When I sit down with a couple for their prenuptial interview, trying to get to know them and see how I can help them with their marriage preparation process, I often see uninterested eyes, checked out minds, and leery thoughts about why they have to go through some church-based process when they themselves are ready for the next step.
Many people have asked me to compose a list of what I have repeatedly seen and heard in marriage preparation so I am taking the time to compose a simple one. Perhaps it might not be applicable for you, perhaps it will get downplayed, but this is what I often see and hear from couples who think they have it all and do not think that the Church or God can do anything else for them. Sadly, but true, too many of those couples who thought they had everything handled and only focused on the wedding ended up separated sooner or later because they never prepared themselves for a lifelong marriage of true love that involves a lot of dying to selves and loving the other side in a unique way.
- “We’re ready! Just tell us what we’ve to do to check the list and get our wedding done in the Church.”
- I know it is exciting, but to be honest, no one is really ready for marriage! If you only come to check the list, you will only base our marriage on action items, goals, demands, and expectations. You have focused on living your life with what you do instead of being who you are. You will burn out, get resentful when you think your spouse is not carrying the weight, or angry because he or she cannot fully understand you. Preparing for your marriage is not a process or list of things to do, it is an organic set of opportunities and tools to help you begin to talk, listen, dialogue, pray, and discern matters together for the future. The most important realization of the marriage preparation process is not to focus on things but who you are about to love forever, not getting the wedding done nor buying a house, but really building a home together!
- “I don’t see the points why we’ve to do so much stuff when we just want to get married in the Church! Aren’t you supposed to be grateful that we still want to come to the Church? I just don’t see the needs for these things.”
- When someone says things like that, they have never really taken the time to love your significant other as he or she is in all his or her brokenness. That person thinks that they can withstand and endure what they have seen in the other person, but they have never taken the time to get to know him or her in all his or her past, the family of origin, hurts, and unspoken pains or sufferings, thought patterns, fears and reservations that required much deeper conversations and understanding than daily, practical, usual, or typical exchange of thoughts, aspirations, and conversational pieces. There is a difference between living together and making a home and life together! One consists of two people living together because they share something in common, like or can put up with each other for the moment, the latter requires true respect, love, forgiveness, dialogue, and true self-giving sacrifices to truly embrace and appreciate each and every member of the family. It takes a lot of time and vulnerability for the other person to open up and show you who they really are because every one of us is scared of showing our true selves and not be judged, looked at as weak, or abandoned by others as in the past.
- “I want our wedding to be as I have dreamed it to be. Why can’t you understand that!?! It’s MY wedding and I worked hard to be where we are today. I just want it to be perfectly planned and executed because it’s MY special day!”
- There is a BIG difference between fixated on a life-long journey of sacrificial love and wanting day-based ceremonial stuff. Unfortunately, too many people are trying to make their “special day” picture-perfect, romantic, dreamy, and to be envied by others but have not taken the time to prepare to learn, understand, and be willing to love their future spouse. All those things will be taken down afterward, people will not remember what happened, but that marriage vows and how seriously you understand, meant, and willing to give to one another will make or break that marriage. This is hard to accept but marriage is not perfect. True love is not dependent on you or your spouse and how perfect you want it to be! Marriage is never about you or your spouse and how you would like things to be. The more one wants to control, make things perfect, and as they like, the more angry, resentful, and frustrated they will end up with themselves and others.
- “I want the wedding to be like what I’ve seen at my non-Catholic friends’ weddings. I want it to be my own! I want to write my own vows, decorate things to be perfect, and plan things around what we’d do and say on our special day. Why does the Church have to be so outdated, a stifler, and not accommodating us?”
- I know no one wants to hear this but marriage is not about you, and unless you understand that, it will fail — and fail miserably! You will walk away when you can no longer get what you want, how you like things to be, or when it is hard to bear what is hard and challenging. If it is just about you or your spouse, you will run out of things to give, impress, or provide for one another in your own time. This seems to be oxymoronic, but no one in this world has the capacity to make us happy because we are all weak and fail short! Therefore, it is important to start things right and to allow one’s self to step out of one’s likings and controlling factors, and that begins with the dying of one’s self at the wedding. One has to be humble enough to trust in the perennial wisdom of the Church who had seen many things throughout the ages; therefore, she is able to formulate the vows to be substantial, words and actions of the Sacrament of Matrimony to be selfless, sacrificial, and life-giving. If you do not believe me, begin to pray with the words of the vows again and see that every word has a deep meaning of true love. Many can have a perfect wedding as they like for a moment, but not everyone will have a meaningful marriage that lasts and gives life.
- “We’ve known each other for a long time (and have lived with each other) so we think we’re set. We just need to get this ceremonial stuff done.”
- There is a real danger when you cannot see the stark difference between knowing about each other as a couple, lived-in or co-habitual individuals and a life-long commitment of marriage. Even though cohabitation and casual, physical exchange of sexual intercourse seems to be intimate and allow one to think you know and love the person, the commitment is mostly shallow, sentimental, or emotional at best. Even though it looks like a committed and real relationship, there are always underlying and unspoken issues that are not being spoken about because one or both sides are worried about the ending of the relationship. Even if one or two sides are serious, there is a lack of real commitment that is meant for FOREVER — not just until something does not work! Real love is not about thinking about walking out or ending the relationship when it gets hard or there are “irreconcilable differences” that arise in the relationship or marriage. One cannot simply walk away when it is hard to forgive or accept a failure, betrayal, or hurt! A real marriage is one that is based not just on mutual benefits, attractive qualities, or some types of human conditions but based on sacrificial, forgiving, and reconcilable love.
- “We’re in love with each other so we think we can overcome everything. We care for each other and are very compatible on many things. I think we’ll do fine!”
- We are all human beings, and to look at your spouse as the source of happiness is ultimately the greatest failure because no one in this world can make you happy. There are many different stages of marriage, and most people tend to change, react, or cannot be themselves when the challenges and trials in life come. Therefore, the things that you like about them or the qualities that seem to be good, attractive, and compatible now will not apparently be present in times of trial and hardship. When things get tough, it is not always easy to seek the blessings and gifts of one another, and that is when egocentric and fragile doubts, temptations, and weaknesses creep in to divide, sow despair, and second-guessed the life-long decision.
- Secondly, but as important as the first point, it is futile to look and expect your spouse to be someone who handles, fixes, provides, or be the source of your happiness. It is something impossible! He or she might be good for a short while, might have some great qualities and strengths, but that person that you expect to be everything or many things for you will become resentful, tired, and burnt out. He or she will simply give up because he or she cannot do it anymore, especially when your frustration, resentment, and expectations for him or her become a disgust and something to avoid. Trust me, it is impossible because it will always make you frustrated as you realize that this person cannot be the superhero, provider, fixer, or whatever I expect him or her to be, and you can simply choose to give up on him or her — and that is very unfortunate, but happens a lot.
- “It’s you who wanted to get married! You’re my (future) spouse… Can’t you just understand me? You don’t know me by now? What! I don’t know why you can’t understand my simple thoughts or sympathize with me? What are your problems? You’re so insensitive.”
- I actually hear this a lot, especially when communication problems begin to arise as the marriage preparation process uncovers many overlooked parts! Too many people expect the other side to be sensitive, understand, and be attentive to them but they do not know how to properly communicate without demeaning, expecting, and blaming the other person’s failures to know their needs. No one should assume that their spouse knows what is going on inside their inner being! It takes calm, empathetic, and loving communication skills to express, invite, and allow the other person to see you as you are deep from within. Do not expect and assume, be genuinely calm, willing, and respectful in showing the person what you are going through! Even if your spouse cannot fully sympathize or understand, accept the care given as he or she is able to give and find professional or pastoral help to process what is actually going on deep from within when needed. It is sad but not many people want to listen and accept this reality because, somehow, they think they know better than others, can do better than what they have seen in others. They often think that everyone else, especially their parents, family, or friends, and priests are incapable of knowing or understanding them. Nevertheless, to learn, to love, to accept, to appreciate, to forgive, to not too many expectations and demands, to respect, and to be humble enough to find help without giving up are some of the hardest things to do in a marriage but they are so necessary at times!
- “Why did you put that down on your answer or response? I thought you’d pick this or that, or that you’d know how I would’ve picked.” Or, “Why are you being so serious about this question or query. It’s just a stupid question and I just answered it without thinking much about it.”
- Overthinking or under-thinking the question or reality always lead to many misunderstandings or misinterpretations in marriage! People tend to analyze and be confident in their own self-centered and biased expectations of what they think the other side is, should, or could be thinking or doing. They tend to think and prematurely come to the prejudgment and conclusion of the facts of the matter and get stuck with their own self-made tantrums and resentments. Interestingly, those who only care about themselves either tend to under-care or over-analyze the situations according to what they like or think instead of being considerate, aware, and mindful of the other side. Too many arguments get started because a person cannot come to understand the reality and respect the other person; instead, they simply get irritated, angry, and frustrated because things do not go their ways or not able to care enough to see as the other person see, feel, sense, think, or communicate in their own unique ways.
- “I think you worry too much about us, Father. We got it under control!”
- Sure, if I have a dollar for every self-confident person who thinks he or she has everything under control, I would be very rich! I always laugh when I hear the couple telling me that they know better than the facts, statements, and matters that arose throughout the marriage preparation process than others. Just because a couple read enough self-help books, think they know each other, perhaps lived with each other before, does not mean that they really know and are able to love each other in the long run. Each day and stage of marriage is a learning experience, and it really takes a lot of humility, prayers, trust, and forgiveness to really accept the repeated failures, and at times, painful experiences of having to bear the shortcomings of one another — even when the couple is trying their best to love and give themselves to one another. Without being aware of underlying issues and past hurts, these matters will come out and affect the marriage over and over again! To understand, appreciate, and be aware of the person’s past, thought patterns, comfort level, and worldview help to appreciate him or her as she is able to comprehend, see, and able to process things instead of thinking, expecting, or demanding that things should be certain ways.
- “I think I know everything or enough about you and can handle it! We’ve been through things in our relationship and we’ve made it through… It should be the same principle when we’re married!”
- Well, yes and no. The things that arise throughout the dating and courtship period are different than the matters of the heart and soul that will arise when two are joined together, living under one roof, and rubbing against each other’s egos all the time. Furthermore, the evil one is shrewd and loves to plant doubts, questions, uncertainties, and despair in marriage because he knows that it is a sacrament, for two are now joined as one by God! Simply put, he loves to destroy what God has joined together and willed for us so his attacks will be more in the life of marriage. In other words, marriage tends to bring out many underlying, and at times, hidden issues that were not being dealt with before. Just as it takes a lifetime to know a person, and even then, there will be things that you cannot know about them or can share with them deep within your heart, it takes time to open up, understand, and peel off the layers of complexity in a person through different stages and periods of life with all their challenges and blessings. That is why it takes a lifetime of learning and loving the person who you are joined forever, for life — only possible with personal perseverance and the grace of God!
Perhaps you are laughing at the examples that I have given because they seem childish, insignificant, or over-exaggerated — I would hope so, too — but they are too often being expressed, demanded, or thought over and over again by different couples throughout the marriage preparation process. People oftentimes think that their human love for each other will overcome everything! They tend to be dependent on their abilities, sentimental attachments, and emotional willingness to care for each other to overcome all obstacles, but we often forget that we are weak, our personal will is short-lived at times, and our passions keep changing according to the different ups and downs of life. It is sad, but so true, that many people often built up for themselves and others a lot of false expectations and demands, being disillusioned and having to face failures often lead them to distrust and give up on the other side, which is very unfortunate but so true at times.
Throughout the preparation process, as well as marriage itself, there will be growing pains and miseries because we do not always get what we want because having to face the hurtful challenges and obstacles are not easy. If we live only on demands and expectations, angrily and resentfully stuck on failures and shortcomings of the relationship, we will never be happy and able to will the good of the spouse in times of trial and hardship. Only when both sides are willing to love beyond personal likes, sentimental attractions, and emotional reactions to the other person, especially his or her failures in the times of trial, can they find the deeper meaning of love and find the reawakened joy that lies in their willingness to love even when it hurts.
That is why many people say that living through marriage is living through repeated cycles of life and death, changed but repeated in different ways throughout the different stages of life. Each cycle will have or has its challenges and trials, and the temptations to give up and walk away are very real, but they are all personal reminders that we cannot be each other’s source of happiness. Only God can take what is humanly-impossible, what is limited with all our shortcomings and failures, and transformed them with His loving grace. It begins and continues to be nourished by His love when we learn to humbly pray for ourselves, our family, and loved ones, entrusting what is dear and personal to His loving hands. It is hard but transformative because it requires us to be obedient to His will, conform our lives to His love, and be patient, merciful, compassionate, forgiving, and willing the good of the other even when it gets hard and challenging. Marriage can only last when it is grounded in Christ Jesus, draws life by how the spouses conform and imitate His love for the Church, and her love for Him. It is truly a lifetime journey of self-giving, sacrificial, and persevering love that no one can truly be prepared beforehand, but a worthwhile journey of loving even when it hurts because we personally recognize that the other person is worth loving!