MARRIAGE IS DIFFICULT: HOW THE VIRTUES CAN HELP
The proper ends of the virtues are directed towards happiness.
Lets face it: marriage is difficult. It’s hard work. It requires a lot from us. It requires that we change and adapt, to compromise and struggle for common ground. It requires sacrifices of time, energy, money, and individual pursuit. It might require giving up going to the latest movie, not buying the new outfit, car, iPad, handbag or purse, etc. A marriage requires each spouse to willingly open up, to humble themselves, and be ready to be accountable to the other. Marriage requires each couple to do trustworthy acts to ensure the foundation of the marriage is not undermined. The list could go on.
Lets face it: marriage is difficult because many of us are not willing to do what is required. Or, perhaps, it is not our unwillingness in the strict sense of the word, but rather our lack of character strengths keeping us from doing loving deeds. So, even though we know the good we should do, our emotions can cloud our thinking and keep us from acting. Our consciences tell us to calm down and listen, our anger compels us to attack and defend. We know what is beneficial for our marriages, yet bad habits stop us from doing them. Commendable is the thought to clean the house; pitiful is the laziness keeping us from doing it. However, sometimes we think we know the right course of action and do carry it out, but our lack of wisdom and forethought ensures foolish choices are made. Our excellent intention to buy a new car for our spouse’s birthday may seem quite reasonable, but mounting more debt with another payment of $450 each month is not.
Lets face it: marriage may not be as difficult if we cultivate the character strengths necessary to ensure good decisions are made and followed through with more ease and delight. A better name for character strengths is virtue. A virtue is a solidified quality a person possesses that enables appropriate actions to flow as if it was second nature for them. We all admire a person who perceives what needs to be done and knows how to do it. We call them wise or prudent. We rightly seek their counsel and advice and follow it. We admire the just person who gladly returns our wallets with the cash still remaining. We are awe inspired to see a courageous stranger putting his/her life in danger to assist his/her fellow citizen. And, (let’s be honest now) we feel a bit of shame around the person who can control his/her urge for food, sex, and drink. Similarly, don’t we all wish we could be like the generous, merciful, and humble people we meet and look up too? These people possess character strength. They possess virtue.
Lets face it: our marriages would not be as difficult if we possessed these virtues. The virtues enable us to use our free wills properly and consistently. A flourishing life and marriage requires more than just one or two correct choices. It requires a day in and day out series of deliberations and choices. Sometimes we just don’t have the time to consider what we should do. We just have to act. When there is a lady or guy flirting with us right now, it is not the time to consider if this is appropriate or not. If we possessed the virtues of right forethought and self-control, we would immediately know to flee the situation and gladly do so. If we have integrity and bravery we would cheerfully tell our wives or husbands, because we wish to be accountable to them and desire to build up trust with them.
Lets face it: the married couple undergoing the difficult task of character transformation by the cultivation of the virtues will gradually find many of the ‘requirements’ for a thriving marriage coming naturally. Instead of being hard work, they will slowly begin to take delight in finding a common ground, giving up selfish ambitions, and allowing the other to keep them accountable in the pursuit of the good life. Instead of cowering away when difficulty arises, the couple will have the courage and the humility to open up and allow the other to come in. Instead of attacking in anger or impatience, each will be meek by being slow to retribution and long-suffering by giving the other the benefit of the doubt and time to explain what they think and feel.
Lets face it: pursuing a virtuous marriage will be difficult at first, but extremely beneficial in the end. Let no one be fooled. The cultivation of the virtues is not an easy activity. There are no quick 7 Steps to Virtue. It is sort of like learning a new language or a musical instrument. At first these skills are really difficult and cumbersome. There seems to be a lot of rules to learn and follow. Frustration abounds. But with diligence and conviction the language or musical instrument slowly becomes ‘second nature’. The words flow from your lips or the notes flow from the hand in such away that the rules of grammar and music are no longer consciously on the forefront of your mind. You don’t feel constrained or obliged by the rules, but liberated by them to just speak comfortably or just play cheerfully. The same goes for the virtues. The rules of right reason (and faith) seem burdensome at first, but as our character is shaped and molded by the virtues, we no longer see these rules as heavy burdens to carry, but as liberating guides to true flourishing. A good language or music teacher does not give rules to weigh the students’ hearts down, to discourage them so they give up and feel worthless, but to protect them from sloppy speaking and playing and developing bad habits that will prevent them from speaking and playing beautifully.
How much more, then, does our Creator give us the ability through reason and faith to perceive the means (i.e., the rules) to the desired goods of life? The more we act in accordance with correct thinking and faith and discipline ourselves to control our unhealthy desires and emotions by way of the virtues, the more we will see ourselves and our marriages flowing more harmoniously.
Look forward to upcoming blogs on expanding how virtue can help your marriage flourish.