BY DIANE MEDVED
Americans tend to revere marriage. Gay couples fought for it, and in June, 2015, the Supreme Court nationalized that right. Even though age at first marriage has risen, most everyone aspires to marry, and so far, nearly everyone does.
Despite ubiquitous divorce, the desire to marry is strong: A 2013 Gallup poll found that even among Millennials, 86% wanted to get married someday. And people who suffer divorce usually try again—four out of ten new marriages include at least one divorcee.
What is it that draws people to pledge their lives to another when so many marriages go wrong? Respondents to surveys identify love, making a lifelong commitment, companionship and having children as factors making matrimony a desirable state.
Those may be great reasons. Beyond those, I conclude my book Don’t Divorce: Powerful Arguments for Saving and Revitalizing Your Marriage (2017), with five unique spiritual rewards a long-term marriage offers.
Marriage is a safe place to grow. A maxim notes that out of pain comes growth, and in marriage, you are sure to encounter some degree of emotional pain. Misfortunes and calamities befall every couple. When my husband was diagnosed with throat cancer, I felt weak and incompetent. I had to face things during his treatment that under normal conditions made me squeamish and faint.
Bravely and determinedly, he recovered. Asked what he learned from his ordeal, he responds that he truly understands the value of his marriage and children. It is in times of crisis that loyal family means most.
In marriage, we can endure mistakes. We can risk a new career, relocate, or have a child, facing difficulties in tandem. A good marriage offers encouragement and consolation.
The permanence of the relationship removes boundaries. If we can’t afford a house this year, we can plan and save for one several years in the future. We can envision seeing our children through school, even the expense of college, as a team, sharing resources and making joint decisions. We can expand our horizons because the vista in married life is expansive.
Marriage is a celebration of opposites. Marriage traditionally joins male and female, and now can unite any two individuals with even the most divergent backgrounds, perspectives, and habits.
In the book of Genesis, God presents the creation of man and woman in the Garden of Eden. You’d think God could have just set them both down there together. Why the description of Adam’s searching through animals for a partner, failing, and then separately generating Eve? The traditional meaning of this story may surprise you.
God made Eve not of Adam’s rib, as you usually see the Hebrew “tsela” translated, but from his side, which is another definition for the word. God separated the masculine “side” of human behavior from the feminine “side.” Joining together these opposites benefits them both, because now they can act together from a fuller perspective than either would have alone. Woman, according to the Bible, is man’s eizer kenegdo, or “helper, opposite him.” The joy of marriage comes in the novel idea or contrasting view that clarifies the thinking of both.
“Vive la différence!” isn’t just a French recognition of male-female contrast. It’s a hope that those differences live on, kept alive and not disparaged or diminished. Polarity allows for varying roles according to inclination and ability.
Marriage is the ultimate commitment. Human beings are different from animals, and marriage is one proof. Marriage elevates the reproductive act into sanctity. Also, vows require the most human of faculties—language—to form a binding contract. No animal could comprehend such an agreement, filled with intangibles like loyalty, faithfulness, and money, which is symbolic—committing its signers into a future they cannot see. What could be more spiritual than this combination of words, ideas, and time? By this promise of abstracts, we raise our partnership above the practical and approach the eternal.
Marriage lets us emulate God. Sometimes we can feel pretty puny. We look up at the night sky and, if it’s not too cloudy, see the welkin dotted with stars. We’re drawn to beaches and find the colors of sunsets majestic and magical.
We are indeed puny, but through marriage, we can emulate God.
In generations past, that statement would have suggested our ability to create new life, and certainly having a child does transcend time. When your child is born, you may feel a transcendence with your spouse; you sense past, present, and future in this tiny creature you now fiercely protect.
But nowadays, with 40% of babies born to unmarried parents, how does marriage uniquely emulate God?
Did you ever wonder why God would create the world? It’s an interesting question even for atheists. He certainly has everything he needs–if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be God. Why go to the trouble of making continents, dinosaurs, plants, animals and man? An answer given in Jewish tradition is that God desires to give, to offer kindness. The Hebrew word is chesed (pronounced “hess-edd”). It inspires us to serve our country, to volunteer for charity, to help a neighbor with her groceries.
Our daily lives offer endless opportunities to satisfy this altruistic urge. But the kind of chesed in marriage is not a one-shot occasion. It’s not a promise to work at the homeless shelter every Thursday night. It’s a vow to give to your other “side” 24/7, whenever needed and, especially, whenever not. A good marriage is two people each giving one hundred percent, all the time.
This is how you emulate God. You give without expectation of return. You give with joy, and you give because your partner’s wellbeing is yours.
Marriage makes soul mates. The minute you leave the wedding canopy or church, you gain the benefit of the four aforementioned rewards of marriage.
What you can’t have on your wedding day is a soul mate.
I can hear your objection: This person is the “other half” you’d been craving all your life. You even declared “you are my soul mate” in your vows! No one could feel closer.
But a real soul mate is something you gain only over time. A soul mate so deeply understands the inner workings of your mind, he can anticipate it. Your soul mate suffers along with you. Your soul mate never tries to change you, and instead allows you room to express yourself—messy desk, spilled hair gel, dirty clothes pile and all.
As I was completing my latest book, my husband returned from speaking at a conference. While he was gone, consumed with finishing by deadline, I wasn’t attentive to much else. Don’t tell: I wore the same yoga pants and t-shirt three days in a row. When he came home in the evening, my hair was a stringy blob clipped to my head. He walked in, and I apologized. His first words? “Congratulations on finishing the book! You look beautiful!”
These are the reasons we treasure and aspire to marriage, and why the institution will endure.
Dr. Diane Medved is the author of Don’t Divorce: Powerful Arguments for Saving and Revitalizing Your Marriage. Visit her blog at DianeMedved.com.