The frustrations of marital incompatibility is intended to produce Christ in us.
Readership: The married; Those who aspire to marriage;
I was once reading some Catholic priest about that churches view of marriage, and in one passage he quipped, “We generally marry our own cross.”
Elaborating on this, his point was that in all of his experience as a priest, and by default a marriage counselor, he had noticed that people tend to marry someone who has at least one severe character defect or personality trait that is truly a cross to bear for them personally. That even in the most loving, healthy of relationships, God will almost certainly give you a spouse whose worst traits are a challenge for you.
Most likely, your own personality, something you value, something you cherish, something you absolutely cannot tolerate will be absent or present, respectively, and you are required to figure out a way to love them anyway, forever. And to love them without resentment, nor withholding, nor doing so begrudgingly.
This is Christ and his relationship to his own, literal cross, in a nutshell, isn’t it? Most of the visual portrayals of Christ and the stations depict Him with His head low, moping around like a victim, and maybe this is true. And I am not suggesting that He gleefully carried the cross, got beaten, scourged, bloodied, nailed to it and died on it. I’m sure it was quite unpleasant to watch. But what if he was able, even in those moments to at some point retain a look of hope–some expression or manner that conveyed a sense of contentment with his situation? I don’t know, but I think if anyone could do that, He might have. None of the ancient texts seem to tell us, so believe whatever you want.
And so it is in our marriages that whatever drives you crazy about your spouse is yours to love–to integrate into the whole internalized person you married–and cherish them as if they are the most important person you will ever know on this earth. Love, by definition, covers a multitude of transgressions. (1st Corinthians 13; 1st Peter 4:8)
The fact that this Truth is hidden from most of today’s teachings about marriage is not necessarily a surprise to those who read here. The conspicuous absence of this Truth makes it all the more worthy of exploring as a concept. This is because it can give us a starting point for a new type of marriage, one that is in fact, as old as marriage itself. When we receive and give this kind of love, it is much easier to understand exactly how grace works. The other person tolerates so much in us that the only way to explain it is that Christ is in them.
I do not write this today as a complaint about my own wife, God forbid. In fact, recently, I have been struck by details I won’t discuss here how utterly cross-like I am to her. Maybe at another point, the opposite dynamic will manifest but it is not really our place to ponder such things too much. Remember, there is a mote in your own eye. Thinking of yourself as a cross bearer and your spouse as the cross will breed contempt eventually. The best you can do is to focus on how much you annoy them, work on it, and hope their grace covers the distance.
This habitual cross bearing, these seemingly tailor-made marital struggles are what the world calls “incompatibility“, and why not? If one spouse has a list of “must haves” and “can’t stands” and they find in the course of their marriage that the other somehow misses the mark, then it must not have been “meant to be.” They are “incompatible.” The model for marriage today is self-fulfillment, and has no deeper meaning than what it can do for the individual and his or her happiness.
This type of marriage is what my ex-wife called “a life prison sentence.” A lifetime of “banging my head against a wall just so other people can be impressed with how we stayed married until we died.” But it is upon that death bed, and only then that we can know if we loved completely, without fail and with total selflessness. The years in between can be sweet, painful, frustrating, or whatever, in whatever doses they come. Much of that is based on attitude, to be sure. But the masterpiece that is created–an opus that contains all the sickness, health, happiness, babies, mortgages, plans made–achieved or not–is only viewable from the end looking back. It was “true love” because you made it to the end. That “true love” then, is a destination, not a 100 percent blissful all the time sweet love story. If you have read my writing on this topic you will know that being blissful all the time is exactly what I crave, and it is insatiable. I am a romantic, to the core. But ultimately this is unsustainable.
A godly marriage then does not need to be marked by suffering and regret all the way to the bitter end. The daily grind of your marriage is a glorious testament to what it will represent as it comes to a close, when neither of you have to prove your love to each other or anyone else. It will stand as its own monument to that fact. Moderns and those who believe in modern marriage cannot touch this, and without Christ, cannot even comprehend it.
- Σ Frame: The Meaning of Marriage (2011-7-11)
- Σ Frame: The Four Stages of Marriage (2011-7-13)
- Σ Frame: Lest we forget, Marriage was once intended to Glorify God (2019-8-8)