We live in a culture that highly prizes autonomy, personal fulfillment and individual freedom. Most people like to keep their options open and resist if choice is restricted in any way. The American Dream is one that inspires people to achieve their potential and imagine what can be, unrestrained by their circumstances. Self-determination is seen as a core right of every human life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is after all, the American promise.
So, when it comes to marriage, the idea that you have to give up individual freedom in order to accommodate the desires, preferences and needs of another person can be disconcerting. Couples like the description, often used in wedding ceremonies, of “two becoming one” but may wonder “which one?” in their early union. The idea of compromising or postponing their personal ambitions or needs for the sake of the other can present a challenge.
The truth is, marriage requires what all love relationships require: that we give up a good deal of our individual freedom and autonomy. By it’s very design, marriage confronts our self-centered way of moving through life and calls us into a new focus for consideration: the other. Love changes us and one of the most fundamental ways is to open our heart to the needs of the other. “Where would you like to go to dinner, honey?” or “How much do you think we should spend on the vacation this summer?” are questions of accommodation and compromise. Such questions reflect a relinquishment of a primary focus on self-determination.
Frederick Buechner said it beautifully in his wedding reflection: “They say they will love, comfort, honor each other to the end of their days. They say they will cherish each other and be faithful to each other always. They say they will do these things not just when they feel like it but even—for better for worse, for riches for poorer, in sickness and in health—when they don’t feel like it at all. In other words, the vows they make at marriage could hardly be more extravagant. They will give away their freedom. They will take on themselves each other’s burdens. They bind their lives together in ways that are even more painful to unbind emotionally, humanly, that they are to unbind legally. The question is: what do they get in return?
They get each other in return. Assuming they have any success at all in keeping their rash… promises, they never have to face the world quite alone again. There will always be the other to talk to, to listen to… They both still have their lives apart as well as life together. They both still have their separate ways to find. But a marriage made in Heaven is one where a man and a woman become more richly themselves together than the chances are either of them could ever have managed to become alone.” At it’s best, marriage does require we give up our individual freedom and autonomy. But what we receive in return is the joy of becoming one in a way that makes us “more richly ourselves together”.
What freedom have you had to give up for the sake of your marriage? Have you been resenting that sacrifice or noticing it’s benefits? Have you had glimpses of what Buechner means by “becoming more richly themselves together”? How has loving another changed you?