As one who has given talks at diocesan engagement encounters, led Cana marriage programs at the local parish and personally advised spouses who were in distressed and broken marriages, I have come to learn over the years that fewer people are being prepared for the demands of marriage. What used to be common sense, as far as making relationships work, has become uncommon; something that doesn’t come quite as naturally to us anymore.
After all, Hollywood and the entertainment industry at large so emphasizes and even glorifies the first phases of romantic and sexual love that it completely ignores self-denial and the virtues that are required for a life-long marriage. Perhaps, this is why so many television programs are centered on unmarried or divorced/remarried couples. Hollywood produces these kinds of television shows and movies precisely because this is all they know! Indeed, their lifestyle and values leads to a total disillusionment of that "forever kind of love", the kind of love that comes natural to couples who do really “fall in love.”
This, of course, is not a recipe for success. What is needed, in part, for a happy marriage is to live by a hierarchy of values or priorities: God being the first priority, the spouse being second, children third, parents fourth etc. Married couples make many mistakes when this divinely ordained order is not observed. Some of these mistakes, no doubt, have to do with in-laws.
Inevitably, the in-law factor comes into play in every marriage. In some marriages, in-laws are blessing; yet, in other marriages, they are a burden. And it is unfortunate that many people do not realize before the wedding day that to marry a person is to marry his or her family. Indeed, when man and woman say “I do,” they make a vow to more than just one person.
This is where a solid spiritual formation pays off. One of the advantages of having the Cross of Christ as the standard by which we live our lives is that it disposes us to make sacrifices for loved ones. With this spirit of sacrifice, we better understand what ditches are worth dying in and which ones are not. As such, a married person will have to ask him or herself this question: Second to God, who comes first in my life? Who comes second? And so on. The way this question is answered can make or break a marriage.
In fact, it is surprising how many spouses want to please, as their highest priority, their own mother, father, brother or sister; even against the wishes or well-being of their own husband or wife. Also common among married couples is the mistake of making the children the highest priority; even above that of their own spouse. I'll never forget a picture I saw in someone's kitchen. It reads something like this: "The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." How true! And yet, for a good number of married couples this proverbial truth is not observed.
How many times have we heard a husband (or wife), for the sake of "peace," not get involved when his spouse is being verbally abused or infringed upon by an immediate family member? How many times have husbands or wives failed to mediate the concerns of their spouses to their own biological or natural family? And when I say mediate, I mean defend the legitimate concerns and the best interests of the spouse.
Marriage implies that a man and a woman graduates, if you will, from the family he or she grew up in; this, in order to become "one" with their spouse. This oneness is an indissoluble union- composed of two distinct personalities -that God himself has fused into one thing! Moreover, this union, according to two thousand years of Catholic teaching, is second only to God. Therefore, anything that threatens that unity is suspect, including a disgruntled mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister in-law!
I am especially critical towards men because I believe that in Western Civilization many of them have become soft. My interpretation of Christian masculinity is that a man should be the first to sacrifice, the first to take the lead and the first to take action. But quite often they wince. Sometimes, they even fail to act like men because they, at least emotionally, never left home. For this reason, their loyalty to their mother (or father) lacks a manly independence. The end result is that husbands choose not to defend their wives out of fear of displeasing their own parents or relatives.
Sadly, the "momma's boy syndrome" can put a lot of stress on a marriage. Yet, I have to say, women can be equally guilty of this dereliction. In any case, not standing up for number one, namely, one's spouse, is symptomatic that we have lost sight of the proper order of things. Moreover, it shows that we are not accustomed to make the proper sacrifices needed in order to keep marriages intact; even if it means confronting relatives.
Being a disciple of Christ implies that doing God's will and doing the right thing just might upset those closest to us; especially family members. Perhaps, this is why Jesus said,
"Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." [italics added]
Notice Jesus did not draw the line of division between husband and wife. There is a reason for that! He will not divide what he himself has united. But in order to preserve what Our Lord united in the bonds of matrimony, sometimes the husband or wife has to engage in uncomfortable disagreements with other family members and hence draw that line in the sand!
Therefore, stand up for the number one person in your life and put his or her needs first. It is your God-given duty!
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.