Who IS marriage for, anyway?

If your Facebook friends are anything like mine (mostly young, Catholic, educated), you probably saw some of these articles pop up on your feed recently. It started with this one by Seth Adam Smith, entitled “Marriage Isn’t For You” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-adam-smith/marriage-isnt-for-you_b_4209837.html ).

Then came the articles that wanted to add something (“Marriage is for God,” http://triathletewithacollar.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/a-response-to-marriage-isnt-for-you/ ), and then the ones that flat-out disagreed (“Yes, Marriage Actually IS For You http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/yes-marriage-actually-is-for-you/, and “5 Lessons I Learned From My Divorce (And Why Seth Adam Smith’s Advice In ‘Marriage Isn’t for You’ Doesn’t Work”) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peggy-nolan/marriage-isnt-for-you-response_b_4268303.html ).

I really liked the original post so it saddened me that people were so hard on it. Some of the critiques I read make me very mad, actually, because they are obviously written by selfish people who don’t know the first thing about marriage. I think Seth Smith’s post is spot-on, except that it didn’t explicitly say one very important thing. Really, we all should have known that it meant that. But if it had said it, I don’t think any of the critics would have had problems. I’ll get to exactly what that is in a second.

The author of the original article, Seth Adam Smith, is exactly right in his main point. He says, “a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love–their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?” while Love asks, “What can I give?””

St. Thomas Aquinas defines love as “willing the good of another.” When you truly love someone, you put their good above yours. You want what is best for them way before you ever think of yourself. Thus Smith continues, “No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.”

Now, a bunch of the critics took this excellent advice and (some maybe willfully) misinterpreted it. Thus you have people saying, “Smith is telling everyone we should be doormats and let our spouses walk all over us!” or “We’re being told that we have to debase ourselves and give up all our dreams and ambitions and focus solely on this other person for the rest of our lives!” or (my personal favorite) “If you don’t take time for yourself you’ll become a horrible person resentful toward your spouse and you’ll end up divorced!” This is all ridiculous and not at all what Smith meant.

I am not married and never have been, so I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of it. But I do know this: marriage is about 2 people. When you get married, you do in a sense give up who you are in that you are now living for the other person and you are part of a new “being,” as it were (as the two become one). You do put their good ahead of your own. You do love them with everything you have, and do everything you possibly can to make them happy.

But here’s the thing, and what Smith forgot to say: Your spouse does the same for you. Everything that you promise to do for them – to love them more than yourself, to will their good – they promise to do for you.

That’s why,in the marriage we are talking about, you’re not being a doormat who lets someone else abuse you and run your life. You’re not caring for another person at the expense of your own well-being (how would you care for another if you ruined yourself psychologically?). What you are doing is being half of a relationship in which both people will the good of the other, in which both people have as their main concern the happiness and well-being of the other. You may be putting another person ahead of yourself, but they are doing the same for you.

Now, of course the critics do have a point in that not all marriages are like this. In some marriages, no matter how hard one person tries, the other is not putting the necessary work into it, and thus it doesn’t matter how much one person gives – they can never reach the goal by themselves. I like the point that Aaron Anderson (see above) has when he says “1 times ½ equals ½.” In other words, when a relationship is made up of two people, one person can’t be expected to complete it alone. If this is what is going on in a marriage, then one party is, unfortunately, apparently not prepared properly for marriage. To be fair, it’s a pretty difficult task. Not everyone is capable of living for another person, of putting another’s good above their own. I’m sure it’s really hard. I’m sure I won’t be able to do it all the time.

But. My point would be that this is not what Seth Smith is talking about. He’s not saying to let an abusive spouse walk all over you and damage your psyche and crush your dreams with no thought of your happiness. He might have something to say about that, though I won’t presume to know his opinion. That’s not what he was writing on. He was writing to give general marriage advice, that goes for both parties involved. To the husband: Marriage is not about you. It is about your wife and what you can do for her. To the wife: Marriage is not about you. It is about your husband and what you can do for him. Marriage is a two-way relationship and both parties have to be loving and giving with everything they have.

So maybe the original post could have benefitted from a slight tweak in wording. Maybe instead of the conclusion being simply that “marriage is for your spouse,” it should have been this: Marriage is for US.

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