Talk about it:
Socrates was widely considered the
wisest man in Athens, and his thought has been compelling
enough to last over two thousand years.
So, what was his perspective on marriage?
One interesting note is that Socrates' wife, Xanthippe, as
stated below, was considered to be"of all that ever have
been or will be . . . the most difficult to get (along) with."
In the following conversation with Antisthenes, as recorded
by Xenophon, Socrates reveals what may have been one of his "keys to a successful marriage":
Antisthenes: ". . . why don't you train Xanthippe instead of having a wife who is of all living women - and I believe of all that ever have been or will be - the most difficult to get on with?"
Socrates: "Because I notice that people who want to become good horsemen keep not the most docile horses but ones that are high-spirited, because they think that they can control these, they will easily manage any other horses. In the same way, since I wish to deal and associate with people, I have provided myself with this wife, because I'm quite sure that, if I can put up with her, I shall find it easy to get on with any other human being."
This explanation was felt to be not far off the mark.
- excerpt from Xenophon's Conversations
This is especially interesting to
us because of how dramatically it contrasts with what seems
to be most folks' view of marriage nowadays.
Many individuals nowadays seem to spend a great deal of time
dating, which is considered to be a search for "The One," or that perfect other person they are fated to be with.
Once the other person-who-is-believed-to-be-The-One is found
and married, it is often still very much a trial basis: if,
for example, a wife nags too much, puts on too much weight,
or even becomes boring or ages naturally, or any thousands
of other variations, it can be considered grounds for divorce.
Similarly, if men stay out too late with their buddies, don't
make enough money, or any other infinite reasons appear less-than-perfect,
their wives may consider these reasons for packing the bags
and hiring the lawyers.
The hidden assumption that underlies relationships like these
goes something like "Since you are supposed to make me
happy, and you're not, I'm leaving."
Socrates, on the other hand, had a
completely different view on the matter: instead of demanding
that Xanthippe conform to become be the perfect embodiment
of his own desires . . . he worked on perfecting himself.
Since he was "working on himself" - perfecting
his own character (is anybody interested in this nowadays? Has anybody even
ever heard of it?) - he understood that strengthening
oneself requires challenges, in the same way that strengthening
muscules requires lifting weights. He considered marriage,
then, as a kind of "psychological gymnasium" which
gave him plenty of opportunities for working on himself.
In this sense, then Socrates didn't treat marriage as a playground,
but as a training-arena or boot-camp; his wife wasn't
supposed to meekly submit to him or obey him, but to challenge
him and make him stronger; he didn't demand that the other
person in his relationship make him happy, but instead seemed
to treat all of his experiences - the fights, misunderstandings,
scoldings, tantrums, and everything else that probably took
place within the marriage - as opportunities to learn from
and become stronger.
Talk about it: