The Purpose of Marriage

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

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

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 passé 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.

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