Most Catholics are aware that there is a real attack on marriage these days. Our culture and mainstream media do not tolerate voices who defend traditional marriage, say divorce is bad and has any negative effects on children or to say it has anything to do with the breakdown of our society.
Some people are called by God and put into strategic places to defend the divinely instituted and naturally ordered sacrament of marriage on the public stage. There are real forces out there, influential public voices and really powerful lobbies trying to destroy it. Just watch one episode of the wildly popular TV show Modern Family and you will get it.
However, everyone is called to defend their own marriage and the marriages that they know against the more insidious and lesser known enemies. These I have only recently discovered, in my fifth year of marriage. And I am sure no one is safe.
The Foxes in the Garden
My husband and I had a rough dating period, with ups and downs, but also with a lot of growth and change. I discovered the hard way that you shouldn’t ask everyone for dating advice… or talk about your relationship with everyone. Giving advice to a couple is a sacred thing and must be done impartially and wisely. I can’t tell you how many people, directly or indirectly, told me I should break up with him and told him he should break up with me.
I thought that once we got married it was the end of the race and now everyone would respect how much better we are together than apart and what we are building. That is the case for most people, but I still find myself “defending” him to close friends and family and he does the same for me.
Parents, in my experience, are always on their adult child’s “side”. Any difficulty or obstacle in the couple’s life, which are sure to arise because we live in the world and not in Heaven, is attributed to the son or daughter-in-law. It is not by chance that the very first book of the Bible says: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Genesis 1:24). There has to be a split, a severing with one’s parents to enter into marriage. This split can be mature, free and respectful. Or it can be painful and mixed up with jealousy, comparison, possession, and manipulation. We are human and pretty sinful, and unfortunately, most of the cases I know are the latter.
This reminds me of something I studied for my thesis paper about the Song of Songs. “Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that damage the vineyards; for our vineyards are in bloom!” (Song of Songs 2:15) The foxes can signify all that damages the couple’s love, which is the vineyard. More specifically, it might be family and friends who keep them apart.
The Marriage Blame Game
When I get sad, I see my husband differently than when I am happy. When I get sad or anxious about something, I can only see how he doesn’t take out the trash, help enough with the kids, etc. etc. etc. When I am happy, I feel extreme contrition for all the times I have treated him badly and see his unconditional and absolutely heroic love for me, which seems to make my fickle, emotional love for him pale in comparison.
Adam, before the fall, breaks out into poetry and song in his admiration of Eve:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 1:23) After the fall, the blame game begins: “The man replied, ‘The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.’ The LORD God then asked the woman: What is this you have done? The woman answered, ‘The snake tricked me, so I ate it.’” (Genesis 3:12-13)
We are most obviously fallen creatures. This blame game that goes on between husband and wife, and I’m pretty sure it falls more to the side of us women, is incredibly dangerous, especially considering the foxes in the garden.
I am convinced that if there is a problem in the couple, it is shared. There is never one person who is “guilty” and another who is “innocent”. I have seen this in couples I know. Even in most extreme cases such as domestic violence, if the man is the aggressor, sometimes the woman has a pathology which allows him to do that and doesn’t want to leave the situation. In alcoholism, if the man is the alcoholic, many times the woman is the enabler and has a codependent love in which she doesn’t let her spouse fall.
Man and woman who are united in marriage really, truly become one flesh. They are united for mutual HELP and sanctification throughout their lives and not necessarily mutual happiness.
Anger, Nagging, Victimizing
I hesitate to write these lines because anger, nagging and victimizing form a pattern that only recently have I noticed I fall into and I am by no means an expert at how to stay out of. Pope Francis has spoken often of the danger of our “tongue” and how we should at all times refrain from speaking badly of others. How much more so shouldn’t this apply to marriage? How do we speak to and about the one we love the most in this world, second only to our Creator?
“Never speak badly of your brother, not even when you have plenty of reasons. Go first to the Tabernacle, and then go to the priest your father, and tell him also what is worrying you.
And no one else.”
(The Way, St. Josemaria Escriva, 444)
One of the things that most impresses me in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books is the relationship between Ma and Pa. There is the utmost respect and comradery in the way they speak to each other and act. They are always thankful for what the other one does to provide, always surprising one another and always winking at each other. In the first chapter of Little Town on the Prairie, Ma doesn’t react with negative emotion to a proposal Pa makes for a job for Laura and then immediately apologizes when he clarifies: “’Who said such a thing?’ Pa demanded. ‘No girl of ours’ll do that, not while I’m alive and kicking.’ ‘Of course not,’ Ma apologized. ‘You took me so by surprise. What other kinds of work can there be? And Laura not old enough to teach school yet.’”
All of these real enemies of marriage seem to work with each other. It is true that there are laws, ideologies, public figures, educational systems and a whole media culture working against traditional marriage. However, most important are the marriages themselves, the building block of society. The real enemies are these foxes and inner voices, which are not the voice of the Holy Spirit, who can easily convince a person from within to concede to that which is without.