"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them." Genesis 1:27-28a
So began the first marriage, because, it was "not good for the man to be alone." As Tertullian once said, "How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father?! How wonderful the bond between two believers, with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh. In fact, they are truly two in one flesh, and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit."
Today, we still enjoy the good of marriage, one of God's gifts not lost in the Fall. However, because of the other effects of sin and the Fall it is not easy to maintain marital harmony. When selfishness prevails, or the many stressors of modern life beset us, marriages suffer and even more than half of Christian marriages sadly end in separation, division and divorce.
As Catholics, we know the foundation of strong families is a healthy marriage and by entering a sacramental marriage we are called upon to do whatever we can to strengthen and preserve our Christian marriages.
"Marriage is a covenant of persons in love. And love can be deepened and preserved only by love,
that love which is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us."
St. Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families
What can we do to renew our marriages when they begin to strain and to crack under the pressure?
Our first line of defense is prayer:
Asking the Lord for guidance and wisdom and where we need to change.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
Next, we may turn to friends, other family members, and pastors for strength, support and practical help:
Our parish priests and deacons are all too familiar with the difficulties couples and families are facing today and are more than willing to share their wealth of knowledge and understanding.
Seek the support and advice of family members and friends who share the same commitment to marriage. They may notice things about ourselves or our spouse that we often do not see on our own. A great source for practical advice is being open to listen to those close to us that we know we can trust.
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure. (Sirach 6:14)
There are times when a counselor is needed:
An objective third party who can provide a voice of reason and experience and hold forth the light of hope.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)
As a Catholic therapist, I can attest in my own work with couples that there has been no greater joy than in rescuing and restoring shattered marriages. My favorite file folder overflows with Christmas cards with photos of former clients and their happy children whose marriages and lives have been put back together after a near divorce.
Never give up hope. Marriages go through cycles of consolations and desolations. When in distress, we may follow the example of Jesus. When confronted by the Pharisees to sanction divorce, He recalled God's plan from the beginning: to make the two into one flesh that would never be put asunder. God never counsels the impossible: If it is His will then He will provide a way. The very love of the God who is Love formed the marriage in the first place. When we return to Him, He can and will restore the lost love.
For it is not love that makes marriage: it is marriage that makes love. If we remain faithful to our vows and persevere in the hard work of forgiving, communicating our deepest emotions in a way that does no harm, and seeking wise and prudent guidance to preserve our Christian marriages, then we can be sure that God will hold up his end of the bargain and provide us with all the grace we need to keep our covenant promises.
As one who learned the secret of the power of commitment to protect and defend marriage, Thornton Wilder said,
“I didn't marry you because you were perfect. I didn't even marry you because I loved you.
I married you because you gave me a promise.
That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine.
Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage.
And when our children were growing up, it wasn't a house that protected them;
and it wasn't our love that protected them--it was that promise.”
Barry Levy, LCSW-C, CCDC, LMFT, BCIA-EEG is the Director of the Meier Clinic in Rockville, Maryland. He is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor, a certified provider of neuro- and biofeedback, and a certified EMDR provider. He specializes in marriage counseling, post-traumatic stress, dissociative disorders, ADD/ADHD, depression, anxiety, sexual addictions, and other sexual issues. View his Profile for more information about his counseling services.