Marriage As Formation


Marriage as Formation

“I marry in order to mature.”

In previous blog entries I’ve suggested that people marry for different reasons (duh) and that it can be helpful to understand how each of three core reasons might be effecting your marriage.
In Marriage as Survival I point out that for most of human history people married to simply increase their chances of staying alive in a harsh world. I also note that although physical survival may not be an issue for most people in the USA, ego survival can be.
In Marriage as Enrichment I contend that as people begin to overcome survival issues their attention moves to finding personal happiness. I’m defining the words “enrichment” and “happiness” in rather narcissistic terms here, meaning that this approach to to marriage is all about ME and what I get.
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. (While reading this sentence the movie Remember the Titans came to mind. The co-captains of the football team, one black and the other white, push through their conflicts with each other and their team mates as they demand what is best for the entire team.)
Of course, I realize that when I begin to toss phrases like “fully human” around, I’m just asking for trouble. The subject of what it means to be human will always be up for debate, and since I can’t even get my wife to accept the possibility that I might always be right, I’ve had to get used to the fact that not everyone is going to agree with my definitions. Nonetheless, here’s what fully human means to me:
Fully human means that I’ve transformed my anxiety and selfishness
into the sacrificial love of others.
I believe this definition is consistent with the most mature expressions of Christianity, as well as of all major religious traditions. These traditions all generally agree that none of us ever gets there. We just each have to decide if we’re going to be on the journey.
Now, I often say to my clients things like, “Its a lot easier for me to describe what the proper path looks like than it is for me to actually walk that path!” Here’s a made-up example that tries to get at the difficulties.
Susan loves the outdoors. She loves to work up a good sweat hiking along the trail to Lookout Point. Some of her holiest moments have occurred while gazing out over the river. She can’t understand why anyone would choose to sit still, under a roof, when God’s creation is here for the exploring.
Bob loves books.¬† He rises early, makes his coffee, settles in to his favorite chair, and opens Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love. He’s on his seventh trip through Nouwen’s journal, and it still has the power stir him. He would swear that God reaches straight through the words on those pages and in to his soul.
Bob and Susan are married. …..
Bob hates to sweat. ……….
Susan hates to read.
Susan so wants Bob to hike with her. …..
Bob so wants Susan to discuss Nouwen with him.
If Bob is maturing, he’ll overcome his aversion to sweat and let Susan lead him out in to creation. If he’s not maturing, he’ll think things like, “I don’t like to hike, so why should I?”
If Susan is maturing, she’ll sit still while Bob reads to her a favorite paragraph from Nouwen. If she’s not maturing, she’ll think things like, “I don’t like to sit and discuss, so why should I?”
Now keep in mind, Bob is not asking Susan to frequent strip clubs with him. And Susan isn’t pestering Bob to take a risk and do some mushrooms with her. Each is asking the other to participate in something that we’d all agree is positive.
So why do you suppose they resist each other? …..
So why do you suppose you resist your spouse?
Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below (and remember that you can use the “anonymous” option….)

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. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Marriage As Formation

  1. loreelle says:

    Wes — how do you like the feel of this blog? From a reader / poster’s perspective, I think I like this one better…now comments.

    They resist each other for selfish reasons. We DESERVE to do what we want with our spare time, regardless of marital commitment. We agree, in today’s societal understanding of marriage, that we are not blending selves to the oblivion of our individuality.* We are only willing to give what doesn’t hurt, or ok, maybe hurts a teeny, but ‘no great pains or sacrifices for you, Bub, ok?’ Ah, yes, and then there’s the one spouse who does ALL the giving in and sacrificing of self for the other, who then becomes comfortable and fails to reciprocate said giving-in, turning the giver-in’er into a bitter companion at best…IF you can see past the bricks built between them.

    From a legacy of failures, I share from experience, not completely understanding myownself how this happens, but declaring it is true. ME ME ME, I I I, MINE MINE MINE!!! It’s all about me. Sacrifice without groveling is unheard of these days. It’s only fair for me to have the life I want and my spouse should contribute to that at his / her expense. After all, he / she knew how I was when he / she married me. If we really give in now and then in the true spirit of love, we keep no account of what the other reciprocates. If we are creative, we make ways to do things we like that our significant other may not like and make it enjoyable, brief if possible.

    Honestly, Wes, nobody is really able to see the big picture any more. It is so out of style and old-school to put oneself last and consider others first that nobody knows what that means. The shame of it all, to me, is what you miss by making sure you get what you want. What you DO get, at times, is a river of tears to float down. On the contrary, if EACH gives of self on a regular basis, it seems EACH would always be receiving, no? I mean, putting each other’s desires ahead of one’s own would make both agreeable, right?

    We cannot always do what we intend, but trying all the time does matter. It does count for something. Taking time in the morning before you face ANYONE and putting life in a Christ-like perspective will help you see others, especially significant others (spouses) with His eyes. Amazing view, really.

    With great big friend love,

    *don’t kill me, but I blame secular counseling for this phenomenon. There is so much focus on keeping individuallity; so much focus on not becoming “an extension of your spouse” that we are encouraged, really, to stay selfish. OPINION.

  2. Martha says:

    I heard Matthew Fox, a former catholic priest, say one time that God must love diversity because theres so much of it.

    With regard to the couple where she likes to hike and sweat, he likes to read Nouwen, it seems that a mature couple could see such differences as a broader expression of their relationship if they want to keep their committment to each other.

    It is unrealistic in most marriages to expect your mate to participate and enjoy the same activities to the same degree. Its not selfish to have individual preferences. There must be other things that hold you together instead of adopting a passion that isnt yours in the first place.

    However I can appreciate with envy if there are couples who do share passions equally without resistance.

  3. Emily says:

    It doesn’t seem to me that they are resisting the other person. It seems more like they are resisting something they do not want to do. Why crucify someone for admitting they don’t want to do something? Why label it, “Resisting the other person?” Why not just call it what it is?

    “No Sue, I don’t want to hike. I don’t like hiking.” “No Bob, I don’t like old Henry.” What’s the big deal? Is Bob’s love for Sue diminished because he dislikes hiking? Is Sue’s love for Bob less because he likes old Henry’s deep thoughts?

    Looking at it as resisting each other really misses the point of the individual doesn’t it? Sort of like love doesn’t demand it’s own way… so each person has the chance to grow through the uncomfortable irritation of not getting one’s own way. I think that’s called, “Growing up.” Now that’s the really hard part… maturing. Whew – talk about resistance!

  4. Erin Messer says:

    Though I have not yet entered into the part of my life that includes marriage, I have often seen it as a part of maturing. The older i become the more i see it as a two sided coin. Yes there is an aspect of maturity that occurs when the commitment is made and a union is formed between a man and woman. But there is no “now i am mature becuase i am married.” So many times i have seen friends that marry and i think “they are so not ready.” But who am i to say, right. Seeing in my own spirital walk that there is a constant growth occuring only makes me realize more that in marriage there must be a continuation of growth as well. In my realtionship with Christ there are moments of disappointment and glory, as well as times when I do things I just don’t want to. What is to say that it is any different in a marriage? Realizing what is important to my husband and doing those things i don’t like doesn’t just benifit him but our relationship and love for each other. This is the self sacrificing that is enjoyable. I have noticed so much in our North American culture it is all about ME and what I get out of it. But in the Christ the mind set is the exact oppisite. I have often found myself telling others (mainly the youth i work with) “Its not about me” and once you grasp that concept it’s more tolerable to do the things that are less enjoyable in the relationship. I speak to myself the most in this as I too am rather self centered when it comes the matters of the heart or personal relationships. The maturity is in the constant push to find balance in the give and recieve end of any relationship, especially in marriage. Thanks for the insite!

    • Grace says:

      Thank you Erin! So much of your comment rings with insight and maturity.

      While I believe that participating in activities your spouse really enjoys even though you dislike the activity has deep value, only so much can be given as self-sacrafice to benefit your spouse, relationship and love for each other. If Bob does go hiking with Susan because he loves her and wants to share more in her experiences and learn from them, this is wonderful for everyone involved and real growth and development occurs. But if those hikes become more frequent that Bob can stand, he develops terrible blisters and holds Susan back from the pace and focus on the beauty of Creation that she enjoys about hiking, then the experience is not positive, even though the thought and action began with love and willingness to serve one’s spouse.

      Balance is what is important in these situations.

  5. Beth Rogers says:

    Hi Wes,

    I followed you over from sixperspectives.
    I just thought i would say that it is interesting to me that after all the studies and the essays and the long thinking about marriage, it comes down to the conclusion that we should submit to one another in love, which is what Paul told the Ephesians – and is throughout the New Testament in regard to all Christian relationships. It is, admittedly, more difficult to believe in this principle if you feel your are the only one in the marriage who is doing the submitting. But when one person truly submits in love to the other, preferring the other, and loving the other, it is very difficult for “the other” to continue to be a horses butt. =) Walls melt and previous affection is remembered.

    I also appreciated something not specifically mentioned in the Bible, which is that marriage deteriorates when friendship erodes. I include in my definition of friendship – comradery and a sense of teamwork., partnership. I found, a couple of years into marriage, that i could work through just about any conflict if i would get the simple concept through my head that my husband and i are on the same side. He is not my enemy. So if it is my goal to help us work through whatever conflict we have – instead of my goal being to win “my side” of the argument – then i can stop pushing my husband away and embrace him as is.

    I better stop. I’d go on all day.

    Good article.

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