Discuss: Should marriage make you a better person?
That’s the question a reader recently posed. She was referring to the line from the Jack Nicholson character in As Good As It Gets, “You make me want to be a better man.” She asked, “Many people say their spouses have made them better people. They say their spouses constantly make them laugh and they are the person that lifts them up when they need it. Should marriage partners always help you become better people? Should they be the best person you’ve ever known? And to what extent do I have the responsibility to try to make my husband a better person? Does it just happen naturally because each person considers the other the best person they’ve ever known?”
Deep thoughts, right? My take is probably not what this reader (or many of you) might expect. It’s twofold. First, there are no shoulds in life. There are only ises. (I’m talking about the plural of “is,” except there is no such thing grammatically). I don’t think marriage should be one way or another way. Marriage is different for every couple. Second, whether your spouse makes you a better person has little to do with your spouse and a lot to do with you. You can become a better person by following the lead of someone you consider to be stronger, more ethical, kinder, more generous, and more forgiving than yourself. Yet you can grow just as much by learning how to deal with someone who is weaker, less ethical, less kind and so forth. Humans, by nature, tend to grow when facing adversity. Because of that, the most difficult people in your life are just as likely to coax you into become a better person as are the less difficult ones. How else, for instance, could any of us develop patience if we didn’t have people who tested it? Annoying, angry, miserly, envious people can either bring us down or help us grow. Their effect on our lives is our choice, not theirs.
Most of us see this concept clearly with our children. Many parents say that they’ve become stronger and better people since having them. They are not saying this because little Mother Teresas emerged from their wombs. No, they are saying it because children test us. They force us to grow so we can stay one step ahead of them.
It can be the same with our spouses, our friends, our coworkers–everyone we know.
So, in my mind, the question isn’t, “Should marriage make you a better person?” Rather it’s, “Are you learning from your marriage so you can become the person you wish to be?”
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