I continue to observe more and more how the capability aspect of getting married is not typically considered and is disconnected from the aspect of desire for marriage by two people. This disconnection explains why so many people, particularly Catholics, over-generalize and over-simply divorce as being evil and wrong, and believe everyone who takes marriage vows must never end that marriage.
The capacity for marriage must be taken into account, however, when it comes to any marriage. It is a fact that there are people who desire marriage that just should not get married, whether for temporary or permanent reasons of incapability.
The reality is marriages are ending in divorce in great numbers often because the persons who entered into them should not have ventured into marriage to begin with. And often times, one or both were actually unfit for marriage, thus incapable of living out that which they vowed.
We must never use this assumption as excuse not to continue trying, or to end the marriage. The sad truth is that someone’s incapacity for marriage is not easily recognizable before a marriage takes place. It is discovered after the fact.
I am pro-sacramental marriage and agree with the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and divorce. I have studied the subject extensively. There definitely are many marriages that end in divorce that shouldn’t, due to selfishness, lack of forgiveness, and a lack of endurance through difficult times which could be resolved through time, effort, and God’s assistance. To leave your spouse, for example, simply because you want somebody else, don’t feel love anymore, or because things aren’t as you expected, is inexcusable.
However, there are definitely divorces that happen that make perfect sense after careful examination due to one or both being incapable of making the commitment at that time the marriage took place, and perhaps having a permanent inability to live out marriage. Let’s look more closely at this.
First, it is worth pointing out that civil divorce today is not the same concept of divorce at the time of Jesus. Our divorce has to do with the civil agreement and civil law. In Jesus’ time, a divorce was related to the religious custom. Therefore, we cannot just dismiss modern divorce because Jesus was against divorce. That difference is for another discussion.
We must not get too caught up in a black and white notion of modern divorce in association with Biblical divorce. The Catholic Church does not recognize civil divorce. But it does acknowledge that it is possible that a sacramental marriage did not actually take place, thus issuing a decree of nullity regardless of the civil union. The Church will not even begin the annulment process unless there is a civil divorce, not because She wants to see a divorce, but because the civil divorce is the two individuals action of final effort to make it work.
What makes the sacramental marriage take place has EVERYTHING to do with both individuals not only exchanging free will consent, but being capable of giving their consent.
I read an article this week that quoted something I find disturbing. The person said that marriage is sometimes “analogous to an imprisonment” and those who suffer greatly in a marriage are meant to suffer as Christ suffered. Though marriage does often end up having levels of suffering that must be endured, a living condition of abuse or violence, for example, should not considered a noble Christ-like suffering to endure. It’s also not the most inspiring way to encourage young people to pursue marriage if they are sold on it as being an “imprisonment.”
People who are imprisoned want freedom. People on the outside don’t want to go to prison. So if there is any chance that imprisonment might accompany marriage, you can be sure people will stay clear of marriage all together.
The better approach is to see marriage as it is; namely, a vocation for two people fit to understand and execute the practical demands of a lifetime together creating a family that serves each other, enhances society, and glorifies God.
Too many have pursued marriage selfishly, brought children into the world irresponsibly, and have neglected their children by their disastrous parenting (or lack thereof). Children have a right to a mother and a father who raise them well and form them into quality people. The children will respond to and be formed by whatever the parents present.
Divorce does not necessarily mess up children for life any more than two unhappily married parents who stay together does. Those who believe a marriage should stay together because of the children don't know that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that children are damaged much greater because of the negative, unhealthy parental witness and environment than if their parents were happily separated. But that also is for another discussion.
Finally, too many terrible spouses have fashioned for the person they married an imprisonment they did not deserve nor should have ever been expected to endure. It is often the case that the spouse has no idea what they did wrong, nor have the ability to realize how harmful they are. This is very tragic, but it happens. And it happens because they are incapable of fulfilling what they entered into.
For many who are unfit, there is hope. With good help, effort, commitment to change, and God’s grace, they can turn things around for themselves and become equipped with the tools necessary to be a good spouse. They were capable of marital love but it was unrealized. Or perhaps they were young and foolish, and made an unwise decision to marry someone they were unevenly yoked with; who was not a suitable partner.
Sadly for some, they are deeply invested in the way they are and will never be able to be properly equipped or necessarily changed. They are incapable of marital love. They can live a very productive, fulfilling life in their work and among loved ones.
How to avoid marrying someone unfit? This is not easy, and sometimes cannot be known until after you get married and start living with that person. That is why it is very important to use your time well during the dating process and engagement period.
Learn about their background and upbringing, observe their relationships with their family members and friends (especially the relationship to their parents), ask lots of questions that pertain to the past and future, share and learn each other’s dreams, goals and interests. If there is anything that seems like a red flag, bring it up and see if you can get a satisfactory resolution. Don’t allow feelings of love to distract or blind you from what is important. Pray together and make sure you know that Jesus Christ is the most important person in each other’s lives.
Learn what is expected in marriage as husband and wife, as mother and father, and Christian persons living family life. Make sure you can observe the qualities, character, and actions in the other that prove the capability of living out marriage.
But don’t make this an interrogation nor be confrontational. You are trying to grow in love and depth with each other, not impose and insist. Allow the relationship to be natural while you both stay practical about the ability of your relationship to being lived out in marriage.
For those capable of a sacramental marriage, making the lifelong commitment in marriage is liberty and freedom at its best. Love is exchanged and lived out, even through all difficult times. It is not an imprisonment, which is forced upon you. It is more like Christ’s sacrifice of love, voluntarily laying down your life for the other.
Remember, you are dating and marrying a sinner. Everyone fails. How we respond to our failures and grow from them is what matters, especially when it comes to forgiveness. Those who are fit for marriage are truth seekers and acknowledge an authority outside of themselves.
Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice. Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.