Now that it’s November, our family has officially entered what Mike calls the holiday gauntlet. We cram a lot of bang for our buck into a two month period, with three birthdays as well as Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and New Years. This year I’m marking a couple of big milestones. For one thing, I’ll turn 30, but first, I will be celebrating our seven year anniversary. Shortly before I got married, my mother said that I would really feel married after about seven years. Well, she was right. So I thought I’d meditate a little on what I’ve learned about keeping a marriage strong in the last seven years.
Personally, we care for our marriage through our Catholicism. Reception of the sacraments, family prayer, responsible generous fertility, these are all integral parts of our marriage. Yet there are many good marriages outside the church, and many bad marriages within it. So what would be a broader rule to explain what makes a good marriage? Here’s what I came up with. You hear a lot nowadays about finding someone who “makes you happy”. If you’re getting married to make yourself happy, you’re in for a shock. No other human being can make you happy all the time for the rest of your life. They will let you down. I’ve heard the phrase flipped on its head too. You should want to spend your marriage making the other person happy. Closer, at least that description is focused on generosity, but again, that’s an impossible task. You will let them down. How about this? Get married to make yourself better.* As you become better, you will naturally become happier. As you become better, you will naturally make your spouse happier. I think this rule encompasses a lot of the complexities of marriage. It allows for the fact that we’re none of us the best versions of ourselves. It encompasses both the self-centered and other-centered motivations that are part of love. It also covers how we choose our spouse, if you pull it apart a little. We do marry someone because in some sense they make us happy. You marry someone you fall in love with, but to make it last it has to have this cyclic quality. You love them, and for them you want to be better. As you show them love in this way, they love you more and want to be better for you, which makes you love them more. Ideally it’s like endless nuclear fusion.
In Between Good Fridays I talked about motherhood being a short cut to true charity. I’m all about short cuts. For me, marriage is a short cut too. It is easier to be good for Mike than it is to be good for myself. I am, without a doubt, a better person for having known him. His trust, his good temper, his faith, his generosity, his patience, all of these have changed me and led me gently in the right direction. I feel pretty unworthy of being married to such a fabulous person, but hopefully he’s picking up something positive in return. At least he likes indoor pets now, and that’s definitely a Good.
To step back into the Catholic bubble for a moment, I met Mike, oh wow, about 12 years ago. That can’t possibly be right. There’s that age 30 milestone rearing its head again. Oh well, never mind. At that summer camp one of our counselors spoke about marriage. He said that your spouse should be your ticket to heaven. Mike’s my ticket. Because of that I try to be his. Which hopefully makes him try to be mine. Fusion, as bright, as powerful as the sun.
* Nota bene: I am suggesting you get married to make yourself better. People make the mistake of thinking they can make their spouse better. That’s your spouse’s job. You work on yourself with his help, he works on himself with yours.)