Can relationships succeed independently of the efforts of the people involved?

Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship
Man helping a woman with proper handgun marksmanship

A few years ago, I blogged about the soul mate / fairy tale view of marriage, which I think is the dominant view of marriage among young people today – even among Christians. This view of marriage basically says that there is a person in the world out there who will match up so perfectly with each one of us that we will have to expend no effort and perform no actions and take responsibility for nothing in order for the relationship to work. it will just work on its own!

I’ve decided to link to this recent article by Matt Walsh which is on that same topic.

He writes:

The disease is the fanciful, unrealistic, fictionalized perceptions that both males and females harbor about marriage.

For example, think of the glamorization of the “mysterious” and “damaged” guy from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Hollywood makes him seem alluring and sexy, but forgets to mention that most of the time, in the real world, that dude probably has herpes, a coke habit, and a criminal record.

Still, that bit of propaganda is nothing compared to the underlying misconception that so many of us carry around consciously or subconsciously, because we’ve seen it on TV and in the movies, and read it in books a million times since childhood: namely, that there is just one person out there for us. Our soul mate. Our Mr. or Mrs. Right. The person we are “meant to be with.”

Matt thinks this view of relationships is not realistic:

I didn’t marry my wife because she’s The One, she’s The One because I married her. Until we were married, she was one, I was one, and we were both one of many. I didn’t marry The One, I married this one, and the two of us became one. I didn’t marry her because I was “meant to be with her,” I married her because that was my choice, and it was her choice, and the Sacrament of marriage is that choice. I married her because I love her — I chose to love her — and I chose to live the rest of my life in service to her. We were not following a script, we chose to write our own, and it’s a story that contains more love and happiness than any romantic fable ever conjured up by Hollywood.

Indeed, marriage is a decision, not the inevitable result of unseen forces outside of our control. When we got married, the pastor asked us if we had “come here freely.” If I had said, “well, not really, you see destiny drew us together,” that would have brought the evening to an abrupt and unpleasant end. Marriage has to be a free choice or it is not a marriage. That’s a beautiful thing, really.

God gave us Free Will. It is His greatest gift to us because without it, nothing is possible. Love is not possible without Will. If we cannot choose to love, then we cannot love. God did not program us like robots to be compatible with only one other machine. He created us as individuals, endowed with the incredible, unprecedented power to choose. And with that choice, we are to go out and find a partner, and make that partner our soul mate.

That’s what we do. We make our spouses into our soul mates by marrying them. We don’t simply recognize that they are soul mates and then just sort of symbolically consecrate that recognition through what would then be an effectively meaningless marriage sacrament. Instead, we find another unique, dynamic, wholly individualized human being, and we make the monumental, supernatural decision to bind ourselves to them for eternity.

It’s a bold and risky move, no matter how you look at it. It’s important to recognize this, not so that you can run away like a petrified little puppy and never tie the knot with anyone, but so that you can go into marriage knowing, at least to some extent, what you’re really doing. This person wasn’t made for you. It wasn’t “designed” to be. There will be some parts of your relationship that are incongruous and conflicting. It won’t all click together like a set of Legos, as you might expect if you think this coupling was fated in the stars.

It’s funny that people get divorced and often cite “irreconcilable differences.” Well what did they think was going to happen? Did they think every difference would be reconcilable? Did they think every bit of contention between them could be perfectly and permanently solved?

Finally, regarding his own marriage:

There were literally millions of things that either of us could have done. An innumerable multitude of possible outcomes, but this was our outcome because we chose it. Not because we were destined or predetermined, not because it was “meant to happen,” but because we chose it. That, to me, is much more romantic than getting pulled along by fate until the two of us inevitably collide and all that was written in our horoscopes passively comes to unavoidable fruition.

We are the protagonists of our love story, not the spectators.

I see this problem everywhere, even with Christian women who have been raised as Disney princesses. I was just told by one last week that she will marry when she meets “the right man” – the man who will require her to do nothing. This magical relationship will require no communication, no working through disagreements, no problem solving, no compromise, no effort, no self-sacrifice of any kind. it will just “work”, without any growing up by anyone. Two unemployed people with degrees in English can have a fine marriage, I suppose, traveling the world and skydiving every Tuesday.

I think that when problems arise between two people who are largely compatible, the right thing to do is to engage and solve the problems. Yes, work isn’t required in pop culture notions of romance, but those things don’t reflect the real world anyway. In the real world, actions to solve a problem count for more than words that avoid the problem. Engineering principles and self-sacrificial attitude are infinitely more useful in a relationship than all the pop culture descriptions of ideal men and ideal women and ideal relationships combined.

By the way, the best book on this problem is Dr. Laura’s “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands”, which clearly sets out how a woman’s choices influence her husband’s ability to perform well. The myth of the mind-reading “right man” is also debunked.

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