Many authors and theorists have proposed that the idea of a “soul mate” is a basis for our high divorce rate.
The summary of this argument is that if you believe that your soul mate is out there, then you believe that marriage will work if you just find the right person.
Thus, if marriage gets hard, then you married the wrong person.
In short, believing in a soul mate is believing that marriage is about the other person’s personality, not our own efforts. Or, so the argument goes.
Timothy and Kathy Keller argue against the soul mate idea in their recent book, The Meaning of Marriage. The following excerpt succinctly makes their point:
You never marry the right person
The Bible explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible. As a pastor I have spoken to thousands of couples, some working on marriage-seeking, some working on marriage-sustaining and some working on marriage-saving. I’ve heard them say over and over, “Love shouldn’t be this hard, it should come naturally.” In response I always say something like: “Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball’? Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative’?” The understandable retort is: “But this is not baseball or literature. This is love. Love should just come naturally if two people are compatible, if they are truly soul-mates. “
The Christian answer to this is that no two people are compatible. Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:
Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
Their point is made from a Christian perspective. But, the point stands regardless of religious or spiritual issues: “The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.”
Food for thought for those married or wanting to be married. I certainly see the soul mate belief echoed in many clients and their spouses.
I don’t know whether the soul mate belief contributes to our divorce rate, and we may never know for sure. But, I do think some serious consideration of the issue helps immunize a marriage from divorce.