What really matters about marriage

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on March 15, 2011 at 1:45 PM
Recently I read a statement from a well-known celebrity that the institution of marriage is now obsolete and no longer fits with our modern lifestyle. This person may be an expert on the subject because he has been married and divorced three times. But I have some thoughts of my own, though I have only been married once and my husband recently celebrated our 25th anniversary.

Undoubtedly, long-term marriage does seem out of place in our hurry-up, instant gratification, what's-in-it-for-me society. When there is money to be made, status to be achieved, power to be brokered, goods to be purchased and parties to be enjoyed, who has the time and energy to negotiate endlessly with another person such details as how the dishwasher should be loaded and which way the toilet paper roll should be installed on the holder. 

Not to mention the ongoing stress of compromising financial practices, work schedules, religious beliefs, parenting styles, sleep habits, food preferences, social interests, decorating tastes and family obligations. When you think about it from the perspective of day-to-day life, it does seem nearly impossible that two people could manage to live together harmoniously through all the challenges and changes that take place in a lifetime. Our divorce rate of around 50% surely attests to the difficulties posed by the marital relationship.

However, through these past 25 years of living with one person and surviving all the ups and downs and moments of grief and joy, passion and boredom, I have finally come to realize that marriage is really a type of spiritual practice. Committing to stay with another person through every life experience requires diligence, devotion and constant self-analysis. Marriage exposes all your weaknesses and darkest shadows, challenging you to face the truth and take responsibility for who you are as a person.

But this dreadfully painful and difficult work of marriage also gives you an opportunity to grow and evolve as a spiritual being. By struggling together in a close relationship over a long period of time, you can achieve both tremendous depth in your human character and an elevated awareness of the Divine. Patience and perseverance are required, of course, along with a great sense of humor. But the rewards come after many years of work and they cannot be adequately described by such words as peace, fulfillment and contentment.

Some people are saying that not only is the institution of marriage crumbling but so are the religious structures of our society: monasteries are struggling to attract new young spiritual seekers. But I like to think that marriage can be a contemporary type of monastery (ideally, without the celibacy!) - a place to practice devotion and work toward spiritual growth. I believe this commitment is what really matters about marriage.

Categories: Relationships, Spiritual Practice, Transformation

Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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