You can always tell when there’s been a wedding. At my parish, that’s when we get to look at pretty flowers. Because, at a university parish, we don’t spend the big bucks on flowers. We’re frugal, yo. So, we love it when wedding season comes around. There’s fragrant proof of white gowns, flower girls and nervous grooms in the ebullient arrangements left on our altar.
Last weekend, during Mass, I gazed at them and thought of the couples who were here the day before.
Marriage. It’s a strange bird. These days, many think it’s not even something worth bothering with. Some might think life is easier, neater that way. Hassle and commitment free.
Yet, they keep coming down the aisle.
There’s something about marriage, despite what the media and our old aunt Alice might say. We want to give it a go. We, in the depth of our hearts, want to commit. We want to be in it for the long haul. Someday, we want to be that old couple hobbling down the sidewalk with our canes and hunched backs.
So then, how do we make it work? What advice can we give those who are getting ready to walk down the aisle?
Here are a few thoughts for engaged couples to keep in mind, for now and into the future. (and be sure to leave your own marriage advice down below in comments!)
I asked the following question on facebook: “If you had one thing you’d tell an engaged couple, what would it be?” I received over 55 replies in just a few hours. In the following sections, the quotes at the beginning are from my friends, and yours. Advice to you, young lovers, on how to make it last…
“Treat your family like company and your company like family – kind words, respect, common courtesy can often be forgotten with those we live with (goes for kids, too).” – Lara
“No matter what, don’t disrespect each other in public, I see so many couples snippy and arguing with each other. Hold your tongue until you are in the car. It won’t seem as bad if you take a breath.” – Diana
You might laugh now, dear ‘bout-to-be-married folks, but someday there will come a time when you really don’t want to go to the trouble to be nice. Today you will go out of your way to tell your beloved how nicely he ironed his shoelaces, but someday, you may forget to say good morning or ‘hey, thanks for mowing the grass’ or ‘dinner was good’ or ‘you look pretty tonight’. Kindness is a habit. Don’t loose it.
“Make room for the differences. You and he are just different people. I remember when I was newly married I thought that the things like, him being grumpy when he first wakes up, or him not liking to wash dishes, etc. were character flaws because I’m not that way. Nine years and some maturity later, I have learned to respect that he’s not me and to make room for that. Our marriage and my husband is happier because of it. And I’m a happier wife. It’s gotta be exhausting to always be seeing flaws in your spouse.” – Catherine
This is not the frivolous self-help section of the post. I mean it. No, this is important. You are marrying another individual, with a completely separate soul and body from your own. God has created each of you to be your own person, unique and unrepeatable. He has created you the way you are for a reason. You need to allow yourselves to be these unique and unrepeatable individuals.
Be sure to recognize this blessed uniqueness. Walking down the aisle does not give you permission to attempt to recreate someone in your own image of who you think they should be. And you should never feel pressured to become someone you’re not in order to please your spouse.
The grace of marriage can prompt us to change. We can work on our faults. We can pray for each other. We can strive to be better each and every day, but that is the job of the individual, not of the other. Your role as spouse is to love, fully and unconditionally, ’till death do you part, this person AS THEY ARE.
(advice from a soon-to-be-ordained deacon)
“A statement that comes up a lot on pre-marital inventories (during marriage prep) is: “Yes or no: I can be happy without my partner.”
Many answer ‘no,’ because perhaps they believe that’s how the test wants them to answer. But the question, I think, is designed to help bring out the idea that relying on someone else for our happiness can be dangerous: it’s not really love, it’s codependency.
I’d advise a couple that we each have to know who we are, and be happy with who we are, imperfections and all… even when we are alone… before we can commit in a mature way to another person, especially in marriage. A lack of self-awareness can lead to using another person, treating them as a means to an end instead of an end in themselves.” – Deacon Barry
“You are not the most important thing in your marriage.” – Ken
“Marriage is not 50/50. It’s 100%/100%. Don’t expect to split chores, money, etc 50/50. This doesn’t mean you do everything yourself, but recognize that you should give 100% of yourself to your spouse and their needs, which means that sometimes you’ll do things they normally would do, and they for you.” – Rita
“Start sacrificing your own selfishness early on with little things. The big ones are coming.” – Marcel
Marriage is about service. Putting the needs of another ahead of your own. At first, this feels like a wonderful thing! I remember delighting in doing my husband’s first load of laundry.
“Ah, what love. Here I am washing his socks!”
But, whether delightful or not, we are called to lay ourselves down in service for each other. And there is no way of knowing what the situation of your lives will ask of you. So, begin now! Make service a habit. Practice sacrificing the little things for each other. Give your spouse the better piece of pie, the nicer seat at the restaurant. Hold the baby, run the errand, do the chore, refrain from grumbling. Give your spouse a gift of selfless love and do not begrudge it.
Don’t be Discouraged When the Sparkle Fades.
“Let God be God and your spouse be human – and set your expectations accordingly. Your marriage will go through seasons, fresh springs to dark winters, and that’s ok. Trust the cycle and stick with it.” – Lara
“This part of the journey (engagement), it’s the wide part of the road. But if you persist and put the other first, yours will be a joyful glorious luminous example even in sorrowful times. The most romantic thing I’ve ever known, is that my mother goes every day to help my dad eat and brush his teeth, for all three meals.” – Sherry
Someday you could very well wake up and think, “I could do without this marriage thing today.” You might look over at your spouse and wonder “would it just be easier if I were alone?” You might go through your Saturday afternoon pestered by small annoyances (or big ones) that force you to try and remember why you walked down the aisle at all. You may face challenges in your marriage that you never saw coming – illness, job-loss, infertility, financial ruin. It may just seem too hard at times.
You might think you’re the only person on the face of the planet who has had such horrible thoughts about marriage.
And you will be dead wrong.
You’ve been given a gift, you see. You now get to choose, not with your heart or your hormones or your dreams, but with the force of your mind and will. And, you can call upon those graces given to you in the Sacrament of Marriage. The promise that God made to YOU and your spouse. To bless it all. To make it bear fruit. Even in these drearier times.
So, you know what you do when you get to this spot? You turn away from the bad thoughts and those easier choices you could make. You turn toward your beloved. And you tackle the hard work of love.
That’s what real love is in marriage. And it’s not very sparkly. But it’s awesomely beautiful.
And when you trudge through, and get to the other side, you have done something very good – not just for yourselves and your family, but for the world as a whole. “Know that your own marriage is a good for the whole community. Every person you know — and many you will never see — benefits from your fidelity, your struggle, your resolve to love and honor your spouse. Your sufferings are a fitting incense rising to God — they are not in vain.” – Leila Lawler
Believe in Grace
“The grace of the sacrament of marriage is greater than anything you will face. And (after 17 years and 5 kids I think we can say) you can’t imagine the things you’re going to face. But the bond that unites you is Jesus. Trust in Him.” – John
“You know, I don’t really know how marriage works out. It’s a lot of grace. We’ve gone against a lot of the advice, and haven’t been on a date alone in months. But without a doubt, we like each other better now than we did in the beginning (and we liked each other pretty well then). I try to remember the things we used to fight about in the first couple years–and all I can say is that those same things would not cause the same response now because we’ve both changed a lot. It gets better all the time.” – Elizabeth
After being married for a while (not so long, really. Almost 14 years.), I realize how much of marriage is grace. I used to think grace was a fluffy thing. Like that nice feeling walking down the aisle at Church or when you read a scripture passage and it rings true. And these things can be the effects of grace. But it’s so much more. The Catechism says that married couples “ ‘have their own special gifts in the People of God.’ This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity.”
I’m no theologian. But I know the grace behind the sacrament of marriage is powerful and true. It can make up for what is lacking in your hearts, it can strengthen you when you are weary, it can help you and your spouse overcome even the most oppressing obstacles. It gives you the resolve to grit your teeth, turn back to your spouse, smile and say, “I love you. What can I do?”
Believe and ask.
“Love should be seen as something which in a sense never ‘is’ but is always only ‘becoming’, and what it becomes depends upon the contribution of both persons and the depth of their commitment”” – Pope John Paul II, Love and Responsibility
What wise words do you have to share with newlyweds? Please share in comments!