In all human love it must be realized that every man promises a woman, and every woman promises a man that which only God alone can give, namely, perfect happiness. – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
“I, Joey, take you Brigid, as my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love and honor you until one of us becomes unhappy.” …wait, what? As funny as it sounds, the sad truth is that some people leave their spouse because they become unhappy.
Undoubtedly, there are numerous causes of divorce. I’d like to only focus on one problem that I believe is underneath many marriages that split: consciously or not, we expect our spouse and marriage to make us perfectly happy.
In Three to Get Married, Fulton Sheen wrote:
“In all human love it must be realized that every man promises a woman, and every woman promises a man that which only God alone can give, namely, perfect happiness. One of the reasons why so many marriages are shipwrecked is because as the young couple leave the altar, they fail to realize that human feelings tire and the enthusiasm of the honeymoon is not the same as the more solid happiness of enduring human love… In the first moments of human love, one does not see the little hidden deformities which later on appear.”
In his fatherly way, St. John Paul II often tried to shatter the illusion in young people that marriage will only bring endless romance and happiness. He knew if we make an idol out of anything, it will eventually leave us empty. Only God can satisfy the ache in our hearts for perfect love and happiness. Yet we often look to another person for the love that only God can give us.
If not happiness, what’s the purpose of marriage?
“Marriage does not exist to make you happy; marriage exists to make you holy,” said Jason Evert.
In other words, marriage exists to make you a saint; to transform you into the best version of yourself and draw you closer to God. Of course, marriage also exists for the procreation and education of children. Simply put, it means being open to life, parenting well, and helping your children become saints, too. (See CCC, 1601.)
God is love. The central mission of our lives is to perfectly reflect his image. Therefore, the more authentically we love, the more we become like God, and consequently, the more we become ourselves.
However, to love like God does, denying ourselves and choosing what’s best for those we love is necessary. That will inevitably lead to suffering. Jesus on the cross is the perfect example. St. Clare of Assisi knew this when she said, “Love that cannot suffer is not worthy of that name.”
When the struggles come, do not become discouraged. Rely on God’s grace via the Sacraments. Ask Our Lady for assistance. Find a good spiritual director to guide you. And remember: You were made for greatness. Did you think it would come easy? Nothing worth having comes easy. No Olympic athlete ever won gold by watching Netflix or quitting when sacrifice became required. They endured grueling training just to win a piece of metal. Why should you expect any less sacrifice if you want a great marriage?
Does that mean marriage will be miserable? No! Marriage will be wonderful and difficult. Joyful and frustrating. Beautiful and challenging. Just like life. The real measure of a successful marriage is not how happy the couple feels but rather how virtuous and holy each spouse becomes.
As you discern and head toward marriage, here are five ideas to purify your idea of marriage.
- Make God the center of your life and ask him to purify your idea of marriage.
- Remember: Marriage does not exist to make you happy; it exists to make you a saint, and holiness is the path to authentic joy.
- Set realistic expectations for marriage by spending time with good families and holy couples.
- Unhappiness in your marriage is not a sign that you chose the wrong vocation, married the wrong person, or that you should leave your spouse.
- Don’t despair. Even amid struggles, a great marriage is possible with God’s grace and hard work.
Joey Pontarelli loves being Catholic. His passions lie with Theology of the Body, sexual integrity, and adventures like mountain climbing and traveling. He is the founder of Restored, a ministry that helps teens and young adults from divorced and separated families find hope, healing, and support. He lives in Denver and is engaged to his beautiful fiancée, Brigid.