Marriage is the end of Me
When you get married, a part of you dies.
As newly-weds, we are often asked, “how’s married life?” In many ways, it feels like we haven’t done enough married life to know what it’s like. I usually say “it’s great, it’s like a never-ending sleepover with your best friend.”
Needless to say, the experience of getting married has been extremely thought-provoking, not least because it’s hard to mention without receiving an interrogation for our youthful matrimony.
An undeniable reality of marriage is the cost to one’s individuality. Our culture seems to struggle with the fact that relationships come at a price, which normally looks like giving up an amount of freedom.
In general relationship discourse, we get the message that we shouldn’t have to change for another person. If someone loves you, they won’t ask you to change. It makes sense when we have spent the most part of our lives focusing on ourselves. It’s only natural to be somewhat self-centred.
A marriage demands change, a commitment to bettering oneself for the sake of your partner. It is nice to think that we should be loved “just the way I am”, but a true love will encourage us to be a better version of what we are, not to remain the same.
It feels sometimes like we view marriage as the goal, the completion of dating and relationships. In truth, it’s only the beginning and we have to learn to become a wife and husband.
That we develop as individuals and become better realisations of ourselves is what Timothy Keller calls the “mission of marriage.” It is a relationship which forces you to confront your most unpleasant features and the ugliness of your personality. Marriage will certainly show your flaws, and the question is whether you are willing to change.
One of the main flaws, shared universally, is our selfish nature. This will force you to put someone else in the centre of your life. If I had to name one thing for which there’s no place in marriage, it’s selfishness. That’s the real challenge: can you let your life be about someone other than you?
Of course, all healthy relationships require a certain commitment to selflessness, not just marriage. The selfish person will quickly kill a friendship or a romance, and destroy a marriage even quicker.
Relationships change us. Left to our own devices, we would stay the same and become entrenched in our ways. Again, it is not just marital relationships that come to define us. It is in our interactions that we are changed, for better or for worse. When we find affinity, lose face, or ask for forgiveness. These are the moments that develop humility and deepen our understanding of other people. We learn that we are not always right, that we cannot always have our way.
We seem to have developed this belief that the best way to be in the world is to glide through it unchanged. We feel that we must be true to ourselves, and to change for other people is a kind of personal weakness. This stubborn attitude to change hinders us more than anything. The challenge of all relationships is to admit failure and commit to improvement. There is nothing noble in resisting change for good.
The encounters of life are the opportunities to refine our character, reflect on the traits of our personality. This is true of relationships in general and marriage in particular. The proximity and intimacy of marriage demands that you learn to change fast and change well.
In his talk titled “Why you will mary the wrong person”, Alain de Bottom makes the point that your partner or spouse is not actually your sharpest critic, but often your most insightful teacher.
So when we got married, a part of me did die, but a part of me that I am better without. It is selfishness which is killed off, slowly and painfully and not without drawing a lot of attention to itself. Marriage only feels like the end of me because my life is no longer just about me. The centre is shared by another.
These are the questions we are faced with: are we willing to let marriage transform who we are, as it undoubtedly will? Are we prepared to give up the selfish parts of ourselves, even though they are so familiar? More generally, can we be humble enough to let our relationships with people teach us about ourselves?
I won’t for a second pretend that it’s easy to do all of this. Our marriage is at once our greatest challenge and best adventure, but at the time of writing this we’re only five months in and look like complete rookies.
If anything, I write this not to pontificate on a subject of which I have minimal practical experience, but to hold myself to account.
We are learning that marriage is the end of “me” in order to become the start of “us”.