My husband and I are almost complete polar opposites.
In personality, temperament, Yankee vs Southerner, political leanings, city boy versus country girl (although this has since flipped), contemplative vs. practical, leisure activities, etc.
These differences used to drive me absolutely nuts. I mean, how can you live reasonably with someone you have hardly anything in common with? This is where the grass starts to look greener on the other side, and one thinks…“in the next relationship, I’m getting someone exactly like me…this opposites attract stuff is for the birds!”
So, I did as any other person living with their ego in charge does…I tried to change Mike. And of course I rationalized this because all the time he was trying to change me in little ways as well. This, as anyone who has been married for more than a couple years knows, is an exercise in futility. Unless the relationship is built on co-dependence or abuse, trying to change your spouse is like telling lions to stop roaring, or the ocean’s to hold back the tides.
And honestly, trying to change our spouses is really all about our own egos. We think we do things the right way, they have annoying habits, the marriage would run so much more smoothly if only they would be more compliant.
One of the main reasons this supposed “incompatibility” in marriage bugged me was that it didn’t fit with my understanding of the point of marriage. I grew up being taught that marriage was about partnering together for the kingdom, usually in the way of getting on the bandwagon of your husband’s goals and dreams, and make his success your top priority in life, while putting your own stuff on the back burner. And so much of it involved appearances (because you know, other people are watching you to find out what a good Christian marriage is like…bleh).
I now think this understanding of marriage is rather myopic. For a shortlist of further reading on ideas that have influenced me, see Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas, A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, and Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey.
What if marriage is mostly about process?
After almost nine years of marriage, I’m really starting to believe that marriage is not so much about what couple’s do for the Kingdom , or necessarily the end result of their union, but that it is mainly about the process.
I’m think that our focus in America especially is too much on events and appearances. And then, when we don’t live up to those ideals, we feel disillusioned, we think we’ve failed, and then we either scrap the marriage or tolerate the status quo for years in misery or apathy. I don’t know about you, but some days I seriously either felt pathetically like a failure, or wanted to barf when people say things like “My husband and are I just best friends. We do everything together, we like the same movies, we play the same sports, we are politically aligned….” Geez, if that’s the only sickeningly sweet real point then I should have just married my real best friend, who happens to be a girl.
I”m not saying those kind of marriages are bad, and I’m really glad there are couples who are really close in every area of their lives, but I’m not sure I see this as realistic for every marriage. And I certainly don’t want my husband to give up his beliefs, conscience, and be untrue to himself just so we can be all BFFy.
What if, instead, marriage is the schoolroom for teaching us how to love and accept everything else that is foreign or opposite to us: different personalities, different races, different religions, different politics….? Conversely, if I say I’m accepting and loving of the world, and am tolerant of others, yet am condescending to my spouse with change always on my mind, then I truly don’t have authentic love.
The main problem we get into in marriage, I believe, is when our false selves clash and we are content to remain in our false selves and not move on to our true selves. Our false selves aren’t necessarily bad, as Richard Rohr would say, but they are the mortal parts of us, the things that don’t last. Rohr writes in Immortal Diamond, our False Self is largely based on things that are projections of our self image and our attachment to it. One way that we create this False Self is by “splitting ourselves from other selves and try to live apart, superior, and separate.” p. 29
Relationships get on spendidly when we think the other person is a mirror image of us, or close to it. If you’re heading the same direction in life, put the same level of importance on the same things, and disagree with the same people, you’re delighted and feel validated. However, things get uncomfortable when people start realizing, a ways into marriage, that there is a whole lot of stuff that differentiates between them.
So, if you can’t change your spouse, and you find you are vastly different, is the marriage still valid?
Our true selves, which are not based on success, money, fame, looks, intelligence, education, etc., is about being. It is not concerned so much with doing to define its worth. The true self, as Rohr describes, “has no agenda whatsoever except to see what is – as it is-and let it change you.”
When we view marriage as a process, and we seek to die to our false selves, then there is nothing but room for more acceptance, love, and tolerance. (Of course, I’m not talking about abuse here, so no taking this out of context). When we realize who we are in Jesus, which is a life long journey, we lose the need to change everyone to be like us, or to posture and promote ourselves. Rather, I think we become more relational, less concerned about appearances, and concerned about offering more Yes’s than a never ending string of No’s.
I personally think marriage was Jesus’ way of jump starting my realization of how big the false self is in my life. Before marriage and kids, I thought I was doing pretty good and was a really loving, tolerant person. Six months of marriage proved otherwise.
Finally, I see great freedom in marriage as process. We are free to not “look” like all the other couples, we are free to accept, and are free to be accepted. We are free to offer so much more grace to our spouse when we would normally condemn them for their bone headed actions. We are free to listen to their perspectives, and not jump immediately to judgment. We are free from timelines, to look just so by this certain time. And we are free to live with them not agreeing with us all the time, while being OK with that.
Seeking to fully live,