The wedding season has begun. Gorgeous brides and nervous grooms are stepping up to pronounce vows and promises to each other hoping that their wedding day will usher in unending bliss. Even though these couples are spending loads of money and planning every little detail of their big day, many seem to miss out on a very important aspect. Many, if not the majority, do not engage in any sort of pre-marital counseling or preparation.
Here is my pet peeve in this regard. In order to drive a car, we need to do a written test, complete many hours of Driver’s Ed, and finally do well on the road test. Just to drive a car we need so much work and preparation. To drive someone crazy for the rest of their lives (a.k.a. marriage), we don’t need any preparation. A couple can just walk into the County Clerk’s office and obtain a marriage license in a matter of minutes. If there is so little invested in preparation for such a life-changing decision, how can we expect that union to survive the challenges of married life? Someone has said, “By failing to prepare, one prepares to fail.”
In this context we have noticed a troubling trend. More and more couples are just living together and choose not to get married. Of those who marry, many get married in a civil ceremony by a justice of the peace or even by a friend who was “ordained” on-line for a fee of $20. There has been a steady decline of church weddings. I am not bemoaning the “loss of business.” I am concerned that these couples are missing out on a crucial ingredient for the success of their unions. They are missing the faith dimension which, according to me, contributes immensely to the success of a marriage.
Some people dismiss faith or religion as unnecessary. Faith is not superficial. It permeates into the profoundest depths of our humanity and personality. It does not consist merely in performing certain rituals or reciting some formulae. As faith-filled persons we subscribe to a world-view, a certain philosophy of life. As Catholics we believe that none of us is an accident. We are created in His image and likeness by a loving God and He has a purpose for each one of us. Our ultimate destiny is to be with God in eternal happiness. A person with no faith will not have such a world-view. Such disparity of vision can cause numerous conflicts in marriage.
In a survey taken more than a decade ago, only 42% of the respondents wanted a mate of the same faith. In other words, they did not think that sharing the faith is important. According to Dr. Robert J. Sternberg, the Yale psychologist who wrote Love the Way You Want It, How to Use your Head in your Romantic Relationships, sharing the same faith is very important. Here are his words:
In one of our studies, we examined those factors that either increase or decrease in importance over the course of a relationship... We found that, of all the factors that increased in importance over time, a match in religious beliefs was the most important, outranking all the other variables.
...Of course, mixed-faith marriages that work do exist. But the myth that love is enough to cover even the greatest compromises is not always true. If compromises are made early in the marriage to please a partner, they may later become a source of dissatisfaction, especially if the partner's practices represent cultural and value systems that are not part of the person's background. We have become so comfortable in our secularized society that often we do not realize, until long into a relationship how deep our roots really are." (pp. 14-15)
I firmly believe that in order to make a marriage successful the dimension of faith and spirituality is crucial. Without it, all attempts to make marriage work on merely the natural level are doomed to fail. It is our faith that brings certain elements that guarantee success. Let me explain with three examples.
By nature we are selfish. We look out for ourselves. If we put two selfish people together in a marriage we will have disaster. For a marriage to succeed, the spouses must forget themselves and think of the other. Who teacher us to be selfless? Not our society or culture. Our society tells us to indulge ourselves, to gratify ourselves. On the other hand, our faith calls on us to be selfless. Quoting Jesus, St Paul writes: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In John’s gospel we read: “There is no greater love than for someone to lay down their life for their friend.”
By nature we are proud. In my long experience with couples I can assert that pride causes more problems in relationships than anything else. Who teaches us to be humble? Not our culture. It tells us to be assertive, to get our way and never let anyone push us around. On the contrary our faith calls on us to be humble. Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and asked us to imitate Him.
Forgiveness is not natural; revenge is. Marriages fail when couples refuse to forgive. Who teaches us how to forgive? Our world does not know how to forgive. If it did, we would not be in the mess that we are in. It is the Lord who teaches us how to forgive. On the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” In the Our Father we pray: “Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Let us pray that all couples, already married or getting ready for marriage, will keep God at the center of their relationships. Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “It takes three to get married – the bride, the groom and the Lord.”
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...