We live in a convenience culture. Life is so much easier physically than it was even a mere fifty years ago. Even a modest lifestyle of today looks courtly and lavish compared to the way most people, even the affluent, lived 100 years ago. Modern conveniences and technology are truly amazing. Air conditioning, microwave ovens, fully cooked prepackaged meals, fast food, personal computers, powerful, reliable automobiles, speedy travel, even speedier communication, access to a world of information—things that were science fiction just a few decades ago. Things are easier and keep getting easier. We have become conditioned to expect everything to be fast and convenient. We don’t handle inconvenience or discomfort gracefully. We complain that our microwave ovens are taking too long. We speed up for yellow traffic lights. The super center (not merely a grocery store) has several aisles dedicated to pain relief. If an alien observer were to make note of the vast array of pain relieving medications for sale, he would likely conclude that we are a rather frail species. Entertainment is embedded in almost everything and it’s everywhere. We are entertained while we wait in lines by watching videos on our phones! Is it any wonder that the demands of marriage are not taken up with more gusto? So much of life is so easy, but marriage is hard.
I have been Director of Family Ministries for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau since 1994. One of my responsibilities is to recruit and train lead couples for the diocesan marriage preparation program.
When I was giving a brief talk at the end of Mass one Sunday while recruiting lead couples, I began my talk by asking all of the married couples in the church to stand. Then I asked all of the couples who have found being married to be easy to please remain standing. They all sat down. Once a person has experienced married life, one knows that it is not for the faint of heart. That is not to say marriage is always hard and unending drudgery. It is the place where all of life is lived—the joys and the sorrows, the triumphs and the defeats. It is a real place, not a Hollywood set. To quote one of my favorite psychologists and writers, Frank Pittman, in Grow Up, “Marriage isn’t supposed to make you happy. It’s supposed to make you married.”
For marriage to be permanent, it must be entered with an attitude of permanence. This is a simple concept, but surprisingly contrary to the prevailing cultural attitude. Imagine what wedding vows would really sound like if they reflected today’s attitude toward marriage: “I take you as long as you prove to be a good provider, make me happy, are beautiful, sweet, sexy, and romantic. If these things change, I reserve the right to exchange you for a more suitable partner.”
It’s doubtful that anyone would proclaim such a self-serving attitude in their wedding vows, and yet, for many people this is the attitude with which they approach marriage. Such an attitude begs the question, “Why bother?” But it also reveals a subtle underlying fear of failure. Nobody really wants their marriage to be a mere learning experience that sets them up for the sequel. Scott Stanley speaks to a common human desire for marriage in, A Lasting Promise, when he refers to a passage in Genesis, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Stanley continues: “No one can say what that was like for Eve and Adam, but this passage captures something powerful—something most people strongly desire in their marriages.” We want our marriages to endure, but we live in a culture that tells us that is not really possible.
Even in a time when nearly half of all first marriages end in divorce, the parties to the broken marriage are left bereft, bewildered, and devastated. Hopes and dreams are left floating in the wake of the dissolution of their marriage. Questions abound. How did this happen to me? What went wrong? Can I ever hope to have a happy and lasting marriage? Many people resolve to never marry again. But most people who have divorced will marry again. I see them in my remarriage seminars. Hope springs eternal as the saying goes.
Sadly, many of the questions that people ask in the aftermath of a divorce are exactly the same kinds of questions that need to be explored prior to making the commitment to marry. How does one create a healthy, lasting marriage? What do I need to know or understand about myself and my prospective mate before I proceed down the aisle? Armed with sufficient knowledge of self and other, along with an attitude of permanence, a couple’s chances of creating a No Deal- Breaker Marriage are greatly increased.
Troy S. Casteel, M.S., L.P.C.
Director of Family Ministries