Right now, like millions of other married couples, you may be suffering in what you consider to be a tough marriage.
First, take heart! There is good news about perseverance through these difficult times. Featured recently on the National Organization for Marriage’s Facebook page is the following, hopeful quote:
"In studies of 700 miserable, ready-to-split spouses, researchers found that 2/3 of those who stayed married were happy five years later. They toughed out some of the most difficult problems a couple could face... What was their strategy? A mix of stubborn commitment, a willingness to work together on issues, and a healthy lowering of expectations." -featured in Prevention Magazine (from Marriage Missions International)
I can personally relate to this quote. In the past, I have regretted my marriage many times (especially during those moments where the bitter cup tasted down right poisonous). But, even in those dark moments, I’ve come to realize, it didn’t necessarily mean that my marriage was a mistake. What am I getting at?
First, let me be clear, that God never intends a bad marriage. We do that ourselves. Living a good, fruitful marriage is entirely possible and the Church gives the surest way of achieving this such as abstaining from premarital sex and being open to children (neither of which is easy to do, mind you).
Sometimes (most of the time) though, life still happens. Things still happen. Our fallen nature still happens. But human beings are also capable of redemption and that’s what I’m getting at.
During our first years together, I struggled daily against believing that my marriage was some sort of critical error and that God had duped me into undertaking a path too difficult for any human being.
But this was only a temptation and one that is very prevalent today. Why so?
Just look around. Missing from the current media frenzied over-glorification marriage is the unending mileage of forgiveness required for its harmony. Instead it is depicted as a romantic, cozy adventure for the benefit of the spouses alone.
But, boy, when do people do marry, then what happens?
They quickly encounter the universal difficulties that have always plagued marriages such as breakdowns in communication, conflict, and difficulty raising children. No wonder so many people call it quits, thinking it was a mistake! It looks and feels and tastes like nothing they expected!
But again, take heart if you’ve found yourself in the boat of those who have contemplated ‘ending things.’ Yes you may feel regret over you marriage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was mistake. In fact you may discover, as I and so many have, that my perseverance through my marital difficulties has added to me.
For instance, I am far less judgmental of people in general. I get it now. I’m not perfect – neither is my spouse. What was I thinking all those years that I felt “we” could do no wrong together? Our particular rough “patch,” lasted almost two years – and to be honest, we’re still trying to get things right.
Believe it or not, some of the most saintly couples currently walk this earth have been there. They have endured addiction, adultery, abuse, depression…sometimes all at once. And many have walked the healing path and come out victorious.
Why mention all of this? Because I’ve learned that marriage, more than anything else, is a path to sanctification. As a vocation, married life will cleanse your heart and exercise your faith muscles in an almost inhumane regimen of sacrifice and death to self ad-nauseum – and that’s if you’re doing it right!
I used to think of being married as some sort of security blanket. Now I see it as a journey I travel everyday, arming myself through prayer and the sacraments to face it’s sometimes blistering conditions. Christ’s own example shows us that the way to Heaven is the cross and marriage is not impervious to this reality.
But what about happiness?
Here God surprised me. When I finally abandoned the notion that I had made a mistake in marrying my husband, and started to focus on doing God’s will alone, things got better. I was suddenly happy. And I finally came to see that the marriage I so often regretted was not necessarily a mistake. In fact, it really is the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t immediate marital bliss or anything, I have grown up from that young college girl clutching on to her, high, unrealistic ideals which in the end, only hurt me and my opinion of my husband.
Certainly the world says suffering within marriage is pointless, and that it’s best to discard it if things aren’t working. Barring abusive circumstances, we Catholics know better. The saints, who suffered far more than any of us, show us the ultimate reward for undertaking our crosses: peace of heart, and heaven.
God has proven time and again, in even the most broken of circumstances, when His mercy is applied, they become light for the world. He does have a plan for married people who are hurting and we are capable of being the saints we are all called to be. We need only seek it in all confidence and love.
I’m writing to reassure you that searching for God’s will in the midst of your painful marriage is possible; that perseverance is worth it and that you will be the more peaceful person for doing so. In the end, you cannot fix another person, you can only change yourself.
(And please, get real marriage help! Retrouvaille ministries is one such resource. We recommend them. Also Marriage Ministries. See link above.)