In May 2016, The New York Times carried an interesting and thought-provoking article entitled Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person.
Alain de Botton, the writer, asserted that whether we choose our marriage partner with our head or with our heart, we will invariably make a bad choice. He put forward reasonable supporting arguments, not the least of which is that prospective partners, wanting to make the best impression, are usually not their genuine self during the courtship period.
Another reason is that often we ourselves do not really know who we are. This is because, as de Botton explains, “… before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities”. He further states: “Marriage ends as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble between two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be…”.
What further complicates the task of finding the right person is that the motivation for marriage is in itself flawed. Mr de Botton describes it as an attempt to hold on to an ideal set of emotions which may have existed during the courtship period. Sadly, living with an individual with different habits as well as experiencing the stresses of maintaining a home and looking after children, it is understandable for these ideals to fade into distant memory.
I am not sure if I agree entirely with this rather jaundiced view of marital choice. This is despite my many years as a marital counsellor whose days are filled with attending to stories of poor marriages. I do agree that the decision of whom to marry is a difficult one. I therefore encourage those considering marriage to attend marriage preparation courses. Such courses allow for some of the more difficult topics such as management of conflict, children and in-laws to be discussed in an open and non-threatening manner. Another suggestion I would like to offer is when issues of concern, e.g. temper outbursts or bouts of excessive drinking, crop up before or early into the marriage, attend to them as soon as possible. Rather than ignoring them, seek the counsel of elders or counsellors.
I also agree with the article about another thing. Besides making a careful choice when it comes to marriage, the focus should be about being the right person in a marriage. Being the “right person” is a work in progress as it includes deepening our self-awareness and having a good set of interpersonal skills to help ride the storms of living with another. Such skills include general ones such as communication and conflict resolution skills. Other useful skills specific to the individual may include handling our own inferiorities instead of expecting our mate to help us feel secure and being able to regulate our emotions instead of expecting others to put up with us on our bad days. Thus, a good marriage is about making reasonable choices and being able to adjust and accommodate to one another.
One area the article did not cover is the role played by others, be it family or close friends. Today, we tend to see choosing whom to marry more as a decision for two individuals to make on their own exercising their free will. Nevertheless, it is helpful to seek the views of people who may have a perspective of the couple and of their choice of partner. Hearing others’ views does not rob us of our independence. Rather, it enables independence to be exercised in an informed manner.
Finally, a Christian marriage has a vital additional dimension—a belief that it is God who has brought the two together to become one and he has a greater purpose for the union. So, finding personal happiness, though important, is not the main purpose. The sense of higher purpose will influence the couple to look beyond personal satisfaction and self-interests.
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.