Before returning to the Catholic Church, I saw marriage in secular terms. A bunch of soundbites of what I should do to be happy in my marriage. And that was part of the problem. The “I” loomed larger in my marriage than “she”. It was all about what I wanted out of my marriage, or how I felt, or why I thought I was right. But when I re-connected with my Catholic faith, Jesus showed me that at the heart of it all, it is not about me. No marriage is perfect and mine certainly isn’t. But as the days go by, I am discovering what contributes to a long and lasting marriage. Here are 7 tips that I learned (and am still learning) to make my marriage last:
1. See Marriage as a Covenant, not just a Contract
“Cause it’s a beautiful night, We’re looking for something dumb to do. Hey baby, I think I wanna marry you… If we wake up and you wanna break up that’s cool…” So goes the lyrics of a pop song, which was akin to how I saw marriage in the past. It was the notion that marriage is just a contract involving an exchange of promises which if unfulfilled, could be revoked. But as a born-again Catholic, I learnt that marriage is much more than that: it is a covenant. A covenant goes beyond an exchange of goods or servives. A covenant binds people together. That understanding made a fundamental difference to our marriage because it brought us to a deeper level of intimacy. And in the oneness, I realised that her pains and her sorrows, as well as her joys and laughter, were also mine.
2. Put God at the centre of your Marriage
In the past, God did not figure much in my life, and even less so in my marriage. I thought, “After all, isn’t marriage hard enough on its own, so why complicate things by bringing in God or religion?” Soon after getting married, I realised that it was possible to feel alone in a marriage. This was especially true when faced with the inevitable conflicts. There was no one else to turn to. It was only when we recognised God’s presence in our marriage that it changed the way we interacted as a couple. In times of conflict, we turned to Jesus, not as a judge, but as the loving Shepherd who reminds us to replicate His love. And in loving Jesus, we came to find our way back into love for each other.
Love is patient, love is kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
1 Cor 13:4-5
3. Put the needs of your Spouse above Yours
Before marriage, I thought that it was all about marital bliss, warm and fuzzy feelings. But after a few years into married life, I discovered that marriage was hard work! It seemed to involve all sorts of endless compromises and even sacrifices. I did so grudgingly. But my understanding of true sacrifice changed radically when I came face-to-face with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and His commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). I also realised that love is more a verb than a noun. Acts of love matter more than the emotion of love which can wax and wane. There is no better way to live this out than in the small things that I do for my wife, the little sacrifices done in love, and not out of self-interest.
4. Tone Matters
Although words spoken between husband and wife are important, it is equally important to choose how words are conveyed. All too often in my marriage, I have said things in haste or anger, either jumping to conclusions before verifying the facts or reacting harshly. Again, Pope Francis said that “Many disagreements between couples are not about important things. Mostly they are about trivial matters. What alters the mood, however, is the way things are said or the attitude with which they are said.”
5. Speak words of Love and Kindness
As a husband, I’ve come to realise that silence is not an option in a marriage. Words unspoken can speak louder than words said. When I come home tired after work, I am often reluctant to speak much but my wife often wants to tell me about her day. If I choose to ignore her, it can ruin the day for her, and eventually for the both of us. Pope Francis himself remarked that “Certain silences are oppressive, even at times within families, between husbands and wives”. Pope Francis advocates the frequent use of expressions of graciousness, gratitude and contrition: ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Sorry’. Such words foster kindness and tenderness between spouses.
6. Ask for forgiveness… Often.
When I had disagreements with my wife, they tended to be last longer than necessary because neither side wanted to back down, especially me. Now I know that the heart of this was pride. I refused to admit my own mistakes, or even the possibility that I could be wrong. When I returned to church and re-discovered the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I realised the power and humility of asking for forgiveness. And reconciliation is key to an enduring marriage. Saying “I’m sorry” to my wife (and meaning it!) restores and repairs the covenantal relationship between husband and wife. As I am learning, trying to prove that you’re right is far less important than a right relationship.
7. A couple that Prays together, stays together!
Finally, the most crucial secret of a good marriage is to pray together, daily! Prayer is never useless. There will come a point where we might not agree on a certain thing. But through praying, we resolve our disagreements by surrendering them to the Lord. As husband and wife, we help each other grow in holiness by remembering and entrusting each other to the Lord. Praying together as a couple also sets a good example for our children! So that as they see us relying on God; our children too will trust in His providence amidst the many challenges that we encounter in life.
“Unless we cultivate patience,
we will always find excuses for responding angrily.”
Written by David of VITA Scribes.
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