Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Unselfishness of Marriage

Getting married is important.

Name one society that does not honor marriage, that has the characteristics of loyalty, sacrifical love, and honor. Cicero, a pagan, knew that marriage was important, when he said, "The very first bond of society is matrimony." I've read that in ancient Rome during the days in which the empire was decaying, bachelors were taxed more highly than married men because the government could see that their society was falling apart at the seams. Socrates said, "By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you will become very happy. If you get a bad one, you will become a philosopher; both of which are good for a man."

I personally don't think it is normal to have a large singles population. Young people should be either identified as part of the family in which they were raised, or as part of the family they are raising. Nowadays, they want to extend their video games every night, and hang around with friends, live the single life free from responsibility, instead of facing the serious responsibilities of marriage, home and family. In some societies, it is said that if a man waited too long to marry, he was regarded with suspicion, as it was supposed that he was shirking responsibility or living selfishly. Although this may not be the case today, it is well to note how highly marriage was once regarded, and what an important part it played in a society's economy and strength.

Marriage provides protection and opportunity for men and women, in many ways. There are many things that can be done better as a couple and as a family, than as a 'single.' The true potential of marriage has not been fully explained to young people, else they would seek it out as the most important part of their future, as they do education or careers.

No longer me, but we.

When a couple gets married, they will most likely assume that "love" will guarantee them success in the relationship.
While this is important, the one thing that contributes more to happiness in marriage is unselfishness. Whether you intend it or not, life after you marry can no longer be a matter of "I", "mine," or "me." It will naturally be replaced with "we," "ours," and "us." Life will be about two people going in one direction. Our home, our income, our relatives, our money, our children, our friends, and our vacation, our joys and our sorrows, will do more to help the marriage than even love. When "I" becomes "we," you will protect it as though it were your own, for to destroy any of the "our" in your marriage, would be to tear down your own house. This is why married couples check with each other before making a major purchase, re-locating, changing jobs, leaving the house without informing the other of their destiny, or coming in late. This is the common courtesty that is natural when you become "we."

Be the best that you can be.

The only thing that remains separate is your responsibility to improve yourself: your habits, your faults, your talents and skills. If your mate wants to improve him/her self, that is up to them. You are not responsible to monitor personality improvement in your mate, but you are responsible to do all you can do in order to become the right person, yourself. Learn to overlook a fault in others, but not in yourself. Treat your mate as though they were a human being with normal problems and don't be judgemental. If they ask for help in an area, do what you can to make it easy for them to do right, without becoming self-righteous over them.

Everyone has faults, and it is possible that you married someone that is a human being just like you, with normal human problems. One of the things that has helped me so much has been my own husband's non-judgemental attitude. He's never complained about the house when it was in disarray (although he always compliments me when it is put in order) and he's never complained if I was sick, needed extra sleep, gained some weight, didn't always spend money wisely, or wasn't living up to my full potential. He has always been absorbed in many different interests and has not had the inclination to be critical. When a person doesn't not have that criticism hanging over their heads, it frees them to be creative, and to be all that they can be.

Think of the kind of freedom you'd really like to have in the country you live in, and give that to your mate.

This is not saying that your mate has a right to live away from you or live as they please. It is the kind of freedom within the relationship that avoids nitpicking and criticism.
Be unselfish. One of the things you have to give up in marriage is selfishness, or the defending of personal rights. The only rights you have are those that are innate, such as the right to be a man or a woman, with all the masculine and feminine qualities that come with it. When you learn about the unique natures of men and women, you begin to see what you formerly thought of as faults, in a different light. Some reactions on the part of your mate are unique to their sex, and some so-called faults are just male or female qualities. When you start taking personal rights, you will tend to be defensive. It won't take long before you have a long list of rights that you must then defend the minute your mate violates them. Giving up your personal rights or deferring has, in the long run, far more power than defending your rights.

Love unconditionally and give sacrificially.

Some people enter marriage with a sense of mistrust. They are worried that if they give their whole heart and their efforts to the marriage, their mate will not do his/her fair share. If you have an inkling of such suspicion or worry about this before you marry, then do not marry the person.

What can we expect of a generation that grew up on self-esteem rather than self-sacrifice? I wonder sometimes what it would be like if a two people entered a bus, one who had just read "Winning Through Intimidation," and the other was reading "Looking Out For Number One." There is only one seat on the bus. How would they work it out? I don't know how it would work out in deciding who would get the one seat on the bus, but such self-centered philosophy in marriage would work out in disaster. With the Golden Rule, each person treats the other as they would like to be treated. I've seen this worked out rather humorously in the marriages of days gone by. My mother-in-law and her sister used to fight over the last piece of bread at a meal, not in the way you think, but just the opposite. Lucile would say, "Inez, you have that last piece of bread. I insist!" and Inez would say, "No, Lucile, you take it!" They would shove the plate back and forth between them, until Joe, Lucile's husband, who was constantly irritated by this ceremony over the years, would take the bread himself, just to end the contest.

Maturity in marriage means that you do what is right, no matter how the other person responds. It is better to have given yourself wholly and sacrificially, than to worry about who is giving their fair share. It will make a better person of you.These days, people worry too much about what they are going to get out of marriage, and not enough about what they are going to give to the marriage. In giving, you make yourself a better person, and it is better to give, than to receive. However, it is rare to find a giving person who is not rewarded immensely.

Avoid bitterness.

One of the most dangerous practices in marriage is the tendency toward bitterness. One or both of the partners will begin to add up a list of offenses, and then wait for them to cross the line again. This is a love based on conditions. It means that the mate can only be loved and accepted if they never make a mistake or never say the wrong thing. One thing that is so dangerous about this mentality is that the person who is the most critical, will have the same problems as the person they are criticising. (And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Matthew 7:3)

Sacrifical love differs from sentimental love, in that it is the for the good of the person you love, rather than giving yourself a good feeling. It is stronger than the sentimental love that often tries to avoid sufferring. Instead of thinking "What can this person do to make me happy," sacrifical love says, "What can I do to make my mate happy?"

Practice Forbearance.

To forbear means "to spare" or to indulge someone with love. It is the practice of patience or the delay of resentment and anger towards those that wrong us. It means restraint from anger or reaction towards a fault. ("Forbearing one another in love.." Ephesians 4:2) In the story "The Magic of Ordinary Days," by Ann Howard Creel, Olivia tells the family she has married into, "I've learned more about love in my 6 months with this family than I did in the 25 years in my father's house. I've received love, and I've received forbearance."

Painting: "The Proposal" by Consuelo Gamboa


Anonymous said...

Lady Lydia, this is so beautiful! And also very good advice.

I have only been married for 12 years, but I would add that you should always put your spouse's interests before your own. If you both do that, the results are beyond anything you may have dreamed of.


Anonymous said...

When will LAF be publishing again? I know you are very busy, and this blog does help to fill the gap, but we miss you!

Lydia said...

I was informed that it would be updated every 6 months from now on. There will be a lot of articles that go on each update, so that will kind of make up for it not being updated more often. I have a few articles waiting to be published there, too.

Sonya said...

Dear Lydia

What a wonderful article! I especially enjoyed, with humour, the quote you included by Socrates. In fact it shows clearly that even if someone is unhappy in marriage, it is still to their betterment.

My husband and I have been married for sixteen years. During that time I have observed marriages that work and those that end in divorce or great unhappiness. In marriages I have seen break down, there has almost always been the element of leaving some things 'mine': bank accounts are separate, money earned (by both parties) is kept separate, and even and more tellingly I think, is the practice of keeping the wife's maiden name.

In marriage we are to become one: to complement each other and in that sense become whole. When we are so concerned with 'mine' and 'yours', love cannot really survive in a marriage, I am sure.

I like your inclusion in the article the thought that the only thing we should own as our own in marriage, is our ambition to make ourselves better people. "You are not responsible to monitor personality improvement in your mate, but you are responsible to do all you can do in order to become the right person, yourself", is such a statement of truth. It reminds me of something you wrote in an article for LAF. You said that, "Whatever you want others to be, be that yourself, first". This is something I have written in my notebook of things I refer to at times.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insight. I am sure that what you write is treasured by more than those who comment on your articles.

God bless you and your family.


Lydia said...

Sonja, I think in an earlier article I wrote about the man who came to a wise man to ask what to do about his son, who was not interested in making something of himself. The older, wiser man suggested he write down a list of all the qualities he wanted for his son, and all the talents and things he wanted him to accomplish. When he was finished, he anxiously handed the list to the older man and asked, "Now, will you help me?" The wise man said, "Yes. If you really want to help your son, be the kind of man you have described on this paper."

ChristyH said...

I have been having my daughter read various articles on your blog. She is 17 and her young man, who is in the military, called to speak to my husband about marrying her after she turns 18. She only wants to be a wife and mom, that is all she has ever wanted. This article is awesome about marriage. So practical about what marriage is really about. Our feminist relatives have been hard on me and I am sure they will be hard on her. Maybe you could write another article on marrying...for young people.