Like a ripple effect, a committed marriage positively affects everyone.
All I had to do was look into Chris’s eyes to see that he wished he had a family like theirs—a family with a gregarious, big-hearted, and affectionate Mom and Dad who clearly loved each other. I knew that this was precisely what I had deprived Chris and his brother of. It was this very loving marriage that first caused me to wonder if I had made a huge mistake in divorcing my wife and breaking our family apart. And after each of Chris’s subsequent visits with Ray’s family, I became more convinced of my grave error. I knew that I needed to repair what I had broken. Eventually, I realized that I had no choice but to find a way to bring our family back together.
Meanwhile, Ray’s family simply lived their lives as faithful Catholics and as faithful loving spouses to each other. Somehow, their Catholic faith, their joy, their love, and their faithfulness overflowed and cascaded into my life via my son. Were it not for this family, I’m not sure I would ever have had that first thought implanted in my mind about bringing our family back together. God didn’t send somebody to club me over the head or rebuke me. Instead, He brought me into indirect contact—into the distant outer orbit—of a couple whose lives deeply, quietly touched mine. I am one of the beneficiaries of the ripples emanating out from their loving marriage.
“I knew that I needed to repair what I had broken. Eventually, I realized that I had no choice but to find a way to bring our family back together.”
Yet the ripples of their faithful marriage continue to expand. Not only have my wife and I been back together for nearly six years, I also returned to full communion with the Catholic Church after a nearly twenty-year absence. None of us can truly gauge the impact of our lives on others. Yet, even without your knowing it, the witness displayed by your faithful marriage might be the lighthouse that guides and helps others to hold their marriage and family together. You could be saving a family from the destructive influence of the world. You could be leading someone to the threshold of faith, and you may never even hear about it.
Your Marriage: Ground Zero for Astounding Good Your personal relationship and commitment to Christ reverberates all around you, sending out ripples that affect the lives of others in unseen and unexpected ways. In miraculous manner, the blessings and benefit of intact families spills out of their homes and into surrounding households. I’m not a social scientist, but history, observation, and common sense all support Ify Awagu’s statement: “Whatever I do in my marriage, the circle keeps increasing, keeps widening, until it covers the whole world.”
Upholding the Dignity of Your Spouse Marriage is bigger and more important than either husband or wife alone. Perhaps that more easily resonates as true for couples with kids, but it is just as true whether children are present or not. While marriage has been under attack throughout human history, beginning in the Garden of Eden, in recent decades it has suffered catastrophic blows thanks to the ongoing sexual revolution, a revolution that has produced countless casualties. Through my own marriage—with all the mistakes and detours—my wife and I have created something that is irrevocable and unmovable. What we began at the altar in 1985 in front of our families, guests, and God can’t be undone. Two became one, and an entirely new entity came to being in the universe. Not a metaphoric creation, but a reality. A wonderful, utterly unique new alloy was forged. It can be ignored or abused, but those choices don’t undo the mandate that fell into our laps that hot July afternoon nearly thirty-two years ago. When my time on this planet has reached its end, my marriage will have been the single most important contribution I will have made.
“Two became one, and an entirely new entity came to being in the universe. Not a metaphoric creation, but a reality. A wonderful, utterly unique new alloy was forged.
There is never a good reason not to uphold your spouse’s dignity—in front of the kids, in front of friends and family, in private conversations with your spouse, and even in your own mind where nobody else can see or hear. Belittling, cold-shouldering, name-calling, and tearing down or undermining your spouse’s dignity in any way is always destructive and never helpful, demonstrating an absence of unconditional love. Even negative humor is far from harmless. It’s not funny; it’s a visceral personal attack on your spouse’s dignity.
In my marriage, we’ve had to deal with my same-sex attraction, family histories of addictive behavior, financial difficulties, major health issues, and much more. Sadly, a combination of those things once led to our separation and divorce, for which I take full responsibility. But, in the end, good has outweighed bad, and human dignity and love have slowly and steadily triumphed over animosity and isolation. How do you heal a relationship that self-destructed, which had lost its moorings for more than a decade? I have no easy answer, but I do know that the first step is this: you must choose to recognize the importance and irrevocability of your covenanted relationship and to uphold the dignity of your spouse and your relationship every day, no matter what, repenting when necessary.
Since reconciling (and that’s too weak a term—it has really been a complete change of heart and a hard-fought renewal of our minds), we have continued to face both big and small challenges, one after another. Rather than allowing them to tear us apart or let our relationship fray at the edges, to give up or to say “this is too hard for me,” my wife has upheld my dignity as husband and father, and I have upheld hers as wife and mother. My wife’s love for me, especially during the darkest times when I’ve been at my most weak and vulnerable, has been a direct conduit of God’s love to me. In fact, the greater the personal challenges I have faced, the more she has honored me with dignity and respect. There is a miraculous, inverse relationship between the weight of difficulties and weaknesses present and the degree of dignity accorded. It’s counterintuitive. It’s the opposite of the way things work in the world, but it’s a reflection of God’s unconditional love. Upholding each other’s dignity allows grace to flow into and lift our marriage day after challenging day.
“My wife’s love for me, especially during the darkest times when I’ve been at my most weak and vulnerable, has been a direct conduit of God’s love to me. Upholding each other’s dignity allows grace to flow into and lift our marriage day after challenging day.”
So What? For every objection or fear, worry, regret, or apprehension I can come up with, I’ve taught myself this two-word response: “So what?” Our marriage is more important than any reservation I encounter. – I’m unhappy. So what? – I’m same-sex attracted. So what? – I’m disappointed. So what? – We’re having financial difficulties. So what? – We’ve become incompatible. So what? – We’ve gotten older and gained weight. So what? – My spouse has developed bad habits. So what? – I didn’t bargain for these medical or psychological problems. So what? – I’ve met someone I like better. So what? Here’s what I say: “I can handle that, and I do so with pleasure. We can address and overcome these problems. We’ll navigate difficult waters together, even if it falls upon me to do all the paddling and steering while plugging all the newly sprung holes in the hull.”
Instead of fretting or wistfully daydreaming about something that might have been better, realize this: there is no better option, because you have no greater, more important mission. If it weren’t for the presence of dark times, I don’t think Godly, unconditional love and dignity would have ever had a chance to take root and grow between my wife and me. Personal experience has taught me that the Church truly is a field hospital within our own home. That makes sense, because the domestic church is right up on the front lines where battles can be treacherous, and where wounds, both old and newly inflicted, can often present themselves. If willing, spouses can serve as medics. The very best medics.
“If willing, spouses can serve as medics. The very best medics.”
Don’t be caught by surprise, don’t despair, don’t give up, and don’t be afraid. Instead, resolve with all your might to hang on to your life’s greatest mission and treasure. Even if it feels like a daily burden, it remains a pearl of great price. Ify is right: “Marriage is beyond us. It’s about the society. It is your own project for the world.” Marriage is the big project that I have chosen for myself and it’s the big mission that I’ve been charged with. We have solemnly created our marriage, God has solemnly blessed it, and now we must solemnly live it. It is our project for the world.
Doug Mainwaring is a marriage and children’s rights activist. Doug can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch the free first episode of the brilliant Humanum Series. Humanum illustrates the importance of marriage across many cultures and religions and how the world is shaped by the example of committment of love and family within marriage.