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Marriage Is Dead. Long Live Marriage!

Is marriage the place in which we find pleasure?

In his book on marriage, Jungian psychotherapist Guggenbühl Craig raises an important question that I’d like to share with you.

Alessandro Stefoni, used with permission
Source: Alessandro Stefoni, used with permission

Is marriage the place in which we find pleasure?

Do we decide to marry someone because we expect to find pleasure?

If your answer to these questions is positive, well–Guggenbühl Craig says–you are in the wrong place! A stroll on the beach is pleasant, watching a nice movie is; but marriage is not something that we ‘buy’ in order to feel better. For him marriage is the place of individuation.

In his words:

“Marriage is not comfortable and harmonious. Rather, it is a place of individuation where a person rubs up against oneself and against the other, bumps up against the other in love and in rejection, and in this fashion learns to know oneself, the world, good and evil, the high and the low ground. It is not about one partner curing the other or even changing him or her significantly; that’s not possible. By getting marriage one is resolved to confront one another until death.” (Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, Marriage Is Dead – Long Live Marriage!)

Therefore, according to his point of view, marriage is not necessarily the place where one finds happiness.

“I want my spouse to accept me for who I am”—this is a complaint that I often hear. The question is: “who are you?” It is possible in fact, that your spouse can see you better than you yourself, and is challenging you to find the courage to find that self and look it straight in the eye? Figuratively speaking, of course!

Alessandro Stefoni, used with permission
Source: Alessandro Stefoni, used with permission

The path to salvation?

According to Guggenbühl-Craig, marriage may be the place where two persons decide to travel together on a path to salvation. He uses the word “salvation” here in Jung’s sense as “a long road that leads through many gates. These gates are symbols. Each new gate is at first invisible; indeed it seems at first that it must be created, for it exists only if one has dug up the spring’s root, the symbol” (Carl Jung, Liber Novus, p. 311). Hence, by salvation, we mean a life that has found its identity and expresses its meaning through a symbol. That meaning has always been there for you; “salvation” means it finally can be recognized and fully inhabited, like a home. Our existential need, whether we are married or not, is to discover who we are and what to do with our existence in this life; we need to find meaning in our life, especially when it starts becoming absurd.

The decision to get married might entail a confrontation that seems adversarial and awfully unpleasant. But from Latin ‘adversary’ means that one is “versus ad te”, which literally means. “turned toward you”. Personally, I find this word movingly beautiful. In any argument we might take positions that are adversarial, but in the adversity we might discover we are working together in trying to unveil the truth.

I think that being adversaries is a way through which you can see your own essence from more than one point of view. In a marriage (although I think the same is true in being parents, or being a good friend) confrontation opens an intimate place from which you see yourself and your intimate Other through a new point of view and that allows you to understand yourself and the other person better. Surrendering your ego to the Self is the act of love that is implied in this constant process of confrontation and individuation.

Alessandro Stefoni, used with permission
Source: Alessandro Stefoni, used with permission

To come back to the point: Is marriage the place for pleasure?

Hopefully, yes. But it’s not only that. The mystical treasure hidden in every conjugal bond is the meaning we discover and assign to our being; it’s our salvation and our unique opportunity for individuation.

Being married then is an incredibly difficult and beautiful task!