'Knowing that my spouse prays, attends Mass, goes to confession -- in other words, holds Jesus and not me as personal Savior -- takes enormous pressure off of each of us.'
Speaking from experience, the one thing I can say for sure about marriage is that it is not easy, but it can be beautiful.
Being a Catholic priest, I might reasonably be questioned about how I can speak from experience. One could ask any man the same question, were he to say that bringing a child into the world is not easy, but it is beautiful -- and for the same reason.
Just like every newborn child, no two marriages are exactly alike. Each has a life of its own. That life depends not only on the two persons who enter the marriage -- for, no matter what they have in common, they are different temperamentally, physically, psychosexually and in many other ways, and these differences are often part of what attracts people to each other -- but every marriage is, in a real sense, a new creation.
No one can tell exactly what a child might look like just because of his or her parents. Children share certain traits from parents, but it is not inevitable that the son of two blue-eyed parents will have the same eyes, or that the daughter of two attorneys or accountants will have any inclination to pursue her parents' profession.
Similarly, a lot of things can change when two people get married. No matter how much they planned before the wedding, things happen in the course of their common life that are unpredictable. Even with all due precautions taken, there is no guarantee on economic, health, extended family and work issues, or how they will play out together. Surprise and even upheaval can occur with a change in a weather pattern, as we have seen in recent weeks.
One thing, however, can make all the difference between a marriage that is subject to stress and anxiety and one that endures because it is well grounded. For believers, that is our faith in Jesus Christ as the center and foundation of the union. Without Him -- or some "higher power" -- couples only have themselves and each other to lean on. Time and again, this proves illusory as results fall short of expectations.
Though it is difficult to admit, one party can easily be tempted to wonder which of the two really loves the other more (or less). Communication can become a real issue. Does he (or she) really tell me everything?
No one can really know everything about what another is thinking or doing, even with one of those stalking apps that mobile phones offer. In a way, to resort to such devices can imply a lack of trust or insecurity that the other is completely faithful. While there may be reasons for doubt at times, doubt is not a state that encourages trust, communication or intimacy.
Faith in the Lord can make all the difference. If I love the Lord even more than my spouse and if I know that my spouse loves Him even more than me, I and my spouse will have much less need to waste time worrying about trust and honesty issues.
Not that temptation does not come: Satan can't stand a happy couple whose love is rooted in God, as Genesis recounts. Recall that it was the evil one's suggestion to Adam and Eve that God could not be trusted that resulted in their (and our) downfall, then the near destruction of their own union.
When a couple are confident in God's love for each of them and for their conjugal union -- that God really wants them to be happy and to succeed in their lives together and in their family -- then it opens up the door to so much more openness in communication, truthfulness about faults, acknowledgement of need and admission of confusion or misunderstanding.
Knowing that my spouse prays, attends Mass, goes to confession -- in other words, holds Jesus and not me as personal Savior -- takes enormous pressure off of each of us. Is it not true that so many couples are unhappy because of expectations of themselves or of the other that have proven to be unrealistic or unattainable, without some miracle?
In every relationship, even one among good friends (and married couples should, first and foremost, be good friends), it can be destructive when the fear of failure or disappointing the other leads to lying or withholding an admission of vulnerability. With no God to confess to or appeal to for forgiveness and the affirmation of one's worth, guilt and shame can grease the skids toward addictions and other forms of escape, be they chemical, virtual or recreational.
A sacramental marriage rooted in the Lord is a kind of "trinity," not different from the life of the One in whose image and likeness each of us is created. Genesis says that "in the divine image God created man...male and female He created them," leaving the door open for much reflection.
Could it not be that marriage in the Lord reflects God's Trinitarian essence in a way no other friendship can? Who is the God of our faith but three persons crazy in love, revolving about each other for eternity? Each person is equal, yet each is different and exists in and for the other.
How much more exciting can it become when two mere mortals really believe and live their union knowing that God is right in the middle of their love -- a God whose name, St. John reminds us, is love itself?
My prayer is that more Christian married couples may discover each day that their sacrament is much more than something they celebrated on their wedding day, but an ongoing earthly pilgrimage with a God who is living in them and shares their joys, passions and sorrows, as really and intimately as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the Trinity itself.
May every Christian couple know they are loved and blessed by a loving God who never refuses what their hearts truly long for. This may not be easy to accept for any of us, if we are aware of our unworthiness and imperfections, but it is the truth and it is beautiful.
It is what marriage in the Lord is meant to be. Why resist happiness?