Fidelity & faultlines

Garvey, John

OF SEVERAL MINDS John Garvey FIDELITY & FAULTLINES MARRIAGE IN A RADICAL CONTEXT As I sat down to write the first draft of this column about mar-riage and the pres-sures arrayed against it in our...

...It is a plain fact of marriage and the love it involves that the infatuation which may have brought you there comes and goes...
...It is more comfortable, and much more satisfying, for a man to leave a wife who knows him, sins and all, for a woman who knows him so little that her picture of him corresponds remarkably with the picture he wants to have of himself...
...OF SEVERAL MINDS John Garvey FIDELITY & FAULTLINES MARRIAGE IN A RADICAL CONTEXT As I sat down to write the first draft of this column about mar-riage and the pres-sures arrayed against it in our culture, a friend called to tell me that his marriage was breaking up...
...There was a time when divorce was popularly seen as the luxury of the rich and famous, a form of serial marriage undertaken for kicks by frivolous and hard-hearted people...
...A contract, compared with any depth of feeling, is a small, cold thing...
...Depending on the sensitivity and discernment of the counselor, it can even, occasionally, help...
...Maybe it is already, understood properly...
...When friends who seemed happily married divorce after years of marriage, you become keenly aware of all the faultlines and shaky places in your own life together...
...It could be that in time marriage seen as a sacrament, and lived as if it were a mystery of grace, will become nearly as radical a choice as monasticism, a counter-cultural thing...
...He is right about that much, I think, and I wonder if anything in our culture helps us to see that...
...what becomes divorce in the end has happened to them, like bad weather or bad fortune, and feels terribly unfair...
...The satisfaction of desire is not only not happiness...
...We have all seen couples we know, in situations which ordinarily would destroy a marriage, struggle back together...
...This is the wormiest fruit romanticism has to offer...
...Where feelings are allowed to matte: more than vows, shared obligation, am the willingness to love (which is not al ways a feeling of profound emotion marriages aren't likely to last...
...And it is obvious that counseling is essential for many couples...
...A covenant involves vows and obligations which may include my feeling, sometimes will not (depending on the moment in my marriage), but in any case will not be defined by feeling...
...It's like being in a forest at night by a good fire in a clearing, but the wolf-howls are getting closer...
...This is, to say the least, not an easy situation...
...The Fathers of the church used the word apatheia, which has become our ' 'apathy'' but is not quite the same thing...
...What makes marriage a grace-filled thing is that despite all of this, the other loves us as we are...
...I think arranged marriages could probably work better than the arrangement our culture encourages," he said...
...In any case, these are hard times for people who want marriage to work...
...Their staying together left more scars, the psychological equivalent of freezer-burn, than divorce would have caused...
...it is far from coldness...
...Someone literary will tell me that romanticism at its best pointed to the tragic nature of the obsession with feelings...
...This is tru not only at the most obvious levels -lust, wild infatuation, obsession bi also at more subtle ones, like commc irritation, the desire to consider your tin 168 your own, and the thought of your life as a possession which you have a right to take in a direction which satisfies you...
...The people involved are decent, often confused by what they are going through, and they are frequently bitter and angry...
...I think it can be argued that marriage requires a certain asceticism and detachment...
...Most of the divorces I've seen don't fit that description...
...No mat riage should exist as a cold contract, bi our feelings themselves need transforms tion and questioning...
...That may be why some people, after years of marriage, are inclined to divorce...
...When I expressed some surprise at what is certainly a minority view, he agreed that arranged marriages are bloodless, calculated, and insensitive to the deepest needs of the people involved...
...their gratitude for what they have is stronger than that of many couples who have never had to work at marriage in so strenuous a way...
...At the same time, it is possible to become infatuated with someone you aren't married to...
...There are obviously much more complex reasons for many divorces than this, and it is difficult to see how a marriage can continue if one of the partners has absolutely given up on it...
...I should say another friend, because it has happened before...
...It is an interest I am constitutionally incapable of sharing...
...One of the problems we face may have come about with a view of marriage as a matter which involves law and contractual obligation, rather than a covenant...
...They are not, b themselves, reliable guides...
...We love it when our strengths and talents are known, but tend to squirm when our weaknesses, insecurities, and insensitivities are known just as clearly...
...In other cases usually the case of the partner who initiates the divorce there is a state of mind which combines nearly giddy feelings of freedom and liberation with the feeling of being flayed alive...
...To struggle this way, though, goes against a strong current...
...but we are meant to find the moth-doomed-to-the-flame heroes and heroines of romance interesting and tragic, rather than comic...
...The individualism of our culture, the assumption that happiness lies in the satisfaction of desire, the unwillingness to question desire itself, all stand in the way of an appreciation of the sacramental nature of marriage...
...It was never timed to coincide with my writing before, though, and it occurred to me that if there is some cause-and-effect thing working under the surface of reality, something that at magic moments connects some parts of reality with the writing and thinking of other people (like columnists), it was a good thing I hadn't chosen to write about nuclear war...
...No one should keep a family together at all costs, if for example it means staying with a wife-beater or child-abuser, and I know people who were raised by parents who hated one another and stayed together for the sake of the children...
...They seldom feel that they have arrived at the point of divorce through any series of conscious choices...
...Some of this is needed in marriage (in friendship, too...
...I'm probably a slower learner than most, but I have learned that learning is part of it, and learning means accepting some painful things about the self, ego, about knowing another and being known by another...
...It can be difficult to accept a gift we know we can't earn, don't deserve, and too frequently fail to appreciate...
...it can be a distraction which will make happiness unlikely and joy which matters much more impossible...
...There is a reference in the Fathers to "the fire of apatheia" and the detachment recommended has more to do with the ability to see things as they are, disconnected from what we imagine to be our need for them...
...Where feelings take a determining role in the decisions we make, we are likely to find ourselves impatient with marriage, not least because we become uncomfortably aware that our wives and husbands know us, in some important ways, better than we know ourselves...
...it involves feelings, and should, but it transcends them, while including them...
...There are waves of appreciation, and there are barren times...
...I do think some divorces should happen...
...A friend who taught me a lot once said something about marriage which shocked me...
...but it happens all the time at one time or another to nearly every married person...
...But at least," he said, "they make it clear that you have to learn how to love, that love is an act of the will...
...I've been married for twenty years, and it took me about ten years even to begin to know what marriage means, another five to take the lessons to heart...
...One friend, still married but scared like the rest of us, put it fairly well...
...What we find is usually the opposite view, the notion that feelings ought to dominate our approach to life...
...A covenant is something deeper...

Vol. 114 • March 1987 • No. 6


 
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