From the beginning of time, men and women have been united in holy matrimony. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines this sacrament as: "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament". The part that states “the whole of life” or “till death do us part”, means the couple is united till one of them dies. Although this notion is not new, it seems that there has been a shift in society, something has caused people to think that divorce is alright, that their marriage vows are meaningless. What has changed? Why are all these people getting married, committing to each other, having children, and then breaking up their families? Why are the marriage vows “for better or for worse…in sickness and in health…for richer or poorer…till death do us part” not taken seriously? Do they only believe these vows on the day of their wedding and forget about them as soon as life gets tough?
I think for the most part no one gets married with the intention of getting divorced. So, what exactly is happening to all these couples? The millions that overlook this vow of forever. The number just seems to be getting bigger every year. For over twenty years, MANY of my relatives and friends got separated. All of them had children. Many of them were young children. This saddened me tremendously. It was so heavy on my heart. I felt such an inclination to help, to intervene, to tell them not to do it. But I also felt very helpless, that perhaps it was too late, or none of my business. I always wished that they got help, I wished so many things, but I had no control over anything. I felt like telling them “hey, my marriage is hard too but I’m not giving up on it” I wanted to say that there are many times that I have wanted to give up, but I persevered and got through the rough times. I wanted to tell them that we only stay in the hole if we decide to, but in fact, the sun always comes up after the darkest hour of the night, and the grass is never greener on the other side. Life is a roller coaster, there are ups and downs, the same goes for a marriage. But most of all, I felt such sadness for their children. I have heard it said so many times that children are resilient, they bounce back up, they will be okay, they will get over it… But no! Divorce is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a child. They are put in the middle, being lugged back and forth from one house to the other, no stability, and most of all, the home that they once had has been shattered forever. The very origin of their being has been shattered, the unity that brought them to life has been broken by choice, and they feel a severe lack of identity and security. It’s a very difficult thing for a child, they may seem fine on the outside but believe me, on the inside they are suffering. Parents willingly removed the cross that was on their shoulders and have placed it on the shoulders of their children.
Many of these marriage break-ups came as a shock to me at the beginning but then I realized that this divorce culture seems to be like a virus infecting our societies. I witnessed it ripple through groups of couple friends. It spreads rapidly as if it were contagious, and it was as if they encouraged one another to get divorced, the bad influences were a large factor in these divorces, but the reality of it really was the frailty of the marital bond, to begin with, that caused these breakdowns of the family. Friends who encourage their friends to get divorced aren't real friends.
Men and women are giving up, the little things that begin to fester in their minds and hearts start to become big issues. They start to become bitter with one another, they harden their hearts and resent one another until they just can’t stand each other any longer. There seems to be no more will to work together and save the marriage, no motivation or effort to work on it. Instead of the marriage being put first, their vow to God and one another, they put themselves first. There are many forces of evil that are working continuously for the division of families. Just look all around at all the temptations of the world, the destruction around us, and social media. We look around and we can’t see strong, happy, and resilient marriages anymore, they have become the minority. Loneliness is another major factor in the breakdown of families, we ignore our spouses and our children to sit on our phones. Men and women often get into very destructive habits that pull them away from their spouses and children. We desire closeness and intimacy, but we no longer know how to seek it. Men and women suddenly feel the urge to go and live a single life and do whatever they want, they forget and disregard the responsibility of their commitment because things get hard.
I have heard one reason for divorce more times than I can count: one spouse wants to leave the other because they just don’t feel that they love them anymore. Love is not a feeling. Love is willing the good of the other. The attraction that brought the couple together initially isn't a feeling that lasts forever, romantic feelings of bliss and attraction come and go. It is a grave mistake that a lot of people make when they assume that because they don't feel 'love' or attraction for the other then it means they are not in love with them anymore. That is not how it works. Love is a choice; it is to care for another and to give of yourself to them. Love is a verb, it is action. It is work. It is a sacrifice. Sacrifice is an essential ingredient in marriage, and unfortunately, this ingredient is so often forgotten or rejected. A mother sacrifices a lot for her children by giving them life and nurturing them. A father sacrifices a lot by taking care of and providing for his family. In the end, we are not perfect, each person brings to their marriage a lot of baggage from their past. These are normal parts of family life, and this same sacrifice must also be applied in our attitude towards our spouse. We all have tempers and make mistakes, and we get angry at one another and fight. But all this can be used to sanctify us, to help us grow out of ourselves and strive for heaven. It helps us to become better at living with one another. One person cannot change the other, but we can change ourselves. Venerable Fulton Sheen tells us that without sacrifice, surely any marriage will fail. Marriage is difficult. It requires work and requires God’s Grace that will help that couple during the difficult times.
While no one knows what happens behind closed doors, I am certain that today’s culture has shifted the idea of marriage to something it's not. Society's mentality towards marriage has changed, and it's become very conditional. This cultural plague of marriage being about personal happiness and fulfillment rather than selfless love for another has caused a momentous breakdown of successful marriages and families. Marriage is challenging, and in some cases, marriage is difficult, it’s a lie to believe otherwise. God wants us to trust him in those difficult moments. He is the third and most important person that is necessary for any marriage to survive and thrive. He wants us to seek him more, to be closer to him. I found that the more difficult things became, the closer to God I had to be. He helps us through those tough times when we are lost. I think God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes we find ourselves living with difficult people or are given other kinds of crosses in our marriage that we were not expecting but I believe that they are all meant to make us grow to become better people. Through this cross, we are sanctified.
Three to Get Married by Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Walking with Purpose by Lisa Brenninkmeyer