Choice of a Marriage Partner
by Fr. Gerald Kelly
The preceding chapters on friendship and sex attraction contain sound theory in a very compact form. They have to be read and studied thoughtfully before their full value is appreciated. But even after much study and full understanding, such theory is useless unless it is put into practice. The most important practical use of those chapters should be in the choice of a partner for marriage. In a certain sense, that question does not pertain to this series, as we are not dealing directly with the questions of courtship and marriage. However, many who read this series very likely are preparing for marriage and the question of choosing the right partner is bound to present itself; and even those for whom this series is primarily intended can profit by the consideration and thus know what to prepare themselves for and what to avoid, even remotely.
General Characteristics of Marriage Partners
We assume that all will agree with this statement: Human beings ought to prepare for marriage intelligently. Such intelligent preparation requires first of all the personal striving to fit oneself for leading a worthy and holy married life, and then the choice of the right partner. We shall say nothing about the personal preparation (though everything said about the partner might very well be applied to oneself), but we shall expand somewhat on the notion of choosing the right partner. Now, in general, it can hardly be denied that marital companions should have for each other: a) the qualities that each expects in his or her best friend, and b) sex attraction.
Your best friend: Leaving out the question of sex attraction for a moment, is it not reasonable to assume that a companionship so intimate as marriage, in which two people are called upon to blend their entire lives into one, must have all the requisites for the finest and truest kind of friendship?
And is it not unreasonable for a person to go to the altar and and enter into the most solemn kind of contract, in which he pledges his whole life to another until death do them part, without having some well-grounded assurance that the lasting qualities necessary for carrying on such a relationship happily and without extraordinary strain are present I Common sense gives the answer; so we say, before you marry anyone, check first on the qualities of true friendship and apply them as best you can to married life, and unless the prospect of fulfilling those conditions is very high, do not marry; and if you have already fallen head-over-heels for that particular person, break it up, no matter what the pain.
Sex Attraction: But marriage is not a mere Platonic companionship. It is definitely a relationship between the sexes, and God Himself has given sex attraction as an inducement to enter marriage and as a means of fulfilling its purpose. So, before marriage, there should be a mutual sex attraction. But, it need not be physical, especially on the part of the girl. Does that sound like an explosion of all the modern findings of sexology? It is not. We simply state, and we state it without equivocation, that one can enter marriage safely and surely without having any premarital assurance of physical sex attraction toward the person whom one is to marry. We do not say that physical sex attraction is not an ordinary requisite of a happy marriage; we agree perfectly with the statement that many marriages are unhappy because of lack of harmony in regard to physical relations. But we deny most emphatically that this lack of adjustment is the basic cause of the unhappiness. Almost invariably, the maladjustment is itself the result of something else; for example, undue ignorance, or fear, or the sheer selfishness of one or both parties.
In other words, we feel perfectly safe, both scientifically and conscientiously, in telling two young people that if they love each other with the love of true friendship, and if they have towards each other that attraction which we described as personal sex attraction, then they have the basic qualifications for a happy marriage. If such people are given competent instruction on the few difficulties that might present themselves in regard to the physical relationship, there is little to fear of marital unhappiness on that score.
These, therefore, are the general requisites for entering marriage: a true spiritual friendship, and personal sex attraction. They should be considered carefully before marriage, and not in a general way, but in regard to the needs of marriage itself. During the last several years almost innumerable tabulations of these needed characteristics have been printed. It is not our desire to add to the list of these catalogues or to write a compendium of them. However, we are going to indicate here many ways of making a practical application of the criteria of friendship and sex attraction, always keeping in mind that these criteria must be applied with a view to the companionship which is required in marriage. These criteria are meant for young men and young women alike, and we may be pardoned if we do not always use both pronouns. Whatever pronoun is used, both parties are meant, unless it is stated explicitly that the quality refers to the husband or the wife. We should like to preface these helps with the remark that this "check-up" cannot be a purely mechanical thing, like working a cross-word puzzle or adding up the score in a bridge game; hence do not mind if our divisions have not the accuracy of a catalogue of newly published books.
To be continued: Moral Qualifications
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Copyright © Gerald Kelly. Reproduced with permission of Fusion International. All rights reserved.