"There is nothing more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends,” wrote Homer in The Odyssey. Your spouse is the most important friendship of your life and together as a team you can confound your enemies and delight your friends while experiencing the great institution of marriage.
Friendship in marriage will require consistent effort, and it is a relationship where the term “second self” should be in bold caps and underlined. The choice to marry and move through the entire course of your life with one other individual is a commitment to elevate your second self to a sacred position. You do not marry for what the other can do for you, you marry because your love and fidelity for the other individual is so great you want above all in life to improve their life.
Marriage is a powerful, world changing institution and without it, we are not just losing ground in serving our society and another person, we are losing foundational friendship.
“Since the start of the 21st century, the U.S. marriage rate has declined from more than eight marriages per 1,000 down to six marriages per 1,000 population in 2019. That marriage rate is the lowest level since the U.S. government began keeping marriage records for the country in 1867. Also, 70 years ago a large majority of U.S. households, approximately 80 percent, were made up of married couples. In 2020, the proportion of households consisting of married couples fell to 49 percent.” (The Hill, The End of Marriage, Joseph Chamie, 8.1o.21)
Lecturer in Natural and Applied Sciences, Clarissa Sawyer sites reasons for this decline in marriage among Millennials as highlighted in a Bentley University article, “Why Millennials Refuse to Get Married” by Kristen Walsh. People are waiting to get married for numerous reasons in our modern society says Sawyer, and fear of divorce is a lead reason. Stating, “Millennials…take time to get to know their partner, accumulate assets and become financially successful.”
Economics playing a role in fewer people getting married is not new. Economics delayed marriages during The Great Depression as jobs were scarce and there was a fear of not being able to provide. The coming-of-age generation however has taken this further with the need to feel “successful” before getting married. This is a different target for everyone and hard to define.
One of the biggest fears I’ve seen in young people is a fear of getting their heart broke. As we have discussed, we must trust to build friendship, and there is always the possibility another human will behave untrustworthy. Marriage makes us incredibly vulnerable to being hurt in a grand way. I’ve seen friends crushed under the weight of a spouse’s infidelity. Some recovered and trusted someone in a new relationship. Others forgave and continued their relationship. Others divorced and are caught in a cycle of poor decisions, depression, or unforgiveness.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Four Loves, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Our Children both have started incredible friendships in marriage
The Two-Year-Friendship is a viable model to get to know someone and to work through conflict as you consider a lifelong commitment to your most important friendship. This is not a full proof method. Those who have known each other for weeks and months have lived long happy friendships together just as those who dated for years. Danae and I dated for six years before getting married and still had much to work on in our relationship after we were wed. In a lifelong commitment to a second self comes a lifetime of various conflicts to manage.
Life can challenge this friendship unlike any other. You may commit to a person who develops medical issues later in life. Marriage may put you in a relationship where you must manage a relationship with someone who has mental issues. It might be you have to care for someone who loses the ability to control their body. You might have to help your spouse through a long legal battle. Your spouse may become physically unappealing to you due to weight or age. If you chose this person because of their virtue and you saw them at one time as a second self, you as a virtuous individual must live out your commitment to serve them and work through countless changes over time or the endless number of difficulties life may present. This is the purpose of the institution of marriage – to display the virtuosity of friendship to the world.
Seneca, in the known portions of his ‘De Matrimonio”, alludes to marriage as a state of stability which leads to virtue. The commitment through hardship is the virtuous example.
The conflicts which might end marriage should be very few and linked to actions of extreme unvirtuousness.
As a Christian, I subscribe to only one viable reason to end your lifelong commitment to your greatest friend, infidelity. Every couple I know who has decided to work through infidelity and stay together has ended in divorce later or lived in a life of misery. I understand there is purpose in suffering and lessons to be gained from it, but if the God of the universe says it’s a cause for separation, I think we should heed his option (Matthew 19:9).
From a non-Biblical view, if someone is in an abusive relationship in the form of physical harm or extreme mental abuse it stands on the words of the ancients, this is a relationship to be ended. This should also be considered if children in the family are subjected to physical abuse or extreme mental abuse. I only use the term “extreme” as it relates to a mental abuse, and any type of mental abuse should be considered, and professional help sought to determine what might be taking place and what should be addressed and how. If the abuse is physical – run for help.
I fear someone might exaggerate mental abuse and extend it to the statement, “I’m not happy or they don’t make me happy.” Happiness is a fleeting feeling which comes and goes. It has been elevated by current generations to the most important goal in life. This is dangerous. Telling someone to, “Do what makes you happy” is as dangerous as advising them to jog on the 405 in Los Angeles. We should encourage people to, “Do what is virtuous” or “Do what helps others.”
The younger generations were raised mostly under a broad religious humanism. The self is in charge and gets to make their own rules whether they fit into reality or not, whether established or under review, whether ancient or new, whether tested by centuries or by minutes.
Author John Zmirak of “How to Go to College And Not Lose Your Mind” writes, “Our country has gradually shifted from an intolerant (ca. 1688) to a tolerant (ca. 1783) Protestant culture, to a broadly religious humanism (ca. 1945), to embrace after 1968 a new and crasser creed. The lowest common denominator on which we can all agree boils down to this: suffering is worse than being happy and being alive is better than being dead -- except if it means that you will suffer. That is the sum total of what Americans can agree on, the fighting creed of the free world for which we expect our soldiers to march off and die. The triumph of this new religion is everywhere apparent…The God of the Happy Moments is a jealous god, and his zealots are proving to be bigots.”
The ancients had a much different view of happiness than moderns. For Aristotle, happiness is an “activity of the soul that expresses virtue.” All things in the universe have purpose according to Aristotle. His example is the acorn’s purpose is to become a thriving oak. For Aristotle humankind was the only creature given the power of reason, and this gift was to be used to make decisions to live virtuously. Happiness was not a fleeting feeling, but a way of living.
The ancient Biblical view of happiness is related to a way of living and the condition of the heart. It is the aim to produce, love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness and self-control. The aim again is virtue.
These ancient paths are not focused on the self in whole, but mostly our call to responding to the elements and events surrounding us, virtuously.
Friendship in marriage thrives under these definitions and applications of happiness. This form of friendship, marriage, requires us to carefully consider who we are willing to give up our entire life in service too.
How do we live out our greatest friendship? Our spouse is the friend we place before all others. The majority of our time and energy is to be focused on them. We sacrifice our wants and needs if necessary to serve them and help them achieve their goals. Virtue would have both friends behaving the same creating and atmosphere of support, compromise and equality which helps each individual grow and progress. This comes through time together and constant and open communication. This friendship requires forgiveness and leaving failures in the past. The lessons learned in marriage in serving one another may be applied to all friendships. Marriage is sealed with vows as a covenant relationship, and we can apply this same attitude toother friendships in our life. A lifelong commitment to caring for another.
There is something incredibly unique however about friendship within marriage that should never be shared with others, sexual intimacy, which should be considered as sacrosanct. Sex in marriage should be frequent, fun, and passionate. It is the one thing you share which no one else knows or understands about the two of you, a place where no one else will ever be in your relationship. Sex is affirming, comforting, and euphoric and binds two individuals in a mystical way.
The modern has made the mistake of making sex about one’s own personal pleasure and moved it to a place of recreation instead of a special gift between two lifelong committed friends. Marriages suffer when one or both individuals bring their sexual experiences with others to the marriage which may lead to comparison and disappointment. If one or both of you had sex with others before marriage, this should be addressed in detail before committing to marriage for awareness and understanding of each other’s life journey and the potential difficulties it could bring.
If we did not consider a Biblical view of sex and marriage at all, it is still evident sex in marriage is a much more enjoyable and satisfying act which binds two people in a unique way who have never shared the act with anyone outside of the relationship.
There is also a level of emotional intimacy to be shared between you and your spouse. Emotional intimacy is a part of all friendships at some level, but between you and your spouse at a much deeper level. This may include secrets, shared fears, and failures and both should define what they wish to not be shared with others.
Experiences should be sought in your friendship with your spouse as you seek shared interest and adventures. Life together should be creating stories which will become a quilt of memories as you grow older. This looks very different for different personalities, but the process of discovery is a wonderful journey.
It is virtuous to have children and to parent them together. This is one of the great shared adventures of life and one of the gifts which drains us of our selfishness and prepares us in our service to many others.
Friendships are complicated, marriage even more so. The consideration of marrying someone should come with deep reflection and investigation. The commitment of marriage should be considered sacred and lifelong. The process of marriage should be selfless with a deep focus on the other person and their care and growth. There should be no other friendship in your life on the same level. The wonderful gift of working on your marriage is learning the skills needed to serve well and to become a better friend to others in your life.
If we live out friendship in marriage in a virtuous way we will build strong families, strong communities, and strong cultures. The institution of marriage is the most sacred of friendships which refines us and prepares us to serve all as we serve the one person we care about most in life.