When I was on retreat at Suan Mokkh, Tan Medhi, one of the monks, pointed out in the tapestry of Dependent Origination a picture of a man and woman in a boat, representing the mind and the body afloat in the sea of samsara. Tan Medhi noted, "they are like man and woman, husband and wife, yes? Must work together. Sea is...very very hard. If no...crash! You know this one?"
The image of man and woman, husband and wife, together in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean trying to get to shore, has stuck with me over the years. Marriage, it seems to me, is less about happiness and more about survival. That is not to say I am not happy with my wife (I am), but only that happiness is not the end goal or purpose of our marriage. It is a pleasant byproduct.
People in every culture throughout history have 'teamed up' in order to better weather the storms of life. For God said, "it is not good for man to be alone." I think it is such a great description in Genesis 2:24, where it is written, "A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife." The word itself denotes that spirit of urgent survival...you cling to a life preserver when you are at risk of drowning if you didn't have it.
When two people are in a lifeboat together, they need to learn to work together--whether they love each other or hate each other, whether they disagree about this or that, whether they are happy together or not--to get to shore. Yes, sitting in a lifeboat with someone for ten, twenty, fifty years may get boring, you're going to run out of stuff to say to each other, the flame of love may die down to a flicker. But what are you going to do...jump out of the boat and into the ocean and swim to shore because you can't stand the person anymore? That seems crazy...but people do it all the time.
I find myself clinging to my wife not out of any neediness or panic, but because I love her and want to be with her; I want to rely on her and for her to rely on me. But even if I didn't, I would still cling to her because, let's face it, life is hard. To go it alone is even harder.
Don't be fooled...marriage--and staying married--is much more pragmatic than we might think.