Who is Marriage For? A Commentary

Quote Fulton J Sheen love is a mutual self giving which ends 39750

This article has been making the rounds lately, telling the tale of husband who finally realized that marriage isn’t about him, it’s about his wife; that marriage is about the other. A friend of mine asked me to comment on it privately, but I thought I’d post my thoughts her for interests sake. It’s always flattering when someone asks you for your opinion in a genuine way. She asked me because I am married and “deep thinker” (she doesn’t know me that well).

In general I like the theme of the article which is to say that, in a healthy marriage, it’s not about us, but about the other person; what we call “Mutual Self Giving (or gifting)”.

If you’ve ever been to a Christian wedding you’ve very likely heard 1 Corinthian 13 :4-7 read out:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Put all those things together and you have what the author sums up as being unselfish. I am in my marriage to offer myself to my wife. To contribute my energy, passions, and talents to our marriage so we can be as strong and united as possible, so that together we can give to the world around us. As a unit we help each other improve, move towards our unified and separate goals, and just plain get through the day.

If, however, someone understands what is written as “door mat”, then that is missing what he is trying to communicate. I do not give myself to my wife to my detriment. I give myself to her, knowing that she would never knowingly allow me to cause myself harm through serving her. I do however acknowledge that there is sacrifice. As an example, I no longer have the freedom to randomly have dinner with a women she doesn’t know or assent to.

Again, the assumption of self-giving is that you are operating in a healthy marriage where both people are self-giving.

One of my closest friends is a women who is in an bad situation with her marriage. Her husband is a good guy overall, but he has major issues for which is requires counselling or they will likely not make it to their second anniversary. She is being incredibly brave by showing love to her husband and serving him as best she can, while receiving much less then she should from him. But, she only goes so far because there is an imbalance in their marriage. He is not serving her as he should because he won’t get the help he needs. The longer it goes on, the more she will withdraw to protect herself. But, this is a byproduct of a marriage that is not functioning properly.

The problem is that many people today, thinking they need to protect themselves from the get go, “just in case”, end up causing the demise of their marriage because they build up so many walls from the beginning that they crumble at the thought of being too exposed or vulnerable.

As an example: My wife and I have joint bank accounts and all our income goes into those accounts, there is no way for us to hide that money. We, together, make decisions on how to spend, save and give “our” money. We have to take each others views into account and come up with a budget we can both agree on. As opposed to one women I used to work with who was convinced that a married women should steadily hide money for 10 years “just in case”. Then if she’s still married (unlikely) she should surprise her husband with a really nice anniversary gift. Ultimately, this self protection, is exposed for selfishness born out of fear and the women who does that can never completely give herself to her marriage because she’s hiding part of herself from it out of fear.

One other misunderstand that could arise from the article is that someone could think he’s saying that the husband is completely responsible for the happiness of the wife and vice-versa. This is incorrect and I don’t think it’s what the author had in mind.

I want my wife to be happy, more then anything and it hurts when she’s not. The goes for close friends. None of us want to see people hurt, but there’s not always anything we can do about it. When my wife’s mother was dying of cancer last year, she certainly wasn’t happy and there was nothing I could do about it. But, I could comfort her, do extra chores, etc, to make it easier for her. I wanted her to be happy more than anything, to smile again, to laugh again, but it wasn’t going to happen for a while. But, I could sacrifice my time, my energy, my emotions, for her, to make things a bit easier.

As much as my wife seeks to make me happy, she isn’t responsible for my happiness. God help her if she was. Not with my mood swings, lol.

See, if I give myself to my wife and she reciprocates and if we know we can trust each others reputations with each other, then I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll be taken advantage of. Other women don’t have to wonder if I’m happily married, because I talk about my wife all the freaking time (in positive ways) and this makes me either a challenge or not a target for those who may wish to seduce me into an affair (I’m not arrogant enough to think anyone wants to seduce me, but I’m not taking chances with my marriage). It’s about trust. That’s why something like an affair (whether it be purely sexual or not) is so damaging to the fabric of a marriage; trust has been broken in a most profound way.

Now, without becoming too personal, think about the marital act (ahem, sexual intercourse). It’s the very definition of self giving. If a husband has sex with his wife solely for his own pleasure then that’s wrong. They are there to offer themselves to each other, to yes, make each other feel good – to offer that to their spouse. But, of course, it’s not just the physical pleasure and its certainly not just about the orgasm. It’s about the ultimate expression of vulnerability and trust, the desire to create new life, the deep emotional connection and bond that is created.

Just to be clear sexual desire and sexual pleasure are in themselves good and there is nothing wrong with them. It’s when they become lust that we see problems. Lust is selfish, it is the plagiarisation of desire. “Desire” in a negative sense arises when a man or women fails to see the full attractiveness of the other person and reduces it to the attractiveness of sexual pleasure alone. [1]

“In lustful desire, one seeks the other person in a reductive way as a mere means for sexual pleasure. There are just an instrument. This is contrary to the full dignity and beauty of the person.” [2]


[1] Man and Women he Created Them: A Theology of the Body, John Paul II. p. 225

[2] ibid. footnote

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