We often go into marriage to find the person of our dreams. A better (and less self-centered) plan for success is to work on myself…to become the man of my wife’s dreams. That is hard enough, and I still have a long way to go. A friend just sent me an excerpt from Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage, p. 37-39 that I want to pass along:
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The Bible explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible. As a pastor I have spoken to thousands of couples, some working on marriage-seeking, some working on marriage-sustaining, and some working on marriage-saving. I’ve heard them say over and over, “Love shouldn’t be this hard; it should come naturally.” In response, I always say something like, “Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a baseball?’ Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative.”? The understandable retort is, “But this is not baseball or literature. This is love. Love should just come naturally if two people are compatible, if they are truly soul mates.”
The Christian answer to this is that no two people are compatible. Duke University ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:
“Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is…learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married. Stanley Hauerwas, “Sex and Politics”, p. 417-422.
Hauerwas shows that the quest for a perfectly compatible soul mate is an impossibility. Marriage brings you into more intense proximity to another human being than any other relationship can. Therefore, the moment you marry someone, you and your spouse begin to change in profound ways, and you can’t know ahead of time what those changes will be. So you don’t know, you can’t know, who your spouse will actually be in the future until you get there.
Many people have bristled at Hauerwas’s statement, and that is to be expected, because he intentionally is looking for a head-on collision with the spirit of the age. To create this collision, he generalized…There are graduations, then, in Hauerwas’s Law. Some people are really, really the wrong people to marry. But everyone else is still incompatible. All who win through to a good, long-term marriage know what Hauerwas is talking about. Over the years you will go through seasons in which you have to learn to love a person who you didn’t marry, who is something of a stranger. You will have to make changes that you don’t want to make, and so will your spouse. The journey may eventually take you into a strong, tender, joyful marriage. But it is not because you married the perfectly compatible person. That person doesn’t exist.
What do you think of Keller’s thoughts? Do you agree?