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.
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.
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:
- They divorce.
- They settle in to a pseudo-marriage in which they turn away from the marriage for happiness.
- 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.
More about the formation approach to marriage in the next entry….
Questions for Reflection:
- Do you ever feel as if your marriage is “consuming” you? Does your spouse ever express such sentiments?
- How did you see the pursuit of personal enrichment effecting your parent’s marriage?
- 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?
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).