And the Two Shall Become One

I was talking to a friend the other day who has known her husband since her mid-teens. Like me, she has probably passed the half-way mark of her life, and has been with her husband for many years now. She mulled over the fact that if anything happened to her husband, it’s possible she’d remarry, but she knows it would never be the same. There will never be another person who had known her as a young person, who has been her first intimate partner, who has been alongside her through all the ups and downs of life, who has shared her history, who has created a unique home with her, and with whom she has jointly created and parented children.

There is a something about a long-term (and reasonably healthy) marriage that is unlike any other relationship on earth. New relationships may have chemistry galore, but such chemistry inevitably waxes and wanes. In “the Road Less Travelled” M Scott Peck describes falling in love as a “trick”, without which none of us would dare to make the terrifying commitment of marriage and the work of love. Falling in love requires no work at all… but truly loving another, and in particular, loving another in the unique relationship of marriage, is perhaps among the most important work of our lives.

Alan Niven (pastoral care lecturer extraordinaire at CCTC) claims that as a minister you never actually marry two people… you marry two sets of hopes and projections. Which is why days, weeks, months or possibly years into a marriage the inevitable happens… it can no longer be ignored that the person to whom one has pledged love “til death do you part” fails to fulfil all those hopes and projections. The alarming thought pops into one’s head and heart (with varying degrees of profanity or finesse)… “What the hell have I done?”

Opposites so often attract for good reason… opposite personalities have complementary strengths and weaknesses. But now one finds oneself saddled with not only someone with very different brain wiring and hormones (due to gender) but someone with very different inclinations. And the very qualities that seemed so attractive early in a relationship can be later a source of great friction. The person who seemed to be such a good listener, now seems irritatingly quiet and reserved. The person who was bright and sparkly and engaging, now seems a vacuous chatterbox who never listens to anyone else. The once-delightfully easy-going person now has no ambition or initiative. The person who was delightfully spontaneous is now plain irresponsible. The steady, responsible person has been recognised at work as such, and is now rebranded a workaholic. The once-generous, fun person is now viewed as irresponsible with household finances. And so on, and so forth… the strengths (and weaknesses, often the shadow side of the strengths) of a partner can lead to intense irritation, and such qualities might be labelled in one’s mind as fatal incompatibility. All of this is without even considering the complexities of family of origin issues, and the way in which all humans “fall short” of wholeness and holiness.

When the “What the hell have I done?” question can no longer be avoided, the work of loving (in Peck’s terms) truly begins.

To love and accept a person as they actually are (not as one wants them to be) requires a kind of dying. We must die to self-centredness. We must die to certain hopes and dreams. We must die to the belief that someone other than God can meet all of the deepest needs of our hearts. We must die to getting our own way.

Around 2000 years ago Jesus uttered some extraordinary (and profound) words:

Luke 9: 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”.

That which is true for the spiritual life (surrender of the self-will to find true inner peace) is also true in the dynamic of relationships. Something unique and extraordinary is resurrected on the other side of dying to self. A mature marriage is born through one act of kindness and forbearance upon another. The jagged little bits that stick out from a freshly dismantled jigsaw puzzle are worn away, and two pieces of a jigsaw somehow just fit together smoothly. The eccentricities and imperfections of another person are accepted and worked around, as are one’s own eccentricities and imperfections in return. It is a different kind of love from the fizzle of fresh love, and clich├ęd and hard to believe as it might sound, it really is a deeper kind of love.

I’d be interested to hear of your observations and reflections on the difficult and delightful process of how two become one…


AbiSomeone said…
Janet ... I have been pondering some writing on marriage myself -- and the challenges of those who believe there is such a thing as a "Christian marriage" ... but I'm not sure I'm quite ready for that yet.

What you're talking about, however, is very much a "purple martyrdom" kind of understanding ... the dying to self ... the realizing that we have asked a human to be in our life what only God can be ... the realization that the feeding and nurturing of relationship during times of great stress (child-rearing and extended injury or illness) ... the realization that the many things that we "overlooked" were really naive assumptions of ours that we "laminated" onto someone else.

I love that part of Peck's book. I have a great appreciation for many things Peck has written over the years....

The truth is somewhere between the fairy tale and the arranged marriage of convenience. I've been pondering my parents' 64 years of marriage -- cut short by my dad's death almost 3 weeks ago now.

One of these days the abbess will write ... and we can ponder it some more together....
Anonymous said…
Something that made a lot sense to me about a marriage between a man and a woman, each of whom claimed to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, was the idea that they looked to be complete in Christ and avoid the pitfall of looking to the other person to "complete” them or “perfect” them, whether consciously or sub-consciously . Although it's a common colloquial expression to describe one's mate as "the other half" or "the better half", I prefer to think of two complete beings coming together to make an entirely new entity. Of course this is not flawless perfection, but rather, a “becoming completion”… Unfortunately for many it becomes a competition!
Janet Woodlock said…
Agreed (anonymous!) Lucy... it's a recipe for unhealthy co-dependency (and disappointment) to think someone else needs to fill up all one's gaps. Some relationships end up with very unhelpful dynamics where one partner loses confidence in their ability to do things and the other partner seems to feed off dependency. There's lots of pitfalls in life and relationships eh?
AbiSomeone said…
Okay, Janet ... I stirred the pot a bit over at my place:
David said…
Recently, one have become two.
Janet Woodlock said…
Oh, sorry to hear it. I only just got notification of your post. Hope you're coping OK.

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