Responses to “Marriage as Formation”

Greetings from beautiful Leakey, Texas, a tiny burg that lies along the Frio River. My family has been spending the week of the fourth with a passle of friends from Austin for nearly 15 years!

I received more comments on my last blog entry, Marriage as Formation, than on anything I’ve written so far. Some of the comments were left on the blog. Some were sent to me via email. Here are a few additional thoughts aimed at addressing some of the questions you raised.

What does it means to be “fully human?”

There are a million opinions regarding how to answer this question, all built upon whatever philosophical and/or theological perspectives a person prefers. It is very difficult to move beyond what we think or wish were true to a perspective that is grounded in some sort of objective reality.

Without going into all the detail, based on my readings in various disciplines, I now operate on the premise that human beings operate most “naturally” out of our animal nature, which is survival oriented. As E.O. Wilson says,”[The] brain is a machine assembled not understand itself, but to survive.” (Conscilience, 1998, p. 96) Becoming fully human requires the conscious choice to place sacrificial love above survival as the driving ethic of life, which is also a central message of Christianity.

Marriage is one of the most intense arenas in which this challenge takes on flesh.

Sacrificial Love is not the same thing as “giving up.”

Several of you mentioned situations in which you, or people you know, had simple settled in to “dead” marriages “for the sake of the children.” You said that this seems like a couple is making a sacrificial choice for the sake of the kids. Nothing could be further than what I mean when I talk about sacrificial love. A person committed to a marriage based on sacrificial love would never let a spouse get away with sliding into such a state. This person would look for every avenue to confront, challenge, and cajole the partner to be true to the wedding vows. To use the kids as an excuse to settle for a dead relationship is the very anti-thesis of both psychological and spiritual maturity.

I know these are strong statements. But I am very graceful towards all those people who have truly fought for the ideal, and yet found themselves with a spouse who is equally creative in stonewalling and avoiding.

Sacrificial Love versus Codependency

A couple of you described important ways in which you give your Self and time to community service, and asked if these acts of service were not acts of sacrificial love. I think not, at least in most situations. Most people give significant time to community service because of what they get out of it. This is the definition of codependency. Codependent behavior is any behavior I engage in to meet my personal needs under the guise of meeting someone else’s need. Personally, I think codependency has gotten a bump wrap. It can be very positive, so long as one is honest about it. For example, I try to give blood every 8 weeks. I enjoy the way I feel about myself for doing it. I enjoy the positive reactions I get from other people on the rare occasions that it comes up in conversation for some reason. But I’d never delude myself into thinking that there’s anything sacrificial about it….

Besides, let’s be honest here… a fair amount of what we give of ourselves “out there” serves to keep us disconnected from where the real action should be focused… at home.

Sacrificial Love is not about “Quid-pro-Quo.”

You’ve brought up how frustrating is to give and give, and never get back. Of course, when we give with an expectation of getting back, then we’ve already jumped off the S.L. train. Quid-pro-Quo is always a part of a good marriage. There’s always an element of “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine,” but the failure of QpQ is a good indication that something of a more serious nature has already been eroding the relationship.

Once it dawns on you that you are getting angry because QpQ is leaving you feeling like a doormat, its time for the really scary stuff to start. This where a person has to decide if he or she has the guts to say something like:

  • “I’ve been feeling more and more like you have chosen not to live up to our marriage vows. Your actions lead me to the conclusion that you do not respect me. I’m not willing to leave our marriage, but I’m also not willing to sit back and expect so little of you. You are capable of so much more, and I can hardly claim to love you and not expect your best. So, this is fair warning. I’m getting ready to love you in some really difficult ways unless you make some different choices about how to be in this marriage.”

I know… it sounds good on paper…

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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.

One Response to Responses to “Marriage as Formation”

  1. Melinda Riley says:

    I suppose that the statement – “…I’m not willing to leave this marriage, but I’m also not willing to sit back and expect so little of you…” is the what you are promoting in Sacrificial Love…. but knowing that you have codependency issues … there is a disconnect in knowing how to protect yourself… from yourself. 🙂 I am really enjoying these blogs. After 20 years of marriage and now 9 years since the divorce, I am so very gun shy about not knowing what the “real” love, marriage, committment… I believe that they are all still possible as I read your messages. I just find a soft hole seems to seep in as well.

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