In life, some people slide into marriage for the same reasons
Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way.
Several weeks ago, my wife and I served at a marriage retreat for couples trying to either invigorate their relationships or save it before it dissolves.
It's a weekend of bonding within the couple, as well as with other couples trying to work on their own marriages, by focusing on why they fell in love and got married in the first place. For my wife and I, it's a great opportunity to get away from the kids and all the distractions and stress that starts to weigh our relationship down and begin anew (once a year!), which, I must say, is desperately needed even in the healthiest of matrimonies.
On the first night of the retreat, we met a young couple that was very much in trouble. They were in their early 30's, had been raised Catholic but, like many young people, had drifted from the faith, and, after years of living together, they got married in a civil ceremony, had a daughter and were now on the brink of calling it quits.
As we have learned over several years of serving on the Marriage Covenant Team at our parish, reading books and articles, counseling and intermingling with dozens of couples who have struggled and succeeded, they made three potentially critical mistakes; living together before tying the knot, excluding God from their wedlock and separating marriage from their relationship with their daughter.
Let's start with living together. It's a common misconception that living together before marriage helps couples stay together, by helping them decide if making a lifetime commitment to love "forever after" is the right call, when statistically speaking, it is actually the opposite.
While nearly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, which includes an increasing rate of divorce for second and third marriages, couples who live together first have a much higher chance of getting divorced than those that don't.
There are various reasons from commitment issues to maturity, but one is sometimes called the "slide effect." It starts with one partner spending more time at the other's apartment and soon a drawer is cleared for personal belongings. A few months later they decide that bouncing around between two apartments is too inconvenient and could cut expenses by moving in together, so they do. Then they get a dog (Since the natural desire in the human heart and product of a loving relationship is to have children, but they're not ready for that yet, so they get the next best thing; Fido!). Later, they buy a couch, a dinning room table, his and her bikes and so on.
The next thing you know, they have lived together for several years and have a bunch of stuff. By this point, they figure the best thing to do is to get married, which, after years of getting slack from grandma and Uncle Phil, they imagine they can appease their families, get the tax benefits and throw a great party in the process. It's a win win for everyone. Wrong!
Sadly, they may have just gotten comfortable in the relationship and are marrying a person they would have never have gotten married to otherwise.
Then, there's the civil marriage part of it.
When my wife and I originally celebrated our nuptials, we did so in a civil ceremony; a sunset wedding at the Miami Rowing Club in 1998. In all honesty, we were indifferent and ignorant to what the Church teaches on marriage (Not to mention, to what marriage really means!), and, quite frankly, at the time, we didn't much care (At least, I didn't!).
Let's face it, like most Catholics, who marry outside the Church, it's mostly out of lack of understanding and indifference, possibly influenced, to some extent, by the culture and all those wedding TV shows and magazines, where the wedding becomes more about the venue, personal vows, center pieces and party, and less about God and what the sacred vows mean.
But, think about what that says. We're telling God, "Hey God, this is about us. Butt out!" And, in reality, we should be saying the opposite.
Marriage success is tough enough in today's world but, marriage without God, is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute and hoping for the best! Not good!
As people with the faintest religious background might agree, marriage is a Sacrament. Through it, God imparts special graces on a man and woman that binds them in a covenant, which is beyond any written contract. It's a giving of self to one another. They promise to give themselves entirely, and without restrictions or reservations, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer till death do them part.
In fact, it is a covenant that doesn't end at the altar. It begins there. It is renewed every time the couple shares in the self-giving and sacramental bond of conjugal intimacy!
The "me" becomes "we" since, and this is where the children part of my argument comes in, marriage is also about family. As St. John Paul II often said, it is in the family that we enter into the innermost life of the Holy Trinity and become true reflections of God, who is Three, when our two flesh become one and then become three, nine months later! Just think about the profundity of this. We become active participants of God's creation!
Earlier this month, my wife and I celebrated our 17th Wedding Anniversary, although there's a caveat. I like to say we've been married twice. We got married in the Catholic Church in 2007, after my "reversion" into the faith and having God in our marriage and family became really important to us.
We spent our anniversary night, having dinner at a trendy sushi restaurant with our two youngest children, who where a bit unruly, while our older daughter hung out with some friends in the same shopping center and later met up with us for desert and espressos at a French Bistro. Still, despite the slight aggravation over dinner, to me, there is no better way to celebrate an anniversary because there is greater expression of marital love than that of family.
If you remove children from marriage, it becomes an adult-centric relationship, which is geared towards personal fulfillment and "happiness," with no concern for the life-giving aspect of the sacrament. Unfortunately, it's what many people who have kids and call it quits often do because they are thinking of themselves and not the children.
Marriage is the only institution that unites, not only the married couple, but children to their parents. And, with the escalating divorce rate and continuous attempts to redefine marriage to make it strictly adult-centric, the institution is slowly being chipped away and children are the ones that suffer.
In any case, as St. John Paul II said, it is through matrimony and subsequent family that we are completed in the image and likeness of God. So, Jerry Maguire was right, when he said to Dorothy Boyd, "You complete me!"
Yet, despite the romantic notion created in movies, love is not a feeling. It's a choice; an act of the will. Feelings come and go and at times they'll be fantastic and other times not so much, but the will to love can last a lifetime. And, let's face it, marriage is not always "happily ever after" like it is in fairy tales and movies. There are many ups and down.
But, as St. Paul poignantly points out in his first letter to the Corinthians, love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
If we base our happiness and fulfilment on another person, it isn't love. It's self love and a sure recipe for failure. True love and happiness can never be found in another person. It can only be found in God. Because, that's how we were made; with a natural desire to know, love and live happily ever after with our maker (which is why God should never be excluded from the wedding!).
That's not to say, however, that every couple that gets married in the Church is a success story, far from it, especially when they do it out of obligation or tradition instead of faith and understanding, but it's a good place to start.
My wife and I were able to convalidate our marriage in the Catholic Church ten years after our civil wedding. You can say we tied a double knot to make sure neither of us could break lose! We were joined by our closest family, friends, our children and the entire Communion of Saints, as we celebrated the Sacraments of Marriage, the Eucharist and our son's Baptism during the same ceremony. Now that's what you call a party!
At the end of the weekend, the young couple committed to trying to save their marriage and small family. It won't be easy, especially when society is telling them to seek that personal "happiness," and since the word "divorce" may have already crept into their vocabulary, which is a sure sign of doom (The more the word is used, the more the couple gets used to the idea and the easier it is to take the next step).
But, hopefully, despite having already committed to the slide, like any good base runner, they can hook their leg around the bag and avoid getting tagged out. Either that, or just mow the defender over in hopes of knocking the ball lose! Hey, whatever gets you there. When it comes to saving marriage, everything is fair game!...