Thursday, September 1, 2011
Marriage is More Than Just Love...
He says to me, “Oh, don’t you know? We’re in the process of getting divorced. We’ve been separated for more than a year.”
Trying hard to keep my jaw from dropping, considering I could’ve sworn they had just gotten married not long ago, and shortly afterwards, had a baby, I could only muster to say, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It happens,” he nonchalantly responded, as he shrugged his shoulders and turned his arms and the palms of his hands upwards, as if to say, “What can I do? It’s part of life,” sort of like pimples during puberty or a first puppy-love heart break. (Ironically, it's the same excuse I just heard Marc Anthony use when explaining his break up to J-Lo)
It happens? Maybe, I’m being melodramatic but this matter-of-fact response disturbs me. What a sad commentary of our times, when failed marriages, which make up about half of all marriages in the U.S., can be reduced to “It happens.”
Even so, I'm sure, my friend’s response may be nothing more than his trying to find levity in a traumatic or messy situation, while making small talk during a chance run-in with an old acquaintance. But, the casualness of his behavior gave me reason to pause.
Then again, I can recall using the excuse, “We grew apart,” when I got divorced many moons ago, which, in all honesty, is just as bad, if not worse, than “things happen.”
At least, “things happen,” makes it sound like things were never meant to be, or that things were beyond anyone’s control.
“We grew apart,” makes it sound like we got bored, we made no effort and we just let our relationship go to pot (which may not be too far off the mark).
Regardless, as I now realize, both are just lame excuses to cover up the feelings of failure in what we innately know is the most important human relationship God bestows upon us (which fortunately, I have now come to understand in my current marriage, albeit imperfectly).
I have a lot of respect for people, like another friend, whose wife apparently wanted out of their marriage and instead of conceding, he endured the separation and through prayer, fidelity and humility, won her back, restored their marriage and, several years ago, they started a family.
Another high school buddy separated from his wife, through his own doing, but eventually realized his waywardness, worked his way back into her life, which wasn't easy, and after a couple of years, regained her trust and love and got his family back together. Admittedly, he says that if they had gotten divorced, they would have never tried to get back together.
Unfortunately, many couples call it quits instead of working through their troubles. Society (and even some marriage counselors) tells us, it’s the right thing to do if we're not "happy" since it's all about me and how I feel. It's easy to forget through the rigors of daily life that when we took our vows, it stop being about me and became about we.
In fact, I have several good friends, who, as men of faith, tried everything they could to save their marriages and families but were unable to.
Maybe more concerning is that many marriages, like my former co-worker (and Marc Anthony and J-Lo), fall apart faster than it takes their children to start going to school. Moreover, children are the unfortunate victims of their parents’ perfunctory approach to their wedding vows.
I’m not saying there isn’t "love" when they enter into wedlock, or, at the least, what they think is love, but, let’s be honest, sometimes "love" is not enough, especially when it is confused with passion. Side note; love can last forever (hi, honey), but it never stays the same. It evolves. And, while the initial passion may subside, if nurtured properly, it gives way to a deeper, greater, and more profound bond.
A few weeks ago, I heard a priest say, “It takes more than love to make a successful marriage.” And, most married couples would admit, he is absolutely right. It takes getting outside ourselves and our self-centeredness and focusing on someone else (something I am still working on and haven’t quite mastered!). It takes patience. It takes endurance and, more importantly, it takes commitment; a commitment to God, to your spouse, and, where relevant, to your children. It is a covenant, which is what many couples fail to understand.
In fact, now, thirteen years into my marriage, I am just starting to understand the sacramental meaning of Holy Matrimony, where two become one flesh and then become three, which is the truest human expression and participation in God’s total, self-giving, life-giving, sacrificial love (although, for my wife, it may be more sacrificial than anything else!).
And, isn't that the way it was meant to be? Woman made for man and man for woman. It's part of the natural order. As Jerry Maguire told Dorothy Boyle, "You complete me," which, while I'm not sure if the script writer or most movie goers realized, meant, not just in the physical sense, but spiritually too. In fact, the sacramental communion between husband and wife is so profound, that God uses it to create life.
Therefore, marriage is more than just love. It is a life-giving communion that serves as a type for the divine union between Christ, referred to as the Bridegroom in Sacred Scripture, and the Church, His Bride, which, according to my faith, is manifested in its fullness through Holy Communion (the consummation of Christ's love for His Church). Whew, I think I may have just short-circuited a fuse in my brain!
I know, despite the complexities aforementioned, marriage is easier said then done...
This brings me to a recent commentary by Fr. Robert Barron (it always does!) that made me think about my former co-worker (and Marc Anthony). Fr. Barron says unless two people transcend beyond their love for one another and seek a greater common purpose (namely God), in time, their relationship will devolve into bickering and division. Unfortunately, many times, these divisions grow worse with time, until the relationship dissolves completely...