We came across a really interesting article the other day – You Never Marry the Right Person, By Timothy Keller.
The author makes some really great points. Firstly, the Soul Mate thing that is so common among ‘marriage seekers’. We have this belief, that if we can just find our soul mate, that perfectly compatible person, love will transport us to paradise and the rest of it is easy.
The thing is, love isn’t easy. Nothing of great value is easy; it all takes effort, self-denial, discipline and heartache. And we kind of know this: no one expects to be a great athlete, scholar, artist or businessman without having to work for it. In many cases it takes decades of dedicated effort.
Yet when it comes to love, we live in the delusion that with the right person, ‘our soul mate’, it all just magically happens.
No wonder so many couples come unstuck a few years into marriage. “Love is not supposed to be this hard” they complain. “Love should just come naturally”. The Soul Mate myth has convinced them that love and marriage is about self-fulfilment rather than self-denial.
“They do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, love and consolation, a “haven in a heartless world,” as Christopher Lasch describes it. Rather, they are looking for someone who will accept them as they are, complement their abilities and fulfill their sexual and emotional desires.” – Timothy Keller
There’s really no such thing as two people being perfectly compatible.
To start with, each person is incredibly complex – there’s going to be something in their character that turns up sometime during the marriage that doesn’t mesh with our soul-mate expectation. It may be an attitude to an aspect of parenting or caring for aged parents or something that just doesn’t come on the radar in the dating period because it’s not part of our life at that time. Sometimes, there are attitudes and beliefs of which even the individual is unaware until they pop up into their life, such as being confronted with an ethical dilemma at work. It’s just impossible to know or anticipate all those intricacies about our spouse’s personality.
Secondly, life changes us. My husband likes to ‘shock’ the young people we speak to at conferences by saying: “I sleep with a different woman every day!…[pause for dramatic effect, audience gasps]… My wife is not the same woman I married, she’s not even the same woman she was last week! [To which I add] And he’s not talking about PMT either although that does bring out my inner psycho!” The truth is, neither of us is the same. We are both changing daily in response to the experiences of our life.
So no matter how well a relationship starts out, no matter how compatible we are when we begin, marriage will always have its challenges as each of us grow and change and learn ever new ways to ‘die-to-self’, usually reluctantly!
This is what makes marriage hard. It’s also what makes it wonderful.
“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the Gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The Gospel is—we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, and at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. … God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us…The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level.” – Timothy Keller
Marriage is a vehicle for personal transformation. When we’d rather just walk away, the marriage commitment holds us in relationship so that love can do it’s alchemy transforming us, bit by bit, from self-centred and self-serving to truly self-giving persons.
And at the end of decades, maybe even half a century, those of us who submit to the process will emerge as true soul mates: the one who has faithfully walked beside us as our souls were refined in the fires of our shared life.
At the end of the day, we don’t ‘find’ a soul mate, we become one through years of dedicated love and self-giving.