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How marriage helps us transcend our limitations

young married couple

Halay Alex / Shutterstock

Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 10/16/22

There's a mysterious way in which a married couple becomes more than the sum of its parts.

I’m going to out myself and publicly admit that I barely know how to do laundry. My wife and I met in high school and were married by the age of 20. Once I left my parents’ home, where our long-suffering mother of three sons took care of me and my brothers, my wife did all the laundry. I never learned.

To this very day, I become exceedingly nervous whenever I have to load the machine by myself and choose the settings. There are so many buttons. So many settings. I can’t help but feel that if I choose the wrong one, I’ll shrink our clothes down to a comically small size or turn all the shirts pink.

This doesn’t mean I don’t do chores around the house. I wash dishes, work in the yard, take care of the cars, and occasionally I’ve even been known to attempt to fix a broken electrical outlet or tackle a handyman project. My success rate is questionable, but it’s the effort that counts, right? In fact, there are certain aspects of house maintenance that my wife knows absolutely nothing about because she knows I’ll handle them, just as she takes care of the laundry.

More than the sum of their parts

There’s a mysterious way in which two persons who are married become more than the sum of their parts. They talk alike, develop similar interests, begin to share goals. They invent inside jokes that no one else thinks are funny and learn to communicate without even speaking a word. Two-becoming-one is like a superpower. The brain space I save by relying on my wife has set me free in other areas to become more than I would ever have been on my own.

The creative friction I get from her is invaluable. We talk through ideas, share dreams, and over time I’ve absorbed her particular way of thinking. I’ve become interested in what she’s interested in – baby-wearing, photography, hiking, and gardening, to name a few – and find that my path through life has been wonderfully diverted and enhanced. I’m a far more diverse and well-rounded person for having shared my life with her. It’s hard to explain, but I feel as though I’ve taken on so many aspects of her personality and yet I feel so much more myself because of her. There’s something mysteriously creative about our union, something poetic.

The benefits

The benefits of marriage show up in measurable ways. For instance, studies show that married people live longer and experience less depression. Married couples have better physical health, more financial stability, and greater social mobility than unmarried people. Clearly, there are practical benefits that extend to both spouses.

Joshua Wolk Shenk, in his book Powers of Two, explains, “The individuals in great dyads will be very different from each other and very much alike. These simultaneous extremes generate the deep rapport and energizing friction that define a creative pair.” Love helps us transcend individual limitations while, at the same time, guarding our unique personalities.

To a lesser degree, this power of a shared mission is present in other relationships as well. I’m thinking, for instance, of the upcoming feast day of St. Luke. I’ve always been interested in his connection with sacred art, but, this year, as I was checking out the scripture reading for the feast, it jumped out at me how important it is that Luke and the other early disciples were sent out in pairs. St. Gregory says this arrangement brings the idealism of their beliefs into practical reality.

Two by two … for a reason

By going out in pairs, the disciples learn to live what they’re hoping for, which is a life of brotherly love unified by love of God. I suspect, also, that they’re sent in pairs because two disciples united in mission become stronger than they would have been individually. They’re far more than travel companions. As friends united by a close bond, they must have brought out hidden potentialities in each other.

It’s paradoxical because, at the outset, marriage vows or the commitment of friendship seems limiting, but in fact it unlocks a whole new level of reality. What we thought was limitation of freedom was, in fact, the path to a higher freedom. St. Luke, through his partnerships with his brother apostles, became far more than he ever would have been in isolation. Although I’m no saint, I feel the same about my marriage. It has made me a better person.

The same result can be had when we commit to long-term friendships and partnerships within the Church. Perhaps this is why the Church is so often described as a nuptial relationship in which we are the bride and Christ is the groom. God is offering to build a life with us, to share everything with us and, in so doing, impart the grace to become so much more than we ever would have been on our own.

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