In Praise of Marriage as Spiritual Therapy

In Praise of Marriage as Spiritual Therapy February 11, 2011

This past year my beautiful wife and I celebrated twenty-five years of marriage. That is certainly a long time for two people to be living together. In some circles, that would qualify for freak-show status.

We married in our early twenties, both of us recent college graduates. We thought of ourselves as full-fledged adults back then, but really, we were still just kids with very little experience of true responsibility in life. We have been through quite a lot since then, and can safely say that we have grown up together – both of us at different times tragically leaving behind our naïve, simplified and over-spiritualized views of the world.

Despite all the growing pains throughout the years, I must say that the end result is all good. The churning and the chaos, the high hopes and the accomplishments, the ecstasy, the devastation, it all melds together to create a beautiful palette of what is now uniquely our own marriage. We are constantly amazed by our dysfunctional desire to be together, always.

There is a unique comfort and assurance we take in knowing each other so well, having lived through so much, having seen so much in and through each other. To me, that is what all that “one flesh” stuff in the bible was talking about. It’s so much more than just the physical union. It’s about the meshing together over time of two completely independent, unique, stubborn, empty souls into one whole, working unit.

It’s not always pretty, by traditional standards. But like fine art and wine, the beauty appreciates with time.

Here’s what I have learned about marriage. Because the intimacy of the relationship between two people is so intensely concentrated, it becomes a little microcosm of God’s manifestation in life: sacrifice, forgiveness, redemption, and of course, unconditional love are all played out in the field of marriage. We can either get on board and learn how to do these things in and through our relationship, or the marriage becomes forever lost.

I once read a book written by a marriage counselor who said that marriage is the best therapy one can ever experience for personal growth. When it came time in the book to discuss solutions for handling disagreements and conflict in a marriage, his advice was simple. One of the partners has to change. Duh. Just as simple as that. Once you get beyond the defensiveness of being right and thinking that you’re view of the world is the only reality and that this is just how you are wired and you can’t do anything about that – once you stop obsessing about all those things – just humble down and change. It’s funny, you don’t realize how self-centered and self-absorbed you are until you try to live with someone else for a long time, and work it out together. I think the professionals call this “psycho-spiritual growth.”

After having a few laps under my belt, I say that working out a marriage and family life is one of the most self-less things you can do in learning to live out the truths of Jesus’ teaching.

For the unflinching beauty of facing love head-on, for the spiritual growth I’ve gained, I am forever indebted to my wife.  Here’s to the next twenty five, love.

Thanks to Nance Marie for the photo.

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