“Love is blind; but marriage is an eye-opener!” Scott Stanley, PhD

Marriage is quite an education. We never stop learning, but we don’t really “graduate”.  I enrolled (officially) in the “University of Linda”, June 28, 1969. I married the Dean of Students and Chief Instructor. She’s had a difficult job. However, l’ve  not been expelled and l’m proud that my grades have improved.

I should have known marriage would be a challenge.  Once, before we got married, we went to eight different shoe stores and couldn’t find the “right” shoes. Do you know how many shoes we saw? For what? I spent more time in shoe stores that day than I had in my whole life. To borrow a phrase, was I marrying a Martian?

Marriage is often the most joyous, rewarding, uplifting and confusing thing that you’II ever experience! lt’s mysterious, but love and marriage is worth exploring. I hope we can share some of the happiness, virtues and skills that make for a happy (or at least happier) marriage. That’s my hope for this Newsletter. I hope we all enjoy it, even if we remain, at times, happily confused.

Why is happy Catholic marriage important? A happy marriage is one of the most desired goals for the majority of Americans and likely most citizens of the world. Statistically speaking, average marriages produce significant benefits in longevity, wealth, physical health, healthy connections with our children, lowered risk of mental illness, lower risk of addiction, lower risk of incarceration, etc. (see The Case for Marriage, Waite & Gallagher, 2000) lf we can get those results from average marriages, what might be the benefits of more happy marriages?

But what about the Catholic part? Why does that matter? A lot relates to what the Catechism refers to as the “Domestic Church”. Saint John Paul II referred to the family as the “Domestic Church”, a “school” where we learn how to love. Want to change the world? He suggested we should start by learning how to better love within our own families. Maybe I should start by learning how to better love my own wife (or husband).

When thinking about marriage, we often make three serious mistakes. Our first mistake is believing that happy marriages are constantly pleasant! lf we consider love to be just a feeling, we know that NO feeling lasts forever. That should tell us something. We need to take some of those giddy romantic feelings and use them to build the other types of friendship and compassionate love that we’II need in other phases of our marriage. No honeymoon lasts forever.

From a Christian point of view, Jesus led the “happiest” of earthly lives, by living a life of total virtue and fulfillment of the Father’s will . He did it not just for himself, but for the entire world. He is our Savior. For the unbeliever, however, his life could be viewed as one of misery and unhappiness. Jesus’ earthly life ended on the cross, humiliated, scorned, and murdered for telling the truth. lf we are to live a happy married life, we are likely to spend some time “on the cross”. There is no such thing as cheap happiness {or to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “cheap Grace”). In the words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, if you have not greatly suffered, you’ve not really loved. lt doesn’t mean we have to seek out suffering or create it. But, the happiest of marriages will not be pleasant every single moment. What a paradox in this society to proclaim that love doesn’t just involve pleasure, but that in its purest form it also involves pain! Who’s gonna tell Hollywood?

So, having bumped into this first unpleasant reality {that happy marriages are not constantly pleasant–bummer!), we bump into a second mistaken belief. That belief says happy marriages don’t require much work. But it’s not true. Happy marriages often require considerable effort, especially when it comes to honoring and understanding our spouse. (What? I have to work on my marriage? What fun is that? lf you really love each other, shouldn’t it really be pretty easy? Well … No!)

Remember that we are striving to achieve one of the most wonderful blessings in human existence. Why would this be achieved without some effort? Champion athletes devote years of study/hard work to their craft, knowing there is NO guarantee of success. But they also know their skill levels will increase if they practice. So, a happy marriage takes some effort and practice. Who would have guessed?

There is a third mistake we make when thinking about happy marriage: We forget that the person who needs to do most of the work is ME, not my spouse. Virtually no one wants to hear that, but it is the truth. One of the biggest factors in the failure of marital therapy and marriages generally, is the conviction that the other person is the one who needs to get” fixed”. That reality has held not just for the people I work with in counseling- – it has held for me personally.

So what is the take away from this discussion of happy Catholic marriage? No matter how wonderful, happy Catholic marriage is not pleasant every single moment. As joyous as marriage can be (and it is incredibly joyous), there will be sacrifice. Furthermore, no matter how undeniably flawed your spouse may be, your entire focus needs to be on YOU. Our call as Christian spouses is to get much better at loving our spouse, the way that God loves us. My job is not to fix my spouse. My job is to become a better, more loving me. No one can do my job for me.


Reflect for five minutes on how well you love your spouse the way she/he deserves to be loved. How good are you at listening to your spouse and seeing the world through her/his eyes?  lf you are anything like me, you will see that there is a good deal of work to be done. The work needs to start with removing the log from my own eye, not the splinter from hers. Future Newsletters will discuss how to do that.

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