Walking down (or waiting at) the aisle looking at your spouse to be, brings about joyful anticipation for the days, months, and years to come of exciting adventures together. With a big smile and love in your eyes, powerful words are professed before God: we have come here freely, we give ourselves totally, we will be faithful, and we will be open to life all the days of our lives. Marriage is a self-giving, complementary, holy, unitive, and life-giving experience for those couples who dive in allowing God to transform their lives through this beautiful sacrament.

  1. Marriage is about self-gift

“Be subject to one another out of reverence for  .” (Ephesians 5:21)

Right away we see that marriage is a two-way street of self-giving, and you love Christ by loving your spouse. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “just as of old, God encountered His people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.” The love of marriage is a covenantal love that parallels God’s love for His people. A covenant differs from a contract because a covenant is an exchange of persons rather than goods. Marriage, being an exchange of persons, involves a higher price. The value of a human life is more than any dollar amount. Marriage requires the price of a life, your life. You make a vow to love and serve the other for the entirety of your life. In the giving of your life, marriage also parallels the Eucharist. As Christ lays down his life for and gives His body to the Church, spouses lay down their lives for each other and give their bodies to each other. The theology is beautiful, but how do we live this out?

The Five Love Languages

Love is a daily choice of laying down your life for the other. A practical way of laying down your life for your spouse is by speaking your spouse’s love language. Dr. Gary Chapman explains that the five love languages are physical touch, quality time, acts of service, gift giving, and words of affirmation. Everyone needs all five, but usually, you and your spouse will specialize in one or two. Your spouse most often has a different primary love language or a different way of speaking the same primary love language. Learning your spouse’s love language is as easy as taking the love language test. Here are a few suggestions for speaking your spouse’s love language.

  • Physical touch: This love language goes beyond sex. It involves back rubs, hugs, and cuddling. If you or your spouse just love being near to the other, this exemplifies the physical touch love language.
  • Quality Time: This love language is not just watching Netflix together. Rather, it involves quality conversations and time spent developing your relationship. For example, going on a walk, playing games, or going on vacation together.
  • Acts of Service: These are self-sacrificial actions that show your spouse you love him/her. These acts require giving yourself through deeds that make your spouse’s life easier. For example, doing a chore that may not be on your regular honey-do-list or a task your spouse has been asking you to get to!
  • Gift Giving: These are little gestures of appreciation to show that you are thinking about your loved one. It can be challenging to give or receive gifts especially if you are an avid saver, but remember these are tokens of love that mean more than any dollar amount. A nice note, a favorite snack, or a more expensive gift for a special occasion are just a few ways to speak this love language.
  • Words of Affirmation: Speaking kind words not only builds the other up, but it keeps interactions positive. Always seeking to be grateful for the other can combat festering resentment.
  1. Marriage is expressed through complementarity

“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their  ” (Ephesians 5: 22-24).

This passage can be met with fear because it is often taken out of context. Instead of talking about the entire passage which speaks of mutual self-giving, this passage can seem one sided. However, if you read the entire passage, you will see it is far from one sided, and it is challenging to both men and women alike. Pius XI says, “If the husband is the head, the wife is the heart.” Men and women have different gifts, but both are necessary. Just as the body needs the head and the heart to function, a family needs a man and a woman with their distinct gifts. These gifts are not referring to the type chores or household responsibilities that are taken on by men or women. Rather, the gifts are of a spiritual nature. Just as Christ and the Church both have a part to play in salvation, similarly a man and a woman come together to build a family. John Paul II calls the family the foundation of society, so both men and women have an important role to play in building up a strong society through their role in the family. When marriages draw on the strengths of the other, peace is cultivated by embracing this complementarity. When struggling to embrace complementarity, the husband and wife can feel like they are not speaking the same language or warring over the basic family functions.

Bids for Connection

Living out complementarity can seem challenging. However, each time your partner interacts with you it is an opportunity to love them. Loving the uniqueness of your spouse begins with accepting their bids for connection. A bid is your partner throwing out the line for connection. John Gottman explains that acknowledging your spouse when they speak to you is very important in predicting the success of a marriage. The way you respond matters too. For example, you have several ways you can respond to your spouse when they sharing something with you. (1) Ignore the conversation, (2) respond with a one-word answer, (3) respond positively, or (4) respond enthusiastically (tell me more). You should strive to allow your spouse to teach you about the things they like because although their interest may differ from your own, this is a simple way to cultivate a culture of love and friendship in the relationship. Learning from the other can keep open communication, curiosity, and excitement that often mark the beginning of a dating relationship.

  1. Marriage is a tool for growing in holiness

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without  ” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

The other half of complementarity is the role of the husband as the head. This role is not about power or dominance rather it is about self-sacrifice and dying to self-every day for his family. The husband, in his headship, sets the example of how to grow in holiness, and by growing in holiness he is a reflection of the love of God the Father. Marriage is geared toward getting your spouse to heaven.

Family prayer

A practical way for a husband to be a holy leader in his family is to lead his family in prayer. Here are a few examples:

  • Rosary walks- This can be a witness to those passing by in the neighborhood by praying the Rosary aloud with your family.
  • Nightly examination of conscience- Your family can share gratitude, petition, what they are sorry for, and what they will do better tomorrow.
  • Singing hymns and chants at home- This could be a great lullaby for young kids or a way to teach your kids about the traditions of the Church.
  • Lectio divina– Begin by reading the scripture passage slow a few times and find the words that stick out to you. Engage in a conversation with God about how these words relate to your life.
  • 20 minutes of silent prayer time: God desires an intimate relationship with you that can only be fully tapped into through silence.
  1. Marriage is unitive

“In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his  ” (Ephesians 5: 28-30).

Marriage unites couples physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, etc. Couples become one flesh in marriage by joining their bodies through the marital union. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body explains the beauty of the physical union on couples. John Paul II looks to Genesis at the original solitude of man. Adam is alone in the garden, and he feels a void because unlike all of the animals, he does not have a partner. When the Lord creates Eve, Adam rejoices in finding one like himself but uniquely different. God gives the first couple the command to be fruitful and multiply. What we see from Genesis is God giving man and women a companionship marked by unity and procreation. John Paul II continues saying, the body speaks a language, and what is being spoken through sex is a total gift of self that is a sign that points us to the Trinity. As a husband and wife love each other, their love becomes a third person through procreation. This marital love is a reflection that parallels the love of the Trinity. The Father and the Son’s love is so great that it is a third person, the Holy Spirit. The marital love is the closest symbol we have on earth to the love demonstrated in the Trinity.

Teamwork

Not only are couples called to be united physically, but they are also called to be spiritually and emotionally united. Marriage takes teamwork to build unity. Just as players on a sports team come together with different skills and abilities, so too does a couple bring different gifts to the marriage. When the team comes together to game plan, respect each other, and be led by a good coach, they have a better chance of winning. However, if the team has a toxic locker room, their talent may not be enough to win them the game. Marriages that are ‘toxic’ through defensiveness, criticism, contempt and stonewalling do not have the time or patience to game plan or reflect on putting each other’s strengths to their best possible uses. Gratitude is the remedy to building the communication and trust required to be a strong married team because it fosters a culture of giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

  1. Marriage is life-giving

“For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her  ” (Ephesians 5: 31-33).

In marriage, couple’s make a big commitment through giving themselves freely, totally, faithfully, and being fruitful. Saying yes to these things again can seem very abstract. Here are a few ways to make your marriage vows more applicable to everyday living.

  • Freedom: Let your spouse be him or herself. Your spouse is not a consumer good for your enjoyment and leisure; rather they are another complicated soul seeking the same goal, salvation! Loving your spouse even if they are not Mr. or Mrs. Perfect allows you to be humble, loving, and to work on yourself rather than harping on your spouse to change.
  • Totality: Giving yourself totally involves being vulnerable and transparent in communicating your thoughts, emotions, and deeds. It is not enough to have a passive marital existence. Get to know what makes your spouse tick, both the good and bad, so you can be empathetic.
  • Fidelity: Being faithful begins in the heart and radiates out. Biology does not change with marriage. People you found attractive before marriage will still be attractive. Being diligent in prayer, in how you engage with others, and how you present yourself, will protect against infidelity. Chastity and modesty, both physically and emotionally, are just as necessary in marriage as before.
  • Being open to life and fruitful: Being open to the life begins with intentional attentiveness and presence to your spouse and children. Choosing to sacrifice some of your ‘me-time’ to play with the kids or talk to your spouse will make all the difference in creating a more life-giving family life.

Making marriage great is a daily choice to love, unite, and give yourself to your spouse. Each choice to respond positively and empathize with your spouse can build a more beautiful, enriching, and fruitful marriage. Marriage does not have to be a passive, dull, lifelong bondage. It can be an exciting, romantic, holy, and joyful experience in both good times and bad!

 

Recommended Reading:

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman

The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order by Scott Hahn

Men & Women Are From Eden by Mary Healy