Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
— Stanley Hauerwas, quoted in The Meaning of Marriage (emphasis mine)
Yesterday, we talked about what it means to marry the stranger, how marriage sanctifies us, and what it means that we always marry the wrong person. So I had to write about my own marriage, and the glorious truth that my wife married the wrong person.
For everything my wife Amanda and I have in common, we are pretty different people. I’m an attention hog who loves the spotlight and has a tendency to run over people. She’s a behind-the-scenes servant who puts herself last no matter what. I always have to have a plan; she’s go-with-the-flow. I squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom, she squeezes from the middle.
But what we fight about most, ironically, is fighting. Amanda and I have very different conflict-resolution strategies.
I learned to fight where we all do – in my family. And my family’s conflict-resolution strategy was to come in guns blazing. Our fights were always battles of will – the winner was the last person standing, even if you could barely limp away.
I got really good at blazing away at people, summoning my lightning anger to intimidate and overwhelm.
In my anger, I don’t look very much like Jesus. My anger is about defending my own rights, not defending the powerless.
Amanda is the opposite. Her family’s conflict-resolution strategy was to ignore and avoid. Her anger is passive-aggressive (contra my aggressive-aggressive). In her family, you didn’t know if someone was mad at you until you heard it from a third party.
She got really good at hiding her anger and hurt away, doing whatever it took to make everyone else happy.
In her passivity, Amanda doesn’t look very much like Jesus. She’s more concerned that everyone be happy than that justice is done.
Our marriage could’ve become a bad stereotype – the domineering husband who never takes into account what his wife wants. And the faithful wife who quietly ignores her own dreams and desires in trying to please her never-happy husband.
Those are the people we married. Those are the people we’d be if we were left to our own devices. And if that’s who we stayed, each of us would’ve married the wrong person.
But God is rescuing us from those people. God is transforming us, making us look more like Jesus. And God is using our spouses to do it.
Amanda helps me to be more kind. To consider others’ thoughts and feelings. She reminds me to breathe deeply, to be quick to listen and slow to anger.
And I help Amanda to stand up for herself. To choose the hard right over the easy wrong. I remind her to respect the image of God that is in her, too.