Marriage is an institution. Two people stand before witnesses and exchange vows. It used to be that those promises included a specific stipulation: Til death do you part. That’s a pretty hefty oath to take.
While some religious wedding ceremonies include that promise, civil ceremonies no longer do. The ceremony itself actually gives the couple an out in the way that it is worded. In one wedding that I recently attended the couple agreed to remain married “as long as your two hearts shall beat in mutual accord.” In other words, when you’re sick of each other, get a divorce. Divorce has become so common place as to have almost become the rule, rather than the exception. Yet it remains so easy to get married and so difficult to get divorced.
It is rather sad that young people today have forsaken the ritual of courtship. Instead of dating and getting to know each other over months or even years the tendency is to move in and live together almost immediately. Two live cheaper than one in this day and age and it’s rather more convenient to shack up than go through the bother of wooing each other. What happens is the ‘ga-ga stage’ quickly passes and the reality is not as pretty as it once seemed it was. But the couple decides that getting married will solve this dilemma, or a baby appears and the couple feel compelled to “do the right thing.”
There is an old saying that goes something like this: She gets married hoping he will change; he gets married hoping she won’t. Of course, this does not happen. At least not in the way that it is expected to. In many ways he does change and in many ways she remains the same, but these are often not in the desired manner. This leads to disappointment, which leads to conflict, which leads to lawyers.
Our disposable society has stretched to include marriages. Don’t like what you’ve got? Get rid of it. Get a new one. This mentality permits couples to choose the easy way out. Unfortunately, the easy way out, divorce, isn’t all that easy. And the lawyers thrive on churning up as much discord as possible between the couple so as to benefit themselves. One statistic says that divorce, on average, costs three times as much as the wedding. A ten thousand dollar wedding equals a thirty thousand dollar divorce. That’s forty thousand dollars that could have been better spent!
Not to disparage marriage. A good relationship has wondrous rewards, but it takes work. It takes commitment. It takes cooperation, negotiation and conciliation. Those vows have to mean something. Romance is a perk, not a guarantee.
Marriage is meant to be a partnership that includes love, sex, finances, goals, possibly (usually) children, support, guidance, communication and trust. At the same time, the individual’s needs are also meant to be respected. In his book, The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck likens marriage to a base camp. The home, where the mutual needs and desires are all fulfilled, is the base camp. From there the couple must go out and climb their own mountains. Often, though, the woman sees the base camp as her peak, while the man craves the summits rising above this. She wants him to stay safely at the base of the mountain; he can’t figure out why she doesn’t want to explore that rock face over there. It’s the Mars/Venus thing in action.
Over time this wears thin. If he stays home to make her happy, he becomes miserable. When she realizes that she needs to climb a mountain or two, she blames him for holding her back. It’s a vicious cycle of constant bitter disappointment that need not ever happen. (Mostly)
When two people really love one another, they are willing to give each other space. They each have a place and a time for their own interests and they support each other in pursuing them. They know when to come together and when to keep to themselves. They respect the individuals as well as the couple they are. They accept each other’s flaws and they recognise their own. They communicate. They compromise. They each give a little. They each get a lot.
I don’t know if God meant for humans to mate for life in exclusive relationships such as marriage is traditionally designed for. It seems to me that the institution of marriage in both the legal and religious sense is a rite of human creation. Love is God and God is love, so it makes sense that God would bless the union of two people who truly do love one another. But is it expected that they love each other forever and ever, amen? I think that perhaps God would not want two people to live together “til death do you part” if they were really unhappy or being abused in some way. But I also think that God would like those unhappy or abused relationships to unwind without the hatred and negativity that is so common in divorce. The Buddha teaches us that every beginning also has an ending. This must apply to marriage as well. One way or another, it is going to end. So, why end it so dramatically, expensively and with so much animosity?
Marriage is a union. Whether it is legally and/or religiously sanctioned (or not) it is meant to be a safe haven for the mutual spiritual advancement of both parties. That’s what love is.