Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Marriage makes me a better man

For the first 36 years of my life, everything was about me. I only cared about doing my own thing: enjoying my own hobbies and interests, experiencing my own successes and failures, following my own schedule, and pretty much dancing to my own tune. The needs of others were simply out of mind. I came first, and everyone else came second.

I think this self-centredness is likely a common condition among unmarried people, particularly for men. The world basically revolves around you when you are a young bachelor eager to stand on top of the world. I can honestly say that I was quite selfish and lacking in almost all human virtues. I went through life thinking I had life figured out, and that I "knew it all". It was an arrogant and selfish existence with the world revolving around me.

I obviously can't speak for all unmarried men, but I suspect that being selfish and focused only on oneself is an inherent condition for single people. Ayn Rand got it completely wrong by elevating selfishness to a virtue. On the contrary, selfishness is evil. It stems from one of the seven capital sins: greed or avarice. In the short clip below, Dennis Prager shares what he thinks of Ayn Rand.


I don't think that cohabitation can make a man any better. In this regard, marriage is unique. Cohabitation allows for an easy "no strings attached", "throw in the towel" mindset, which prevents true emotional bonding and cementing of the relationship. The level of commitment is simply weaker in cohabitation.

Marriage is a covenant relationship. Somehow, saying those marriage vows makes a world of difference. There's a permanence and commitment in the mindset of the spouses, willing to go through thick and thin together "until death do us part". I give myself fully to my wife, and she gives herself fully to me. It's amazing.

I'll never forget the words of my father-in-law during his speech at our wedding reception:


Dear family and friends,
This is not longer, Lea. This is Lea and Jasbir.
This is not longer, Jasbir. This is Jasbir and Lea.
They are one new person.
These words really had an impact on me. It actually sunk in that I would no longer exist as an individual only concerned for myself. Everything would now include my wife, and I would always be joined to her. It was exciting to think about our future lives together. There would no longer be "I" or "mine", but "we" and "ours". I think that this is not true for cohabitating couples or even married couples where one or both spouses insist on maintaining their previous single life while being married at the same time. By that I mean fewer sacrifices are made in cohabitating or married couples with this mindset.

I am by no means an expert on marriage, but I do know that after close to 8 years of married life, where I once lacked in the virtues, I have started to acquire them. The virtues I am talking about are defined, as follows, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 7, 1804-1811.
Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.

The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love. (1804)

Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called "cardinal"; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. (1805)
As an unmarried man, I wasn't prudent. I was not accountable to anyone, and I didn't have to be too concerned with the impact that my actions would have on others. In other words I lacked in the ability to apply moral principles to particular cases without error, and to overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid (1806). How often have you heard of the expression, "well, if I am not harming anyone else in the process, why not?" It's very easy to rationalize your way into doing something inappropriate when you don't have to face a spouse or your own children. When you are single and unaccountable to anyone other than yourself, it's easier to fall to temptation. Having a spouse changed all that. I am more responsible and accountable to her, and we both make tough decisions together, thinking through things more carefully. Two brains are much better than one!

I was not very empathetic towards others when I was unmarried. Being somewhat arrogant, and thinking that I knew it all, I didn't give much time to understand the needs of others. I just wasn't a good listener, and I wasn't very compassionate. I lacked in the virtue of justice. Justice is respecting the rights of others and having the ability to establish harmony in human relationships while promoting equity with regard to persons and to the common good (1807). I used to walk by homeless people downtown thinking to myself, "he looks fine and perfectly able, why doesn't he just get a job?" I lacked in humility, which made me more judgemental of others.

Marriage changed this way of thinking in me. My listening skills improved dramatically (although there's still a lot more room for improvement), and it made me think more about the thoughts and feelings of my wife. Considering her views, sometimes before mine (I am working on doing this more often), and putting myself in her shoes, has made me more empathetic and compassionate. I have no doubt that the development of empathy and compassion in me began when I got married. I am less judgemental, and I no longer place such an important value on a person's skills or achievements. Rather, the character of a person is far more important than his/her accomplishments. As I walk by the homeless now, I might shed an internal tear, and I try to make eye contact and smile, sometimes saying hello. Instead of looking down upon them, now I pray for them.

When I was single, it was easy to waste time and fool around. My outlook was more laissez faire. Marriage changed all that. No more fooling around! Marriage made me more responsible, wanting to live a more upstanding life. I think the virtue of fortitude became more present in my life. Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions (1808). My old unmarried habits disappeared, and a new and better way of living sprung up. Being a good husband was something important to strive for, not only for my wife, but as an example for my children. Children have eyes and ears! If I can display the virtues before my children, hopefully they will try to emulate. This transformation into fortitude would not have been so dramatic had I not married.

Finally, with respect to the virtue of temperance, there's no doubt that having a wife and children makes me want to take care of myself even more. Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable (1809). When I was unmarried I wasn't as concerned as I am now regarding healthy living. I have good reason to stick around as long as I can, to love and provide for my wife and children until I die. Living a healthy life in all respects (mind, body, and spirit) can only be achieved by practicing temperance and the previously mentioned virtues.

Marriage has essentially taught me that the truest test of love is giving – that is, sacrifice. Almost all marriages that fail, fail because they fail this test, because the spouses refuse to make sacrifices. The old marriage rite taught couples this wisdom: “sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy; only perfect love can make it a joy.” (Matrimony, Peter Kreeft)

I think that the love that exists within traditional marriage is truly transformative. It shapes and refines the rough edges, softens hearts, opens minds, and allows the spirit to be filled with the free gift of God's sanctifying grace. With this comes a great deal of joy. This joy is on a different plane altogether. It is beyond that comprehensible to unmarried persons. It can only be experienced once married with complete devotion to one's spouse.

I am blessed to be married to an incredible wife, and I'm loving every minute of it.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. (Matthew 19:5)

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4 comments:

  1. Recently heard an interesting discussion of how self-interest can propel us to serve others. One might argue you got married out of self-interest... But then that self-interest promoted you to self-sacrifice. Anyways, interesting concepts.

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    1. Hi Andrea, you raise an interesting point. I agree with Peter Kreeft when he says that there are two fundamentally opposed views of marriage today: the religious view (not limited to Christianity only) and the non-religious view. He goes into great detail to describe what these 4 differences are from pages 4 to 7 of his article referenced in my post. The self-interest you talk about before marriage as a motivating factor to get married, I think is surely present in the non-religious view of marriage. For religious marriage; however, while the self-interest may be present, I think a greater motivation is God's call to marriage (with the exception of those who devote their lives to God, e.g. priests, nuns, monks, etc.). In Catholicism for example, marriage is elevated to the level of a sacrament. Hence we are told to "go forth and multiply". It's as if those who are called to marriage are responsible for ensuring the fundamental building block of society is maintained...the family. In my case, I understood this before marriage, and so I decided that I should get married, long before meeting my spouse. Because my intent was for marriage (in keeping with God's plan), my outlook while searching for a marriage partner was completely different, I think, from the non-religious, secular way. I also think that secular marriages are probably more prone to less sacrifices during the marriage journey, which probably leads to more divorces. Conversely, I think religious marriages are likely to be more stable, more joyful, and more fruitful overall.

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  2. Congratulations on marrying, and on 8 years of marriage. That is something to be proud of. However, I must offer word of caution as a married woman of 11 years (with 5 children), for your wife's sake at least, and I apologise if it's hard to bear, but I mean well. I want to help others avoid the suffering that I am experiencing. You said that before marriage, it was all about you. (With all due respect) Newsflash, it's still all about you. Notice that this article was about how marriage has made YOU a better man, all of the qualities it has gained for YOU. What about your wife? What if she got seriously sick, or God forbid, cheated on you, or caused you suffering in some other way? What if you felt that marriage was no longer offering you these goods that you have listed in the article? Would you toss it, and her? Marriage is sacred, and in marriage, like in life, we suffer and we give, for the sake of the other, not for ourselves. If we don't give, we take. If we don't build, we destroy. My husband shared the same attitude as you, religion and all, when we were married: He married me because "I was good for him". Good for HIM. Fast-forward nine years, I've had four children and get severe post-partum depression. I seek medical help and start recovering, but it takes years. Marriage is no longer good for my husband. Not good for HIM. I was dying inside, and was no longer good for HIM. I was not his concern, this marriage was for HIS good. He took a mistress because it was good for HIM and is spending his weekends with her. Now I'm alone to raise 5 children, for the greater glory of God, while my husband does what he thinks is good for HIM. No, marry for your spouse's good, not for your own, or when tragedy strikes you won't be left with a leg to stand on. I bet you won't publish this because it's just too hard to hear when you already make such a big effort to do the right thing and marry, but there's still time to change. I wish everyone knew what I have had to learn at such a high cost: do things for others' sake, not your own.

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    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Thank you for sharing your experience on my blog. I welcome it.

      First of all, I am saddened to learn about your medical suffering and broken marriage. I have discussed with my wife, and we are both praying for you, your husband, and five children.

      I recognize your point about the post being about ME and my own "betterment", but without knowing your husband, I wouldn't compare him to me. I think the difference between him and me, from the information you have provided, is that everything that was "good for HIM" in the marriage sounds more like the benefit he received from marriage, whereas in my case, I described my transformation not in terms of the benefit I received, but the change in character/virtue that has occurred. There's a big difference. Your husband doesn't sound like he grew in virtue at all. Rather, he wasn't interested in sacrificing anything.

      I on the other hand take the marriage vows to heart, literally - "in sickness and in health...until death do us part". I think a married man of character and virtue would have stayed through the thick and thin with his wife, serving and caring until death. A selfish married man on the other hand would pack up and leave.

      I am really glad you brought this up because no matter how much I think that I have started to grow in character/virtue, which by the way I think directly translates to being a better husband and father, I also acknowledge that I am far from perfect with human flaws and weaknesses, and I know that temptations lie all around us. The devil is hard at work trying to snatch souls. We all have to be vigilant and on guard, be prayerful, and have a personal relationship with God.

      I am aware that my post was narrowly focused on what marriage has done for me, but the point I wanted to make was that marriage is good, in fact a sacrament, something that single people should hope and pray for. In my post I think I was clear in saying that I no longer live for myself, I am joined to my wife, and there is no longer "I" or "mine". This means I can no longer be selfish thinking of myself only in the marriage. My vocation as a husband and father is to be the best I can be for the sake of my family members, and realize that marriage is a sanctifying machine where I, as husband, must be the head, and do everything in my power to lead my wife and children towards God so that His will be done.

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