After nearly three decades of fighting for marriages as a licensed therapist, as well as watching those who have gained my admiration and trust, a pattern has become apparent in those relationships that radiate the evidence of the fulfilment that can be found in traditional marriage. Just as a baby becomes a toddler, a toddler a child, and the teen an adult, a progression in maturity in a successful marriage is inevitable, and no less painful.
The lowest level of maturity in the early stage of marriage is when a relationship is held together by the “pleasure.” As young couples “fall-in-love,” passion is rarely hidden from view as enamored individuals cherish every moment together. Young love is blind to the imperfections in their partner, as they determine to confirm the fantasy that the person can fulfill each and every emotional need.
However, rarely does the story end there. The next step in maturation, climbing from the pit of imperfection in the marriage (or long-term courtship) is the transition to a more selfless dedication to the “person.” As life’s complexities begin to invade our experience, we soon learn that the passion and pleasure fall short in sustaining what it takes to make relationships work. Fears emerge, challenges exhaust, conflicts fray nerves, and good people see each other for who they really are. It is at this point that patience, acceptance, dedication, and a true love emerge as two people begin to challenge and extend themselves to be a catalyst for the growth of the ones they love.
Emerging strong during tough times
Maturity is evident when energy is mandatory and fulfillment and passion is at it’s lowest point. It is in the times when individuals give to each other when pleasure is fleeting, that real character emerges. It is not that passion never shines in these tough times. And pleasure may be an intermittent reward. However, demanding children, illness, extended family, careers, and brutal city traffic all invade our fairy-tale utopias. It is in these moments that real love is evident as mature people choose to do things they would rather not do, or give up things that they really desire to discover the demanding adventure that is married life.
The higher purpose of marriage
That depends on the degree to which a couple has internalized a world view or a narrative that guides their lives. The “purpose” of marriage comes to fruition as a strong bond emerges that fills individuals with a new joy. The “purpose” of marriage has, for millennia, across civilizations, been to hold families together and prepare the next generation to carry on the identity of the family, tribe, nation, or race. In practical terms, the care of children is central to the stability of a family and the civilization in general. We do not marry for pleasure. We marry for a purpose. Not all have children. But we all contribute, and as a whole, children are our purpose. We find purpose when we our commitments and covenants are a beacon of light to a generation who is tempted to become cynical. By surviving cancer, grief, failure, and the everyday struggles of life, we shine to those around us. Even the elderly are capable of passion and pleasure. But this, in time, becomes the proverbial “icing on the cake” to the meaning found in creating the safe foundation for the next generation.
Romantic love is a great start, but insufficient to hold two people together through the harsh vicissitudes of life. Purpose is the highest calling.