Ich und Du

Why Loyalty Trumps Compatibility in Marriage

By Stephanie Ismer

Consider the purchases you made over the Christmas holiday. Think about the racks of clothing you perused and the hours of surfing you did on Think about the questions you asked yourself. Will it break down / be high-maintenance? Will it suit my needs? Do I like the way it looks?

Do we approach the search for a marriage partner in the same way?

Eharmony's founder, Neil Clark Warren, wrote a book called The 29 Dimensions of Compatibility. The premise is that if you follow the 29 dimensions (some of them more important / crucial than others) you will have a happy marriage. I have good friends who met on Eharmony and do now have happy marriages. But does their success in marriage have anything to do with compatibility?

Ich und Du

In the book Ich und Du by Martin Buber, which was published in 1923 and translated to English in 1937, Buber reveals the difference between the "I-You" relationship and the "I-It" relationship. The "I-You" relationship is a "subject-to-subject" relationship, where two human beings are aware of one another as having a "unity of being." According to Buber, people in this type of relationship do not see one another as a composite of qualities, but their "dialogue" involves the whole being. This is contrasted to the "I-It" relationship, which is "subject-to-object" and relates to the object as a composite of qualities.

For example, a car is an object that is a composite of qualities. It has good points and bad. If the bad outweighs the good, you may decide to sell it. On the other hand, a parent or a sibling is not regarded as a composite of qualities, but as a whole being. We regard our family relationships as irrevocable, and therefore we accept the good with the bad. Most of us would never dream of evaluating our familial relationships in terms of good or bad qualities. You can see your sister's flaws, and may even regret having to live with those flaws, but you don't consider the relationship expendable.

But something changes when we're out on a date. What are the things that make us excited about the person across the table? Things in common. Similar backgrounds or beliefs. Physical attraction. Sense of humor. Good health, a good job, a stable family. I'm not saying we shouldn't be wise, or that we shouldn't choose someone we like, or someone we're attracted to. But all of those things — including compatibility — are subject to change. We hope they won't, but what if they do? When the winds of change blow against your house (and they will) you need a strong foundation, and compatibility simply isn't it.

Broken Spouse, Strong Marriage

Where did we get this idea that compatibility is the foundation of marriage? It's not from the Bible. It's not in there anywhere. No disrespect to Mr. Warren, but I think that when the concept of compatibility is made too large in the marriage relationship, problems are inevitable. If your loyalty to your spouse is based on compatibility, what happens when the years change you both? What happens when illness or life experiences break you down? And what happens when someone comes along who is "more compatible" than the mate you've chosen?

In Genesis 2:24, God calls a married couple "one flesh." That is something completely new, beyond Buber's definitions. It is a miraculous bond, sealed with a promise that brings two beings together in such existential unity that they can actually be called "one." When we make marriage about compatibility instead of loyalty to that holy bond, we have forsaken the most beautiful gift in any human relationship — unconditional love. Not unconditional acceptance of sin, or willingness to be abused, but a strong, genuine love that confronts when necessary, is willing to go to the lowest points with the beloved person, and is committed to building them up. In other words, a love that reflects God's.

Strange Advice

My father told me, when I was single, "find a man who loves God more than he loves you." Does that seem like strange advice? I'm glad I followed it. Because now that I'm married I'm quite sure that a man who didn't love God more than me would not have the strength to love me at all. I'm difficult. I'm broken. I'm not exactly what I was when my husband first met me and fell in love. And I'm convinced that it's the same story everywhere, in every marriage. The strength to stay together is not found in common interests or attraction or an ability to make the other person feel happy. Although those things are good and useful, the true success of a marriage comes from a much deeper well of loyalty that is ideally a reflection of God's love for us — unconditional, committed and completely undeserved.

Image Credit: Doug Brown; "Homeless Native Couple"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Family-Life  | Personal-Relationships

comments powered by Disqus
Published 1-7-12; Revised on 1-14-15