Remember your wedding day, guys?
You wore a rented tux with a bow tie that drooped to one side, and she wore an immaculate white dress that is destined to turn yellow in the box on the top shelf of the closet. She looked beautiful for the whole world to see as she walked down the aisle with a Mona Lisa smile that suggested she knew a whole lot more about this marriage thing than you did. And you were stunned – like no other moment in your life – when you realized that she was beautiful for you, only you, as she slipped her hand around your arm and you stepped together to the altar.
What a day!
Maybe it wasn’t quite that way for you, but whatever the external particulars of your wedding day, you did make a few promises for life. Whether you were married last year or 20 years ago, it’s always good to ask: How am I doing with all that?
You probably recited one of the standard forms:
I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
… to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
To be true to her, to have and to hold – these are the basic elements of the marriage rite. You promise to take her alone (forsaking all others) and to be true to her no matter what. Being true certainly means steering clear of adultery – which is covered by a Commandment of its own – but it also means keeping your heart reserved in an exclusive way for her.
Don’t let any other person – female college friend, coworker, soccer mom, neighbor, teacher or coach – into that sanctuary of the heart you should hold for your wife. Defend that space against all attacks, especially your own wandering eye. This is a tough virtue to learn. We all like female attention; it’s an ego booster, especially when things are tense at home. For a married man, conversations with women seem safe and are so easy to start – at the ball field, on the check-out line, in the office. But watch out.
Be pleasant and authentic in your associations – but draw a line in the sand, and stay physically and emotionally on one side, with your wife’s heart safely in your hands. All of this applies also for the Internet, where suggestive and pornographic site are a simple click away. Don’t even go there! One click could change your life for the worse, as you get gradually seduced into this alternative universe of seemingly harmless images.
Each night, in the examination of conscience that every man should perform, call to mind any violations of your wife’s trust, express your sorrow, ask God for help, and plan to avoid this temptation in the future.
In good times and in bad … for richer or for poorer. We don’t think of bad times that can come. Job loss, stress at work, spats over spending, disagreements over child rearing, wayward children, in-law incursions – these can all add up to an unhappy home life. Every married couple goes through these situations, yet you must be resolved in your mind and heart to work on the problems and not on your spouse.
I gain great strength from these words of Pope John Paul II: The only adequate response to a human person is love. Every person we meet is willed by God and loved by God, and deserves love from us. Imagine how special and particular a love my wife deserves from me – the woman I chose, whom God blessed in our marital union. When you think you’ve had enough trouble in your marriage, take a look at your wife with truly open eyes, and see her as the very human but very special daughter of a loving Father. Don’t be afraid to be the first to say, “I’m sorry,” and “I love you.”
In sickness and in health. There is a particular concern for men regarding illness – the temporary or permanent cessation of sexual intimacy. We learn to live with her headaches, but what if there is a more serious condition – cervical tumors, stroke, breast cancer, even psychological illness? As husbands, we are called to stand vigil at the door of her well-being, not forcing ourselves, not thinking only of our apparent needs, but acting always in her best interest.
That is the test of true love.
Until death do us part. Marriage is for keeps. We live in a culture of separation, of selfishness, of me first and my needs. Yet divorce for a Catholic couple is not an option. This is the great gift the Church gives spouses – it’s not an infringement of freedom, but a foundation of true love. Your wife should know that there is no possible circumstance in the world that would ever cause you to break the marital bond. And she should return this same great gift to you.
How can you do this? As Jesus told his disciples, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Mark 10:27). That is why it is absolutely essential that you invite God into your marriage, each and every day. Pray together, and you will begin to learn God’s language of love for you as a couple.