A Godly marriage should be a reflection of the love that we see between God the Father and God the Son. Their love is given freely and completely without anything held back. This love is faithful and continuously fruitful as manifested in the person of God the Holy Spirit. How can we reveal this type of love within our own marriages?
I was speaking to a fellow husband and father recently and discussing the challenges of being both and somehow we got on the subject of what was most important in family life, to which I responded, the relationship with your spouse. He was visibly shocked by my answer, he thought that family life revolved around the kids and every activity in which the family engaged was based on what the kids wanted to do. I told him that children were an important part of the family, but that God’s design is that He was the most important person in the family, then your spouse, followed by children, and lastly, everyone else (extended family, best friends, co-workers, etc).
A Firm Foundation
Since I have already written about the most important person, God, in a previous article (Raising Missionaries, Martyrs and Saints), I will now focus on the second most important person in the family. I met my wife in our senior year of high school, we dated for a few years and got married on New Year’s Eve of 1990. I remember well how I longed to spend any spare moment with her during our time of courting. Isn’t this how love is supposed to feel? We naturally desire to spend time and do things with the object of our affection, to get to know them, to demonstrate our love for them and to share the experiences of life. You and your spouse were the first two people in your family, when you got married, there were lots of promises made in front of God and the congregation and the two of you became one flesh. You and your spouse are the foundation of the family and it must be solid, if it isn’t, then the whole structure may collapse.
The Challenges of Raising Children
If you have been fortunate enough to be blessed with children, then you may have experienced a shift in your attitude towards your spouse. We have found that it is easy for the kids to become the sole focus of your family life. After all, they are a little needy at times. When our first daughter was born, she entered the world a little early, about three months early. She weighed one pound, fourteen and a half ounces and she was in the hospital for just about three months. Our whole schedule changed, we had to make daily trips to the hospital and our focus went from being on each other to being on our newborn ICU baby. Our daughter’s entry into the world is not common, but even with a regular delivery and no special medical needs, a newborn requires nighttime feedings, regular diaper changes and 24 hour care. They can’t do anything for themselves and parents often find themselves devoting so much time to their newborn child that they almost forget about their spouse. Now this stage of helplessness doesn’t last forever, but if you continue to be blessed with children, you may have a helpless newborn child in your home for an extended period of time.
For some parents, this natural desire to put the needs of your children before everything and everyone else becomes their primary focus until the child moves out of the home. The children continue to be the center of family life and when the last child leaves the home the parents realize that they no longer know each other. This disordered focus on the children instead of each other, often leads to divorce.
Bucking the Trend
How do we prevent this from happening in our families? The first step is to recognize that the children are not more important than our spouses. Our actions speak louder than words, if we only make time for our children’s activities or primarily interact with them when we have free time, then we are demonstrating that our spouse is of secondary concern. My wife and I go on dates regularly, we always have. When we didn’t have built-in babysitters, we would hire one. The cost of an evening out was well worth it, not just because we got away from the kids for a few hours, but because it allowed us to continue to get to know each other better. Our dinner time conversation usually included the kids, but also allowed us to share our struggles and joys experienced at home and work. As the kids get older, they see that Mom and Dad still love each other enough to want to go on a date. Date night doesn’t have to be fancy, just commit to each other to spend time alone without the kids on at least a monthly basis.
Making a Good Marriage Great
I would propose that a good marriage is one of the most important gifts that you can give to your children. A good marriage is more important than coaching your kids sports teams, attending every parent/teacher conferences at school, buying them the best clothes, feeding them the most healthy foods, or living in the best neighborhood. If your marriage is in need of a little tune up, join a marriage group at your local parish find a Marriage Encounter weekend and attend it, in many cases they will even find babysitting for you. If your marriage is in need of a major overhaul, you should contact The Alexander House or attend a Retrouvaille weekend. John Paul II said that as the family goes, so goes the nation and the world in which we live. The foundation of the family is a strong marriage. A joy-filled, vibrant marriage doesn’t just happen, it requires regular care and maintenance. Family life sometimes gets in the way, so be on guard and nurture the vineyard you have been given to tend in this world. A happy, holy marriage is a prerequisite to a happy, holy family. Don’t settle for just avoiding divorce and don’t become complacent in your marriage, your children deserve the best and one excellent gift to give them is a rock solid marriage that reflects the love of God.
A short video of my in-law’s wedding and early family life