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Is monogamy natural or is the bar set too high?

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Actress Scarlett Johansson says marriage is too hard to be 'natural,' but she's missing the bigger point.

A recent article in Vogue highlighted actress Scarlet Johansson’s perspective on marriage and monogamy: “I think the idea of marriage is very romantic; it’s a beautiful idea, and the practice of it can be a very beautiful thing … I don’t think it’s natural to be a monogamous person … It’s a lot of work. And the fact that it is such work for so many people—for everyone—the fact of that proves that it is not a natural thing.”

Dating & the art of non-sexual affection 

Although I disagree, I can definitely say I understand why she might believe that. After going through my own divorce many years ago—an unwanted divorce sparked by my spouse’s infidelity—I had to ask a difficult question: Do the Christian teachings set the bar set too high by condemning divorce and teaching that marriage is for life?

Thou shalt not divorce

“It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so … So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate …” goes the notable condemnation of divorce from the book of Matthew.

But if you contrast that teaching with our society’s rate of divorce today, it might make you wonder. During my post-divorce years, I felt it was necessary for me to embark on this deep soul-searching. Was it really possible for a couple to stay married, or was it just some old-fashioned, unrealistic, Pollyanna notion I needed to come to terms with?

I debated this heavily in my mind. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in monogamy, because I wholeheartedly did. But being served divorce papers by a stranger instead of a love note from your husband was such a jolting, devastating experience that I was forced to consider I might be a little too naive.

On the one hand, I had married for life! I was serious about the vows I took on my wedding day and intended with all my heart to live them until I died. But now that I was divorced, those aspirations left me feeling like a fool.

On the other hand, there were people I knew who had been married for many years, and happily so. If happiness in marriage was at all possible, these were the examples I needed to examine carefully.

Love, responsibility & the gift

It’s easy to give up, difficult to roll up your sleeves and work at your relationship. This is where Ms. Johansson misses the mark, in my opinion. Over the 16 years since I’ve been remarried, I’ve learned that the difficulties in marriage aren’t a danger to fidelity unless you allow them to be.

I see them as opportunities. They are opportunities to make your relationship even more meaningful and more committed than before. Over the years, the challenges my marriage has faced has brought more refinement, love, understanding and commitment than I’d ever anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, we had to work at it, but it was totally worth it because I would never trade what we have now for what we had when we first started out.

The daily habit that can slowly kill your marriage

If you are struggling with wondering if it’s possible to have a permanent, exclusive, and happy marriage relationship, I encourage you to observe the happily married couples you know and taking notes of how they treat each other. You can learn so much from just watching.

I also recommend two key books: Love and Responsibility and The Theology of the Body, both by Pope St. John Paul II. These amazing works fertilize that tiny seed of hope we have for marriage; that it’s entirely possible to make it last—not out of obligation or living out a prison sentence—but to have a happy, flourishing relationship.

But, if I had to boil it down to one thing that mattered most here, I would say the key message is this: God created us as gifts to each other. I am a gift to my spouse and he is a gift to me. Gifts are valuable. Gifts are intended to bring us happiness. How much would our lives change if even for just one day, we treated our spouses like the precious gifts they are?

Hope for the future

Two flawed people with many faults and failings ensure that no marriage is perfect. But despite the humanity, marriage can be strong, healthy, and lasting. The love my husband and I have today is so much richer and deeper because of the difficulties we’ve faced and the struggles we’ve been through.

If your marriage is struggling or even if you want to change the way you handle the next difficult time that comes along, I encourage you to simply change the way you look at that difficulty. See it as an opportunity to enhance your love. And, even if you’re not married, you can start practicing this now. It’s as easy as treating the people you encounter every day as you would a precious gift. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the response you’ll receive.

Lisa Duffy is the author of A Road To Healing: Daily Reflections For Divorced Catholics.

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