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Katie van Schaijik

The marriage debt

Dec. 21, 2009, at 1:19pm

Janice Shaw Crouse has an article at American Thinker about the problem of sexless marriages.

We’ve all seen it happen: a young couple steps onto the fast track, and the treadmill of life begins to take its toll. An overly stressful lifestyle becomes habitual and inevitably has a corrosive effect upon health and relationships. Natural exuberance gets ground down, laughter seldom breaks through the grim determination and drive, and the little touches of endearment ebb away.

Are these the inevitable, natural effects of building careers or businesses? Of having children? Of simply getting older? Of two people with different temperaments, expectations, and tastes trying to navigate their disagreements? Yes, yes, yes, and yes, if a couple doesn’t pay attention to the actions that are needed to counter the negative side-effects these factors can generate. The once-vibrant joy of life fueled by shared sexual passion need not be blasted to pieces by some dramatic, explosive turn of events like the celebrity blowups reported daily in the tabloids. More often than not, a couple’s tender feelings for each other are destroyed much more subtly—almost imperceptibly—eroded away day by day in tiny grains until a chasm is opened up between them. Call it marriage’s second law of entropy.

She has no deep or original insight to offer about the problem.  No exploring of the mystery of conjugal love.  Nothing like the beauty and profundity of the Theology of the Body.  Just commonsense advice to couples that they take care not to neglect the sexual dimension of their marriage.  It’s not particularly inspiring, but it’s nice to find it offered it in a venue usually occupied with the political and economic issues of the secular society.

Then in the comments section, I found this remark, hearkening back to an earlier Linde discussion about the conjugal debt:

Here’s what God’s word has to say about this:
“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” - I Corinthians Chapter 7 v. 3-5

Sexless marriages have never been a part of Biblical Christianity although some denominations have wrongfully approved it in the past. Now we have this error continuing in the secular world as well. The facts are clear, any partner who defrauds his or her spouse is wrong! My advice is for the aggrieved spouse to openly discuss this problem with the other spouse and seek competant Christian counseling from a professional or a pastor. Spouses need to know that by defrauding their partner, they are doing great harm to not only their spouse but to the other members of the family, especially the children.

Here we have a typical expression of a bad and back-firing approach all too common among Christians.  Intimacy is something we owe our spouses.  Yes. But, paradoxically, it is not something we can demand as a right.  If we do demand it, we destroy its essence as an act of love.  It no longer unifies; it alienates.

For a true and satisfying renewal of marriage in our day, what is wanted is a deeper realization of the mystery of personal life and the mystery of love.  We would all do well to understand better that while persons are called to give themselves in love, they cannot be owned the way things are owned.  In truth, what we own when another person gives himself or herself to us is a debt.  A debt to love. Kierkegaard’s Works of Love has a chapter dedicated to this surpassingly beautiful and mysterious theme.

Yet love is perhaps most correctly described as an infinite debt; when a person is gripped by love, he feels that this is like being in an infinite debt…the one who loves runs into debt; in feeling himself gripped by love, he feels this as being in an infinite debt.  Amazing!  To give a person one’s love is, as has been said, the highest a person can give—and yet by giving it he runs into an infinite debt.  Therefore we can say that this is the distinctive characteristic of love: that the one who loves by giving, infinitely, runs into infinite debt.  But this is the relationship of the infinite, and love is infinite.  By giving money, one surely does not run into debt; on the contrary, it is rather the recipient who runs into debt.  When, however, the lover gives what is infinitely the highest that one person can give to another, his love, he himself runs into an infinite debt.  What beautiful, what sacred modesty love brings along with it!  Not only does it not dare to persuade itself to become conscious of its deed as something meritorious, but it is even ashamed to become conscious of its deed as part-payment on the debt.


aelizabeth • Jan 25, 2010 - 12:12 am

Hi Katie!
Okay, I happened to read some writings of Keirkegaard the other day about marriage, and I really liked them, although this quote is from a different context.
You said that the person who RECEIVES love from someone owns not the person but a debt. Is this the same type of debt that Keirkegaard mentions in the quote? Because he seems to say that the person who is GIVING love is getting into debt. Which I agree with and have experienced. Do you see my confusion? Was wondering if you could tell me if there are debts on both sides of the equation, and if so, if they are of the same type or different?

Katie van Schaijik • Jan 25, 2010 - 2:21 pm

I suppose I see the giving and receiving of love as two sides of the same coin.  A person giving himself to me is the same as his allowing me to love him.  Either way, in the fact of loving him, I find myself in infinite debt. 
It reminds me of St. Augustine bemoaning, at the beginning of the Confessions, his inability to praise God as He does.  “And yet woe to me if I don’t praise you!”
It’s not a despairing consciousness; it’s rather an awareness that the roots of human existence are in eternity.

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