Are you married to your "soul mate"?
Katie didn't think she was. The day she walked into my counseling office she believed that little fact was her ticket out of a passionless marriage. All she really wanted from me was confirmation that Scott was not her soul mate. Since God wanted her to "be happy" in marriage, she wanted me to bless the idea that her happiness would be found when she was freed from her current spouse to find her one, true soul mate.
"I don't love Scott," she told me.
"Well, what about your three children?" I asked.
"The kids will be fine," she said confidently.
I had my work cut out for me. How could I help her see that she already had a soul mate? She just needed to redefine her understanding of what a "soul mate" is.
There's a lot of discussion about soul mates these days. It's splashed across romance novels, the main story line in movies, and all the rage among celebrities—even some Christian ones.
For many, the idea of having and being a soul mate conjures notions of God bringing together two lost hearts who experience the end to their loneliness and realize complete compatibility in all the deepest longings of their being. They experience conflict-free conversations, sometimes even without talking, discover reams and reams of shared interests, hobbies, and passions, and finally (of course), spend days upon days of heart-stopping, hand-clinching romantic walks on the beach. No hardships, no struggles, just starry-eyed wonder—for the next 80 years together!
I must admit, that does sound pretty enticing, especially the beach part; my wife and I love walks on the beach. I also fully buy into the idea of God's miracle of marriage and its God-designed intention to bring an end to loneliness. But frankly, the rest of that description sounds like something else—and that something else is just plain impossible—with anybody.
Defining "soul mate"
The philosopher Plato is often credited with the "soul mate theory." He believed that prior to birth a perfect soul was split into "male and female," and that to be complete they must find each other and "reunite their souls." That explanation fosters the notion that there's only one person in the world who can truly be my "soul mate." Furthermore, it implies that there's only one person in the whole world I could be happily married to, and therefore only one person with whom I can be "truly happy."
Thus, in the movie Jerry Maguire, we watch Tom Cruise say to Renee Zellweger, "You complete me."
And that's what Katie believed. In the midst of her career, her husband's career, three kids, multiple church activities, and a fast-paced life that had no time for the marriage, they definitely suffered a loss of passion. They had grown apart. They weren't feeling in love. No wonder they were not experiencing a "soul mate" marriage.
But what Katie and Scott missed is that a soul mate isn't something you find; a soul mate is someone you intentionally and prayerfully become.
In Genesis 2 we find the familiar first "not good" of Creation: Adam was alone. It's there we discover that God created the problem of loneliness, and it's there we discover that God created the solution to loneliness: deep, authentic relationships and, even deeper, the intimacy of marriage.
Then throughout the Bible, God gives us the simple yet powerful details on how to have a great marriage, telling husbands to love their wives, and wives to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:33), both intentional choices.
Even more amazing is that out of all the possible illustrations God could have chosen, he picked the relationship between the husband and the wife to exemplify the soul-deep intimacy he desires with his bride, the church (Ephesians 5:32).
In my counseling work and in my own marriage, I've discovered that only by accepting that charge to represent Christ in our marriage can we find the soul mate experience for which we long. Our loving God wants his married children to experience deep, loving, soul-touching relationships in marriage. That kind of connection is accomplished only through committed effort.
My wife, Amy, and I are very much in love. We have a great marriage. But nobody sees us 24/7/365. They see only the "public face," not the couple zillion times I've done my "the world revolves around me" dance. They haven't seen the myriad times (I think the number's higher than Amy does) that lightning bolts have blasted out of my wife's eyes causing my head to explode and my body to incinerate right on the spot. Really. What I'm saying is this. Amy and I have a very real marriage. We disagree, we argue, and we get frustrated with each other. But even in those times, we work even harder at treating each other with love and respect.
Yes, we love each other. But we fight. We are not compatible in every way. Sometimes we think our differences outweigh our similarities. There are many times when we have to make changes and personal sacrifices for each other (one of us more than the other—and that's just because he needs to do it more). We're in love and are soul mates. Why? Because we work at it. That's why Amy and I are soul mates.
Work, what work?
Most people don't like the idea of having to work for a soul mate. But here's the reality: to have the soul mate—and the marriage—we're looking for, we must work. I hate to break it to you, but Plato was wrong. God designed real and lasting love to be something you do, not something you mystically have. Working at it is built into the system.
"Falling in love" is a great thing. When I fell in love with Amy, that "spark" in my gut was wonderful. But as everyone can attest, soon into marriage, I discovered that without working to fan the flame, that spark would die.
After the spark and the commitment of "till death do us part," we had to set our future course as husband and wife, and commit to remain soul mates. Certainly, we must talk and talk and talk—and pray and pray and pray. But we also had to learn healthy ways to resolve conflict, deal with and discuss marital expectations, take marital education courses, and even get a marriage mentor. I know it doesn't sound a lot like "just falling in love for life," but that's how we learn to stay together—and thus experience what it really means to have a soul mate.
In their book, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott put it this way: "The sacred secret to becoming soul mates is pursuing a mutual communion with God." The key is the word pursuing. We pursue something by choice. We create a mutual communion by intentionally working at it. Couples who are true soul mates get that way and stay that way by continually choosing to go deeper in their relationships with God and each other.
The rest of the story
After listening to Katie and assuring her that I truly did care about her pain, I confirmed that God did want her to have and be married to her soul mate. I also shared that marriage is a phenomenal gift from God; there should be a connection between wives and husbands that's deeper, more intimate, more personal, and more "soul touching" than any other relationship we have. Married couples should experience a sense of being "joined at the heart," connected for a future purpose, and be "more complete" with their mate than without them. I stressed to her that yes, married couples should be soul mates.
But then I shared with her the rest of the story. If she wants a soul mate, she can look within herself and to her husband. She can use work, prayer, commitment, and selfless love. She can reignite the flame with the man God wants to be her soul mate; the man she's married to right now.
As you can guess, Katie wasn't enthusiastic about my response; as a matter of fact, she didn't like it at all. However, countering her notion that the "kids would be 'fine,'" I convinced her to prayerfully give intentionally loving, respecting, and serving her husband a 40-day try. And I meant 40 days of "regardless how you feel" purposeful choices. The result? Let's just say she's now married to her soul mate, and her children live with Mom and Dad.
So the real question isn't, "Have you found your soul mate?" The real question is, "Are you working, everyday, to become even deeper, more connected, and more in love soul mates?" God desires for us to have a soul mate. And the one he wants us to have is the one to whom we already said, "I do."
Tim Alan Gardner, MP regular contributor and author of The Naked Soul: God's Amazing Everyday Solution to Loneliness (WaterBrook), is director of The Marriage Institute (www.marriageinstitute.org).
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.