Attitudes regarding marriage have changed. A recent article in a secular women’s magazine puts the matter in a nutshell: “Not so long ago problems were regarded by both a wife and her mother (to whom she was most likely to go with a marital problem) as natural and normal. (‘I had the same trouble with your father.’) Unhappiness alone was rarely justification for leaving a marriage. (‘He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t beat you, and he brings home his money. What else could you want?’)

“Most modern women, on the other hand, regard happiness as the principal goal of marriage. If they cannot find happiness with a man, they regard divorce as a reasonable alternative.”

Here is a problem: what exactly is “happiness,” “fulfillment,” “realizing one’s potential,” “having a full life”? God and Redbook may agree that marriage is supposed to help us realize our potential, but this will not mean much unless they have the same idea what “potential” is.

The “full life” through marriage can be envisioned according to at least three different models: the self-realization model, the contract model, and the one-flesh model.

Self-Realization

According to this model, the ultimate point of marriage is to bring fulfillment to each of the partners individually. “Fulfillment” here means having interesting and exciting experiences. It means being loved and affirmed. It means having the freedom to “express” oneself, and to “grow,” and to be “creative.”

Reflecting about good reasons for divorce, marriage therapist Albert Ellis voices the self-realization model: “[The husband] ...

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