I recently had a talk with my godson about marriage. His friends seem to be diving in, left and right, and he’s having to fly to different places to attend weddings and christenings. Part of him was feeling a little odd being one of two in his group who is still single, but it was clear he had many questions about the institution. I told him I had as many and feel marriage to be painfully outdated given our present context.
We are different human beings today, evolving towards becoming more and more ourselves (hopefully), so more and more marriages are ending up torn and frayed, if not completely shattered. Religion certainly has not helped in this area. There is much talk about fidelity, forever, sin, morality, God, but not much about the necessary and spiritual evolution of the self, and how this can happen authentically within the same space. Isn’t this what marriage can be–a conscious spiritual endeavour, the nurturing of shared space that allows each individual freedom and self-actualization over time, the recognition and honoring of each other’s essence, learning to love in truth, first ourselves and then another? I move towards these points each time I think about marriage and all its possibilities.
I grew up in a Catholic school; I don’t remember being taught to love myself. It was always about loving others first, sacrifice, selflessness, the pursuit of goodness and, therefore, the avoidance of sin, and then repentance. I am a middle-aged woman now and still working on bringing to the surface and out into the world, that in me which transcends all these premature (did someone say immature?) “shoulds”. I have had to work long and hard to be comfortable in the idea and necessity of loving myself first and trusting that all will follow. And it has. I know now that there can be no selflessness if there isn’t first a healthy and sound sense of self. You cannot give something you don’t have. The closer we get to our own essence, the greater our capacity to recognize and relate to another’s. In this Divine space, we are all connected, yet we need to be fully ourselves first to reach it. Loving the self is not selfishness; it is a true path to loving another in the fullest possible way.
If we could actually live from this picture, what would marriage look like and how would the idea of forever translate?
I think the answer will be different for each of us. I gravitate towards the idea of marriage being unique for every couple and believe we need to find the courage to begin to recreate this sacred space from the inside, rather than from the constraints and doctrines of the church, society, and other external influences. For those on the Christian path it would be a useful exercise to examine the nature of the sacrifice made for humanity–the creation of a moral impulse that now resides in each one, no longer an imposition from a foreign authority that knows nothing about us. What does this mean in the light of marriage today and how can we transform it and make it relevant, vibrant, healthy, and in the service of something greater than ourselves?
As with all things worthwhile, this level of change requires a revolution of the heart and a clearing of the soul–a self-reckoning of a most conscious order. The idea of “forever until death do you part” could also use a second, third and fourth look and a deeper interpretation. I’d like to think it refers not just to physical death, but perhaps the effects of life-robbing forces on the soul and spirit as well.
There is much to be said about developing together (though necessarily separate) through the years until the end of one’s life. I have that longing in my soul as well, as I’m sure everyone does, to find that partner we can spend the rest of our days with, but I will not do it to the detriment and wounding of my soul and spirit, which thrive on truth, vitality and authenticity. “Forever no matter what” is a rather empty and possibly damaging goal, and when the self is ailing, it cannot participate fully in the creative process of building and fortifying a true partnership.
We go back to the question of what a healthy marriage is. What is its purpose in today’s context and that of the developing and unfolding human being? And what of love? Most of us are lost and left gasping in its wake. In my limited and imperfect experience, it seems to me that love evolves along with us and every marriage must make room for this, so that we can recognize and nurture it in its less obvious forms as it can manifest as distortion and show up in the ugliest way. There will be times when you will not be able to handle it. How can love evolve then? I say it can, and it might mean the end of the marriage but the beginning of a different kind of relationship, perhaps a deeper kind of love. Let us not shirk from this evolution as well. Love is spiritual substance no matter where it is born.
So, we return to the idea of self-care and self-love to provide us with the ability to give freely, generously and consciously towards an enduring, healthy, living and authentic partnership that does not hold forever as the ultimate measure of success. For this, we must have the courage to live our questions, especially the most difficult ones, and do the hard work of tending to ourselves. It requires faith in the fact that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, and therefore have full capacity to create new worlds that can support the renewal of institutions such as marriage, so that they can be relevant, true and life-giving again.
May courage and inspiration be ours on this important and necessary undertaking.
“I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. And perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke