Seth Adam Smith has some advice for you who are already married or soon to be betrothed. You may have already read his post, “Marriage Isn’t for You,” as it’s been very popular on social media. I understand why. He’s got a good thing or two to say about the throw-it-away culture in which some marriages exist. Alas, he says much more than that, and reducing his post to those few gold nuggets takes him out of context. The underlying philosophy of marriage he advocates is awful, just awful.
Money quote: “You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy.” No. No. No.
First, my wife would be rightly none too pleased if I told her that our marriage doesn’t make me happy and that I don’t look for it to make me happy. There’s no sin or shame in my taking pleasure in my spouse. She rightly expects me to! It would be deeply insulting to her if I were think of our marriage as an altruistic chore.
Second, as important as happiness is, it isn’t the purpose of marriage. Smith writes, “I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day.” Bad realization. Sometimes you can’t bring a smile or a laugh to your spouse. Sometimes that shouldn’t be your goal. Sometimes relationships are about sharing tears. Sometimes they’re about letting the person you love be.
Third, this advice is a recipe for abuse because it’s so easy to turn around: You shouldn’t be concerned with your own happiness, dear, but with mine. It’s not selfish to care about your own happiness. And, yes, selfishness isn’t good for marriage, but then neither is self-neglect. Smith is, unwittingly I’m sure, advising a disposition of self-neglect. That’s hugely problematic.
I’m sure Smith means well and wants to share the wisdom he’s learned. I loved his phrase “Walmart philosophy.” Unfortunately, his binary way of thinking about marriage and happiness is just as dangerous.