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Introduction: Love begins at home

I dislike the word ‘husband’. It actually means ‘housebound’; not a good image. Whatever happened to ‘fathers’? However, there is a word which is even uglier than ‘husband’: it is ‘housewife’. No wife should be married to her house. If she feels that way, then she should take stock of her situation and think again. I always refer to such ladies not as housewives (I find that insulting), but as ‘homemakers’. But there is an even nobler word for them: ‘mothers’.

Marry in haste, repent at leisure

I am sometimes amazed by why some people get married. Some couples seem to have nothing in common, and yet the most important thing for any couple is compatibility. This does not necessarily mean having similar views on religion or politics, it means having similar views on the way of life couples wish to lead together. Practical things, like similarity of taste in music, food, clothes and furnishings, are generally far more important than theoretical views on great questions.

Perhaps the most important matter here is the relationship with in-laws. If that relationship is bad, the marriage may well be a stormy one. Although there is an English saying that ‘in-laws are worse than outlaws’, joking apart, there are serious questions here. A few generations ago, it was actually parents who arranged marriages. The proverb says: He who would the daughter win, with the mother must begin. I rather doubt that that system of arranged marriages with consent was actually any worse than the present ‘free for all’ ‘system’, which has produced such high divorce rates. Today there are couples who have separated because, 'my husband said he did not want to have children', or, 'my wife thought that it was best if she were the breadwinner and I should stay at home and do the housework'. If there is no agreement about such basic things as how the future couple is to conduct their common life, why do they marry in the first place?

Regardless of whether a couple has children or not, someone has to do the cooking, shopping, cleaning, washing, maintain the home and pay the bills. It does not really matter who; the tasks can be appointed and distributed fairly together, but they must be done as efficiently as possible. All the more so, when there are children. Children have to be fed, cleaned, brought up, schooled. There are jobs which have to be done. It would be best to agree before the marriage on who will do what in the marriage. Usually the person who is better at the job should undertake most of it, the couple using the best skills available.

'Marry in haste, repent at leisure' assumes a Christian society, in which the concept of 'repentance' is understood. Nowadays, in reality, there is little concept of repentance. Marriage, where it exists at all, is merely the concept of instant gratification. In an age of ‘instant coffee’, ‘digital photos’, ‘automatic service’, when the gratification in marriage ceases, then the marriage ends. That seems to be the modern way and also explains why marriage has indeed largely ceased to exist. People are now at last beginning to understand that marriage is the result of a Christian, or at least religious value-based, society. Where there are no religious values, there is no marriage. Hence, the reluctance of many young people to commit themselves to marriage today. ‘Too frightened to marry’ is often the case now. Without an example from the marriage of their parents, sometimes even from their grandparents, young people often only marry out of convention. Only a minority now marry because they have religious values.

So what can we conclude about the above proverb? Personally, I can conclude that it is not always true. I married in haste. So did my wife! But then we both knew what we wanted and expected. So we did not have to 'repent at leisure', though we have had twenty-seven years so far. However, I think the proverb is true, if a couple does enter into marriage without discussing and first agreeing on all sorts of practical values, like money, work, home, children, household tasks and their delegation, then they will indeed repent. A common value system and compatibility are essential. If not, I would conclude this section by quoting another proverb: Love is blind, but marriage is sighted.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

One of the characteristics of many young people today is that they have very high expectations of marriage. To tell the truth, I do not blame them, because I think young people always have had such expectations and in every generation. However, there is a difference in today's society. Years ago, if people's expectations were disappointed, then they just accepted it, they put up with it stoically. Nowadays, on the other hand, you don't have to put up with it, you can divorce. Just as if you get fed up with a car or a TV set, you can change it, if you get fed up with your wallpaper and carpet, you can have a 'makeover', if you get fed up with a garment or an ornament, you can throw it away (we live in a throwaway society), if you get fed up with your face or figure, you can have plastic surgery, so also in today's society we can throw away our spouse (the environmentally-minded would call it 'recycling').

I can remember over forty years ago in my village the first case of divorce. It made everyone talk. Of course, it involved not ordinary villagers, it was a couple from London who had moved there; divorce, after all, was something that 'London folk' did. Today, it appears that over 40% of marriages end in divorce and it is by no means limited to 'London folk'. This is the human result of the throwaway society. In other words, it is not that young people today are any more demanding than before - it is just that they now have a 'solution' - they can swap their 'partners'. Give up the struggle for mutual self-improvement, you can swap! This makes for very unstable families and millions of children from broken homes with broken lives. And it also makes for what is now called 'serial monogamy'. After all, if you cannot live with one person, what makes you think that you can live with another?

Therefore, what can be said to young (and perhaps also older) people who have always expected much from marriage, who have always been idealistic? A proverb says: A deaf husband and a blind wife are always a happy couple - because they can overlook each other's faults. As is also said: Love sees no faults. First of all, young people need to know that such demanding marriages can become claustrophobic. It is not normal for two young people to spend all their time with one another. Usually, they will work in different jobs or have different occupations. Such separation is actually good for the marriage. Outside stimuli help the marriage to take shape. Routines sometimes need shaking up. Again, you cannot expect both members of the couple to have exactly the same interests, to do absolutely everything together. Different personalities, however much they have in common, need different stimuli and have different approaches.

Thus, the Apostle Paul, though speaking about sexual matters, says that it is good if a couple abstains 'with consent for a time' (1 Cor 7, 5). The couple will appreciate one another all the more afterwards. In the same way, if a couple is separated for a few hours, or even, if it is necessary, for two or three days (because of a business trip, for instance), this can actually be helpful. This illustrates what can be called the Trinitarian aspect of married life. Though separate persons, we also have a common experience. There is a need for balance here. Too much separation upsets the balance of the common experience, but too much time spent together can feel claustrophobic for one or both of the persons. As another proverb says: A fence between makes love more keen.

Fine words butter no parsnips

Perhaps the above proverb is not well-known nowadays. It simply means that words by themselves cannot make a bad situation better. It is similar to: Actions speak louder than words. Honeyed words in themselves are not going to repair injustice.

It is often said that the first year in marriage is the most difficult. Indeed, we have all heard of couples who married and then separated before the wedding photographs had been developed. The point is that it does take some time and perseverance for a marriage to work. Love grows with obstacles, as yet another proverb says. The first year especially is vital for a couple to find the right balance and iron out the selfishness of both partners in the marriage.

In English, we have an unfortunate expression to describe this: ‘Give and take’. I do not think that marriage should be ‘give and take’. The French expression is far better: ‘Donner/donnant', meaning ‘give and give’. In a ‘give and take’ situation, there is room for selfishness. The husband may become lazy and tyrannically exploit his wife (‘that’s woman’s work’), or else the wife may cunningly manipulate and exploit her husband (‘you will do that now, won’t you, darling’). The bossing around of the other member of the couple never does anything but harm. We have the impression that in a successful marriage, each member of the couple should be striving to help the other, ‘competing to be kind’, to paraphrase the Apostle. As another proverb says: A good wife makes a good husband. And presumably vice versa.

In masculine psychology, the lazy husband tyrannizes, making up excuses for his laziness. The lazy wife, however, with her feminine psychology, uses manipulation. We all know the stereotypes of the downtrodden and even battered wife and, on the other hand, the henpecked and nagged husband. Those stereotypes should send shivers down the backs of any young couple. We definitely do not want to go there. ‘Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay’, says our Lord. Let each obey their consciences with regard to what they contribute to their marriage. If they do not have a conscience, then they urgently need to develop it – hopefully before they marry.

Conclusion: Marriages are made in heaven?

With this proverb, we cannot disagree more. Marriages are not made in heaven - only the meetings which lead to marriages. Marriages are made on earth. Or rather not made, but carefully constructed, piece by piece, over years, decades and generations, like a giant jigsaw puzzle. As far as I am concerned, the only really happy marriages are the ones that last a lifetime, as much as fifty, sixty, seventy and even eighty years. This is the love that makes the world go round. The old couples who hold hands are the most romantic ones and any romantic film worth its salt should end with the immortal words: The Beginning.

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