Some Thoughts on Marriage
...And when He desired to manifest grace and beneficence to men, and to set the world in order, He revealed observances and created laws; among them He established the law of marriage, made it as a fortress for well-being and salvation, and enjoined it upon us in that which was sent down out of the heaven of sanctity in His Most Holy Book. He saith, great is His glory: 'Marry, O people, that from you may appear he who will remember Me amongst My servants; this is one of My commandments unto you; obey it as assistance to yourselves.'
In the Bahá'í Faith marriage is regarded as a divine institution. It is not simply a contract between two parties. Marriage is seen as grace and a benefit from God, a "fortress for well-being," which is both a sacred and eternal bond, and a challenge to be won each day.
A good marriage is an intimate and loving relationship which gives both partners security, friendship, companionship, support, comfort, and deep love that penetrates every aspect of life. None of this can be achieved without work and sacrifice.
Marriage may be compared to a plant that requires daily nurture, daily attention, daily care and cultivation. It will not develop of its own accord; only as effort and will are exerted will it grow and mature. For a marriage to succeed, both husband and wife must be committed to its success. They must build an enduring love relationship that is centered in the heart of their consciousness. Their relationship must be nurtured with the water of loyalty and love.
A pilgrim who visited 'Abdu'l-Bahá reported that the Master spoke to him of marriage, saying:
The greatest bond that will unite the hearts of man and wife is faithfulness and loyalty. Both must exercise toward each other the utmost faithfulness and loyalty and not let any trace of jealousy creep between them...
The same pilgrim reports that 'Abdu'l-Bahá said:
You must irrigate continually the tree of your union with the water of love and affection, so that it may remain green and verdant throughout all seasons, producing the most luscious fruits for the healing of nations....
Chastity is one aspect of this standard which is an important preparation for marriage. The following letter written on the Guardian's behalf to an individual believer explains the Bahá'í teachings on this subject:
Briefly stated the Bahá'í conception of sex is based on the belief that chastity should be strictly practiced by both sexes, not only because it is in itself highly commendable ethically, but also due to its being the only way to a happy and successful marital life. Sex relationships of any form outside marriage, are not permissible therefore....
Another important aspect of the preparation of a Bahá'í for marriage is the cultivation of friendly and loving relationships with one's own parents. Since a Bahá'í will ask for the consent of his father and mother for marriage, it is important that a sense of love and trust exist between parents and child. In fact, it is precisely for the purpose of bringing families closer together and promoting unity and love that the law of parental consent was established by Bahá'u'lláh. Shoghi Effendi has explained:
Bahá'u'lláh has clearly stated that consent of all living parents is required for a Bahá'í marriage. This applies whether the parents are Bahá'ís or non-Bahá'ís, divorced for years, or not. This great law He has laid down to strengthen the social fabric, to knit closer the of the home, to place a certain gratitude and respect in the hearts of children for those who have given them life and sent their souls out on the eternal journey towards their Creator.
The love which becomes a part of marriage must be thought of differently. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has explained that:
...the love which sometimes exists between friends is not (true) love, because it is subject to transmutation; this s merely fascination. As the breeze blows, the slender trees yield. If the wind is in the East the tree leans to the West, and if the wind turns to the West the tree leans to he East. This kind of love is originated by the accidental conditions of life. This is not love, it is merely acquaintanceship; it is subject to change.
Of course, love takes many forms and has many meanings. Everyone yearns to capture the joy of life. Love is elusive, yet it possesses a mystique that is felt by all. It is a blending of affection, ardor, sympathy, fondness, understanding, concern, adoration, consideration, warmth of feeling, respect and much more.
In Bahá'í marriage, love will be expressed both spiritually and physically, for both aspects of love are essential to a good and enduring relationship. As 'Abdu'l-Bahá has stated:
In true Bahá'í marriage the two parties must become fully united both spiritually and physically, so that they may attain eternal union throughout all the worlds of God, and improve the spiritual life of each other. This is Bahá'í matrimony.
True love, deep love, implies spiritual unity:
The love which exists between the hearts of believers is prompted by the ideal of the unity of spirits. This love is attained through the knowledge of God, so that men see the Divine Love reflected in the soul, and finding this point of similarity, they are attracted to one another in love.... This love will bring the realization of true accord, the foundation of real unity.
And, 'Abdu'l-Bahá has explained that "Real love is impossible unless one turn his face towards God and be attracted to His Beauty." Therefore, the love between husband and wife must be expressed on three levels: the physical, the intellectual, and the spiritual. All these are essential for a strong and lasting union.
It is important that physical attraction not become the only focus of energy and thought. After all, sooner or later the excitement and passion of "falling in love" must give way to a more practical and stable bond. A couple considering marriage must feel certain that they will be able to find a basis for a permanent relationship.
One way to learn about one another is to share a wide variety of experiences under different circumstances and in different surroundings. In addition to Bahá'í activities, visit an art gallery, go for a walk in the country, organize a picnic, plan a dinner party, go shopping together, visit the elderly and the sick. Do other things together. By sharing these activities you will learn important things about your intended spouse.
Remember that marriage is a twenty-four hour arrangement. You will see your husband or wife, not only dressed up and on best behavior for a date, but also under more trying circumstances. How does your fiancé express anger? How does he or she react to frustration, or disappointment, or other pressures? How does your future mate behave around children? Around your friends? Around people of different races and religions?
Since each of us is, at least partially, a product of family upbringing, we must seek to understand the family of our intended spouse. Visit your future in-laws before the marriage. If possible, spend two or three days in their home. This will certainly give you new insights and awareness, and may even clarify some things for you.
Marriage requires a certain compatibility of tastes and habits. If your lifestyles are very different, there my be trouble ahead. For example, we knew a man who was nocturnal: he worked nights and rarely retired before 2:00 or 3:00 o'clock in the morning. In contrast, his wife loved the daylight and retired around 9:00 o'clock in the evening. Their marriage required constant, difficult adjustments.
Learn to communicate. A husband and wife must communicate daily. Talk to each other, look at each other; and, listen to each other. Communicate with tenderness, with hugs and kisses. Keep no secrets from one another. Pray and study the Writings together.
Give in to each other. Give in more than 50% of the time. It takes humility and detachment to do it, but learn to give in. Don't simmer with anger, hostility, or resentment. Don't hang on to grudges. Sacrifice for each other. Say to your partner: "I'm sorry," or "I made a mistake," or "I was wrong," or "Please accept my apology."
Resolve never to nag. Nagging causes disharmony, tensions, and grief. Avoid it from the start. Try not to give orders to your mate. Instead of saying, "Go close the window," you could say, "Do you think it's a good idea to shut the window before we leave?"
Always encourage your partner. Give your mate daily encouragement and assistance. Don't let little things bother you. Look at the good, and forget the other qualities. Strive for forgiveness and magnanimity. Never tear your partner down. Try to develop his or her good qualities.
Reciprocity in marriage. A good marriage requires reciprocity and interaction. And to interact meaningfully one needs time, patience, and a willingness to listen. If you are in a hurry, it is impossible to interact. You cannot always be frantic and rushed and hope to develop your marriage in a spiritual direction. Therefore, arrange some periods of peace and quiet each day.
A husband and wife must plan to enjoy periods of rest, relaxation, and fun together. If possible, plan some kind of recreation each week: walk together, sing, swim, talk, laugh together. Be together- just the two of you.
The challenge of marriage. Bahá'í marriage offers a special challenge. When two dedicated Bahá'ís marry they both naturally want to serve the Faith: teach and become involved in the administrative work of the Cause. But sometimes, in their desire to serve, they do not face the reality of marriage. Bahá'ís must strive to understand all the many factors that go into making a good marriage. Teaching and administrative service are lofty goals. But equally important is an understanding of the inner meaning of marriage.
Unity in marriage. Unity is the cornerstone of the Bahá'í Faith. The spirit of unity must be applied to every aspect of marriage - emotional, physical, and spiritual. We Bahá'ís seem to talk endlessly about unity of nations, of religions, of races and classes of peoples, but almost never about unity in marriage and in the family.
'Abdu'l-Bahá has written:
"Bahá'í marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart . Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever. Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity...."
Marriage is, in the Aqdas, set forth as a most sacred and binding tie, and the Bahá'ís should realize that divorce is viewed as a last resort, to be avoided at all costs if possible and not to be lightly granted.
Young Bahá'ís must take these words very seriously. They should resolve to build sound and permanent marriages so that, within the Bahá'í Community, divorce will come to be looked upon as something to be avoided and shunned.
Gradually, Bahá'ís will master the techniques required to build strong and enduring marriages. When each partner develops spiritually, acquires a good character, and understands the inner meaning of marriage, recognizing that it is a divine creation, then Bahá'í marriages will become a reality. They will become shining examples of love and joyous association to neighbors, friends, relatives, and to all humanity.
He is God!