Genuine Love in Marriage
by R. B.
In early marriage a heavenly sweetness of first states is given directly through heaven from the Lord. This is a foretaste of eternal states, and a promise from Him that we will be rewarded if we continue to work on our reception of the state of marriage while we live in the world. Such work is made easy by the conjunction of minds through a genuine application of religion. The work of marriage is based on religion, because only religion can give us the Lord's aid in struggling against our weaknesses. The deepest causes of cold in marriage stem from differences, and also indifferences, in religious outlook and practice. Where there is no religion in marriage, on the other hand, there is no genuine love in that marriage. Instead there is a love of sex which has been limited through rational considerations. But the love of sex sees only its own needs in the natural man. The marriage love of natural men see their partners as the cause of their own selfish enjoyment. This enjoyment consists of natural heat, but spiritually it is cold (see CL 240).
When there is spiritual cold in marriage there usually arises a rivalry between the partners because they think from proprium. As most people know, the proprium in all of us is hypersensitive and brooks no critique. Between natural partners there is a demand for equal rights, because they dare not openly demonstrate a striving for dominance. The man believes he determines the love in the relationship, while the woman feels justified in claiming her right to sexual fulfillment, and thereby tries to subject the man to herself by challenging his sexual ability. What could have been heavenly has been reduced to what is earthly.
When a partner works at the marriage relationship from religion, there is never an attempt to set him or herself above the other in marriage. The man or woman of spiritual marriage has the goal to individually fight against inherited tendencies to evil. The true result of this fight cannot be seen in full as long as the spirit is clothed with a body in this world, but it will always express itself positively.
We may be sure on this one point. All spiritual progress is a result of self-compulsion - not compulsion of the marriage partner, but of self. Self-compulsion is symbolized in the rib of Adam (see CL 193). In the spiritual meaning, the rib which was removed represents the male desire to lead himself from his own experience alone. This feeling of superiority is spiritually like the hardness of a bone, because he is not influenced by charity or love to the Lord from within. He is gripped by the world through his external pride. The male ego forms its "own" natural truth, a distillation of experience. This bony spirituality cannot become a receptacle of Divine revelation as long as it reflects arrogance. It is hard because it lacks humility. It recognizes no law which is higher than his own reason. When man tries to change this from a new insight of spiritual truth, he is confronted with its hardness from without, and might well give up if he had not his wife as a spiritual helper.
We know that the natural man loves his own intelligence. A wife wants to be the love of her husband's intelligence, but when he turns it toward himself and his own advantages, he no longer can be loved by his wife from within. She is forced to reach him from without. She strives to help him away from his tendency to love himself. This is described in the Word by the Lord building a woman out of the rib and leading her to Adam.
Every woman becomes a wife and her husband's spiritual partner. She is not a wife at once. She is formed, spiritually speaking, according to the picture of the rib taken from man which was given life. Every wife who loves the spiritual qualities of her husband which come from his self-compulsion becomes his spiritual helper, because she sees and understands him from "within," which is superior to his own understanding of himself.
When a man really works on himself to resist or oppose his own proprial will and at the same time his proprial understanding, then for the first time he lives up to the meaning of his life. In the degree that he will work with himself, in the same degree is it possible for his wife to follow him, lifting her will into greater spiritual heat. She becomes more and more a wife, purer and more expressive of conjugial love (see CL 188). He becomes the custodian of marriage from without, while she is the custodian of marriage from within.
To remind man that he is the protector of marriage from without, the Lord has charged him that he is to leave "father and mother" and cleave unto his wife. By a "father" in the spiritual sense is understood man's proprium or his egotism. By "mother" in the spiritual sense is understood his intellectual proprium or conceit - simply: his tendency for self-admiration. A man has what a woman has not. He has two negative wills. The will to love self is common to both sexes. We call this will selfishness. But in addition to this selfishness a man has what a woman has not - a tendency to love his own wisdom. These two tendencies are deadly evils in a man if he remains in them. No one is better equipped than a wife who understands her husband from within. She can see his conceit, and instead of condemning him, help him away from his tendency. She can, if she wants to, feel how the Lord puts flesh on that dry rib of her husband's intellectualism when she strives to avert his attention from himself, as she manages to have it directed to herself.
To cleave to his wife means for the man to consciously strive to escape from his intellectual proprium, because he feels drawn to receive his wife's love. No man can truly achieve such freedom to pull away from his own intellectual conceit unless he subjects himself to the discipline of doctrine. This effort to discipline his thought and affections will change not only his own life but also qualify the love cherished by his wife. While he is striving to oppose his own negative will and thought in the external man, his wife is unconsciously drawn to him by the spiritual changes in her own internals, which is that gift from the Lord called conjugial love. She is not conscious of how the love of his wisdom becomes her conjugial love, or how his love of genuine wisdom becomes his love of her. The change in the husband is not a direct result of the wife's prudence, or caused by her vision of love, even if she may have a detailed understanding of him from within. Least of all is this love a result of her imaginings or jealousy of his occupation. The growing love is a result of the Divine love and wisdom coming down from the Lord out of heaven. It is a living gift, that New Jerusalem coming down, borne forth and defended by thinking and acting from love and wisdom, while looking to love and wisdom (see CL 193, 194, DLW 130).
From having been a natural marriage, the relationship can grow until it is spiritual in both partners. But this is possible only when the man shuns the pride of his own intelligence as sin against God. It is equally possible to develop conjugial love only when the woman shuns her inherited tendency to dominate over her husband. It remains an eternal law that when a woman does not perceive and love that which belongs to wisdom, because of her lack of will to be led by the doctrine of truth, she wills to subject both the doctrine and the man to herself. Genuine love in marriage will not develop under these circumstances.
Both good and evil come to us through humans, principally through the opposite sex. The woman who seeks out and explores her motives and patterns of action, who at the same time shuns her own tendency to love herself and the world, will be led by the Lord to love what is of genuine masculine wisdom, and especially what she sees of it in her own husband. When he in turn shuns wandering lust and that selfish vanity called fear for his own reputation, his love is uplifted, so that he may feel true joy and respect for all women, and especially for his wife. His striving to love not self but his wife, and through her the Lord, will make him capable of receiving love truly conjugial through her. In such a husband his proprial wisdom is transferred to his wife, so that that which earlier was self-love becomes love of his wife, and for this reason conjugial love (see CL 193). When he is appreciated for what he is, and for his attempts to be a man of spiritual principle, his wife cannot but show her joy, which affects him with deeper gratefulness and a larger blessing. This is the "flesh" which the Lord closed up while man slept.
"And Adam said: This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:23, 24)
-New Church Life 1984; 104: 359-362