There is a story about a young man who asked his Dad, “Is it true, Dad, that in some parts of Africa a man doesn’t know his wife until he marries her?” The Dad answers, “That happens in every country, son.”
Novelist Anita Brookner has suggested that the first task of a man and a woman in marriage, or in any deep relationship, is to console each other for the fact that they are inevitably going to disappoint each other. Because we are human, what we offer each other will always be less than what we need and look for from each other. We are bound to disappoint one another. It is impossible for another person to fulfill all our needs.
When people meet and fall in love, what usually happens is that they fall in love with an idealized image of that other person. He or she only sees what is good and wonderful about that other person. During this time in their relationship, the other can do no wrong.
Even if they do something that others disapprove of, we are always ready to take their side, to offer our forgiveness and understanding.
However, at some point, couples begin to see that their once perfect partner is not so perfect anymore. This is a critical moment, especially when the imperfection we see involves the fact that the other cannot give us what we want. They cannot fulfill all of our needs. They cannot make us completely happy. At that point, we either have to face reality or say goodbye.
If we decide to stay with that other person and choose them for our life’s partner, then we also need to console them. Many times during that relationship they are going to disappoint us. They cannot give us everything we need or fulfill all our expectations.
Marriage does not magically turn us humans into perfect people. We bring to marriage our gifts and our faults. When two people are mature enough to know that marriage will not solve their problems, then they have a very good chance of making their marriage a beautiful and lasting relationship.
The only person we can change in life is ourselves. We should abandon all hope of trying to change another person in solving a relational problem. Often, it is just a matter of time that calls for a significant dose of patience. During that period, individuals can experience significant personal and spiritual growth no matter how long it takes for the other person to come around.
What couples can offer each other is the freedom to be who they are. When someone really sees us in all of our inadequacy and darkness, in all of our sinfulness and despair, and still loves us, then that relationship will be filled with power and possibility. That couple will be no longer living with the illusion that marriage requires perfection. The possibility of deep, genuine love will open before their eyes.
Jesus teaches that marriage is clearly a call from God to live life in deep communion with another person. In fact, marriage is a wonderful school where a man and a woman can learn the real meaning of love. As a couple travels through life together, they come across many obstacles that require patience, kindness, understanding, compassion, and above all, forgiveness.
When a man and a woman come to the deep realization that only God can bring complete happiness and fulfillment to the two equal partners, that couple will be free to accept one another so much more deeply. They will then know what it means to be no longer two, but one flesh. Then by God’s grace, what God has joined will stay together.