Tolkein offers practical view on soul mates

By James Willoughby

I love JRR Tolkien. I know that is a bold declaration. Making an obvious statement like that is like declaring that ‘I hate genocide’ or ‘I am pro-vacation.’ It is a forgone conclusion. I mean, who doesn’t love Tolkien’s adventure stories?

Beyond Tolkien’s brilliant prose that’s led many a reader on epic journeys of the mind, he was also a prolific proponent of marriage. Married for over 55 years to his teenage sweetheart, Tolkien held a very healthy, pragmatic view of marriage, which he passed on to future generations.

In a letter to his son Michael, Tolkien mused:

“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.”

As brilliant as Tolkien was, I don’t think Hallmark was beating down his door to write Happy Anniversary cards. The thought that most of us could have married mates that better suit us, but we’re stuck with what we have doesn’t exactly warm the heart.

I love how Tolkien concludes the thought — your soul mate is the one you’re married to.

My wife and I could not be more different. We are a classic odd couple who are polar opposites in many areas of our lives. While this has created conflict over the years, it is also a strength. We tend to nudge each other out of our comfort zones.

Many couples, though, let their differences break them instead of strengthen them. Tolkien went on to say, “When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find.”

This notion that there is somebody better out there who will really get us and who will better meet our needs is what drives many to divorce. When our spouse becomes deficient at recognizing our needs, or worse — we think they are intentionally neglecting needs, the appeal of others can grow in our minds.

The idea that we deserve more is a seed the enemy plants in our mind. And far too often, we water that seed and nurture it after an argument or when our spouse fails to pick up their socks again. We give life to this noxious weed until it chokes out our marriages and blossoms into infidelity, divorce or lifelong disappointment.

The seed we should nurture is the idea Tolkien shared — we are married to our soul mate. We should focus on what is awesome about them. What drew us to them in the first place? What are their most compelling traits? What do they do that makes us smile? What do they do that makes us proud? How have they challenged us to grow?

When you find the answers to these questions, dwell on them. Share them with your spouse. And when your spouse disappoints, return to these thoughts.

By James Willoughby

James is a regular contributor who writes about marriage, family, and faith. He lives in Tipp City, Ohio.

James is a regular contributor who writes about marriage, family, and faith. He lives in Tipp City, Ohio.