Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On Affair-Proof Marriages and Unicorns

It is National Marriage Week, so no time like the present to wax philosophical on ye olde "institution" of marriage, right?

Photo by Dennis Slagle

I saw the term "affair-proof marriage" in an article - more precisely how to have one - and immediately my spidey sense was tingling. Something just wasn't sitting right with me. To set the stage, know that I believe all the good stuff about marriage. Fundamentally, I believe marriage is from God. Thus, I believe marriage to be an unbreakable bond between a man and a woman that is cemented by God. I believe that entering into marriage is a lifetime commitment. Why then, was this article making me so uneasy?

I think the core of the answer is in its tone - it seemed too much like an infomercial for the latest weight loss supplement or panacea for all that ails marriage in this day and age. It simply sounded too good to be true. As I turned the phrase over and over in my mind, I realized the other thing that bothered me about this. Pride. 

At the end of the day, while fairy tales and happily ever afters are nice, I don't believe any marriage is affair-proof. Please don't get me wrong - I do believe there are marriages that stand the test of time. I certainly know and believe monogamous relationships are possible. I also know we are fallen and to say "that will never happen to me" is like waving a red flag in front of a bullish devil. 

The other thing that really struck me as I continued to reflect on why the phrase was like a thorn in my side is that I realized I don't want to build an "affair-proof marriage" - why build my marriage with only an infidelity in mind?  I want a strong, Godly marriage. Part of that is to guard my heart against infidelity, sure, but it is so much more than that! 

Marriage is a commitment to work. There are no happily ever afters that simply fall into our laps. In a fallen world, to tend a relationship that is to mirror God's love for the world takes a tremendous amount of work - work on ourselves and work on our expectations.

Photo by Bob Zajko
Marriage is a commitment to see through the eyes of Christ. Every day we have an opportunity to look at our spouse through the eyes of Love, seeing in him/her the image of God, or we have the opportunity to pick at their weaknesses. In marriage, we make a commitment to see our spouse always at their best.

Marriage is meant to build up the other, not ourselves. Going along with the last point, in the vocation of marriage, the purpose is to help your spouse attain heaven, not to get something from them. They do not complete us, God does. We help them to get back home.

Marriage is not about happiness. If we are entering into marriage with the intent that the other person will finally make us happy, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. There is nowhere in our vows where we promise to make the other happy. Love, honor, obey, commit through life's ups & downs, yes. Is there happiness that will come from that? Absolutely! It is something that flows from the grace of the sacrament as opposed to something that is the responsibility of our spouse, however. 

Marriage is not about sex. Well, maybe it is, but it is not only about sex. Waiting to have sex until marriage, you aren't quite sure what you're going to get yourself into. Here's the thing - while society tells us to test drive the car before we buy it (yes, I have actually been told those exact words), that again creates an expectation that is bound to disappoint. Not every act of love will end in fireworks. Age comes, illnesses come, babies come. What then? If it's about going from zero to sixty in record time, what happens when the gears get a little rusty? Sure, a healthy sex life (however you define that) is critical to a marriage - be fruitful and multiply after all - but that life comes from communication, prayer, and emotional intimacy. It comes from surrender, not from a quick or constant high, and that you cannot test drive. If the gears do fail, having a rich emotional and spiritual bond provides an equally satisfying intimacy.

Photo by Dennis Slagle
In marriage, three become one. I know, two become one flesh, but not without God present. It's our own little Trinitarian mystery. God constantly invites us into His life of grace, and through marriage, He makes Himself uniquely part of this new union. I've said this many-a-time, and while I'm sure to get a few eggs or tomatoes thrown at me, I'm going to say it again. Marriages that do not make room for God are setting themselves up for failure. Period. Marriage is not a man-made contract - it's not just a partnership. If we try to live in one with that mindset, we will falter. There is no way my little selfish being could surrender myself without divine help. No way. 

Photo by Dennis Slagle
Marriage is meant to serve. Our marriage is not about us. Marriage is a sacrament of service - to each other, but more importantly, to the world. In marriage, we reflect and share God's love for the world. We serve as a reminder of the life-giving love our God has for us. We serve as a witness to the depth of sacrifice Christ endured so we might have eternal life. Sure, our quaint little home and family are beautiful in and of themselves. However, their deepest meaning comes from being shared and poured out for the world, pointing to the hope of heaven and the eternal love of the Father. 

Marriage is about forgiveness. One of the temptations as you approach marriage is to think yours will be perfect. The truth is that the only perfect marriage is the imperfect one. If you enter in thinking that neither of you will make mistakes, even really big doozies, you are heading for heartbreak. We are fallen. We will fail. This is not a reason for gloom, though, and not the nail in the coffin of marriage. Sans an abusive relationship, marriage takes forgiveness - a heaping helping of forgiveness - when those mistakes, missteps, and injuries occur, even sometimes ones of infidelity. Sometimes, you have to press the restart button and begin anew to discover why you married each other. Sometimes it's just a matter of cleaning out the cobwebs. Big or small, humility and forgiveness have to enter in or resentment and detachment will.

Marriage will leave scars. In a world obsessed with perfection, scars sound completely undesirable. Scars are not always a bad thing. In fact, scars often have an innate beauty of their own - I know mine do. When I see my scars left from pregnancy and childbirth, I no longer see "stretch-marks" or "blemishes" - I see the beautiful lives of my two children. Scars can signify healing. They can signify battles fought and won. They signify change. They signify sacrifice.  If our marriages are polishing us into saints, into the likeness of Christ, we had better come out with some scars. He did, after all. 

Photo by Dennis Slagle
Lest this all seems rather dull and uninviting, remember the fruit of all of this - marriage is fun! It is a lifelong slumber party with your best friend, where sometimes your best friend snores, and sometimes you don't sleep because of little people crashing your party. It is a lifetime of adventures, of writing stories together, of redemption, of healing, and of grace outpoured. It is dancing your life together in a divine romance, where sometimes you step on each other's feet, but you end the song with a flourished step and dip to everyone's amazement.

Perhaps, in the end, it's not so much about "affair-proofing" our marriages like we waterproof our shoes. Instead, maybe it is rediscovering the true nature of marriage and recommitting ourselves to living as Godly spouses. We know that at any turn temptation can strike without reason or explanation. We know that we can fall prey to those temptations. It's not about living in fear of them, though, but realizing that with the power of Christ, we can jump those hurdles if we work at it. It is knowing that with a little work and a lot of surrender, bliss awaits us

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  1. Excellent treatment of marriage! I especially like the comparison of "affair-proofing your marriage" with waterproofing your shoes. Really, how egotistical a perspective! Your reflections on marriage are always especially good - I even have one at the top of my homepage (the 17 ways to honor your husband).

    1. Thanks, Anna! You are always so kind. I feel a little bit like a kid talking about marriage still being a newbie, but when the Lord places something on your heart, you roll with it. :) Hope you and the Pirate are well!

  2. So funny, I clicked over here from the BIS linkup having the same reaction to the title as you did to the article on the "affair-proof marriage", thinking this would be about the same thing. I'm so glad I clicked over though, everything you've written is so beautiful, and so true! Its always good to have a reminder that I always need to work on centering my marriage around God!

    1. I'm so glad you clicked over - thank you! :) Yeah, it really made me a little angry to see that title, and that article really was about "affair proofing." We've gotten so lost when it comes to relationships and marriage in this world, myself included many days. I'm so glad to have a network of ladies who are about the business of lifting one another up. :)

  3. LOVE! This is all so, so, so, so true!! Thanks for sharing!