“Father, I think we’re at the end of our marriage and relationship. It feels like we’re just two people living in the same house. I don’t think we love each other any more. That flame is gone. I think it’s time to move on! I care for him/her but not in that way… You know what I mean.” I hear these similar phrases all the time. And yes, they are coming sooner and sooner in many marriages and relationships. What happened? Why do we allow this to happen? What went wrong? How can we revive and nourish a relationship that seems to be on its last leg?
As a Catholic and as a priest, I believe in the Easter joy and its immense grace that had and is able to change everything, including broken relationships and rocky marriages, if we truly believe and allow His grace to work in us and through us.
Easter fills us with hope because it reminds of a real, historical, and salvific event that changed the whole world forever. Jesus conquered death and rose again for each and every one of us! The power of death and this world has nothing over Him for He, as God, has the final word, and that word is life. Therefore, those who believe in Him shall have life and life eternal, even if the powers of this world seem to be cruel and challenging at times. The Lord, in His farewell address to the Apostles, affirmed this reality:
“Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:32-33)
It is hard to trust in His promise a lot of times, especially when the present trial and its challenges seem too much to bear. It is easier to give up, be enveloped by despair and hopelessness, and filled with negativities. I work with a lot of couples who encounter problems in their marriage. Most of the times, one of the parties come in blaming the other side as if he or she is without fault. The blame is almost one-sided and very negative. Yet, we have learned from the conventional wisdom that there is no smoke without fire. It is indeed hard for the person to get beyond what is wrong and what has hurt them in order to truly seek reconciliation.
Reconciliation is hard! In many cases, people who come have already tuned out the other side and are fixated on trying to find the excuses to move on. They tend to have too many expectations and demands for the other side to meet in order to make it work again, or they are too stuck behind the hurt, anger, and resentment to truly seek forgiveness. Reconciliation always begins with the recognition that both parties, whether intentional or unintentional, had caused the fractures (built up through time), which brought the resulted hurts and ruptures in the relationship.
It is hard to work on the problems without both sides willing to embrace the imperfections and failures in order to begin working on re-loving each other again. One can say that it is not necessarily a definitive re-loving of one another, but the loving of each other in a new way. That love has never been gone, it was just misplaced, misunderstood, or lost focus due to the different things that arose in life. It takes a new willingness to love one another in a deeper and more intimate way. It is a re-ignition of that original love that they have for one another.
The problems arose not because they have lost the love for each other, but because the initial method of loving one another is no longer relevant due to the different changes, growths, and challenges of life. It can biblically be compared to the moment when the couple ran out of wine at the wedding feast in Cana (cf. John 2). The ups and downs of life made them feel tired, burnt out, or lost focus on what is important. Hence, it naturally becomes easy for them to feel like they have nothing else to give. Without a doubt, this new wine has to be discovered and filled by the grace of God as they come to the realization that the Lord has to be the source and center of this reconciliation and newly-discovered stage of love.
I always advise the couple who is going through reconciliation to begin praying for themselves and for one another, that they recognize each other’s value and dignity in God. It is also important to pray for one’s self to be opened and willing to seek reconciliation, just as they are praying for their spouse. I can attest that many relationships ended up broken when spouses stopped praying for their marriage and for one another. Ruptures happened when they stopped seeing each other with love and dignity as deserved in God. Our world has often forgotten that God is the only One who can give the couple the strength to overcome and continue to love one another through the hurts and challenges of marital and familial relationship. Often times, many couples only thought that their love for one another will make all things good and dandy. People are too focused on the exterior things on their wedding day as if those matters are going to make things beautiful and perfect. They often do not notice that it is the Lord who has brought them together and it is Him who unites their marriage. Time and time again, reality reminds us that it is only the Lord who can change water into wine when the couple runs out of it. Therefore, it is important to pray for the good of the other person instead of wishing only bad things upon them. Reconciliation begins with prayer, and prayer will lead to forgiveness and the willingness to rediscover what was lost through the ups and downs of life. Marriage can only work when God is at the center of it all! It is He who unites, strengthens, heals, and continues to transform the love between husband and wife as they continually discover how to love each other in new ways — ways to kindle the real, original love.
It is both a discovery and re-discovery of the original love, especially new ways to express that love. This often requires a learning of new languages to properly express and understand intimacy, particularly ways to embrace what it truly means to love. This learning process has to begin with the understanding of what went wrong and how those things were expressed without blaming the other side. Both sides have to be matured enough to embrace and understand what went wrong, compassionate enough to forgive the other spouse’s failures, and the willingness to love each other in a new way. It is hard because the past hurts and failures can blind one’s willingness and desire for reconciliation. One has to truly love their spouse and have to love him or her beyond the hurts and failures! This marriage and relationship are worth saving because the original love for him or her is not lost, just not in focus in recent time. One can find another alternative or person to fill the gaps or failures of what he or she cannot find at home, but that would not be a good solution because perhaps the person is running away from the problems and try to fill or cover them up with another thing. The solution might be appealing in the short run, yet the problems and hurts are still there unless the person is willing to embrace and learn from them.
Reconciliation also requires patience. It is important to be patient in order to know, understand, and embrace the present creative tensions that exist because of the fractures and ruptures from the relationship. It takes patience to relook, relearn, and to love the person instead of focusing on the things that went wrong. It is very easy to hold on and be solely focused on the problematic things and events instead of loving the person in front of them and who is in their life. They have to choose to love the person and be patient as he or she is present with them to work through their trial. The couple get lost and hurt each other because they were too unfocused or too busy with other things, hence losing sight of the real person. The relationship is lost because they are too worried about being everything else except to focus on what is important, the relationship as husband and wife. Especially for those who have a career or young children, it is very easy to be focused on successes or being parents than being spouses. There will be moments of doubt along the way, for sure, and those doubts will lead them to question their initial choice and commitment. However, those doubts can also be opportunities for the person to discover new ways to strengthen and to work on what is straining the relationship. Doubts can be taken as stumbling blocks and temptations to abandon or serve as opportunities and stepping stones to deepen what is important.
A marriage does not have to be perfect in order for it to work. The couple can still have small problems as they bicker and struggle with one another through the ups and downs of life, just as long as they love one another. Without a doubt, it is important to love the person, forgive and patiently work with one another to overcome the inconsideration, misunderstandings, and hurts caused by life. When we see an older couple who are married for a long time, we immediately think that they are perfect. Yes, their love is perfect because they are willing to love one another beyond the things that hinder them. They still bicker and have their differences, and their love is far from being movie or picture perfect, but it is worthwhile because they have chosen to endure and love one another. Husband and wife last, marriage endures, relationship strengthens because they have to will to love the person instead of simply focusing on what is not there or being stuck with one another’s mistakes. Love endures because it is given and received from the heart of the person united in matrimony, who will to endure and be committed when the feelings are gone or emotions are missing at the present moment.
All lasting marriages and long-lived couples can attest to the reality that love is not solely based on emotions and feelings, because they come and go, but on commitment and forgiveness. They are committed to the person and choose to forgive because he or she is worth it all, not because of what the current emotions, feelings, or doubts dictate at the moment. Forgiveness and commitment teach the couple to always seek new ways to embrace and love the other side because they are worthwhile, even though they might be hard to love or like at the moment.
Therefore, no matter how hard is the present trial, do not give up on one another yet! Pray, forgive, will and desire reconciliation by giving one another time to learn new and thoughtful ways to love. Be patient and ask God to strengthen both sides with His grace so that what has begun is brought to completion instead of being easily lost with the present trial. Let us work through it together! Reconciliation is possible if we humbly, genuinely, and lovingly embrace and learn how to love as the Lord has loved us. We love one another because He has loved us, given them in our lives and because they are worthwhile and loveable.
So, I am ending my reflection with these questions for your reflection:
- Am I comfortable in making efforts to nurture, grow, and deepen our spousal love and relationship as husband and wife?
- When was the last time I actually spend time with my spouse — one on one instead as a family or with others — as to be able to listen and speak to one another from the heart?
- When was the last time that I give thanks for my spouse and pray for our marriage?
- When was the last time I was opened to listen to what s/he has to say and learn to understand and meet him/her where s/he is now?
- Am I willing to learn new ways to love him/her and continue to grow as a couple?
If you answer positively to these questions, good. If not, do not be afraid for you still have time to nurture the Sacrament of Matrimony that God has given to both of you. Love is eternal and everlasting, but it is also ever-new and life-giving; therefore, let us learn to love one another in the vocation that God has given to us.