Marriage And The Love Myth


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Myth: You’ll live happily ever after

Angela's fears are increasingly common: When young Catholics marry today, some 88 percent say they want their spouse to be their soul mate first and foremost, according to a recent survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate CARA at Georgetown University. The quest for a soul-mate marriage is a modern trend: Young Catholics 50 years ago had a very different perspective. Indeed, the CARA survey found that older Catholics are less likely to say marrying a soul mate is a top priority. It's very romantic, really, and the stuff love songs are made of: You live as best you can alone, and then one day you meet your other half, the person who completes you in every way.

This person always knows how to make you laugh, how to make you feel cherished, and will never hurt you. But looking for a soul mate-and believing your significant other or spouse is your soul mate-can be a recipe for disaster in modern relationships. Some 20 percent of American couples file for divorce before their fifth anniversary. Could we be setting ourselves up for disappointment after the first blush of passion fades?

Yes, finding a true friend-someone you click with, someone with whom you can share your emotions and communicate well-is central to making a good match. But the idea that there is one person who will fulfill all our needs, one soul mate out there for each of us, is a childish idea that should be put aside with the tooth fairy. When Americans talk about soul mates, they mean someone whom they love and who loves them, who will make them as happy as they can possibly be for all time.

Everything will be easy with your soul mate. With this person by your side, there's nothing you can't do. The inverse of this, of course, is that if you make the wrong choice, you will be less happy, things will be less easy, and you will accomplish less than you could have had you found your real soul mate. On average Americans are getting married later in life. This means we meet a lot of different people, and most of us date a fair bit before we marry.

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There are all sorts of benefits to later marriage-we're older and wiser-but there's one troubling theme I hear from so many men and women: The longer we wait for marriage, the more convinced we are that we deserve a soul mate, a perfect match in every way. The quest for a soul mate makes it hard to find a spouse and puts unnecessary pressure on your relationship once married. Here's why:. First, in this search for our supposed soul mate, we don't know what to look for. Are you looking for someone who has similar taste in music? Who makes you go weak-kneed?

Are you looking for someone just like you? Are we sure we are prioritizing the right things on our list of characteristics for Mr. While the vast majority of singles say they are looking for a soul mate, nearly half 43 percent of unmarried Catholics say it is "not at all" important that their spouse be Catholic, according to the recent CARA report.

Perhaps our priorities are out of whack. If we are confused about what a "perfect match" should look like, we're likely to overlook some perfectly wonderful people for very silly reasons and are inclined to prioritize more superficial aspects of someone's personality or interests more than issues of shared faith.


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Second, we've put far too much emphasis on one person to provide all our happiness and fulfillment. It's wonderful to share your life with someone, and the closeness a couple can foster through marriage is a powerful and precious bond.

The Burdensome Myth of Romantic Love | David C. Dollahite and Betsy VanDenBerghe | First Things

But few successful relationships exist in a vacuum: Our individual happiness and fulfillment come from all sorts of interpersonal interactions with friends, family, coworkers, and community. We set the bar too high when we say that our spouses must be our soul mates, meeting our every emotional need. It's perfectly healthy to shop with girlfriends, watch sports with the guys, and complain about your parents to your best friend from high school-instead of your spouse. In fact, a strong social network is crucial to keeping your intimate relationship in working order past that first blush of love.

If you have isolated yourself with your soul mate to the exclusion of your friends and family, to whom will you turn when you have a fight with your spouse? Disagreements and hard times are normal-and often necessary-within a growing relationship. Since a marriage is made up of two fallible human beings, we all need some help along the way.


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Finally, mature love is more valuable-and more enduring. The search for a soul mate is a symptom of the consumer culture, says William J. Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota: We are looking to acquire a person who will complete us in the same way we acquire an iPhone to make us feel cool.

Two people don't need to be soul mates to have a fulfilling relationship. For Catholics marriage is a sacrament and a vocation.

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These marriages not only buck the trends of divorce, abuse, neglect, violence, and dysfunction, but also benefit from the incentive religion offers for couples to work together for something outside the self. Through years of serving, sacrificing, problem-solving, and forgiving, couples derive the experience of being profoundly known, understood, and loved. The myth of romantic love promises a faster, easier route to transcendence. Proliferating online matchmaking services, part of a two-billion-dollar growth industry in which 15 percent of adults participate, attest to the appeal of this quest, as do dating coaches.

These and other cottage industries offer seekers a form of providence oriented to romantic redemption. In general, arranged marriages exhibit the same levels of passion and intimacy as non-arranged marriages.

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Yet one study of Asian Indians in the United States showed that arranged marriages tend to be happier and last longer than non-arranged marriages. Secularization has not undone the connections we feel among beauty, love, truth, and the Ultimate, but simply rewritten the holy journey. Converts on film and the Internet preach that you, too, can be saved.

Americans increasingly value romance over the institution of marriage, just as they shun religious institutions for the ethereal appeal of spirituality. But even as we fall out of love with institutions, we continue to have the needs they once satisfied, displacing those needs onto relationships that collapse under a weight only God and faith can lift.

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David C. Dollahite is co-director of the American Families of Faith Project. Close Login. Web Exclusives First Thoughts.

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