I was listening to a talk radio show on my way to work this morning; and they were discussing an article about the dangers of Halloween published by one of the contributors at CBN.com – it included claims that Halloween has no basis as a real holiday only the kind of vile pagan ritualism we should associate with human sacrifice, that Halloween is a covert attempt by Satanists to ruin the minds of young children, and that witches working at candy corporations have “laced” Halloween candy with “time release” curses. I thought long and hard about launching into a sugar induced tirade about the idiocy of Christian Fundamentalists that want to ruin the holiday season with their asinine “historical proof” that modern holidays are all rooted in paganism and therefore constitute some form of witchcraft or idolatry while wearing my custom fit prosthetic vampire fangs and a cheap, pre-packaged, Wal-Mart brand Harry Potter costume made out of nylon. However, something more interesting happened today, and I think the group would be better served to discuss something else (though, I certainly hope someone takes up the clarion call to mock wacko fundamentalism of any brand – and especially of the Pat Robertson brand during the holidays).
I was approached by a young man wanting advice about relationships today. I frequently get approached by young couples in their early twenties and late teens asking for advice about their relationship. There was nothing particularly unique about today’s experience. Both the young man and his significant other have supportive, Christian families that want the best for their children. Both of them are reasonably mature for their age. Both of them are getting the same advice from their parents that ultimately sends every couple my way. Their parents want them to break up after high school, go to different colleges, and try meeting new people before they commit to one another.
I have never contradicted the authority of parents (nor will I ever), no matter the age of the people asking. Consequently, this conversation always goes the same way. I address what I perceive to be the fear of their parents. We talk, instead, about what makes marriage successful. I am going to share the essential elements of that conversation with you, dear reader, because I’d love to hear what other wisdom is available…AND, because I have never once had this conversation and not left contemplating the health of my own relationships. So, here is an outline of what I discuss with these young couples (yes, it happens so often I have an outline):
- Let’s validate the concerns of your parents: the institution of marriage is in a critical state; a person’s maturity has, at least some, corollary relationship to their age; choosing a spouse is one of the most important decisions of your life, and too often people want to make that decision independent of their families.
- Anyone who is in a relationship (marriage or otherwise) in order to get something out of it for themselves is going to fail at that relationship. We don’t thrive in communities when we are only out to satisfy our own needs.
- Most people who are trying to get something selfish out of a romantic relationship do not have a fully developed sense of self or independence. Which certainly is not to say that we do not all continue to grow into our own identities and independence, but someone who needs a relationship to validate who they are is probably not going to succeed in a marriage.
- Relationships are successful when those involved in them understand what it means to genuinely receive benefit from serving the other person. When we are finally able to see that it is fulfilling to serve the needs of another person, and can see the benefit of sacrificing for those we love, we are probably able to have a healthy marriage. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that all failed marriages got that way because one or both of the people involved quit looking out for the best interest of the other person and started worrying about pleasing themselves first.
- Do you understand and appreciate that you are entering into a relationship with that other person’s entire family (in the case of romantic relationships)? I have said repeatedly, “you are not just marrying that person – you are marrying their entire family.” Do the families of those involved in a relationship get along? Are they prepared to deal with the stress of having family members that will not approve of or support their relationship? Can you serve and sacrifice for your significant other’s family in the same way you are devoted to serving your significant other?
- If you’re considering a relationship with someone, why? Do you understand the rich personal fulfillment of raising and sacrificing for a family? Do you understand what it means to enter into a covenant with another human being? Interestingly enough, most of these young couples do indeed understand what real love means, and they have it.
(Here’s the important one)