What Exactly is Marriage?

The Big Leap

Today, marriage seems to be a kind of evolutionary accident. After a period of getting acquainted, dating and becoming romantically and intimately involved, comes the stage of restlessness. This is where a couple confronts one of life’s most terrifying questions: Now what?  When their answer to “Where do we go from here?” is marriage, this innocent couple ends up wedged between the panic, split and run —“a part of me will always love you” routine—and deciding to take the big leap. This leap lands them under the marriage canopy vowing to share their lives—their joys and sorrows—“till death do us part.” The only thing missing is “…and they all lived happily ever after.”  Because these days, most of them don’t.

No Definition = Big Problem

Many of the obstacles that wound and even cripple a marriage are a direct result of a faulty definition of marriage. Think about friendship for a moment. If two people have different definitions of friendship, and both consider the other to be a friend, then what will transpire is a frustrating experience.  Each will have a different set of expectations and assumptions, each will invest different amounts of emotional energy and each will be caught off guard when reciprocity seems to be out of kilter.  The result will be a friendship gone bitter, and the cause will have been different views of what a friendship was supposed to be all about in the first place.  The same trap exists with marriage. No definition, or different definitions, lead to big problems. Marriage is not the creation of a permanent context for hot nights and care free days; it’s not the key to happiness or a treatment for depression, and it’s not even about the creation and training of future college graduates. What then is marriage? Jewish wisdom defines marriage as the commitment a man and a woman make to becoming one shared, unified soul—with a uniquely distinctive identity—pursuing common life goals.

Life Goals and Marriage

Jewish wisdom assesses the highest priority to clarifying life goals.  A clear idea of one’s life goals is the surest foundation for meaningful, productive, spiritual living and forms the bedrock for a deep, fulfilling and lasting marriage as well.

Marriages dissolve when two lives are pointed in different directions.  Conflicts over the color for a new kitchen can generally be resolved, but conflicts in direction often cannot. Couples rarely break up over clashes in taste, but they do break up over whose career comes first when the two conflict. Couples will break up over whether to give priority to career or family, over whether or not to have children, over the type of education to give their children, and over which religion or how much of it to have in the home. These, and other issues like them, are anything but trivial. These are life goal issues. They are issues every individual needs to carefully consider before inviting someone else to share his or her life. Two people who don’t know where they are going should never commit to getting there together.

If you want to go to the beach, you can’t share a car with someone who wants to go skiing. If you want stability in life, you’ve got to have goals. In marriage, shared goals bring stability, structure and harmony. They are also the basis for fulfillment and a catalyst for the deepest of loves and the deepest and most intimate shared life imaginable.

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Comments icon June 4, 2009

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