According to Tom Ehrich, these three are the biggest threats to marriage. Not gays, feminists, contraceptives, or other conservative boogeymen and scapegoats of the past half century. I tend to agree. We married couples can be our own worst enemies when it comes to the overall perception of our shared life. I’m disinclined–seriously so–to blame somebody else for the obstacles I can’t overcome, or that I transcend only with difficulty.
The first, poverty, seems to be more of a correlation. In other words, people who live together outside of marriage, who have children out of wedlock, and otherwise suffer blown-up families tend to be the poor. Another correlation might be those who have not been able to avoid prison, or when one or both partners are soldiers, or when one or both get caught in some country illegally and suffer enforced family separation.
I can testify that my wife and I have ups and downs in the amount of energy we put into our relationship. Sometimes, our child is more the focus. And we wake up one morning realizing that we haven’t had a “date” or couple-only time in some weeks.
And sometimes, when we’re sharing that couples-moment over a coffee or on the drive home after a movie, the conversation turns to something of one of our friends or our daughter or something at the parish. And we have to dial back and refocus.
My sense is that the opposite of poverty might well be an intentional generosity. Our pastor preaches this often at weddings. One sign of the sacramentality of a marriage is the self-giving of a couple in providing not only for children, but also for the poor and needy, for friends in trouble, and for family members. I think this is correct.
Maturity seems an obvious positive value. But I think that it is closely linked with narcissism in the sense that the latter is perhaps the number one sign of a lack of maturity.
In a sacramental sense, the opposite of these last two is sacrifice. That quality is more associated with Christ’s saving act, with a traditional understanding of the Eucharist. But I think a sense of sacrifice will serve a married couple very well. Sacrifice is very difficult, of course. And the pleasures of marriage: sex, enhanced income, etc., sometimes work against the sense of giving up for the other. Sex can be an expectation rather than a gift. Resources can be hoarded rather than shared. But these temptations can be overcome with a good orientation to the deeper threads in a marriage.
Tom Ehrich is on the right track with this essay. Stronger marriages will come when couples are willing to go deeper into relationships. And when we are unwilling to do this, we have nobody but ourselves to blame. Nobody.