My husband came home from work the other day and told me that a younger, unmarried coworker asked him if he liked being married. I wondered, at first, what kind of question was this?! Did this coworker perceive something negative about our family that made him ask this? Did my husband seem unhappy? Of course, these were silly and paranoid thoughts, which I quickly realized. The truth is that the question probably had its foundation in the way that society portrays marriage. And not just “society” in the abstract, but, unfortunately people that my husband and this coworker encounter at work day after day… and people that we probably all encounter in our daily lives.
It seems that marriage is not held in high esteem these days. In “real life”, on the internet, and in the entertainment world, it is common for people to complain about their spouses and their marriages, and to promote casual and uncommitted sexual relationships (including the adulterous kind) over legally- binding monogamous ones. My Facebook news feed often contains other people’s spouse-bashing posts (this was more frequent before I started hiding posts by people who were habitual offenders). Television shows and movies rarely portray successful, joyful couples. Women are portrayed as being unfulfilled by the “drudgery” of being wives and mothers, and unappreciated by their dim-witted husbands. Men are portrayed as selfish and uncommitted, in addition to being dim-witted dolts.
It really is no wonder that single people feel the need to ask if their married friends actually enjoy their lives as married people.
Yet, I love being married. And so does my husband (and he told his coworker so). Thankfully, he does not fit that caricature of the miserable husband who thinks of marriage as a life sentence in prison, with his wife as his “ball and chain.” He also doesn’t fit that newer caricature of the bumbling, idiotic husband/father who relies on his wife for everything because he is just so darn incompetent in all things related to family life (those caricatures are a rant for another day).
I love being married not because my husband and I are perfect and have a fairy tale relationship (we aren’t and we don’t). It’s not just because I love my husband, either (though of course I do, very much). I actually love the institution of marriage, and what being married is all about. I’m sure this has been stated on this blog before, but marriage is about the procreation and education of children and the mutual help of spouses. In other words, marriage is about service. That means, marriage isn’t about me. Marriage isn’t for the purpose of making me happy and fulfilled.
It’s not always easy to accept this, especially in a society that tells me that everything is all about me. It’s not always easy to sacrifice my own desires for the good of my husband and children – to serve instead of expecting to be served. Therefore, I’m not always happy. However, the funny thing is, the more I recognize and accept the fact that my own happiness is not the goal of my marriage—the more I serve my family—the happier I become, and the more I love being married.
I also find myself much happier when I abide by certain other principles that I’ve learned in my five short years of marriage. I am no saint in the marriage department (or any other department!) and I often (as in, daily) fail at living out some of the principles listed below. But if I keep these at the forefront of my mind, my marriage and my life in general are much more peaceful.
God must be at the center of my marriage.
This is the most important principle. It can be very difficult in this secular world, but if I can do this, then everything else is a lot easier.* Putting God at the center of my marriage means more than going to Sunday Mass and saying Grace before meals (though those things are important). My husband and I—and all married couples— must actively seek God’s Will for our lives (in large matters as well as small) through daily, focused prayer. Regular prayer time will strengthen and nourish our relationship with our Heavenly Father, which will in turn strengthen and nourish our marital relationship. Then we must actually do God’s Will. This includes following the teachings of the Church, including what She has taught us about God’s moral law (especially in terms of sexual morality). It also includes recognizing and carrying out the grave responsibility of transmitting the Faith to our children.
My husband and I must not let the sun go down on our anger (at least, we must not go to bed while still angry).
This is straight from Scripture (Ephesians 4:26) . But this piece of advice was also given to my husband and me at our wedding reception by a couple who had been married 60 years. They said they had never gone to bed angry with each other. That left quite an impression on us, and thus we have worked very hard at living out this principle (though we haven’t always been successful).
We must never speak badly about (or fight with) each other in front of others.
My husband deserves better than for me to insult him and commit detraction against him (despite how he may have treated me), and I deserve the same from my husband. This is simply because of our dignity as human beings, as well as the vows we made to love, honor, and cherish each other.
And, not only is it wrong, it makes other people uncomfortable! Additionally, I believe that we as Catholics should strive to present marriage in a positive light. People need an alternative to the negative message about marriage that they are bombarded with.
All of this includes social media outlets, by the way! (I know it doesn’t feel like it when you are posting that status, but writing something on Facebook is the equivalent of being at a large gathering and shouting comments through a megaphone. Dozens–or even hundreds– of people will see what you write).
This doesn’t mean that we can never discuss the difficulties of our marriage with anyone else. If we need to talk about something so as to get advice and support, we try to make sure we share only what is necessary and that we talk to someone who will champion our marriage and help us see the truth of the situation, rather than someone who will bash the other spouse or allow us to bash each other. (Simcha Fisher gives similar advice, so I’m in good company :D).
My husband and I must recognize and accept our strengths and weaknesses and use those to help determine who will handle which responsibilities.
This one can be very difficult. I’m still in the process of accepting parts of my role in my marriage and family. For example, after five years, it still bothers me that my husband is not good at keeping track of our family commitments (even including what time Mass is each week), so I have to keep track of everything we are doing, and often have to remind him of things several times. God showed me very clearly one day how silly it was for me to be upset with my husband for this, and to be so resistant to taking on the role of “secretary” for our family. This is such a small act of service that should be no problem for me. (In case you were wondering–in light of the previous point–my husband said it was okay for me to write this about him).
We must not be too afraid or proud to acknowledge our mistakes and say we are sorry.
Also, we must not be overly concerned with the splinter in each other’s eye while ignoring the huge log in our own. If my husband and I admit to and work on our own shortcomings, the marriage is much more peaceful. However, being critical of others (including my spouse) is one of my biggest problem areas. I need to strive constantly to see others through Christ’s eyes, since my view is so obscured by the Redwood in mine.
My husband and I must put each other first – before ourselves, and certainly before our friends and families of origin.
I talked about this above, but it bears repeating. Marriage is about service to our spouses and children. We must not let selfish concerns, friends, and family interfere with that. We especially must set boundaries with our families of origin so that they do not expect an unhealthy level of involvement in our relationships and family life.
We must take time on a regular basis to nurture our relationship.
We must not let our role as parents overshadow our relationship as husband and wife. This one can be very difficult for us, and probably for everyone. But it’s important that we go on dates, and have conversations! (And we need to be sure not to make every one of those conversations be about all the naughty—or even cute—things that our children did all day). My husband and I are spouses first, and then parents – particularly because our parenting won’t be as good and our children won’t be as happy if our marriage is not healthy.
♦ ♦ ♦
There’s so much more that could be said, but I suddenly remembered that I’m writing a blog post and not a treatise on marriage! (I’m known as the wordy one – can you tell?) Besides, seven is a sacred number.
Now it’s time to ask the married readers – do you like being married? Do you love it?
If so, do you let others know that (by your words or actions) so that you can counter our culture’s negative portrayal of marriage?
If not, what can you do to improve your marriage and/or your attitude toward it?
*If I were married to a man who did not share my faith–which I am not–then the idea of putting God at the center of my marriage would probably seem even more daunting than it already does. But it would not be impossible. I would just need to work extra hard at it. One of the most important things I would do toward this end is pray for my spouse’s conversion and for unity in the family.
Photo taken by Rosen Georgiev.