Sense of Life. Articles in English. Prescription for a Happy Married Life.
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Prescription for a Happy Married Life

Hi! This time, instead of writing a letter to the girls or guys, I have decided to write to engaged couples. Over the last while I have had occasion to meet quite a few couples who plan, sooner or later, to enter into the sacrament of matrimony. I have come to know their expectations, joys and concerns.

They represent quite a cross-section: well- or not-so-well-educated, rich, poor, some with a strong faith, others with a lukewarm one. All have one thing in common: the hope that together — and later on with children of their own — they will be happier than they are now. I always wish them well.


Alas not all married couples will find happiness. In five, ten or fifteen years’ time a noticeably smaller number of them will be wistfully viewing videos of their lavish wedding celebrations upon which — in keeping with the fashion — they spared no expense.

I am not a pessimist and have no wish to put a damper on young peoples’ dreams. However, I am a realist. We must all be realists. So let’s take a hard look at the statistics. A third of marriages fall apart, and the ratio continues to rise at a shocking rate. When I stop to think that 30% — or even more — of these happy, optimistic young couples who come to see me will experience the drama of a wrecked relationship — an experience that will overshadow the rest of their lives — my heart wants to cry out. Nor does divorce tell the whole story about failed marriages.

So what does their future happiness, or unhappiness, depend on? What does your happiness depend on? You have to ask yourself that question. Consider it seriously, draw your conclusions, and then put them into practice. Is that reasonable? I have a goal, so I have to consider how to achieve it. That is an important part of how one prepares for marriage — internally, that is, since there are also the external preparations. Internal preparations are incomparably more important than the external preparations. How many couples prepare themselves in this way? Not many I’m afraid. Our popular culture has systematically and effectively weaned people from the habit of asking important questions, from reflecting deeply and seeking the truth.

So what do they do instead? Some seriously believe, for example, that their future happiness depends on the month in which they get married. May is unlucky. Better to get married in June or August. Think I’m joking? I assure you I am not. This is what a good many baptized and confirmed people actually believe. If you do not believe me, ask your parish priest. Ask him how many weddings take place in May (in my view the most beautiful month of the year) and how many in June or August.

Such people probably would not even think of confessing the fact that superstition rather than Christ’s teaching governs their behavior. Who knows, they may well see the church service in the same light. If a June or August wedding spells good luck for the relationship, might not a church service as well? There are lots of superstitions surrounding weddings. In a magical, “harrypotterish” sort of way, they assure aspiring married couples of a measure of marital happiness.

Others firmly believe that their marital bliss depends on owning a home, holding a good job and having a sufficient amount of money squirreled away in the bank. The rest, they say, will take care of itself. Money is particularly important. It is widely believed to bring happiness. You need money to live. Who can argue with that! But does money buy happiness? Does it follow that the richer person is the happier person? I know of many (you see a lot of them on MTV) whom money has deprived completely of their reason. It is my impression that the deeper one’s belief in money as a source of happiness, the worse off one is. Scripture tells us: “For the love of money is a source of all kinds of evil. Some have been so eager to have it that they have wandered away from the faith and have broken their hearts with many sorrows” (1 Tim 6:10). Nothing to add or take away. The gospel truth.

American findings

Recent sociological research carried out at Michigan State University has come up with some interesting findings on the subject of divorce. Disturbed by the nation’s high divorce rates, the US government decided to commission a study. Researchers were charged with the task of finding the key to stable and happy marriages. Well, they found it. Almost every other marriage in the general population ends in divorce. But inject one factor and there are practically no divorces — 1 in 500 at the most. Interesting ratios. 1:2 in one group, and 1:500 in the other. Imagine! The second group’s divorce rate — 250 times lower! So what’s the factor? A million dollar bank account? Beauty pageant winner status for the wife? CEO status (at least) for the husband? Trial marriage beforehand? Sexual compatibility? None of the above according to the research.

God’s prescription and the first temptation

I will tell you the conclusions of the study in a moment. But why not first consider what God’s prescription for a happy marriage is. You surely agree that it is reasonable for people who have been baptized and confirmed and want to enter into the sacrament of marriage, to give some thought to what God has to say about achieving marital happiness. Right?

First, let us ask ourselves if our happiness, the happiness of engaged couples, the happiness of married couples is a matter of interest to God. What do you think? Surely nothing interests him more! Does God’s Book — Holy Scripture — say anything about happiness and how to achieve it on earth — here and now? Scripture was written with nothing else in mind. Every sentence, every word flows from God’s love of us and his desire for our happiness.

It is also important to realize that God is Truth and that his words cannot deceive. Doubting God’s word, his truthfulness and goodness is what brought about the fall of our first parents. The Evil One’s great triumph! To the end of the world he will strive to bring Christians down in precisely the same way. Alas, he continues to score huge successes today. I have in mind all those Christians who place less trust in God’s word than in the assurances and inducements of the numerous gurus of practical materialism, hedonism and ‘harrypotterism’ — all of which could be represented symbolically by a snake in a tree.

Here are Christ’s words that are often read at the wedding Mass: “So then, anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers overflowed, and the wind blew hard against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock. But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain poured down, the rivers overflowed, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was!” (Matthew 7: 24-27).

Do these words of Jesus contain a recipe for marital happiness? Sure they do. The house of married life has to be built on rock — on a solid foundation. And what is this foundation? God and his commandments. A marriage based on keeping God’s commandments will withstand all the inner and outer adversities that life invariably sends our way. Otherwise we have a house built on sand. Do you believe this? Do you see that you can be a millionaire, have a gorgeous wife or husband, be up to date on all the newest sexology handbooks, spend annual vacations in Hawaii or similar places — and still your marriage comes crashing down?

Concerning our material needs, Jesus gives us this promise: “So do not start worrying ‘Where will my food come from? Or my drink? Or my clothes?’ These are the things the pagans are always concerned about. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things” (Matthew 6: 31-33).

What is most important, then, is building God’s kingdom, which, quite simply, is achieved by keeping his commandments. God comes first, and then everything else falls into place, since He will be bestowing upon it his blessing and support. But everything else will not fall into place if money, pleasures, setting oneself up in life, career, etc., get the long end of the stick because without God we cannot even make it to first base. It’s all a matter of priorities.

But to get back to that sociological study I mentioned. What is the key to stable and happy marriages? You guessed it: a serious approach to God — one that involves shared daily prayer, reading Holy Scripture, partaking in the sacraments, seeking God’s will and carrying it out. In other words, it is all about building the house of married life on a rock. So for the doubters among us we even have sociological proof as to the efficacy of God’s word.

God is Love

I would even go so far as say that it is proof that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). I will clarify this shortly.

A marriage endures and thrives where there is love between the spouses. Agreed? Love is what’s most important. Problems arise when love starts to die. By this I mean true love, not the love we see on TV or read about in glossy women’s magazines. I am not talking about emotions, desire, falling in love, affections, etc., all of which will not last. True love — divine love — is described in the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “Love is patient and kind. It is not jealous or conceited or proud. Love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable….Love never gives up” (1 Cor 13:4-8).

This is the love you desire. Not some wretched substitute! Right? But how does this love come into our hearts? What is its source? “LOVE IS FROM GOD” (1 Jn 4:7) “GOD IS LOVE” (1 Jn 4:8). “God’s love is poured into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5). So in order to draw from it you have to live close to the source of love — through prayer, the sacraments, keeping the commandments. The Eucharist is called the sacrament of love. Fitting name! At Holy Communion we take into our hearts the One who is Love. So if you desire true love, you desire God. You are putting God in first place. You are putting Love in first place. When you turn away from God, you turn away from love.

Threats to love

What is it that cuts us off from God, who is Love? What prevents the Holy Spirit from pouring God’s love into our hearts? Sin! The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that mortal sin destroys love in the heart of man (CCC 1855) and that mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom. It results in the loss of love (CCC 1861).

What are the sins most frequently committed by engaged couples? Putting it another way, what is the greatest threat to their love? Maybe you’re in the middle of final wedding preparations. “Why not start living together now?” you think. “Why not start enjoying that intimacy reserved for spouses? After all, the wedding date’s set. The banquet hall’s booked. The parish marriage course is behind us. So what’s the difference? We’re as good as married.” Whose promptings? The Holy Spirit’s? The Devil’s? The Devil’s and no mistake! It would be a serious sin that would do harm to your love.

This is what the Catechism says: “Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence…They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity” (CCC 2350). (I love that last statement. Super! I can’t help thinking about those girls whose hip-riders ride lower and lower because that’s the fashion. Is that helping each other grow in chastity? I see them meeting their fiancés this way. Why, they even ram their hands into their pockets just so they can show the world an extra inch of belly or underpants. I can understand their being impatient about their wedding night, but why show their body to all the guys out on the street instead of privileging their husband with it on their wedding night?)

Those who have given in to the temptation say, “But we still love each other, even more than before.” A mistake. An illusion! Sin has destroyed the love in their hearts. All that remain are the emotions, desires and affections that living together arouses — for a time. It is not true love. They killed true love by sinning.

Engaged couples are not yet married couples. They will become so only when they have exchanged their marriage vows before God, the Church’s representative and witnesses. Only then can they partake of the rights of married life.

Imagine the following situation. Your friend is a student at the seminary. There are two weeks left until his ordination. His superiors have agreed to the ordination, the date has been set, and the family has prepared the reception. Does that mean your friend can now put on a chasuble and say Mass or sit in the confessional? Would you attend such a Mass or go to such a confession? People would say, “It’s dishonest. He isn’t a priest.” And they’d be right. Completion of theological studies, the bishop’s consent to ordination, etc. do not make a man a priest. Only receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders does that. Only then can he enjoy the rights of priesthood.

Living a married life before entering into the sacrament of marriage is equally dishonest. The marriage vows include a pledge of “conjugal honesty”. How much is a pledge of conjugal honesty worth if you did not live honestly beforehand. You have to respect your principles instead of coming up with theories that excuse the lack of them.

I have to finish off now. But this discussion is only just beginning, so I will continue at the next opportunity. I will end with a thought from an interview with Benedict XVI that was aired on Vatican Radio just before World Youth Day in Cologne. “Wisdom” he said, “is grasping what is important, perceiving the essential.” That’s what it is all about. May we be that wise.

Until next time!

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