Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What I Wish I'd Known: On Marriage, From a Recently Divorced Perspective

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As much as I love sharing happy endings and gushing over wedding details with you, heartbreak is a reality, so here are things taking a more serious turn today. A friend of mine, who requested to stay anonymous, asked if she could share her story. While it might seem like someone whose Catholic marriage is over wouldn't have valuable advice on staying married, she said, she has had the clarity of realizing what habits and actions might have made hers and her husband's relationship different, for the better.

As a recently divorced person who also just finished filling out paperwork for a declaration of nullity, I’ve spent many hours in prayer and shed many tears looking over a dream that didn’t come true. I’ve had to realize that I failed at marriage. Yes, it takes two, but that means that I failed. It would be so easy to blame the failure of the marriage on my former spouse, to list all of the things he did wrong, but that’s not how it works. 

And so, as someone who thought she knew what she was getting into when putting on that white dress all those years ago, I want to share with you what I wish I’d known then. Had I known and acted on these things, my life would have looked very different these past years. That difference might have been in a marriage that was strong, healthy, and founded in grace, or it might have been in calling off the engagement and stepping back to re-evaluate the relationship. I honestly don't know. What I do know is that it would have been different.

So, what do I wish I’d known or done or experienced prior to walking down the aisle?

1. I wish my parents' marriage had been a better example. As a child of divorce, I didn’t see firsthand what it really takes to make a marriage work. And since I didn’t have that, I wish I’d really listened closely to the couple who did our marriage prep, rather than just go through the motions with them. I wish I’d sought out those who’d been married 20, 30, 40 years, sat at their feet, and listened to their experiences. Instead, I thought because I’d seen divorce I knew what not to do and that would be enough.

2. I wish instead of allowing marriage prep to be just another thing to check off the list, someone had expressed to me the importance of it and had insisted on more than one preparatory experience. A few evenings spent with a married couple just wasn’t enough. It was too easy to just put those sessions in a once-a-week box, scramble to get our homework done on the way, and forget about it the rest of the week.

3. I wish instead of just general questions about communication styles and love languages (which ARE important), we’d been pushed to talk about specific issues. Issues in our relationship and in revisiting arguments we’d had; to lay it all out on the table. Sure, we learned how to communicate, but what we didn’t do was communicate about things that had happened before we knew how to do it well. We never really practiced the skills we were being taught.

4. I wish I’d known that as a married couple our job was to get each other to heaven. To be a sign of Christ in the world; to let our love be fruitful in both physical and spiritual ways. I wish we'd had access to good, solid catechesis on marriage and what it was, not just a basic overview. I wish instead of being afraid to speak the Truth of the Church, someone had said, if you are getting married in the Catholic Church, this is what you are saying ‘yes’ to. Learning these things years into marriage was helpful, but also too little, too late.

5. I wish I’d discussed with my former spouse these questions:
  1. Did you have any major conflicts or separations during your dating and engaged years? What were they? Were they resolved? If so, how? If not, why not? Given these conflicts and/or separations, why did you still marry?
  2. Was there anything about your former spouse that you expected to change after marriage or children? What was it? Why did you expect it to change? Why did you getting married if the behavior or personality trait was present during your engagement?

6. During the marriage, when there were times that I thought we needed counseling or extra help or that the only reason I didn’t ask for a divorce was because I worried about how it would look. At those times, I wish I’d insisted on counseling. I wish I'd insisted on outside help and realized how bad things really were, instead of just moving forward.

7. Finally, I wish someone had told me that when I decided to end the marriage, how frighteningly easy it would be to walk away. That because the foundation wasn’t strong, when the relationship crumbled, it crumbled fast and easy.

I believe marriage is important. The family is the foundation of society. The fact that I'm a statistic of failed marriage, that only serves to weaken society, is a burden I will bear the rest of my life. But, if by sharing what I wish I’d known, perhaps I can strengthen my weak spot and help to strengthen our world as a whole, one bit at a time.

As you prepare for your wedding day, remember it is a marriage you are preparing for, not just a wedding. Spend ten times as much energy focusing on your relationship and the years that will follow your wedding day. All of the beautiful photos in the world mean nothing if they end up being divided up and put into boxes never to be looked at again. By doing the hard work, being vulnerable, admitting your weaknesses and working on them together now, you are building a foundation that will bear the test of time and not crumble away.

I'm grateful for this sobered, humbly real perspective and pray if your past or your relationship has encountered divorce or annulment, that your engagement and coming marriage may be blessed with the graces of purification, self-examination, and redemption in the fullness of the sacrament. After receiving communion, I pray the Anima Christi, and different parts of the prayer stand out to me at different times. The line "within your wounds, hide me," kept coming up in my heart as I edited and prepared this post. Bring your wounds to Jesus' feet, and let blood and water flow from his pierced body, covering you in his loving mercy.

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