When I read that Pope Francis said “most marriages today are invalid” I almost fell over backward. I’ve had the same hypothesis for so long! Working in family counseling, when we interview marriages in crisis and we evaluate how and why they got married, we discover that they often took the sacrament as a mere blessing, more like a social tradition than a supernatural reality. That’s why in many cases the Sacramental Grace does not act! It’s simply because it doesn’t exist! In the face of the enormous quantity of troubled marriages, we’d have to ask ourselves if they’re really married “in the way God commands.” Frequently, the answer to the problems is there, in the lack of complete comprehension of the Sacrament’s effects on the spouses and the children.
Another generalized problem that causes a crisis in marriage is the lack of knowledge that a couple has of one another. They meet, they fall in love and they get married because they’re “in love.” And when the crush goes away, they want to get “unmarried”! They don’t get along, the butterflies in their stomachs were brutally swallowed up by routine and now they don’t know what to do with a relationship that doesn’t work at all.
That’s why, aside from reinforcing catechesis on the Catholic understanding of matrimony, both before and after getting married, the future husband and wife must be able to communicate to prevent and minimize the risks of these crises. What are the questions future spouses should ask each other for this conversation to produce fruits? What issues should they discuss?
Marriage is a Sacrament and Sacraments are sensible and effective signs of Grace. And what is the Grace conferred by this Sacrament? The improvement of the spouses! This doesn’t mean that my work is to make my spouse perfect, but that I have the help of Grace to make myself better in relation to my partner. Everyone wants to marry the perfect man or woman, but very few are willing to become the perfect man or woman for their husband or wife. That’s precisely what Grace is for!
Reviewing our will to get married “for better or for worse”: Dating / courting and engagement is the privileged time of preparation before marriage. And we have to prepare to be faithful, to love and respect each other in sickness and in health; in prosperity and in adversity. In other words, always! (or at least until death do us part). That desire for commitment, that “forever” has to be made a topic of conversation when we take the decision to get married. Later, when hard times come (and they will), we’ll reaffirm each other on this first decision: “we have to solve this problem, since we chose to get married forever.”
It seems unbelievable, but very few people see their future husband or wife as their “best friend.” That’s why many believe on that unlucky saying “from love to hate there is only one step.” It shouldn’t be that way. Spousal friendship is based on the previous friendship, and that friendship has to be enriched every day, nurtured through conversation, attention and amiability. And once married this nourishment of spousal friendship has to be more intense, since we, especially men, tend to feel that “it’s done,” that “we’ve done our part.” We dressed up as penguins, we made a fool of ourselves in front of family and friends on our wedding day, and with that we proved to our wives that we love them… No, big man! You have to win your wife’s heart again every day for the rest of your life!
A key topic of conversation before we take on the biggest adventure of our lives! How many kids would you want? How will we raise them? How will we guide them towards sanctity? And what happens if we can’t have them? Do we adopt? How many? Each of these issues is key and takes us to the next one since, as we all know, to make children we have to “do something” first.
This is an issue which can be difficult to talk about before marriage, but it has to be discussed! First of all, we have to study, comprehend and know how to explain the teachings of the Church in matters of transmission of life. If we could get into the study of catechesis about sexuality by Saint Jean Paul II (called “Theology of the body”), then great! But if we can’t, at least we should read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on the matter. The gift of chastity is not a prohibition of sexuality, but a way to orientate and guide it so that it allows the couple’s sanctification. It’s not only important to wait until marriage, but also to know why and what we’re waiting for!
Spousal chastity has to be discovered and cultivated before marriage. And talking about these things will help us “shield” our future marriage from the true modern curses, so common today. We have to know that we live in a hypersexualized time, which trivializes matrimony and attacks it with a cascade of pornography that’s almost impossible to avoid. The frequency of the Sacraments and an open and trustful conversation between the couple will help them dodge these dangers with fewer risks.
The phrase that’s repeated at least three times in the Bible (first in the Genesis, then it’s mentioned by Christ and then by Paul in Ephesians”) is: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother.” The adequate distance, with the proper respect for the in-laws, will help establish the spousal peace. It doesn’t mean abandoning the parents. There has to be a middle point and that’s where virtue lies. But before we get married, we ought to understand that the in-law family will tend to be more in-law than family, and if they interfere with the couple’s intimacy, it can cause disaster!
This is also an important topic that has to be discussed beforehand. “My” and “your” funds are over, now there’s only “ours.” There has to be an agreement before conflicts arise! And that’s even before getting married. If we’re about to face a common project and instead of saving money to buy a house, or at least rent a room, I spent my money on partying with my friends, it’s most probable that this behavior will go on after the wedding. Especially when it’s only one of the two who works.
It’s important that we argue before getting married! I’m not saying that you should “look for a fight” to see how the other one reacts. But it’s essential to have at least one hard argument before. If we get married without having fought, at least once, we won’t know if the other person is resentful, if he or she knows how to forgive, if he or she is violent, etc. It’s important to know that in a marriage, disagreements will inevitably arrive, and that, enable to get to an agreement, we will have to know how to compromise from our positions and fundamentally how to listen and understand the other and his or her circumstances.
Last but not least! “The family that prays together, stays together.” The dialogue that we establish with God has to be central in our relationship. And we have to get used to doing it together from the beginning. All the strength of our union will come from our daily common prayer! The closer we are to God, the closer we’ll be to one another. And as long as we maintain prayer, the attendance to Mass together, and the complete participation in the life of the Church, our house will become that “Domestic Church” where our children will be able to develop a strong and safe faith. And our relationship will also grow strong and safe!
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