I once worked with a woman from Pakistan, a happily married Muslim with two kids. Aside from her accent, she seemed like a typical Western woman — so I was shocked to find out that she’d had an arranged marriage. When she asked me about my husband, I hesitated. We were in the middle of a difficult period and the logistics of our everyday life were driving me crazy. At the moment, all I could think about were my husband’s contributions to our problems.
“Well,” I said, “he’s not very organized.” She laughed. “That’s nothing,” she said. “Is he a good man? Is he kind?”
“Of course he is!” I replied, suddenly realizing that I had taken this for granted — and assumed she did, too. I thought she was asking about his idiosyncrasies: what characteristics I liked or was struggling to like. But she seemed to be implying that as long as you were married to a good person, all those things were nonessential — they would work themselves out over the years.
When I married my husband, I knew that he was a good man, but I knew a lot more about him, too. I was convinced that he was perfect for me, and I for him. But in many ways, we’re both different people now than we used to be. The ways we’ve changed have strained our marriage, but they haven’t broken it — because, as it turns out, our marriage wasn’t built on our original compatibility; it was built, like my Pakistani friend’s, on our basic good will and love for each other, and on our commitment to marriage for life.
Our marriage really isn’t that different from hers after all.
J.R.R. Tolkein told his son that no man can stay faithful to his wife “without deliberate conscious exercise of the will.”
Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.
No matter how your marriage began, there’s going to come a time when your commitment doesn’t match up to the emotions you’re feeling. As Tolkein puts it, “the glamour wears off.” You won’t have the feeling of being in love, or the attraction; you may even have lost the admiration and appreciation you’ve been depending on. You’re going to have to make the decision of pure fidelity, the decision to love. You’ll have to adapt to the way you and your spouse have changed, and you’ll have to work hard for your marriage. You can’t simply glide by on good feelings; you’ll have to put effort into nurturing love, affection, and communication.
Whether your marriage was arranged, decided on when you were young and stupid, or carefully thought out, at some point you’re going to end up in the same situation: facing the decision to love and be faithful, no matter what.*
My husband and I are doing much better now, but we still have our fair share of disappointments in each other. I’m trying to remind myself that this is the spouse my father (in heaven) chose for me, and every day I have the option to make my own choice. This is my soul-mate; will I spend my time and energy focusing on his imperfections, or will I put my effort into making our marriage thrive and grow?
*Please note that I’m not talking here about marriages that are sacramentally invalid, or have serious reasons for separation, like abuse.