How to save marriage
Recently, during a radio interview, the Son Rise Morning Show’s host Matt Swaim asked me if the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage would cause a marriage crisis.
And I said no.
Because it won’t.
But last Friday, a lot of Christians responded like it would—“as if everything was perfect last Thursday,” one of my readers wrote on his Facebook page.
People are freaking out because of the Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage. But I don’t understand why few have freaked out about our own decisions to do the same thing.
If we deny that we’ve been complicit in turning marriage into what it isn’t supposed to be, we aren’t being honest with ourselves. Because marriage is not merely about the “affective gratification of consenting adults” (to borrow a line from a statement written by the Florida Catholic Bishops.) Except that is exactly what lots of us make it about.
As I wrote in my last post, we make marriage about affective gratification when we treat attraction as the paramount standard for finding a spouse, instead of his or her commitment to our sainthood. It’s what we make marriage about when we pursue sexual compatibility before marriage instead of achieving it after the wedding. It’s what we make marriage about when we don’t cooperate with our fertility but stifle it, and when we treat love like it’s a feeling and not a choice.
The Supreme Court’s decision was a natural next step in a culture in which marriage as God designed it is so seldom modeled that few know it exists—a culture in which there widely has been no discernible difference between marriage as lived by people in the Church and marriage as lived by people outside it. But there should be.
And there can be.
But first, we have to learn it.
The real crisis is that married people exist who don’t know what marriage as God designed it is. Nobody ever defined it for them. Which is tragic. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church exists, and Theology of the Body exists, and Love and Responsibility exists, and Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love exists—invaluable resources (among others, including some that aren’t books!) that define marriage as God designed it. Which is awesome. If we want to make marriage into what it’s supposed to be, we have to learn what it’s supposed to be. Buy a book. Take a class. Start a small group to discuss.
Then, we have to live it.
Knowing what the Church teaches about marriage and believing that it’s right changes everything. It changes who we choose to date and how we date and whether we date at all. A person who believes that marriage—like all vocations—is designed to result in the destruction of self absorption cannot date the same way a person dates who thinks marriage is merely supposed to result in affective gratification.
The point is, there is a discernible difference between marriage as lived like God designed it and marriage as lived like He didn’t. If we want to make marriage into what it’s supposed to be, we have to prove that—which we can do while we’re single or while we’re married, even if we married before we knew what marriage is. (“A marriage can become a noble Christian discipleship, even if it did not begin with a mature decision.” -Fr. Benedict Groeschel)
And then, we have to give it.
As in we can’t do to others what was done to some of us.
We can’t let our kids turn into adults who don’t know that love is “an authentic commitment of the free will of one person resulting from the truth about another person” (St. John Paul II). Or that marriage is designed to be an indissoluble union between a man and a woman (so date wisely). Or that sex is a sacred physical sign of the vows that a husband and wife made on the altar where they were married, designed both for procreation and to be an expression of the unity achieved by the sacrament of matrimony. If we want to make marriage into what it’s supposed to be, we have to educate others—a responsibility that, when skirted, causes the kinds of crises we decry.
Arleen Spenceley is author of the book Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin. She works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She blogs at arleenspenceley.com. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.