motivates maturity. Because you love each other so much, you learn to grow up, for the sake of your spouse.

So that’s how and why I think marriage helps us to grow up. I know I’m not a psychologist or anything, these are just opinions from experience. What do you think? What other things characterize maturity? How else might marriage foster this?

Next: What is the Point of Marriage? Part 3: To teach us about God.

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So what is the point of marriage, anyway?

I decided this was an important question to answer if I’m going to devote a lot of my time to thinking about marriage and why people should give marriage a try.

I want to begin by saying what is NOT the point of marriage. I actually only met with this idea quite recently myself, and I think it is one of the most important ideas I have ever come across in regards to marriage. And it comes from a doctorate-holding family therapist, so it has more weight behind it than the mere musings of some married girl from Canada. So here goes: according to Dr. Corey Allan of Simple Marriage,

Marriage is not designed to make us happy.

In other words, the purpose or aim of marriage isn’t to achieve happiness. In fact, marriage serves another purpose entirely. This goes against everything our culture teaches us, of course, but the more I ponder this claim the more I think it is true and profoundly significant.

But why shouldn’t happiness be the goal of marriage? Again, Corey explains:

What makes you happy is way too vague and elusive. What makes you happy changes with the seasons and the stages in life. And often, once you obtain whatever it is that would make you happy, it’s short-lived and fleeting.

(Read the rest of his article here).

The problem, in short, is not with marriage but with happiness. Happiness is an emotion, and a fickle one at that. Its sources are always changing and its effects are usually ambiguous. When I first read Corey’s post, it made me think of something my friend Jen once said, which struck me as counterintuitive but profoundly wise: “Happiness is overrated.” How true, man. Happiness tends to last for such short periods of time, and then we have to go looking for the next source of happiness. And often, what we think will make us happy ends up disappointing us. It usually sneaks up on us unexpectedly. It is not a very reliable thing to stake our lives on. Marriage is unable to provide us with eternal satisfaction and contentment.

If all this is true, you ask, then what is the purpose of marriage? Corey makes one suggestion, which I completely agree with; I also have a couple of other thoughts, too.

Instead of bombarding you with my theories all at once, I decided to make it a short series which I will post over the series of a couple of days.  To get you ready for it, here is a brief overview:

The purpose of marriage is:

  • To grow us up (Corey’s idea – but I will expand with my own thoughts)

Before I sign off, though, I still have something more to say about happiness. It is this: even though the purpose of marriage isn’t happiness, I still think it is still one of its results, and we should strive for it.

What I mean by this is that we don’t (or shouldn’t) get married in order to gain happiness (because we won’t find it); but one of the natural outcomes of marriage is happiness. I can attest from personal experience that my marriage brings me unspeakable joy and satisfaction. Many others can attest the same thing. But even if a marriage isn’t bringing happiness to both partners at any given moment, that doesn’t mean the marriage is failing in its function. Far from it. Marriage has different purposes.

Here’s another example for comparison: the point of sex is not pleasure, yet one of the results, or fortunate “side effects,” if you will, is pleasure.  The true purpose of sex is to produce children. If you are producing children but not getting pleasure out of sex, that doesn’t mean sex isn’t serving its function. It’s still doing its job. Your reproductive organs are still doing what they were made to do. Of course, though, it is still a good thing for sex to produce pleasure, and we should strive for it, but that’s not its purpose.

So it is with marriage, I believe. Even if there was no happiness to be obtained, I would still believe that marriage has meaning and purpose and would be worth all the pain and heartache. The reasons for this, I will explore in my following posts.

What do you think? Am I missing the mark? Does marriage have other purposes that I’m missing?

Next: What is the Point of Marriage? Part 2: To Grow us Up

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