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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  • It’s a beautiful picture you paint here, Brad. And you’ve painted it well. Marriage is a work of art — messy, soaring, disappointing at times, full of pain and joy and heartache and triumph and all the rest. Eventually you come to realize that you’re not the artist but the canvas.

    Great post.

    • Wow, Glynn – I like that: “you come to realize you’re not the artist but the canvas.” Wonderful depiction of marriage, and I guess, life in general.

  • Hope the next 25 are just as therapeutic, Brad. This is really beautiful. Congrats on the 25 – I’ll continue patting myself on the back for 37. I think that deserves a major award. Wait, we got one. A leg lamp.

    • Ha! 37 years of marriage is definitely worthy of a major award. But you still look like a newlywed! 🙂

  • Phil

    Brad, I love the notion of “humbling down” that you offer. For many of us, that is hard to learn and harder to live. Nice piece of celebration of a wonderful marriage!

    Phil

  • Well done you two!

  • marriage as spiritual therapy…i can surely agree with this.

    yes, it is a commitment in relationship.

    and i think that God uses relationship and commitment in the process of our renewal.

    and in seeing and understanding Him and His Love.

    • Yes, commitment in a relationship can be difficult at times, but you stick with it to see it through. Just like God does with us.

  • “It’s about the meshing together over time of two completely independent, unique, stubborn, empty souls into one whole, working unit.”

    How perfectly said and totally true!

    People just started the journey need to read this.

  • ‘humble down’ might just be the best new coined phrase of 2011. Brilliant.

  • Bril BJM – just Bril.

  • Congrats on 25 years! It is much to accomplish in today’s world. I was just talking to a guy tonight at a cocktail party and we were both talking about our spouses — how glad we are that we married young and stayed together. It’s so rare these days. Thanks for publically honoring your marriage. We need to do more of this.

  • Anne Blankinship

    Thanks, truer words were never said. After 33 years, I definitely agree.

  • Congratulations on 25! I believe you have framed it very well. It is journey and one that I am very happy to be on. We’re at the 20 marker but like you, I’ve signed up for the rest of the race.

  • “…dysfunctional desire to be together.” That’s perfect, and it made me chuckle. My husband and I will celebrate 25 years in August. I read this and thought, “This is our story, too.” It is a beautiful journey, isn’t it? Even with the humbling down.

  • This is such a beautiful tribute to your marriage, Bradley. Jeff and I will be celebrating our 18th anniversary in the spring, and I can attest to much of what you say here too. What I want to tell these youngsters who give up at the first whisper of hardship is what wonderful intimacy awaits on the other side of that mountain. It’s a hard thing to explain.

    I hope you had a lovely dinner in NY! Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your sweetie. And many, many more to come 🙂

  • Congratulations. You freaks! 😉 ha ha Bradley, that’s a wonderful milestone. We’ve got a few more years before reaching “silver” status, but I look forward to celebrating when it arrives.

    Great post, and like you, I’m so blessed to have a wife whom I love spending my days with. And yes, it is very “dysfunctional” when compared to the many couples I know who always seem to talk about how they can’t wait to get “away” from each other for a while, or who could never work together, etc. We all need a little space from time to time, but I can’t imagine not wanting to spend time with my best friend.

  • The familiarity of growing old together, that’s what I’m looking forward to. It’s weird for me, as this is a second marriage, that Peter and I don’t share a lot of the growing up together stories. He never met my dad. We didn’t have children together so we don’t know the stories of when they were babies. But these five and half years have been one of God’s richest blessings to me. I’m looking forward to reaching 25 with Peter. We just won’t be the spring chickens you guys are now. 🙂

  • Touche, you two. So much of longevity in relationship (and more importantly quality in relationship) seems to stem from all the things herein mentioned by you and the commenters, to whit: commitment, humility, willingness to change, willingness to give up the rush of being right for the joy of being together, the absolute divine lesson of giving and receiving unconditional love.

    To know my beloved is to know myself, is to know God.