by Therese Ivers, JCL
Right now I am in the middle of reading a book on marriage by a priest. As with many books, I think there are some solid gems in it, but I also disagree with certain sections that I believe are incorrect. It may seem strange for some that a vocations blog would cover marriage, but I consider marriage to be a vocation. Further, I am a canon lawyer, and most of my work is in the marriage nullity process. My tribunal work gives me a nuanced perspective when I read marriage prep or relationship advice books because certain expectations of singles and behaviors of the married are pretty typical and surface frequently in the evidence in cases. Reading this book reminded me of some posts I have been meaning to write on the vocation of marriage. This post, however will be more of a collection of random musings on the subject, rather than something more focused.
Marriage is Two in One Flesh NOT Two in One Person!
Marriage exists for the very fundamental reason that most people will find it easier for themselves to get to Heaven by marrying than by remaining single or by following another Church vocation. It is true that a bond arises in marriage between the couple and that this bond is objectively more or less firm depending on what kind of marriage it is. It is this bond that makes for a valid marriage, not the carnal union of bodies. But, what is not true is that the two souls meld and become one. It is possible for one spouse to die and go to Heaven, and the other to die and go to Hell. Each has independent thought, each has their own dignity as a human person, and each is an individual person with their own virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses.
For some reason unbeknownst to me, many people act and behave as if they are one person, one soul, even though what they do is not the way God designed people in marriage to behave. Some couples will tell each other confidential information that is meant for their individual ears only and not the other spouse. This is a clear no-no, and yet people justify this all the time by saying that they are “one unit”. No, folks, this is sinful, a breach of trust. Other couples isolate themselves and draw all their emotional support in their spouse and children. Very unhealthy. God never designed one human being to be the end all be all of social interaction for another. Probably the worst form of specious unity I have seen is when the spouses act as each others’ spiritual directors and/or go to spiritual direction together. Again, their souls are unique and they are not a “unit”.
Men and Women have Different Expectations When it Comes to Marriage
I was reading testimony in a marriage nullity case, and this pearl leaped out at me. Someone made the observation that “Men marry and expect their wives to remain the same. Women marry and expect to change their husbands. Both are frustrated because women change and men don’t.” I don’t quote this verbatim but I think whoever said this was on to something. Women complain all the time that their husbands are not living up to par, and men are confused as to why their wives are different from when they got married.
Discerners take heed! If you are a woman, do not, absolutely do not marry a man you want to reform. 99% of the time, men will not change. Only marry a person whose weaknesses are things you can tolerate. If you don’t know if someone’s traits are tolerable, look them up. See the havoc heavy drinking, porn, and other habits wreak on marriages! Not that women are exempt from these behaviors. Men, be open to the idea that women will change for better or for worse. If you only value women for their body and looks, then you should really reconsider getting married.
Marriage is Something to Work on Continuously
Many people find themselves going from this in their courtship
to this in marriage:
Part of this has to do with the modern notion that marriage is a 50/50 proposition. Each spouse contributes equally to the marriage. Not. The. Catholic. Understanding. of. Marriage. Another reprehensible idea of marriage is going into it for what YOU get. Intimacy, social status, financial stability, or other motivations should not be THE reason for getting married (if one of them is, then you might be staring at an invalid marriage). If you go into it for what you get, then complacency sets in and you get a lack of romance and a lack of trying to be spiritually perfected in the vocation of marriage.