Do you find yourself waiting secretly for your knight in shining armour to whisk you off your feet so you can live happily ever after? Or for a wonderful woman to lift off your depression and sense of aimlessness?
Although we laugh at such ridiculous fantasies as the stuff of naïve, lovesick teenagers, we all must face the deep temptation within ourselves to seek out a future partner to fulfil all our needs. We have been brainwashed by Hollywood’s romantic movies. The truth is, counter to what secular society would lead us to believe, only God can meet man’s core need for love. Countless marriages end up in divorce because people have embraced the crazy notion that the person of their dreams will completely satisfy and fulfill them. This is a lie. Before I understood this reality, I spent years as a pitiful, innocent victim, crying my eyes out over my plight, married to an insensitive man.
Marriage: A Love That Is Real and True
My husband, Michael, and I have been married for 36 years and we are in love. Surprisingly, we really have become one, deeply in tune with each other’s spirits. Our tangible joy is inexplicable through secular eyes because from all outward appearances our life together has been a tough journey including poverty, nine kids, overwhelming chores on a small family farm and clinical depression. One priest gently consoled us by explaining that we have lived through “trials by fire”. Another friend, not given to dramatics, once pointed out to my adult children,“You do not realize it, but your parents have suffered deeply.”
As for me, I have a running joke on the typical marriage vow about for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. I say, “Well, we’ve seen worse, poorer and sickness and we are more than ready for better, richer and health.” Then I dissolve into gales of laughter.
If I were to answer a question about the secret to staying married for decades, I would say the first key we discovered to a successful marriage was found by accessing the grace in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. This grace is not hidden in some esoteric theology – no, it is real! The power available in the sacrament is what kept us together through the rough years. As well, we both understood, beyond a doubt that God had brought us together. We never questioned this basic call from God, our vocation together, even during the dark years. The second key to success is a wicked sense of humour. When we could laugh at our foibles and not take ourselves too seriously, problems suddenly shrank and we gained perspective once again. Over dramatizing conflict in any relationship is deadly. This tactic is simply a bit of cognitive therapy, taking a step away from each conflict and looking at the big picture through the eyes of God. Surprisingly, my third key to the longevity of our marriage is suffering. Suffering was a gift that unified us because it stripped away false pride and forced us to our knees in prayer. Honest prayer leads both of us to self- knowledge, humility and compassion for each other.
Marriage: A Selfless Love
Society does not prepare people for marriage. As a newlywed, I wish someone had explained to me that in marriage, partners unwittingly irritate each other by pulling out each other’s darkness while bringing their wounds to the surface. Once I understood this spiritual dynamic, I quit blaming my husband and pointing out his faults. Once I focused on myself rather than my husband, the Spirit of God could finally deal with my own sinfulness and need for healing. If I had thrown up my hands and divorced my spouse, chances are the second fellow would have turned out exactly the same. My sinfulness triggered my husband’s sinfulness. Period. I had to stop blaming and pointing out Michael’s failings if I wanted a great marriage. Instead of pointing out the grain of sand in his eye, I had to allow God to show me the log of faults in my own eye. God designed us so that only His love will fill the desperate desires of our hearts. Once I understood this truth, I could allow real love, respectful love, to grow between Michael and myself without making crushing demands on the poor guy to fulfill the role of God in my life.
Ironically when I quit demanding love from my husband, quit trying to control him, he was set free to love me in freedom and in truth, in the power of the Spirit of God. When I let go, God blessed me with more than I could ever have asked for in our marriage.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
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