Pope's tips for building a marriage

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As Pope Francis was releasing the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia — his long-awaited response to last year's Synod on the Familymy fiancé and I were taking part in a marriage preparation course at CatholicCare in Melbourne.

Happy couple'Statistics tell us that one in three of your marriages will end in divorce,' the facilitator said at the beginning of the weekend. 'One in three will stay together unhappily, while only a third of you will have a happy marriage.'

No one goes into a marriage expecting it to fail, but one-in-three odds is intimidating to a cautious gambler such as myself.

Marriage as a life-long loving bond is a beautiful and attractive ideal. But if so many people struggle to realise that ideal, is it time to find a new one? Or do we need a different way to encapsulate that beautiful ideal, one that better reflects the messy reality?

Humanist author Terry Pratchett once wrote that humanity was the place where 'the falling angel meets the rising ape'. Reading Amoris Laetitia, I was struck by the idea that in fact the opposite might be true — that humanity (and a human institution like marriage) is where the rising angel meets the falling ape.

Francis writes with an understanding that marriage is human and messy, but also divine and beautiful. Marital joy, he says, 'involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship'.

Human beings aren't perfect, and every married person will be able to give you some fine examples of imperfection in their partner. Sometimes those imperfections can be fatal to a relationship.

Marriages can break down as financial or emotional stress takes its toll, as trust is broken through infidelity, or as children grow up and leave couples with nothing else to hold them together. A break-up can often be the only option for people who find themselves in a relationship that has become physically or emotionally abusive.

 

"Marriage as a life-long loving bond is a beautiful and attractive ideal. But if so many people struggle to realise that ideal, is it time to find a new one?"

 

But accepting our human failings doesn't mean dismissing the possibility of the divine. If entered into in the spirit of love, marriage can help catch us as we fall, working against those things that might drag us down into unhappy places, and carrying us up towards something more fulfilling.

'Might we say that the greatest mission of two people in love is to help one another become, respectively, more a man and more a woman?' Francis writes. 'Fostering growth means helping a person to shape his or her own identity. Love is thus a kind of craftsmanship.'

While many will be disappointed that the exhortation sticks to traditional delineations when it comes to homosexual relationships, there is something in it even for people outside Christianity who need a vision of marriage that moves beyond the purely utilitarian one offered in the secular world — those who feel there is more to love than emotion, more to family life than security, more to sexuality than pleasure.

'The spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures,' Pope Francis writes. 'In that variety of gifts and encounters which deepen communion, God has his dwelling place.'

As we approach our wedding, my partner and I are having some important conversations about our future life together. Both of us are taking a gamble that our relationship will be the one-in-three that leads to lifelong fulfilment.

Courses like the one we went to are helpful in making us aware of just how much work needs to go into a relationship. Many of these ideas are also outlined in Amoris Laetitia.

But if love is a type of craftsmanship, then at times our efforts might not be as good as we envisioned. Our hope is that we can learn and build upon the flawed works, so that day to day, with small and large acts of love, we can help each other become masters of our craft.

 


Michael McVeighMichael McVeigh is the editor of Australian Catholics magazine and senior editor at Jesuit Communications.

Topic tags: Michael McVeigh, marriage equality


 

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Congratulations, Michael. It's said the best thing a father can do for his children is love their mother. Enjoy the ride!
David Healy | 12 April 2016


Going to a marriage preparation course is possibly a wise precaution before taking the plunge. The late Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig, a Jungian analyst, compared marriage to an old fashioned ordeal rather than the rather saccharine vision many of us had about 'living happily ever after'.
Edward Fido | 12 April 2016


Best wishes, Michael, to you and your fiancée for a long and fruitful marriage. Important article.
Geoff Pound | 12 April 2016


As long as you know that marriage is the most unnatural thing you will ever do.Like most of us if you have a good friend it helps in the relationship enormously.
marlene bracks | 12 April 2016


My husband passed away in November last year, just one month short of 57 yrs. We had plenty of messy struggles and temporary separations over the years. But we both believed in the Sacramental aspect of Marriage and I give thanks to Our Lord and His Blessed Mother that he was peaceful at the end,that both of us came to realise that, despite the times when the marriage got quite "messy" our Faith always brought us back to forgive each other for the hurts that occurred over the years. Deo Gratias!
Myrtle Moodley | 12 April 2016


Maybe the marriage preparation facilitators should espouse the enduring nature of true love rather than paint the gloom provided by the statistics originating in a selfish society. True love, it has been said, is the desire to reproduce the essence of the one you truly love - the old fashioned "I want to have your children" from the woman and "This is the woman I want to mother my children " from the man. Bears thinking about, perhaps. Wonder what the qualifications of a premarriage facilitator are - ex-member of religious order perhaps !
john frawley | 12 April 2016


'a vision of marriage that moves beyond the purely utilitarian one offered in the secular world'? There is some good stuff in the Pope's words that applies to all marriages - traditional and same sex - but do you really believe Michael that the only vision of marriage offered by the 'secular world' is a 'utilitarian' one?
Ginger Meggs | 12 April 2016


How fortuitous that Michael and his fiancée had the humility to take part in a marriage preparation course; that the Papal Exhortation on The Joy of Love has just been released; that Myrtle Moodley had the generosity to share (clearly and briefly) her Christian marriage experience; and that Andrew Hamilton chose to write in his succinct way on the Exhortation itself. I used to be a Neo-Thomist as far as ethics and sociology were concerned. But just as there is a philosophical distinction the Thomists like to use between Thomas junior and Thomas senior, I now find myself ditching a philosophy based on categories and distinctions, between substance and accidents, which I choose to call (perhaps unfairly) Essentialism. I now find Existentialism more to my liking. The lived experience of Myrtle Moodley convinces me more about the rightness and liveability of the Christian concept of marriage than do appeals to the Natural Law, Scripture and church dogma. I knew a priest who was a widower. He was a very popular confessor. Why? I asked him. He replied: "I know marriage from the inside."
Uncle Pat | 12 April 2016


Thanks to all commenters for the assorted wisdom, and thanks especially to Myrtle. I can only hope our relationship is as full of grace as yours. Ginger: I'd certainly hesitate to say that the utilitarian vision is the 'only' one on offer - I can't claim to be an expert in how people without faith view their deepest relationships. However, as a person of faith I do find it hard to find richness in visions of relationships that don't appeal to anything beyond the material world - and it was those visions to which I was referring. I'm always happy to hear alternative points of view, though.
Michael McVeigh | 12 April 2016


Having experienced almost fifty years of the ups and downs of marriage, I believe the most underestimated aspect is the power and continuation of the grace the sacrament brings. Never forget to be open to that grace, especially when things are going wrong.
Margaret McDonald | 12 April 2016


To Michael and anyone else who might be interested, I am fortunate to have experienced a long term happy marriage. I was born on 11th April 1930. I spent 56 years with my wife Kathleen until she died in 2008. Like all couples, we had our ups and downs. There are two books which I recently self published with the first concerning my father's generation and the second deals with my family. I like to think they are of historical significance and they also tell the story of two very different long term marriage experiences. I am happy to make copies available with or without payment to anyone interested. There is a web site which covers the books, including reviews: www.gerardleahy.com. I am happy to receive personal contact via my email address and supply books direct. The book titles are: Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Two Generations, First Generation, Second Generation. I spent nine years at Riverview to 1948.
Gerard Leahy | 12 April 2016


Congratulations!! Back in 1982, I was very keen to have a sacramental marriage because I thought it would give extra help to keep us together. Now, 34 years and three children later, we are still together and happily supporting each other through life's ups and downs. May all your years together be real, open, loving and enriching. Life's not reality tv, it is reality.
Mary-Anne Johnson | 12 April 2016


Congratulations Michael. I wish you and your wife to be all the happiness and joy. We have been married over 33 years .When I was waiting for my wife(late as usual) to come into the church, I thought to my self the comment my late mother made when she married my father in 1943 during the War; "If this does not work out, no one is going to know about it". She told me she had 5 years of bliss before my father died. She never remarried as dad "was the best" My only advice is to renew your love for each other each morning, always be supportive and above all honest and true. We believe that our strong faith has been a great help through the rough patches.
Gavin | 13 April 2016


Wishing you every blessing, Mick. Don't be too worried by those stats. We've managed 40 good years on the tenet,Fair, Share Care. Great to see you taking the plunge!
Anne | 14 April 2016


All the best to you both Michael. Hopefully same-sex couples will be able to experience the same joy and satisfaction in the not too distant future.
Ginger Meggs | 15 April 2016


I endorse David Healy's comment. And it follows a teaching of St Paul. It seems to me you have prepared in mind and heart to be able to love twice.
Mary | 15 April 2016


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