7 Worldly Wisdoms of Marriage
Last week, we looked at marriage and divorce in the light of the cross. This week, we look through the fog of the world to see some of the misconceptions that lead families to self-annihilation.
1. A marriage is something that sometimes “just can’t work out.”
We all know that marriage takes work, but advice on how to “work out” your marriage is usually painted in such saccharine terms that it is of little use to couples in crisis. “Understand each other.” “Remember the person you fell in love with.” “Share your goals and dreams.” “Laugh together.” Recall the time when marital strife was most severe in your marriage. Was it even remotely possible to “share your goals and dreams” or “laugh together”?
Of course, many couples do find solutions here. But many others attempt this advice, and understandably they fail. Out of this springs a sense of despair and the conviction that in spite of their best efforts the marriage “just didn’t work out.”
2. Being “in love” is a necessary precondition for a good marriage.
The temporary madness that we call “being in love” is a powerful and moving experience, but a poor foundation for building a life. Emotions are fickle, and marriages built on them are houses built on sand. When someone divorces because they “fell in love” with someone else, we can safely bet all our worldly wealth that their second marriage will also fail. If you erect an idol to Eros in the center of your home, you may expect him to lead you from one fling to another, and never give you the time to build a love that can survive both abundance and dryness.
3. Sex is about personal fulfillment and expression.
Modern notions of sexuality look something like a business relationship. Two people use each other in a way that is theoretically mutually satisfactory, but usually tends towards exploitation. Sex is supposed to be about communion: The meaning of sex, like the meaning of life, can only be found by losing yourself.
A person focusing on himself will ultimately find frustration when the mechanisms of physical pleasure break down. He may also neglect the needs of his spouse — and as Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) points out in Love and Responsibility, such negligence ignores the dignity of the other and undermines the cohesion of marriage.
4. You can fix your love life with pornography.
A lackadaisical love life is often associated with marital breakdown, but the world reassures us that we can “bring a little spice” to the bedroom through mild forms of sexual perversion.
A lack of real emotional connection is to be fixed with an artificial injection of titillation, lust, danger or novelty. This is like white-washing a moldy structural support and thinking the new paint will prevent the collapse of your house.
Sex is a reflection of your love for one another, and it can often serve as a thermometer for suppressed problems in a relationship. Replacing love with tawdry tricks can only serve as a distraction while the relationship crumbles away.
5. Too many children cause chaos and family breakdown.
A houseful of wild banshee-children circle a couple who fling abuse at each other while a pile of bills builds up in the middle of their kitchen table. This is the image most people have of large families — but it is founded on a fallacy.
A family where the marriage is secure and well-balanced, and the family size is built on generosity, may be messy, but is fundamentally built on love. Every relationship in a family is a bond that holds it together. Two people share only one bond, three people share three, four people share six, and so forth.
6. You ought to prepare for possible divorce before you get married.
A man who signs a pre-nuptial agreement is saying to the woman at the altar, “I give you my entire self, for life — but I am not willing to risk losing my money for you.”
The demons of greed and mistrust, having been invited to the wedding feast, will be well equipped to tear such a marriage apart.
7. Even if there is no abuse, there is a point when you should just leave.
The world would have us imagine that divorce is often necessary, and that women in particular should be on the look-out for signs that it is time to put the stake in the heart of their family life. This can be valid.
If your spouse tortures your pets and threatens your children, you should leave — but leaving does not nullify your marriage. A battered woman may dream of finding new love and a second chance at happiness, yet those who are abused in one marriage notoriously seek out other abusive partners.
Instead of playing another round of nuptial roulette, women in this situation should remain faithful to their spouse in spirit. Remember, you once loved your abuser. Your prayerful chastity will not only bring you peace, it may also save his soul.
An examination of symptoms should always be followed by a prescription for the cure, so next week we will look at seven powerful antidotes to the ills that plague marriage.
Melinda Selmys is a staff writer
- October 7-13, 2007