Thursday, November 3, 2011

"I Do"

It has been said many times before, and I'll continue to say it many more times in the future: I love my wife. (Just thought I'd get that out of the way.)

It kind of took me by surprise, the number of e-mails I received about the most recent article, the one about the YoW. Most were very positive, a few were delightfully cynical, a couple asked some questions about the effectiveness of the YoW, and one asked a question that has prompted this article. It was, essentially, "What are you Baha'is willing to do about it?" Meaning, what answers do we offer for helping strengthen the institution of marriage, and lowering this skyrocketing divorce rate.

Well, good question.

I think I've covered some of the basics of a Baha'i marriage in the past, but let's check again.

First of all, the process leading up to marriage is pretty straightforward. The two people involved have to be at least 15 years old. Then they decide for themselves whom they would like to marry. While they are free to consult their parents, the choice is really theirs, and theirs alone. "...(F)irst thou must choose one who is pleasing to thee," says 'Abdu'l-Baha, "and then the matter is subject to the consent of father and mother. Before thou makest thy choice, they have no right to interfere." (I just love the way He phrases that. Can't you just imagine the "interference" He must have seen for Him to have said that?)

From here, it would be really easy to go straight into the question of parental consent, but I'm going to ask you to hold on to that for just a moment, because there is still something that hasn't been covered: why you would propose to someone in the first place.

To better understand who you would want to marry, we have to consider what the Writings say. I mean, obviously it is more than just "one who is pleasing to thee" in the physical sense. "Bahá'í marriage", it says in the Writings, "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." While there are many more quotes that talk further about the purpose of marriage, I want to look at a singular concept in here: we "must... exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other". To me, and remember this is only my personal opinion, the word "must" is an imperative. 'Abdu'l-Baha doesn't say that we might want to, or that it's a good idea. He says we "must". Why? So that the marriage "will endure forever".

When we truly get to know the character of the person we want to marry, then we basically know what we are getting into. We see their good qualities and are aware of their less than stellar attributes. Of course, we also need to be aware of our own character. This is said over and over in the Writings of all faiths.

So, to sum up: get to know yourself, know the character of your intended, then ask your parents for permission. Why? For many reasons. They probably know you better than most anyone else and can help you from being a total bozo. It also helps build family unity, and that unity will be very important when you inevitably go through tough times. Really, I could go on and on, but just know that it's a good thing to do. Oh, and it also helps develop a healthier relationship between the parents and the child right from day one. For example, I know that some day Shoghi will ask me for permission to get married. I have to begin now, and lay the groundwork, to be worthy of the trust that is involved in such a decision.

Now let's presume that consent is given, and everything is ready. Here is the most important thing of all, to me: the commitment. This is the point that I really want to touch on, for it is, in my opinion, at the heart of the matter of divorce.

In this day and age, the whole concept of a promise seems to have fallen by the wayside. You only need look around to see that this is true. When politicians are not held accountable for the promises they made during their campaign, contracts are regularly violated, corporate giants feel that they can try and flout the law: you just know that the concepts of integrity and trustworthiness have fallen. Even pre-nuptial agreements are fairly standard. In other words, people are preparing for the divorce even before they get married. Kind of makes me wonder.

When you make a promise to your spouse-to-be, it is a pledge. In the Baha'i Faith, we say, "We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God." And Baha'u'llah, elsewhere, tells us to "Be... a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge". He doesn't just tell us to preserve our pledge, He qualifies that pledge with the word "sanctity". We've all heard of the "sanctity of marriage", but "the sanctity of our pledge"? Yes. A pledge is a sacred obligation, and we seem to have sadly forgotten it these days. Keeping faith to your word is seen as a sacred thing in most religions, and in virtually all cultures. It is only in recent times that this has been forgotten.

This pledge that we make to our spouse, before our community of loved ones, is so important. It should not be taken lightly.

When we cultivate within our children the importance of keeping our word, and talk to them openly about the "abhorrence" of divorce, then we will begin to see a decline in the divorce rate.

When we remember that the phrase in many contemporary weddings is "I do", and not "I might", and cringe from the thought of breaking our word, then we will work more diligently to maintaining our marriages, even when the times get tough.

And even though divorce is permitted in the Baha'i Writings, it is still only to be used as an absolute last resort.

What all this means to me is that we need to be far more careful in our selection of a partner, recognize the duty before God as parents to ensure that the characters of our child and their intended spouse are actually compatible and mutually encouraging, and truly appreciate the sacred nature of our word when given as a pledge.


  1. I like this one Mead. It's positive and cautionary. It also includes the family in a more respectful manner, not the "I do" part but the asking of permission, which essentially means to the parents, who are hopefully married too, "Are we right for each other and is the marriage gonna fly? ". Just my thoughts. Well done.

  2. Great posting again Mead! You missed one important ingredient, though. The ONLY way to a successful and happy marriage is found in this quote: "Chastity should be strictly practised 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." (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 344-345)