Inspirational Article

The Purpose of Marriage

by Swami Kriyananda

From Self-Expansion Through Marriage: A Way to Inner Happiness*

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The purpose of marriage is mutual growth and expansion. To cling to a marriage solely because one feels one must is to defeat that very purpose. It amounts, usually, to covering under a blanket of artificial flowers the naked but actual reason for remaining in a dead relationship: pride. Such people cannot acknowledge that they have made a mistake, and cannot allow others to perceive them as having erred.

Commitment is a fundamental principle in every relationship. The failure of a commitment causes pain to everyone concerned. It is important, therefore, to understand what commitment means. It is important to learn how to commit oneself in the right way, to the right ends, and to the right person.

Marriage is, or should be, a lifelong commitment. This means it should be undertaken with lifelong goals in mind. The more closely one’s commitment can be allied to abiding principles, and not merely to a person, the more certain it will be to endure. For people may change, but principles are eternal.

The rose is beautiful. We enjoy its color, its shape, its fragrance. Should our enjoyment in the rose become excessive, however, our enjoyment will inevitably lead to disappointment. For the rose soon dies.

I once read an “Ann Landers” column in the newspaper in which some man expressed his “disillusionment” with his wife because she had put on weight. Ann Landers quite rightly called him a fool.

Because our lives are much longer than that of a rose, we see many roses come and go during the course of our lifetime. Thus, the loss of a prized rose doesn’t make us bitter or cynical about floral beauty (“Well, all right, so roses are beautiful, but what good is beauty if it doesn’t last?”); we soon understand that beauty is not a thing, but an abstraction. Things die, but the abstractions they represented remain untouched by death.

To marry a person for his or her beauty is like binding oneself to a cloud. Disappointment over the ending of a sunset is minimal, for a sunset is too brief for people to develop attachment to it. Bodily beauty lasts longer than an evening, but once it passes it, too, proves not much different from the ending of a beautiful sunset—except for our attachment to it. That which once was shining is gone. The pain in the loss is minimal, if our love was not so much for the shining cloud as for the eternal principle of beauty.

In every commitment, we should seek that, especially, which never changes. People’s outward appearance changes, obviously. So also do their personalities, their interests, their tastes, opinions, and ideas. If your commitment is to any of these, it is likely to prove fragile. Commit yourself, therefore, to that which lasts.

Some people commit themselves to marriage as a principle. This is a wholesome view of matrimony; it enables couples to survive many trials together.

Other people feel a bond with one another on a soul level. This deeper commitment enables them to weather many storms.

The Indian scriptures counsel couples to love God in each other. This attitude may account for the exceptionally high number of happy marriages in India.

In every case, what we see is that the more one’s commitment is to a principle, and offered to a specific individual in the name of that principle, the more that commitment will be likely to endure—and not to endure, merely, but to flourish and become ever-increasingly a source of happiness, growth, and mutual harmony.

Modern people, schooled to concentrate on the particular—“ this car, this house, this painting, this person”—easily become disillusioned, to be swept on from one attachment to another. An Indian friend of mine once said to me, “You Americans pride yourselves on your lack of superstition. Well, frankly, I can’t imagine a greater superstition than this one: your strange belief that happiness can be derived from mere things!”

To be excessively engrossed in the particular results either in excessive grief over its loss—which occurs inevitably, sooner or later—or in such a superficial commitment that one’s loyalties shift with color change in the lighting. “I loved him so much when he had all his hair” is not vastly different from, “I loved him so much for his sense of humor, but now that he no longer laughs, I find I don’t love him any more.” And if these examples don’t ring true to you, look for others that do. You will find them to be no less superficial.

Human nature is, of course, attracted by outer glamour. The roots of a plant may be more important to it than its leaves, but who will pretend that on that account the roots are as attractive? In marriage, romantic affinity is the given. What I am saying is, marriage needs much more than romance to succeed.

The important thing is to understand that what you get with a spouse is the whole plant. The more wedded in thought you are to attractions that are merely outward, the more fickle your affections will be.

If there is one obstacle to self-development greater even than suppression, it is fickleness. Suppression is a stoked fire: It can cause harm when it breaks out, as it must, eventually, but if it is channeled wisely it can provide great powers of accomplishment. Fickleness, on the other hand, merely scatters energy. Fickle people rarely, if ever, accomplish anything worthwhile in their lives.

Fickleness comes from concentrating too much on outer glamour, and too little on real worth.

One of the delusions of our times is the emphasis placed on “feeling good” about things. Many people confuse intuitive feeling with mere likes and dislikes. In marriage, they may get divorced merely because they no longer “feel good” about being together.

I’ve stressed the need for developing intuition. It is important to add that, just as there are different levels of commitment, so also there are different levels of intuition. Many feelings, moreover, that make a show of being intuitive are not really so at all.

As some people allow themselves to be guided in their commitments by how they feel today (as opposed to how they felt yesterday), so also there are people who justify every feeling by calling it intuitive. Before long, a kind of tornado develops: “I don’t feel as loving toward you today as I did yesterday; my ‘intuition’ tells me there’s something wrong in our relationship; that makes me feel badly; my intuition tells me our marriage is on a downward spiral: Perhaps it was all a mistake. Perhaps we never should have gotten married in the first place. Perhaps we should file for a divorce.” Emotional feelings feed a shallow intuition of what is actually no more than a fleeting misunderstanding, thus stirring mere moodswings in interpersonal relationships into mighty whirlpools.

At such times, it is better to ignore feeling altogether, and apply the discipline of common sense. Indeed, basic to every marriage should be a commitment, not to feeling, but to truth—to what is right.

Responsibility in marriage seems almost passť nowadays. It had better be brought back, for without a sense of responsibility there can be few lasting unions. It is more important to be dutiful than to worry at every turn over how one “feels” about things.

Women, as I said earlier, tend to be more intuitive than men because they are more aware on a level of feeling. Men, relying more on logic, may lose touch with their feelings. If they do so, they sacrifice the native gift of intuition. The advantage men have in developing intuition is that the intellect, once it relinquishes an exaggerated attachment to logic, has a calming influence on the emotions, thereby producing that calm feeling which is intuition.

Intuitive feeling must not be confused with personal likes and dislikes. Often people will say, “I feel that is a good direction to go,” when what they really mean is, “I want to go that way,” or, “I like that direction.” Calm, intuitive feeling has nothing to do with such emotional “guidance.” That is why our feelings need the direction of reason and common sense. The intellect, on the other hand, must not rely on logic alone for understanding, lest, like a bloodhound deprived of its sense of smell, it go baying down innumerable false trails. When reason draws its inspiration from calm feeling, and when calm feeling is kept in a state of reason, only then may the result be called intuition.

The calmer the feeling, the deeper the intuition. The deeper (because calmer) the intuitive understanding of a relationship, the more enduring one’s commitment to it will be. To commit yourself to the right ends in marriage is to desire a relationship that will be of value not only to you and your spouse, but also to other people. Only such a relationship is truly expansive. Any marriage that focuses entirely on the relationship of two people to each other proves cloying at last. Life, to be truly fulfilling, should be a service to all. Couples should tell each other on the very day of their wedding, “I want to make you happy.” Finding happiness in each other, they should turn outward to others with the thought: “Let us make everyone happy!”

The right ends in marriage imply no finish line, but a directional movement of ever greater expansion; a service of love to others that, ultimately, embraces the whole world as one’s larger family.

If your commitment is to a principle, and to your marriage partner as someone with whom you plan to develop in that principle, then if your partner later rejects the principle, and no amount of patience on your part shows evidence of effecting a change, the best for you both may be to separate.

If separate you must, do so with dignity. Better that than to get drawn downward into decreasing attunement with that principle, through bickering and misunderstandings. If you must separate, part with respect, and with love.

First, however, do your very best to make it work. Try to help your spouse, even if you do not see that you yourself are being helped. For in giving we often gain more than we realize. Marriage is an important commitment, and ought not to be abandoned until every other avenue has been tried.

The importance of choosing the right marriage partner becomes obvious from looking at the number of marriages that end in failure. To choose the right marriage partner, seek someone, above all, who shares your ideals. For if you yourself are unselfish, but your wife or husband cannot escape the vortex of self-involvement, marriage between you is likely to prove barren.

*Self-Expansion Through Marriage: A Way to Inner Happiness, by Swami Kriyananda, Crystal Clarity Publishers. Formerly entitled: Expansive Marriage.