Tuesday, April 08, 2014


In Papua New Guinea, to a great extent, they have gotten around the issue of compatibility in marriage, much like most cultures where marriages are arranged in some way, shape, or form.

We often joke around about men and women being different creatures.  In PNG, they actually believe it.  Women are women, and men are men.  I won't get into a lot of the nuances and evils that spring from this.  At least for now, it is kind of irrelevant.

Until recently, in a village, men would live in a long house, all together.  Each wife would have her own house where she would raise the children, care for the pigs, and make the meals.  The man would come visit frequently for his meals, to see his children, and a little somethin' somethin'.

Even though most husbands and wives live together now, in many ways, their lives are far more separate than a Western marriage.  He often works or gathers income from the pigs, while she usually takes care of the family by tending the garden, daily care of the pigs, and selling extra produce or buai at the market. Often, they are not friends, they rarely are seen together.  They sit on separate sides of church.  Throughout the day, the men hang out with other men, the women hang out with other women.  It actually can be quite difficult as an outsider to figure out who is married to whom.

Now my marriage is completely different.  Before we became missionaries, I don't know that we have been apart for more than a week or so since our wedding date.  We spent most of our three year courtship on the phone with each other.  We love to hang out, we have most of the same interests, and we have grown together in most of those over time.  Even our faults are the same.  Where we are not similar, we often are complementary -- we balance each other out.  He hates forms -- I have no problem with them.  I hate dealing with people on the phone -- he handles all customer service issues, etc.

Looking back, there probably are only two or three places where we clash, and these things have been huge.  We fought about them in our first year of marriage, and we still fight about them almost twenty years later.  I just can't seem to meet Jeff on his issue, and he can't meet me on mine, but because my issue is so very important to me, I can't let him off the hook, and he continues to push on the issue that is dear to him. 

In a Papua New Guinean marriage, it wouldn't matter.  Marriage isn't about meeting the other person's deep need to be validated.  That's what friends are for.  In most marriages throughout history, it would probably be the same.

Choosing the person that you marry is really quite a novel thing, when you look at it.  And when we choose, we tend to choose a person because there is something about them that reminds us of us; something in common, some bond.  Some scientists and anthropologists insist that it is hormonal and subconscious how we pick each other.  But there is something in it that says "You are like me.  You are good for me" and we see this as a basis to build a relationship that will last us the rest of our lives.

As a breastfeeding counselor working with young parents,  I would see what would happen when a major life change happened, and the couple failed to navigate that change together.  I also worked with married couples as a mental health counselor who faced the same thing in various other stages or crises of life.  The hurt and pain was so palpable. 

Look at what divorce has become in our culture.  The main reason for divorce is simply "irreconcilable differences."  Somewhere along the line, a couple that came together because they had similar thoughts, dreams, beliefs, goals, etc., no longer have enough in common to make it worth keeping together.

I've seen marriages where the couple seemed to have very little in common, and marriages like ours where they seemed kindred spirits, but I am convinced that when we pick our own spouses, there is something that draws us, something we can relate to, something that is "us" not "other."   Maybe we are less tolerant of the "not us" aspects of this relationship because we picked someone who was supposed to validate that part of us that we were drawn to.  So when there are other aspects that don't click, or when our experiences change those things that used to, or when life brings up new things that show the differences, we respond with rejection.

Over the last year, I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoffer's Life Together.  I can't seem to get out of the first chapter because it is so amazingly rich.  One thing he argues is that loving someone with a psychic love -- a love that is pure us, is very different than loving someone with the love of Christ.  The psychic love wants to feel good about loving the other person.  The psychic love tends to want to change that other person.   When we love with the love of Christ, we accept that person for who they are, and we love them whether or not we get a reward back.  It doesn't hold up a standard for the other person to meet.  It says "Christ died on the cross for who you are now, He loves you for who you are now, and we are both one in His death and resurrection, so you are my family, my flesh and blood.  We walk together, and there are no conditions to that. 

Marriage is the closest thing that we have on earth to our relationship with Christ.  Christ knows that.  He calls the Church His Bride.  He refers to Himself as the Bridegroom.  Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, Scripture goes back to this analogy over and over again.  Often, it isn't the beautiful, romantic situation one would hope.  Generally, it is about God talking about how wicked the Bride has been, and how He loves her and is redeeming her anyway.  In marriage, God makes the two become one flesh in a very real way.  In baptism, we are made one in the body of Christ.

Compatibility is nice.  I am so blessed to be married to my best friend, but even if he wasn't, he's still my husband, and I am his wife.  But it's really not about compatibility, it's about the fact that we are together.  The being together is the important thing, not the things that we think unite us or separate us.  So these things that seem so important, that we want the other person to validate in us, because the other person is as close to "us" as we can get....if we are loving them with the love of Christ, then rather than letting these things separate us, we really need to accept the fact that there are these places where we can't meet, where the other person can't do what we ache for them to do.  Often, the only thing to do is accept it, forgive ti, release it.

Because that is what Christ does.