This is the third article in a series of posts about practical tips for Catholic engaged couples. Check out my first post, where I give advice about the importance of prayer, planning your wedding together and learning to love your spouse. In my second post I give important tips about preparation, forming good habits and working on bad habits.
Here are a few more helpful tips to help you discern the sacrament of marriage (and also some helpful suggestions for those who are single and waiting to get married):
Learn to Sacrifice
“Marriage is so much work!” Many people are often shocked at the sacrifice it takes to make marriage work, especially if their relationship was fast and emotionally driven. It may be possible to feel like you’re losing yourself, especially if you have control issues or are used to always having things your own way.
Remember, marriage is not about you so much as it is about loving and giving to your spouse and kids, even when it’s a sacrifice. To aid in in this discipline of self-sacrifice, I would recommend doing at least one thing a day that needs to be done, but that you don’t feel like doing. For example, if you come home from a long day at work, and the last thing you want to do is wash the dishes, that’s what you should do. If you want to watch TV, but the table from dinner still needs to be cleared, do that first. If you made a promise to hang out with a friend, but don’t “feel like it” when the time comes, keep the plans anyway, etc. You won’t like it. It won’t be fun. But, over time, doing what’s right and difficult will become routine, and you yourself will be a more prepared lover with good habits. Additionally, because you will already be in the habit of doing these things you “don’t feel like” doing, these sacrifices will enable you to give much more generously and joyfully in the future without great effort or pain.
God’s Recipe for Marriage
Sex speaks a language, the language of forever, the language of life-long love! Every time someone has sexual relations with another person, they are saying, whether they realize it or not, “I love you, only you, and all of you, forever.” This is the language of permanent, exclusive love, or marital love.
When a man and woman get married, they stand on the altar, hold hands, and gaze affectionately into each others eyes. They then make a lifelong vow (a covenant) with each other. In short, they promise to love the other person always, “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do them part.” This is their verbal vow of love they speak to each other. Then, every time the newly married couple has sexual relations together, they renew their marital vows, not with words, but with their bodies. Their bodies speak the language of permanent commitment and love. So, no matter how old they get, their sexual relations will always be a bodily expression of that love, a renewal of their marital covenant, in good times and in bad, forever!
That’s powerful! At least, it should be, if understood correctly! Obviously then, sex before marriage is a lie, even if you are engaged. You are not married yet, and God designed sexuality for marriage alone. God has a wisdom in his design. Studies confirm this and demonstrate that couples who wait until marriage for sexual relations have the happiest marriages and the most fulfilling sex lives. Alternately, those who sleep together before marriage have about a 60%-70% divorce rate.
There are also couples who “play marriage” by shacking up and living together, testing each other out like a car they wish to potentially purchase. One side or both may have issues of commitment or fears of being chained down, etc. While it may seem like wisdom to try each other out, the truth is that these marriages don’t last. Couples who cohabitate have a 50%-80% divorce rate because they don’t understand what marriage is about nor what it takes to make it work, not to mention sexuality clouds and blurs our judgment. It prevents us from making a logical, rational decisions, decisions we wouldn’t normally make. It seduces us into overlooking certain flaws or even major problems, rationalizing them away. Oddly, most women who shack up don’t want to. They want to be fought for and committed to; they desire marriage, and yet, they settle for a pacifier instead of a ring. They want men to commit, but don’t demand it. This shouldn’t be.
The recipe for a happy marriage is doing it God’s way. Finding and marrying the right person, not compromising, not living together before marriage, and waiting to share your most precious and beautiful gift of sexuality with each other. God absolutely wants you to live happily-ever-after, but we must follow Him and His plan. And, He does have a plan for you—a wonderful one! So, stay close to God, and pray often for your yourself, your future spouse and for your marriage!