Many people think that the key to a successful marriage is finding the right person. Clearly there is some common sense to this notion – after all, having someone who shares your beliefs and values, has similar interests and is a person of virtue and integrity all make marriage a whole lot easier. And in some cases, a critical absence of one or more of these qualities can make the marriage tiringly difficult.
However, for many, this ‘compatibility’ test sets up an unhelpful mindset. The reality is, that every intimate relationship, be it a marriage, family life or close friendships, will challenge us. There will be times when we get on each other’s nerves or find ourselves locked in disagreement. That happens in every marriage, even the ones that last 50 years or more. Marriages that last do so, not because there is an absence of incompatibility, but rather because they successfully navigate it.
Most times when we find ourselves in places of disagreement, the marriage is not failing; rather it is just doing what it’s supposed to do: helping us to grow. Growth doesn’t happen without a measure of pain, self-denial and hard work. That’s the nature of growth – it stretches us beyond our comfort zones. Of course this is not the same as saying that marriage is supposed to be painful… but where did it ever say that it was going to be completely painless. Life, personal maturation and growth are all full of challenge and discomfort even as they deliver us joy and laughter.
Avoiding the ‘finding the right one’ mindset is an increasingly counter-cultural idea that can be a helpful to all of us to some degree. When we have a belief that successful marriage is all about finding the right ‘one’, the perfect soul mate, the inevitable arguments will naturally lead us to conclude that we ‘made a mistake’, that we ‘chose the wrong person’. In fact, it is far more likely that this perfectly good marriage is just helping us to grow.
The other problem with this mindset is that it is ultimately self-centred, and love generally – and marriage specifically – is an exercise in other centeredness. John Paul II described marriage as a ‘total gift of self’. Whether we are single, dating, engaged or married, if we approach our spouse (or potential spouse) with a mindset of judging whether this person is the right person for me, we become a ‘critical consumer’ rather than a ‘giver of self’.
A bigger and better question, again both before and after marriage, is “am I becoming the right person?” If both a husband and wife lived their life in this mindset then marriage becomes easy.
So while there is no question that ‘marrying well’ is in part about finding someone who shares your hopes and dreams and honours your values and beliefs… that is only half the story.
Slide Post: www.smartloving.org/the-soul-mate-myth/