August 18, 2022

I’ve spent the past three weeks amusing myself (and hopefully you) by poking holes in bad marriage advice. Each time, I’ve attempted to present more honest truths about marriage, and wonder more creatively about the marriage relationship. So, let’s say goodbye to “Never go to sleep angry,” “Love conquers all,” and “Marriage is 50-50.” Good bye and good riddance. This week, in my final installment, I wish adieu to “We are soulmates.”

What a beautiful, romantic sentiment. What an amazing thing to find that one person who makes your life brighter, more exciting, seemingly easier. What a fabulous feeling to be a reason your partner smiles. I get it. I really do. But, I hope for your sake and your partner’s sake you aren’t the reason your partner smiles. I sincerely hope your partner is not the only source of your happiness. No one person is anyone’s everything. (And I’ll go as far to say that monastics are rare for a reason. People are made for community.)

Shel Silverstein wrote “The Missing Piece meets the Big O” in 1981. In his book, a wedge, seemingly missing a larger piece of itself, goes through a series of attempts to “complete” itself by trying to fit like a puzzle piece into complementary shaped pieces. In each case, though, the fit ultimately fails. The piece must learn it is not incomplete, but a whole being unto itself. It learns and grows, rolling alone, and ultimately rolling alongside another shape. Silverstein is not being subtle here. While we thrive alongside friends and partners, suggesting we need them to be complete diminishes our very being and existence.

Marriage is about finding someone who celebrates our very being and existence . . . as we are, and alongside us as we grow and change. And alongside them as they grow and change.

And here is the kicker: while our marriage partner may be the one with whom we are most intimate and vulnerable, the one who knows us the best, the first among equals, they should not be the only.

Marriage lives and thrives in community. We need a myriad of voices in our lives, multiple perspectives. The role of friends is not only to support the couple when support is needed, but to check our individual perspectives. I recall a time when my counselor asked me, “Who is going to remind you that Joe, even as he throws his dirty socks on your side of the bed, cherishes you?” Oh. Yeah. OK. (And more importantly, who is going to remind Joey that even though I can’t cook, I’m a great baker?)

And it isn’t just about supporting the couple. I need particular friends in particular places. When it comes to theological discourse, my friend Margaret is my go-to. When Joe needs insight on legally-laws or whatever it is he does, he calls James. He tailgates with another group (because I had my fill of college football during my four years at university). I cycle with Sam, and grab chips, salsa and margaritas with Michele, Rae, Annette, or Cam.

There are moments when, particularly because of the intimate nature of marriage, soulmate seems the perfect word. Sometimes the connection between you and your spouse touches a deep, profound, thin-space that seems (or perhaps is) otherworldly. Those moments are treasures. And they are often fleeting. That’s ok. That moment may even make soulmate appropriate. But our souls should be fed by many. In some ways, that makes those moments with our partners even more cherished.

My advice? Mark those moments and treasure them. But don’t make them a statement or expectation about your being and selfhood – or your spouse’s. You are enough just as you are. Your spouse is, too. Together, go build a life, a community of friends and family, dream some dreams, share adventures and burdens. Be helpmates, partners, and friends. Be teammates, lovers, and companions.

And most of all? Don’t be afraid to think critically about any marriage advice you receive! Remember, marriage is universal, even as it is unique. What works for one couple may not work for another.