Marriage as Enrichment

Formatting issues abound in Blogger – line spacing issues… weird font size changes, etc…. I’ve looked into other blogging platforms, and concluded that Blogger has about the same number of issues as the others. If there are any experts out there who have figured out how to minimize the formatting problems with Blogger, I’ll be grateful for any advice.
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This entry is part of a series:
Part one: Marriage as Survival, Enrichment, and/or Formation
Part two: Marriage as Survival: I marry in order to stay alive.

Marriage as Personal Enrichment:

“I marry in order to be happier.”

Most couples in America marry because they’ve found someone with whom they feel happy. We look down on anyone who might marry for practical reasons – security… status… beach house. The ideal is romance… and great sex…. lots of romance… and lots of great… you know.

There’s nothing wrong with expecting a bit of happiness to infect one’s marriage. We’re designed to avoid abject misery if we can, and so it takes at least a few positive expectations to get us entangled in the whole mess in the first place. The problem occurs when we actually start to believe that happiness is the raison de plus of marriage (see Note 1).
As I noted in an earlier blog entry, there WAS a time when life, and therefore marriage, was all about survival. But with a certain amount of affluence these expectations change. Not since the Great Depression have Americans had to cope with survival issues en-masse. The second world war required a certain amount of sacrifice, but those of us born on the other side of that conflict have enjoyed an amazing level of affluence across the social spectrum. (see Note 2)

Since we don’t have to worry about about survival, we worry about personal enrichment (see Note 3). And the All-American strategy for enrichment is consumption. (Is it just me, or are more and more commercials including some take on, “Buy our product so you can get the happiness you deserve.”).

Happiness and consumption go together. I purchase a bike. If the bike works for me, then I’m happy. If it doesn’t work for me, then I’m unhappy. I get another bike. If I can’t afford to get another bike, then I’m REALLY unhappy.

I submit that the consumption = happiness paradigm infects marriage – usually in rather subconscious and sinister ways.

We marry someone with whom we feel happy, and we start consuming together… so we can feel… well… more happy. We choose a house to purchase because the house makes up happy. We have children because having children makes us happy. We even choose which religious groups to associate with based on how happy these groups “make” us. If I’m not happy, then I’m entitled to move on.

Of course, its just a matter of time until I discover that what makes ME happy isn’t always exactly what makes my SPOUSE happy. I was a bit ambivalent about even having children when I got married. I think it was the week before the marriage that I discovered Holly’s idea of happy was 14 children, 6 dogs, 4 cats, and a sugar-glider (we can discuss pre-marriage counseling in another blog…).

For marriage to work…
     I have to make adjustments.
          I don’t like to make adjustments.
               Adjustments make me… unhappy.

Marriage moves from being a source of personal enrichment… something that makes me happy, to something of a chore.

When the enrichment goals of marriage breakdown, couples do one of three things:

  1. They divorce.
  2. They settle in to a pseudo-marriage in which they turn away from the marriage for happiness.
  3. They commit to a formation paradigm. (Sometimes referred to as “putting on one’s big-boy pants.)

The formation model of marriage begins with the assumption that the purpose of my marriage is to confront me with my immaturities and weaknesses within a context of love and support. The goal is for my spouse and me to push each other to overcome limits on the way to becoming fully human, and for me to push my spouse towards the same.

I’ve come to believe that marriages fail because couples are unwilling or unable to move beyond an enrichment view of marriage to the formation view of marriage.

More about the formation approach to marriage in the next entry….

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do you ever feel as if your marriage is “consuming” you? Does your spouse ever express such sentiments?
  2. How did you see the pursuit of personal enrichment effecting your parent’s marriage?
  3. What’s the greatest sacrifice you’ve had to make for your marriage? Did it seem more like a choice, or more like an expectation?

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Note 1: raison de plus is French for “now somebody else will pick up my dirty clothes.”

Note 2: Physical survival is an issue for some couples and families in our culture, but this is rarely true for couples who show up in a counselors office. Couples may feel like their survival is threatened, but this is often due to the avalanche of debt they have accumulated while acting out their sense of entitlement to have all the things they believe will make them happy. (I’m not talking about folks here who are dealing with horrendous debt due to medical issues or other sorts of unexpected difficulties. I believe there’s plenty of evidence that, for most couples, self-inflicted financial stress is the main source of most of the discontent in the marriage).

Note 3: Some have commented that my use of the word “enrichment” here is a bit confusing… that desiring enrichment would seem to be a mature trait, while simply seeking happiness is rather immature (unless one is a committed hedonist). For now, though, I’m going to stick with this language, though I’ve added the modifier “personal” to underscore the self-centered nature of what I’m describing.
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About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
This entry was posted in Marriage, Maturity, Spiritual Formation, Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Marriage as Enrichment

  1. Tim Ramsey says:

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.

    Tim Ramsey

  2. Anonymous says:

    Good post wes…looking forward to part 2. i believe in tv and radio this would be considered a tease. ru a tease?;-)

  3. loreelle says:

    reminds me of Dr. Gary Chapmans book, though the proper title escapes me 😦

  4. Anonymous says:

    This resonates greatly in my heart with the fears and concerns that have gone unnamed recently. My great fear is that we might become exhausted of working things out and settle for this “pseudo-marriage” where we turn to other things to make us happy. What is one to do when only one spouse feels that there is a breakdown that is leading for something worse and the other is really fine with the way things are currently? Perhaps this is a completely different subject altogether…

  5. Practical Spirituality says:

    To Anonymous…

    Your concern is held by many who are with a partner who feels no need to address the concerns of the other. And its a horrible bind, especially when kids are involved. I’m working on a post titled, “Leave Your Spouse While You’re Still in Love” which offers one strategy for dealing with this dilemma.

    Wes

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