As a Single person much thought and activity is put into finding the right mate. We focus on getting along well with that person and ironing out differences so the whole relationship moves along smoothly and enjoyably. It is usually after reaching this point that the idea of marriage begins to pop up. Usually the questions that are asked of each other are things like, “So what do you think?.. are you ready to ‘settle down’??”, or “How do you feel about making this permanent?.. how does that settle with you??”
But aside from the valid questions we must ask of each other, there are certain questions we must ask of ourselves in private or with help of a close and trusted friend. And these questions must be answered honestly, not in simple reflex to what we think is the ‘right’ answer. As a guide to such, we’ll cover a few of these questions that can make the difference between making a lasting marital commitment, or perhaps not making that commitment until the time is right.
Question One: “How do I define and perceive ‘Marriage’?”. Anyone who has entered into or studied formal debate knows that one of the premier rules one employs at the outset is, ‘Define Your Terms’. How many businesses, agreements and even marriages have been entered into with two parties assuming different definitions of the same term? Only afterwards did it come out, “But I thought you meant…”, or “But my idea of marriage is…”. So one of your first questions to yourself should be, “What do I think marriage is?”. The corollary to this is, “How is this change going to affect my life as I’ve known it this far?” Believe it or not, many people see marriage from either of three perspectives. I’ve labeled these three views on marriage as the ‘Giving’, ‘Selfish’ and ‘Innocuous’ views.
In the Giving View of marriage, a person sits down with themselves and realizes that what they are committing to with this marriage is to set their own needs and wants as permanently secondary to the needs and wants of their mate and children. What does any man or woman possess when they are Single, or even Single and dating?? Well, let’s make a list. They have their own time, money, energy, projects and priorities. Any of these resources are theirs to use as they please for their own self-enhancement or distribute as they see fit. However, in a Giving perspective on marriage, a man or woman realizes that marriage means making any of these resources available for the common good of the Marriage and the Family that will result.
Before I delve into this, I do want to make clear that I am not supporting the idea that getting married means losing one’s identity or need for personal time alone. It is healthy, and as I’ve written before, having one’s own projects and personality is yet another healthy aspect of a solid marriage. Having said that, it stands that upon marriage a man or woman’s desire in getting married is to care for the common good of that marriage. That might be something as simple as using your check to pay the majority of expenses while your spouse works part-time and goes to school. It might mean using some of your energy to wake up and change your baby’s diaper in the middle of the night so your spouse can rest for their workshift in the morning. It may mean setting aside your project of practicing your musical instrument so you can care for your spouse’s health issues or do laundry and housekeeping. It may mean reassigning your priorities from having a flashy sports car to financing a family van or house. In the Giving View of marriage one’s time, money, energy, projects and priorities shift from ‘self’ to ‘family’. When both spouses have this same view it is amazing how much can be accomplished uniting resources for that common goal. It becomes astounding the amount of care and bonding that occurs as each makes it their personal priority to care for and protect their spouse in any need that arises.
In the Selfish View of marriage, a person’s enthusiasm is fueled largely by the greed of what they anticipate to ‘get’ from getting married. They only see hooking in a spouse who will provide all the things mentioned in the Giving perspective. but without any commitment on their own part to provide the same in return. Usually what you will hear from these people in some form or another are things like, “He makes so much money, I’ll finally have what I’ve dreamed of.” or.. “She’s so fine looking I’ll have all the sex I’ve ever dreamed of.”, or some variation in subtlety. But the root remains the same.. they see primarily what they will get from being married more than what could ever be expected from them to contribute to that marriage. Anyone who has known a relationship or marriage with this sort of element can attest to the drain it puts on the ‘giver’ and the loathsome identity of laziness upon the one who merely takes on the position of receiver. It takes very little comment to realize this sort of arrangement leads to the complacency of one partner and the tiring boredom of the other.
In the Innocuous View on marriage, a person somehow immaturely believes that “nothing’s gonna change just because of some piece of paper”. They think of marriage as just another form of going “steady”. As though it were just a legal form of giving your class ring to your girl before the prom. “It’ll be just like dating except we’ll live together and have lots of sex.” is essentially what is thought. This is by far the most damaging and dangerous mindset to take of marriage. Especially when both partners have this view. Eventually boundaries are crossed and a lack of respect for the importance of marriage leads to a lack of respect between the partners. Finances become a tug of war. “My time” becomes a term used with more frequency. Jealousy and the demands of raising children are just time bombs waiting to explode. Without realizing that marriage effects one of the greatest changes to one’s lifetime, entering into it lightly as though playing house is a recipe for disaster.
Question Two: “Am I willing to do what it takes?” Every marriage is different. Every relationship has it’s own peculiar beauty and challenges. The issues that arise from marrying someone who has epileptic seizures are different from those arising from marrying someone who has a problem with infidelity, gambling, alcohol, or other forms of selfishness. We are all only human and no matter how well we have cleaned ourselves up we still carry some form of ‘baggage’ into a relationship. I know a happy couple in which the wife suffers from manic depression. I know a happy couple in which the husband succumbed to cancer in his final days. Another whose child was born grossly deformed, another made their way past alcoholism, another past adultery. I know families that manage to hold themselves together in a healthy direction despite problems of various natures.. all because each spouse has decided they are each going to do “whatever it takes’ to make things work.
Not every marriage comes with such extreme issues. Having the resolve for “what it takes” involves the more mundane challenge of daily being a good provider, a good Father, a good Mother, a Disciplinarian, an example of compassion, a good Husband or Wife to a family that will look to you for such things. Being a consistent provider might mean losing your job and pounding the pavement until you get a job you may not even enjoy.. but you take to provide for the needs of your family. Their needs come first, before yours. Being a good parent may mean using what little energy you have left at the end of the day to either discipline your child or take the time to drive them for an ice cream because they need your time. It might mean waiting with patience in a dental office as your child gets braces after you’ve worked a ten-hour shift. It might mean getting up early on Saturday because they desperately want to play league soccer, baseball or basketball. Being a good spouse might mean putting your own projects aside to make dinner, go shopping, do laundry or any other chore so your spouse can get some rest while they are sick. And doing all this not with a heart of ingratitude.. but a willing heart that puts Family ahead of self. “Am I willing to do what it takes?”.. This is one of those, “God, give me strength at 4a.m.” sort of decisions that has to be made on a daily basis. This too is part of marriage.
Question Three: “Am I willing to forsake all others?” While easily overlooked in most wedding vows, (…forsaking all others, do you hereby take…), this is an issue that has to be resolved in one’s heart. Sometimes repeatedly. Forsaking all others. To forsake means to “turn away permanently”. By making your decision to take this man or woman as your spouse you are declaring you no longer consider any other to share that same place of honor. No other is to know that same level of intimacy. I won’t say this is primarily a concern for men, since I have known women who suffered from equal lack of resolve. There is no doubt that temptation and attraction to a new lover will eventually present itself. How extreme that possibility presents itself will vary. There those who come knocking on your door and there are those times you can envision yourself knocking upon their door… but it is what you have set in your heart that must first be in place correctly. I won’t go into the deeper, tougher issues of “moments of weakness”, “philandering habits” and such. What we’ll concern ourselves with here is your preparation to enter marriage. Are you willing to forsake all others and pursue this one love for the remainder of your life? Are you comfortable with that? Is it your joy to pursue that? Or do you see it as a questionable cost? Do you see it as unreasonable?? When you’ve asked yourself and answered these questions you’ll be that much closer to knowing yourself. Giving a false answer to someone else will only cause damage in the end.
As you ponder marriage, or the marriage you have recently entered, consider these things and where you stand in each. It is something you do within yourself for the benefit of others. As with most things, there are more hard ways to get something done than easy ways. But with a bit of forethought and clarity we can make the right decisions and profit from them.
Henry Velez is a writer, traveler and vlogger currently living in the Philippines. He has written extensively on social issues, relationships and travel.