Since the early 1980s, the United States has been witnessing an epidemic of divorce. This is a trend that is repeated in many western countries. There are more teenage pregnancies than ever before and more babies being born to unmarried parents. Marriage is at an all-time low, and is in danger of becoming the exception rather than the rule.
Yet marriage is perhaps mankind’s oldest ritual. It is an ancient ritual and one that has been much discussed over the years. This debate continues today to fill newspaper inches just as it has done in the past. Marriage has as many detractors as it has supporters and many of the arguments for and against marriage have been raging for as long as priests and holy men have been uniting couples in states of matrimony.
While the decline of religion and the rise of materialism may be influencing people’s decision about whether or not to get married, many people just never think they have met the right person. It was a very similar world in which Jane Austin wrote, “I pay very little regard…to what any young person says on the subject of marriage. If they profess a disinclination for it, I only set it down that they have not yet seen the right person.”
Yet picking the right person has always been the trickiest part of a successful marriage. There are societies where arranged marriages continue to be common. The bride and groom rely on the combined wisdom of their elder relatives to find them a suitable soulmate, but in Western society couples prefer to make their own choices. It is western couples who ought to heed some of the wisest voices from history in deciding on a partner.
William Penn was an English Quaker who founded the colony of Pennsylvania in the seventeenth century. He warned his followers: “In marriage do thou be wise; prefer the person before money; virtue before beauty; the mind before the body. As sound advice today as it was over three hundred years ago, yet many couples base their choice of partner on financial considerations and attractiveness. And then they wonder why they find themselves in the divorce courts.”
The author of “Testament of Youth”, Vera Brittain said, “I know one husband and wife who, whatever the official reasons given to the court for the break-up of their marriage, were really divorced because the husband believed that nobody ought to read while he was talking and the wife that nobody ought to talk while she was reading. “Moliere, the great French playwright would have sympathised with their predicament as he had earlier remarked, “Books and marriage go ill together”.
It is this inability or unwillingness to see beyond our own wants, the reluctance to empathise with the needs of our spouse that provokes the downfall of so many promising marriages. As Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist said, “What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.”
Samuel Johnson said, “The most happy marriage I can imagine to myself would be the union of a deaf man to a blind woman.” Two hundred years earlier, Michel de Montaigne had written, “A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.” Many married men might well prefer a wife who overlooked everything he did, and many a wife would be delighted to find their husband willing to listen to them endlessly.
In marriage do thou be wise: prefer the person before money, virtue before beauty, the mind before the body; then thou hast a wife, a friend, a companion, a second self.
Love: n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.
A man is incomplete until he is married. After that, he is finished.
Zsa Zsa Gabor