God is faithful, but we’re not marrying God.

God is faithful, but we’re not marrying God. March 20, 2014

PIC split tree bound back together

Every day, I bless a merciful God that there was no internet to speak of when I was younger. This means there are no insanely humiliating photos of me in a crop top and acid wash harem pants. It also means that I never published an article like this one in Catholic Exchange:  Marriage Is Work.

In this piece, which I absolutely would have written as a newlywed, the earnest, not-yet-married Emma Smith hears her secular coworkers lamenting the way their ex-husbands had cheated on them

“There’s so much of that out there!” my boss exclaimed. “I know one of my girlfriends who is cheating on her husband and I know a couple of other people where both of them are cheating. I guess you’re lucky if it doesn’t happen to you.”

Smith goes on to explain to the reader that she knows that her soon-to-be husband will never cheat on her.  She knows this.  She knows for a fact that it simply will not happen.

Marriage isn’t a drawing of the straws, where if your spouse cheats on you, well, “sorry, you just drew the short straw. There’s nothing you could have done to prevent it!” It’s not an institution where if you are a strong, happy, and healthy couple you’re just “the lucky ones.” 

And she knows, she says, that people will think she’s just young and naive for knowing that her husband will always be faithful.

And yet, I can say that. I can say that because I have a faith and a God who stand behind me in that statement. And I can say that because the love my fiancé and I share is not human, it is divine. We love each other because we love God and we have discovered that in loving one another, we get to love God more fully. Moreover, the love that we have for one another is divine in origin. God gave it to us at our baptism and it had a full 15-20ish years to grow and mature so that when we met, it blossomed.

Well, let’s start with all the ways that Smith is right.  She says that “marriage is something you work on … marriage is a calling.”  And she is right.  She says:

Our faith allows us to make these promises [of faithfulness] because He who gave us love was faithful in His love until the end. … We as Catholics are granted the same strength of faithfulness to the end when we return our love to the one who is love. When we participate in making our love a sacrament, when we make a way for God’s grace to enter the world every day, when we demonstrate outwardly our inner devotion, we can say with full knowledge and confidence that we are not in a game of luck.

Yes indeed. A strong marriage doesn’t just spring into being on its own. If we translate our love of God into love for our spouses, and when we let our love for our spouses nourish our love for God, then we will be fulfilling our vocation.

But that’s it:  we’ll be fulfilling our vocation, period. That is all we can depend on: that God will be faithful to us.  Beyond that, things can get very messy.  When Catholics fulfill their vocation of marriage, it can turn out looking like an awful lot of things, and that includes ugly, painful things that may or may not ever get resolved in this lifetime.

Because here’s the deal: you aren’t marrying God. You’re marrying another human being. Your spouse is marrying you, and you are a human being.

And what do we know about human beings? They sin. They sin, and they sin, and they sin. Sometimes they enter into a valid marriage and then they cheat. Sometimes they understand fully what they are supposed to do, and they just don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes calamity strikes, and they crumple under the blow.  Sometimes they let their own sorrows and weaknesses and selfishness overcome the love that is offered to them. Sometimes — no, my friends, always — they are a tangled ball of good intentions and bad habits, unhealed wounds and unfounded desires.

Many, many times, the grace of the sacrament helps us to avoid serious sin. Sometimes, though, the grace of the sacrament helps us to forgive each other when we sin. Sometimes it helps us to survive when our spouses refuse to repent.

So the confident if untried Emma Smith is right in sighing over the fatalistic modern view of marriage — right in condemning the idea that some people just get lucky, and there’s no way of improving your odds. But she is disastrously, innocently, offensively wrong when she thinks that we can somehow guarantee that things will turn out well, just because we intend to work hard.

Ever heard of Hosea’s wife? Ever heard of Israel? Ever heard of the entire human race? God knows that this is what happens when you enter into a marriage with another human being: one way or another, sooner or later, your love will be rewarded with pain. And I know this because I love my husband — my faithful, loving husband — and I’ve hurt him.
I pray to God, and I hurt my husband.
I understand marriage, I believe in marriage, I have spent years upon years working on my marriage, and I hurt my husband. And He forgives me, just as I forgive him.

I am glad that Smith understands so well that the grace of marriage is something that must be actively pursued, consciously acted upon. And I hope that her confidence in her husband is rewarded with unbroken faithfulness and love, and that she will not be shattered when she discovers that he does have flaws. I hope that people read her piece and realize that it makes sense to look hard for a spouse who is trustworthy.

But I hope to God she is never involved in any kind of marriage ministry — not with the childish understanding of marriage that she has now. What will she say to the woman whose husband is cheating? Or to the man whose wife won’t stay sober, or won’t stop gambling, or won’t stop browbeating him in public? What will she say to the spouses who do work hard, and have found themselves sinned against? Maybe “Let’s put our heads together and figure out how you could have worked harder to prevent this. Good marriages aren’t just a matter of luck, you know.”

And what will she say to herself when she finds herself sinning against her husband? Maybe she will not cheat, but oh, she will hurt him. She will.  This isn’t a warning about your husband-to-be, dear confident, untried brides. It’s a warning about you.


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  • we Catholics work out our salvation in fear and trembling- it is wrong to presume that we have it all figured out. That is pride- and it is a deadly sin. It is great that she believes they are starting right- she probably WILL have an easier time with her marriage than those who start without the sacrament- or maybe start pregnant or something….but she is also starting with pride…and that is not a good thing

    • GHM_52

      She is NOT presuming she has it all figured out. Her message is crystal clear: if you truly give yourself to God, continually and perseveringly, your life, no matter the outcome, will be blessedly perfect. She is banking on the fact that it is God Who has it all figured out! And by the way, presuming and boasting are quite ok as long as you boast “in the Lord” (St. Paul).

      • Heather

        Let me fix that for you, because a “blessedly perfect” life is nowhere promised by anyone in the Bible, except possibly the Devil:

        “if you truly give yourself to God, continually and perseveringly, then you are one of the greatest of saints, but other people still have free will and you can’t force them to practice equally heroic virtue. However, you will be preserved from despair no matter what happens in your life because your hope and trust is in the Lord.”

        Strong faith and trust in God is not an immunization from hardship or the sins of others. A promise of life in abundance is not the same as a promise of a “blessedly perfect” time on earth. It’s called a “valley of tears” for a reason.

        • GHM_52

          I disagree with you, Heather. A “blessedly perfect life” is promised to all who really believe in God and the promise gets repeated in the Old and New Testaments. Such a life does not mean a life without hardship. That is what people who abide by the spirit of the world understand that phrase to mean. For a Christian, a “blessedly perfect life” means a life lived for, with God, and in God in such a manner that even hardship and suffering become a sweet yoke (Christ’s description). When the necessary suffering is borne in the manner that God wants it to be borne, it is experienced very differently than what we are used to. That is why you will find that ALL known saints keep asking God to send them more suffering.

          • Actually, your last sentence is wrong. St. Teresa of Avila said it was presumption to ask God to send you more suffering. She said to let God decide whether you could handle more suffering or not.

          • GHM_52

            Actually, no, my statement is not wrong. Since all saints are aware that Christ remade suffering into something redemptive and taught His disciples that if the Master had to suffer His followers could do no less, all saints, including the great St Teresa of Avila, prayed for more suffering. The trick is to understand that Christian suffering has nothing to do with masochism and everything to do with the imitation of Christ. Therefore, when a Christian asks for more suffering, he/she asks for it: a) in order to save souls; 2) if God wills it; 3) accompanied with the gift of discernment (to discern what crosses come from God as opposed to those that do not); and, accompanied by the gift of fortitude to bear them in the spirit that Christ bore them.

          • oregon nurse

            I, for one, appreciate the theology you continue to share. You are indeed coming up against a lot of misunderstanding of what you are trying to say about suffering and a ‘blessedly perfect life”. We have to see it through the optics of eternity, not our earthly life.

          • GHM_52

            Thank-you for your kindness…If you are a nurse you must be -like the Lord- a person acquainted with much suffering. May God bless you and grant you the gift of carrying His light and consolation to the sick and dying that you serve.

  • D Hunnell

    Wow, you are really being harsh. She is a young woman in love and doing her best to prepare herself for a solid Catholic marriage. She is taking a risk and making her preparation public so that others can learn that there is another way to approach marriage–a Catholic way. I’ve been married for 30 years and am now a mother and grandmother and I can assure you that no one in her shoes can really predict what is coming. She has many lessons to learn. But she and her husband will share a faith that will get them through the hurts, the sickness, and whatever other trials await them. What a blessing! Why not just wish her well and save the snark and bitterness for something else.

    • Really? Honestly though, I felt Simcha’s response was mainly gentle. The
      overall tone was kind and she did affirm a lot of Emma’s post!! Lord knows the Jerk could have had a field day with this one–but he was probably watching a bad 80s movie. Luckily for all. 😉

      “No one in her shoes can predict what’s coming” That’s why I’d argue that Simcha’s commentary was clarifying.

      The original piece, while meaning well, is misdirected at best and at its worst harmful depending on who is on the receiving end.
      Plus if you write it on the Internet, you better expect someone to disagree with you. Internet 101. Combox wars and all.

      “Save the snark and bittereness…” I didn’t pick up much on the snark-o-meter… Snark radar…. or what have you. And you know Simcha can really deliver on that snark. I think this was more wise, empathetic advice from someone with a greater perspective just nailing down what needed to be said. my 2 cents though. <3

      • D Hunnell

        Declaring this young woman will never be fit for marriage ministry is pretty harsh. This all could have been said without such a pointed attack at a young woman who is joyfully and hopefully preparing for a Catholic marriage. The fact that internet snark and combox wars exist does not justify an uncharitable response from those who feel they are so much older and wiser. She is going to grow. We all do. I wish my self who was raising teens could have spoken with my self who was raising babies and given her a little of that earned wisdom. The me who has adult children and grandbabies looks back at the me who was raising teens and shakes her head at some of the mistaken ideas and priorities. I still have two children who are unmarried and if they are called to the vocation of marriage I hope each of them approaches marriage with the faith and fervor and optimism that Emma shows.

        • RoyMix

          Simcha said never?

          She said:

          not with the childish understanding of marriage that she has now.

          That “now” is serving a pretty key function here. She said that she could have written this as a newlywed, but knows something else after the passage of time. Miss Smith in her naivete is currently unfit for such a ministry, but that hardly means “never”

        • Yeah I still think she was being extremely charitable. But to each their own 🙂

          • Kelly Seppy

            I was once married to an abuser, and for 13 years, our church (not Catholic yet then), would not dream of counseling anything other than staying together. Finally everything imploded, leaving me and the kids emotionally scarred. When I would run into some of those church members in the years following, they would say, “oh yeah, I knew something was really wrong, and could see how distressed you were.” Lovely! If someone had the gumption to speak the truth, maybe it could have saved us a lot of pain, which some of the kids are still battling to this day.
            So, yes, I believe even some hard to hear truths need to be spoken. Before the damage is done.

        • NurseTammy

          Were not a bunch of bitter cranky old ladies who live to squash the dreams of a doe-eyed bride…this young woman is setting out to begin a daunting task and it wouldnt even be kind or fair to not try to share some hard earned wisdom with her. An unguarded strength is a double weakness…if she is so positive it will never happen then she is in more danger than folks who live with a more guarded awareness.

          • Pathfinder

            Well, most of you are coming across as cranky old ladies. Jeesh, this young woman writes this lovely column and it’s “pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep cheep cheep talk a lot pick a little more.”

    • I agree that Simcha can sometimes be snarky, but I simply do not see that that is the case here. No, this response was not at all snarky and bitter. It was honest and
      respectful. She acknowledged that Smith’s attitudes were similar to her
      own as a young bride: “which I absolutely would have written as a newlywed”. She pointed out all the good points that the piece did make: “let’s start with all the ways that Stone is right.”

      But because Smith’s article is posted not on a private blog but on a public Catholic site, I think it entirely justified to respond to her publicly with criticism where her article goes astray. Her attitude is not one other young engaged couples should adopt, it creates spiritual pitfalls which can lead to problems down the road. So I think it fitting and proper to discuss the problematic parts of her article with kindness and charity.

      Older married women should lend their voices of experience to younger women. They absolutely have a duty to help their younger sisters. And when you see egregious errors in a public post, it is not a kindness to ignore them.

      • Laura Worosz Malnight

        If lending our experience through pontificating worked, marriages would be stronger, kids would be raised perfectly and society as a whole would be better. I did not find the article snarky, but I did find it to be preachy and unkind. Fischer herself admits she had a similar mindset when she married, why call out this young women for the hubris that besets most brides? Our duty is to support our younger, less experienced sisters when they hit the rocky patches that surely await them. It is not to take the wind out of their sails. God designed humans to be goofy in their love for about 18 months, long enough to get them married before reality arrives. Fischer did not say that she learned these valuable truths from preached to, but from experience. Allow other women the same chance and be there when they face difficulty, don’t lecture them before they have any way of comprehending just what marriage will cost them.

        • Kate Cousino

          Wow. That’s really condescending towards younger women.

          There really isn’t any contradiction between being available, supportive, and consoling when life’s rocky patches do come, and being mildly corrective of public errors in teaching and thought.

          And this idea that faith is a protective guarantee against the pains and weaknesses of sin, even of this one particular sin, is a real error, one that not only opens young women to painful disillusionment, but actually discourages honesty in marriage (what young man will want to tell the woman who has him and their marriage on such a pedestal that he is struggling–or has fallen–to one temptation or another?), which is in itself destructive.

          It is not charity to assume that someone is unteachable or incapable of coming to a more full (albeit intellectual) understanding of the human condition, merely because they haven’t yet encountered the full range in themselves.

          • Laura Worosz Malnight

            I think Fischer is an excellent writer, and usually I enjoy reading her. I did not this time. I don’t disagree that Smith put herself out there publicly, which comes with the risk of people publicly disagreeing with her. Fischer risks the same thing with her writing. I have never met a bride who was not somewhat blind to the realities of marriage and I thought Fischer’s tone was unkind. If your intention is to truly try and help someone, you’ll be careful with how you phrase things and the tone that you take. That doesn’t mean not speaking the truth, it just means being mindful of how you come across when you do it. Who do you think draws more people toward God: Fred Phelps or Pope Francis? Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that Fischer is anything like Phelps, I’m more pointing out that our Pope speaks the truth in a way that draws people in towards God. You can really hear his message. A criticism of Fischer’s writing is not an indictment against her character, it’s just an opinion.

          • Kate Cousino

            I guess we disagree on whether Simcha was unkind. I really didn’t think she was. I thought her tone was kind and encouraging to the author and her intentions, and rightfully critical of the idea. We do tend to confuse the two, I’m afraid.

            But ideas *must* be addressed, and Simcha’s commentary is exactly that–a commentary directed at the audience reached by the other author’s misguided ideas, not a personal letter to the author, whom she does not know. In that public context, the prevailing standard should be to show respect and to be fair to other’s ideas.

            Also, the current Pope is wonderful, but so was the previous Pope, and the one before that, even though they differed in tone and style. That comparison is much more apt than to try to place Simcha on a spectrum with Phelps!

          • Laura Worosz Malnight

            Who said the popes prior to Francis we’re anything but wonderful men? Praising Francis in no way diminishes any other pope. And using Phelps was a bad example on my part, though I did explicitly state Fischer was not like him. I was trying to think of an example who spoke a message about God and instead of inspiring, turned people away and could not come up with a good example.

            And ideas don’t always need to be addressed. New mothers, brides, teenagers: all sorts of people have notions and thoughts before they actually experience an event. Life usually has a way of taking care of our loftiness. Maybe Smith will read Fischer’s “commentary” and learn from it, but I doubt it. That doesn’t mean she’s stupid or unwilling to listen and learn, it means that she’s untried. My hope for her and others like her is that there are kind people who, when life gets rocky, stand by her and tell her that it happens to all of us sometime in our lives; we learn that we had no idea what we were getting into, but you’ll make it through anyway.

          • Damien Fisher

            I’m sorry, but there is no reason to take your comments at all seriously until you learn to spell. It’s “F I S H E R.” If you’re unsure, try checking the TOP OF THE STINKING BLOG.

          • Laura Worosz Malnight

            My sincere apologies on the misspelling of your last name. It was truly unintentional, like your wife, I sometimes need editing help.

          • Rose Nigel

            Wow. You’re a class act, Laura.

          • Damien Fisher

            What do you expect? Laura is the type of person who compares people she disagrees with to Fred Phelps.

          • simchafisher

            I would really just as soon let this go! This is the kind of topic that people take very personally, so it’s easy to get carried away. I stand by what I said but I don’t require everybody to agree with me.

          • Pathfinder

            No, she didn’t compare your wife to Fred Phelps, and you’re again demonstrating that desire to find conflict and things to complain and argue about. Anyway, apparently you’re the type of person who goes ape when someone erroneously misspells your name. Relax Pardner, before someone writes a blog post about how “childish” you are.

          • Damien Fisher

            Sorry I offended Pathsniffer, Rooty Toot Toot.

          • oregon nurse

            You do your wife no favors with your snark towards others. I’m assuming she can defend herself on her own blog and she can take the same public criticism of her ideas and opinions she offered.

          • echarles1

            Pretty cool… disqus lets you edit your posts! I edit mine. I remove my comment re: Damien Fisher, if indeed Disqus allows for it. Let all sleeping dogs lie.

          • Damien Fisher

            “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings.”

          • echarles1

            It’s a west coast thing. Our incredibily mild winters make us overly sensitive. I’m looking at blue sky and 71 degrees right now. Few can stay riled up for long with weather like that!

          • Pathfinder

            Geesh. I’m sorry, but there is no reason to take your comments at all seriously until you calm down and stop writing in all caps. This exhibits the same problem as Simmcha Fisscchers’ column – a determination to find nitpicky criticisms that distract from a productive discussion.

          • Kate Cousino

            Of course ideas need to be addressed, and of course that doesn’t apply to every new mother, bride, etc–because *most* of those people are *not* writing publicly for websites that seek to instruct and assist Catholics in their daily challenges and matters of faith.

            In a public forum; yes, absolutely, false ideas need to be addressed, because they are IN the public forum with the intention of influencing people.

        • NurseTammy

          People didn’t chase her down at her bridal shower and tell horror stories between gifts and dessert – I hope she is basking in love and enjoying herself.

          She, however, presented herself publicly as a soon-to-be wife absolutely certain that neither she nor her soon-to-be husband would never cheat. This discourse is a natural cascade of her taking such a bold stance about this topic…she had every right to declare this as he belief but the subsequent exchange is an important part of everyone learning.

    • James McMahon

      Denise Hunnell, I’ve read your blog. You should be the last person to suggest that someone else should “save the snark and bitterness for something else.” You are a bitter, miserable malcontent that can’t seem to go very long without criticizing someone else. You love to judge others, and you often do so by employing the very same snark and bitterness that you now find fault with. You are a hypocrite masquerading as a Catholic.

  • TheReluctantWidow

    Your words are true, and dear Emma is naive, but I can understand her mindset. I once thought that being a faithful Catholic, following what I believed God wanted me to do, making sacrifices, and adopting four children would somehow “protect” me from life’s sufferings because after all, “We are totally doing God’s will, we follow all the rules, so God would never let anything truly bad happen.” Yep. I kept thinking that right up until the night my husband coded and succumbed to an illness as yet unnamed (Large Diffuse B-cell Lymphoma is what the death certificate said). How incredibly pathetic of me. What I realize now is that I was treating God as some sort of teflon repellent of bad things. Treating God as I saw Him, not as He is. Pride was and really still is my biggest stumbling block in my relationship with God. It’s something I constantly have to check myself to overcome. I really hope Emma has the marriage she thinks she will have, but I hope even more that she is mature enough to handle the rough spots when they come, because marriage provides rough spots a plenty.

    • ((hugs & prayers)) Sorry that is so awful to have gone through / be still going through.

      I agree with you as well that it’s a mindset and there’s pride there. Faith in God is essential. Thinking that God will never let you taste the bitterness of human frailty is something we all seem to unfold and understand at one stage or another of our lives.

    • That’s it exactly. Doing right by God is no guarantee of anything (at least not in this world), something I always knew intellectually, and boy am I learning it practically now.

      And that’s why I have a mixed reaction to her; on the one hand I am cringing for her in anticipation of the day she realizes there are no guarantees, and on the other I want to yell at her because my faith in God has not lessened any of the many, many problems my husband and I are facing.

      And you are in my prayers, Reluctant Widow.

      • GHM_52

        Doing right by God is no guarantee of anything….

        If that were true…why bother believing? Especially in a God that promised not only salvation after our earthly life, but His peace, stability and His joy while still on Earth IF we renounce our will and submit to His will completely…. If He promised that, but cannot and does not guarantee it….what kind of a God is that?

        • That’s why I added the parenthetical. We are not guaranteed a happy life *on this earth.* How else do you explain all the suffering in the world — do you believe that if a person suffers, whether through a difficult marriage, or the loss of a child, or the devastation of war or natural disaster, it is because she did not submit to His will completely?

          • GHM_52

            How else do you explain the suffering in the world?

            I don’t, dear Beadgirl. My intellect and knowledge are simply too small to explain it. However, you and I are in luck, because God explained it. The suffering in this world is directly caused by sin. And sin is the result of not following God’s will, but ours. God explained how sin is responsible for every disaster on Earth including natural disasters. God made a perfect world where nature and man were in accord. Sin brought about the destabilization of everything that had been perfectly created by our perfect God(Genesis). So, yes, I believe that all of our sufferings come as a result of our lack of submissiveness to God’s will.

          • ” So, yes, I believe that all of our sufferings come as a result of our lack of submissiveness to God’s will.”

            On a general, humankind level? Absolutely — we are in agreement. But there is not necessarily a direct, one-to-one correspondence between a particular person’s suffering and her sinfulness or lack of submissiveness.

          • GHM_52

            I certainly agree with you in that there is not necessarily a direct correspondence. But, and I speak for myself here, I so often act in accordance to MY will that I truly believe most of my sufferings result from that. When I look back, it is so easy for me to see that if I had followed God’s way things would have turned out differently.

        • rozdieterich

          It sounds, GHM, that there’s a streak of utilitarianism in what you are saying. Doing right by God so as to insure our happiness isn’t a bad place to start (God will take our inch and transform it into his mile), but keep going. God wants us to be strapped tightly to himself, and he often uses disappointment and suffering to soften us up so we will consent to it. I praise God for your faith and good will, but don’t discount it if he leads others on a harder path than he’s leading you on at the moment.

          • GHM_52

            Doing right by God means loving Him as He defined love: by following His commands. If anyone loves God, God will abide in him/her and that is the essence of true happiness. I don’t see any utilitarianism in that. It is simply a formula for perfect happiness given by God Himself. As you rightly said, God uses (not causes) sufferings and disappointments to transform our hearts of stone into human hearts filled with God and a sign of real spiritual progression is finding out that in the very midst of tremendous suffering one can experience indescribable joy. And that is something that most of us have trouble understanding because we have a “secular” view of suffering. That view makes it almost impossible for us to equate suffering with joy. Our “secular” minds (despite our professed Christianity) equate “suffering with joy” to masochism, which most of us find repugnant. Unless we make a serious prayerful attempt to understand both suffering and joy in a Christian sense, we will continue to misunderstand God and ourselves. But..thanks for your comment and prayers. I need lots of that good medicine.

          • rozdieterich

            I understand what you are saying. It’s possible, though, that you may not be aware of the effect on others of what you’ve said. It isn’t a secular view of suffering to acknowledge the cost and profound loss that people go through. The fact that they aren’t speaking of accompanying joy doesn’t mean that they’re approaching their circumstances in a secular way.

            God brings us through hardship in his own way, in his own time. We CAN experience feelings of joy during painful circumstances, but it might not be one of the graces God offers at a particular time. Mother Teresa of Calcutta went through most of her life without spiritual consolations of any kind. Great saints describe profound Dark Nights of the Soul. To seem to imply that others’ experiences of trial indicate insufficient depth of faith is mistaken and, however unintentional, uncharitable.

          • GHM_52

            The great suffering saints describe their great sufferings in detail…but they also describe how in the very midst of their suffering the hopeful joy in their Beloved is ever present. That also applies to that great saint of our times, Mother Teresa. Uncharitable implications stemming from truth are always in the eye of the beholder. If one were to worry too much about the possibility of misunderstandings spoken truth, it would be impossible to communicate the truths of our Faith to anyone. The fear of offending would be paralyzing. That is one of the great lessons from the Gospel. When our Lord and Redeemer defined the terms of human discourse in order to teach the truth, He spoke authoritatively, firmly and clearly. That firmness and clarity were obviously not taken by Him (God Himself) as things opposed to charity. On the contrary, by giving us the perfect example of how to speak, He shows us that clarity and firmness are associated with charity. It is a fact that practically all of our saints agree that the more a soul progresses in the Faith, the more suffering it feels and the more joyful it becomes. In other words, It is true that the the less joy one feels in the midst of one’s sufferings, the less progression one has made spiritually. If that truth offends sensibilities, then that is a sure sign of a deficit in humility.

  • Laura Worosz Malnight

    You pointed out that you would have “absolutely written” a similar post as a newlywed, yet look how you have changed. You seem to feel you can give material advice. How did you learn and become qualified? Presumably the scales will fall from her eyes, like they did for you. Like they did for most of us. It’s perfectly normal, maybe even necessary for her to have this sort of hubris. She’ll learn about hurt soon enough, and hopefully, like you, she realize that an imperfect marriage is still pretty wonderful.

  • Tina

    I’ve been married almost 29 years and this is one of the bests posts I’ve read on marriage. There was a picture that went around facebook recently that said, “There is no perfect marriage; just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.”

  • Rebecca Lamb Mlinek

    I *was* this girl 15 years ago. I wish someone had given me this advice, specifically from the point of view of a committed, faithful Catholic. It would have spared me a world of hurt when I realized that all my work and all my prayer had not stopped me from being a colossal jerk to my husband, and had not spared me the pain of opening myself up to love. So much of the rhetoric around young Christian couples headed for the alter is focused on the ways being faithful will save you from heartache. But there is no way to avoid heartache – it’s the growing pains of an open heart.

  • Josh

    Well-meaning hubris that shares a lot of logic with the unbiblical doctrine “once saved, always saved.”

    Also, I don’t think this is true: “And I can say that because the love my fiancé and I share is not human, it is divine.” Yes, when we unite our love, suffering, hope, etc. to Christ’s, we participate in the divine. But… I love my wife. My love for her is imperfect. Divine love is perfect. Therefore, I do not love my wife with divine love. At least on this side of purgatory. But maybe that’s because I haven’t accrued enough sanctification (I keep waiting for it to go on sale). I can’t speak for Ms. Smith and her fiance, but I do believe some are graced with the ability to fully unite their love with Christ’s in this life. Maybe they are.

    • visitor


  • simchafisher

    [The following comment was sent to me by a reader who would like to be anonymous:]

    Hosea’s wife indeed.

    My husband went through a very bad patch which lasted about 7 years. First he demanded a divorce but changed his mind the very day I learned he had been having an adulterous relationship with a coworker. About a month later, he unilaterally made a decision to take a job 3000 miles away. I had some warning because he had told me “when I choose a job, neither you nor the kids will be taken into account when I decide which one I want”. He packed his things and left.

    I started going to daily Mass and I prayed for his return and his soul.

    Everyone told me to divorce him but I kept his spot for him to return to. He did eventually return but he never really understood the pain I suffered which in turn caused more.

    The path God (very clearly) lead me on never seemed to make much sense…until the day he died suddenly and I realized that much (most, all) of the journey had really been about his soul (which was – miraculously – in a good safe place on the day he died).

    People who didn’t know the whole story picked the music for his funeral and when the song of Hosea rang out “Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life” it caused in me an exquisite pain but one where (maybe because the pain was so deep) I could feel Gods presence right there with me. God asked me to do something really hard and I did it. Sometimes I’m still grumpy with Him over it.

    Anyone who thinks that Catholic men are not special prey of the Devil is naive. I say that with love…I wish I were still naive, I really do. If these dear men can be tricked into believing a few choice lies (Screwtape style) they can go a long way to taking

    down a whole family. The same men who would have earlier been willing to die to protect their families (if lured in precisely in a certain way at a certain time) will literally do all the dirty work of destruction themselves.

    It is during these times when we least want to be married to them when they probably need the most devotion from us. I remember a horrible day when I said “I choose to decide that his soul is right now more important than my feelings” (and trust me, I am one to REALLY care about my feelings).

    So yea, betrayal, abandonment and widowhood sucked pretty bad but all is not lost..God takes good care of me and Im rebuilding. I hate living as a “cautionary tale” but if it encourages you to drop to your knees and pray for your husband’s soul (today) then I will be glad that I shared. I fear that the gals least likely to pray about this stuff are the ones who are so very certain it wont happen to them.

    • Thank you, anonymous reader! What worried me most about Emma’s article was that it did not leave room for forgiveness. I wanted very badly for her to say, “My husband and I will never be where my coworkers are because marriage is stronger than our brokenness.” Like Emma, I am young, in love, and idealistic, so I appreciate stories that remind me the world won’t always be roses. I think of it as a witness rather than a “cautionary tale” — witness to the fact that “all is not lost” ever in this life, because God DOES take good care of us.

      And thank you, Simcha, for posting this. I only have my little corner of the internet but you have placed a reply in the public forum, where it is very much needed.

    • Kelly Seppy

      I also thank you for sharing this with us. It helps put my own inner (mostly inner) criticisms of my husband in perspective.
      And I will keep you in my prayers.

    • Beth

      Your story breaks my heart, and your extraordinary faithfulness makes me feel like all my marital sacrifice is a drop in the bucket.

    • rozdieterich

      What a painful and beautiful thing to read. I appreciate very much, Anonymous, that you own and acknowledge all the pain, rather than painting “white-out” over it in light of the blessed outcome. Reading this helps me hang in there with some hard things that likewise don’t seem to make sense now. Thanks.

  • Brandy Miller

    If she thinks with sincerity that being Catholic means her marriage will be protected from infidelity, she is in for a rude awakening. It didn’t protect Christ when His bride put him to death. I often think engaged couples should be made to attend a retreat that centers around the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, because THAT is what marriage is all about – the constant prayer for the strength to give your life for another, bearing wrongs patiently every single day, accepting humiliations as a means of detaching yourself from your need for human affirmation, bearing the crosses of daily life with grace, and finally the grace to say, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” as you work to die to sin and selfishness when their sin and selfishness crucifies your heart. There’s plenty of joys in marriage, but if you think it’s going to be all joy without any pain because you believe in Jesus Christ and you have faith in God, you haven’t studied the Gospels long enough or hard enough.

    • Blobee

      So, so true. You know, it seems to me, watching my parents (who were married 60 years when my father passed away) I saw the hard times of the middle years of their marriage, and my mom said once, in frustration and anger, “when you kids are grown, I’m leaving him!” But then, once we were grown, they didn’t separate, they didn’t divorce. And it was wondrous to watch them in the latter years of their marriage. I could see how much they loved each other, how understanding they were of each other, how tender they were with each other. It was as if they reached a stage where all the aggravations and frustrations they had gone though before faded away, and what remained was a deep, deep love, tried and true. Honestly, I could see how, at that point, they were truly one.

  • jenny

    excellent written……

  • echarles1

    But you cannot just tell someone how marriage is. Or as I like to say, nobody knows on the outside what goes on on the inside.
    Parenthetically, Emma Smith was the name of Joseph Smith’s first wife. As I understand it, that Emma Smith could not bring herself to accept that Joseph Smith took all those extra wives. I hope things turn out better for this Emma Smith.

  • sd

    This is such a great response to that article. I would have written something like that when I first got married, too. I honestly thought that if I did everything “right” – married another Catholic in the Catholic church, didn’t cohabitate or fornicate, used NFP, raised the kids Catholic, etc., – that our marriage would be guaranteed to be relatively easy and free from hardship. I learned the hard way that you can do everything “right” and still have it all fall apart. My husband was a devout Catholic when I married him and is now agnostic. We also started out agreeing to use NFP but he got a vasectomy after multiple unplanned pregnancies.

    I know a lot of young people tend to be idealistic and naive, but I honestly think that American Catholic culture helps feed this idealism and leads people to believe that things will be perfect if they do everything “right.” How many times have we heard that NFP is “marriage insurance” and that NFP-using couples have only a 2% divorce rate, or that couples who don’t cohabitate decrease their risk of divorce, or that abstaining from sex before marriage means a great sex life after marriage, or that marrying another Catholic makes things so much easier?

    My takeaway from all this was that following all the Catholic rules all but guarantees a happy marriage. I also thought that our marriage prep, while very thorough, didn’t go far enough, because it didn’t warn about the dangers of too much idealism. It never even occurred to me back then that my husband might lose his faith someday. They never talk about this possibility in marriage prep, or the possibility that one spouse could cheat, or decide they want to use contraception, or change their minds on any number of important things. There is all this emphasis on making sure you are both on the same page before marriage, but what if one spouse changes their minds? There is nothing about how to deal with that if it happens.

    I think American Catholic culture is very “protestant” in a lot of ways, and a lot of this thinking echos the “prosperity gospel” and once-saved-always-saved rhetoric. There is a secular version of this too – the idea that if you do well in school, go to college, and play by the rules, you are guaranteed a good job, which as we all know is not necessarily the case.

    • Blobee

      You are so right! I think you are spot on in your last paragraph too (about the “prosperity gospel” nature of Catholicism and life today). When things do get spoiled by sin, either your own or another’s, we get caught realizing we were living as if we were controlling things, not God.
      I guess they don’t mention the hard realities of marriage in pre-Cana probably because no one wants to spoil the joy of young, hopeful couples. But not warning them there are no guarantees is not helpful either. And if you look at the Bible, all you read is stories of people who did all the “right” things (i.e. Mary, the mother of Our Lord) who lived through watching her Son be hated and killed. Faith in God is so important when events beyond our control upset our lives.
      Thanks for your comment. It’s very helpful.

    • GHM_52

      Perhaps the problem is your view of Faith as the following of rules. Who can truly have a real relationship with a set of rules? Can rules satisfy the thirst for “relationship” embedded deeply in your heart? Faith and hope are not about rules, but about a close, personal, continual relationship with the One Who Is Life, with He Who has the desire and power to fill you with His Grace. Obedience to rules flow out, naturally, from this relationship….And I use “flow naturally” because once you really relate to God the rules are no longer rules but infinitely loving and wise advice. The relationship must come first. If you start the other way around, by attempting to relate to rules, the probability of failure is significant. Think about it! God calls us to be saints! This must be possible otherwise He would not ask us to cooperate with His work of transforming us into saints. And what are “saints”, if not flesh & blood sinners like you and you ex-husband who opened themselves FULLY to God’s graces every single second of their days to allow God’s transformation to take place? They are not people who live for rules! They are people who live FIRST for God and, in God, live out their lives in service of others (their husbands, wives, children, parents, relatives, neighbors, coworkers, etc). Do you really believe deep in your heart that a marriage would fail if both husband and wife truly followed God’s Will every day of their lives?

      • sd

        He is not my ex-husband. We are still married. And it was everyone else who told me that following rules would guarantee a great marriage – so many Catholic writers, speakers, bloggers, youth ministers, priests, etc. To use just one example, in Janet Smith’s “Contraception: Why Not” talk, she has a list of things at the end that couples can do that she claims will guarantee that they won’t divorce – use NFP, give a certain percentage of your income to the church, and a few other things. This nonsense is everywhere. It’s not entirely my fault I believed it. It can’t all be chalked up to youthful naivete.

        • GHM_52

          Well, I hope one day you will believe what Jesus Himself said. He gave a new commandment which, according to Him, was the only one we needed to follow because it contained all the others: Love God above everyone and everything else ( He defined “love” not as a feeling, but as aligning your will with His will)) and love others AS GOD LOVES THEM. That seems to be a really tall order! Each one of us loving each other NOT as we love, but as God loves! Wow! But, if God Himself commands that, then it has to be possible to achieve it, right here on Earth. That is the ONLY rule given by Christ. To achieve that, we need to continually live in God’s presence and allow Him to live in us and act through us. In the case of married couples, if both spouses live their lives in FULL openness to God, then separation and divorce become actually impossible because God Himself says that valid marriage is indivisible. Read the lives of the saints! They all say the same thing: Love comes first! Love God with all your heart (meaning your will, not your fuzzy, warm feelings) and the following of His commandment(s) will follow. You won’t even see them as “rules”. Your love will see them as truths designed specifically for your well-being and flourishing.

          • Heather

            Wow. What incredibly rude and arrogant things to say to someone. The reason her marriage has had trouble is because she doesn’t believe Jesus’ promises? If she just trusted Jesus more then everything in her marriage would be effortless puppies and rainbows?

            Maybe you missed the part in your own argument about how BOTH spouses have to be on board with the whole “loving and trusting God and being open to His will.”

            Sometimes people change. If one spouse falls away from their faith, that’s not necessarily the other one’s fault. It certainly doesn’t mean that the other spouse doesn’t know the proper theological definition of the word “love.”

          • GHM_52

            Heather, the truth is never arrogant and never rude. Misinterpreted truths may be. If one of the spouses fails to do what God tells us to for our own good, the “faithful to God’s will spouse” will have to suffer whatever consequences arise from the errant’s spouse’s behavior. However, it is still the truth, not because I say it, but because God Himself says it, that the one who remains faithful to God’s will and opens his/her heart continually to the influence and grace of the Holy spirit will suffer in a most fruitful way….The yoke that for another would be unbearable, will be sweet to the one who suffers IN GOD. Again, it is not I who says that; it is God Who does. Therefore, there cannot be any arrogance to that statement as there is no more humble entity in the universe than God.

          • rozdieterich

            The challenge is that both parties “living their lives in full openness to God” isn’t a given, which you must realize if you are a regular patron of the confessional. We are each among the walking wounded and are prone to use our well-honed coping mechanisms (i.e. sin patterns) until God’s healing love and sanctifying grace break through to those wounded and sinful areas of ourselves. I think the charitable assumption is that we all are doing the best we can with God’s help, including people who we think should be trying harder.

  • Blobee

    Know what else? (To take it one step further), she is gonna hurt her children, and they are going to hurt her. I guaranteeeee!
    Ah, the wisdom that comes with living more than two decades! And wait until you live six! You almost become prophetic when it comes to human nature. By that time, if you don’t have an understanding and forgiving heart, you can become very bitter.

  • I’ve been married almost 26 years, known my wife for 38 years. Have we hurt each other? Yeah, sure. But I’ve always regarded our fidelity like gravity. Mutable in theory; but in practical terms, irreducible. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. But what would the prospects be for a marriage whose partners didn’t have that expectation from the start?

    • Anna

      I think this is what bothers me a bit about both Smith’s piece and a lot of the comments: you do have to go into a marriage with the mindset that certain things are off the table; that’s not being starry-eyed, that’s just the point of the vows. Setting down “no divorce, no cheating” as absolutes helps stop those
      paths before they start*; living in the constant fear that one or the
      other of you will fall in that way doesn’t help any marriage. But you also have to acknowledge the fact that you are a sinner marrying a sinner. Perhaps the main problem with the original piece is that she’s making a statement on behalf of someone else (her fiance), rather than saying “I’m taking my vows seriously, I know I’ll sin against my husband, I trust he’ll forgive whatever awful sins I commit, and I pray for the grace to forgive him.”
      Certainly there were plenty of hurting spouses at the old Faith and Family forum who were left by husbands who had that whole “our marriage is based on divine love and is an image of Christ and the Church, therefore bliss!” concept and then when things got hard decided that obviously they couldn’t truly have understood that they were signing up for *this* and so the marriage must be invalid.
      Funny, a closely-related discussion is going on at Barefoot and Pregnant… but on the value of “rules” about spouses associating with the opposite sex.
      *Yes, I know it’s not fail-safe, but it helps way more than Smith’s coworkers’ mindset of luck-of-the-draw or “I hope I won’t cheat, but ya never know.”

  • Therese

    Thank You . everything you said is so true. I too was once a young naive trusting bride who believed that since she found a nice Catholic boy, who went to mass with me every sunday, was involved in his parish, came from a good Catholic family etc.. that our future marriage would be perfect bliss. For the first 14 years of our marriage if you would have asked my husband he would have told you that divorcing ones spouse in order to find a new mate ,cheating on them, or any other type of similar activity was something that only scumbags did.
    Despite my prayers , despite trying to be the perfect wife, keep the perfect house, be the perfect mother, go deep into my faith.. he somewhere along the way lost his conscience. somewhere along the way he embraced “me” ism that is so common today, only caring about what HE wanted. and what he wanted was a newer younger girlfriend, not me his wife and mother of his children. what he wanted was no responsibility.
    Thank You Simcha for pointing out that sometimes the marriage may indeed start out validly.. . and one or both of the spouses can still go astray somewhere along the way. Sin is like that– it is there tempting us until the day we die.
    too many assume that since my husband is running around with my replacement, and has filed for divorce; that it must mean that the marriage was or is invalid. I do not believe that. and I am glad that you pointed that out.
    I remember believing that I was too’ the lucky one”, blessed by God.. I had a perfect home, such a wonderful kind faithful loving husband and a good Father to our children who also was a good Catholic man too.
    but it was my pride, bellieving that since I did everything right .. that somehow God owed me a perfect life.
    I have been, and will continue praying for my husbands soul until the day I die.
    He made a choice , a choice his free will allows- to choose sin. to choose what has hurt not only me , but our children as well as our extended family and friends . Sin has blinded him, much as my pride blinded me .
    He still is my husband , in Gods eyes he always will be, and right now I am still very deep in the hurt, but I wanted to thank you for helping me to understand that I was once that young naive bride -24 years ago.

  • Valerie Finnigan

    How about this? I know with reasonable confidence that my husband will not cheat. He and I are both human, after all. Cheating takes an awful lot of effort, and it’s not worth the risks involved. We’re all sinners. If one sins by cheating, there is a substantial risk of the other sinning by refusing to forgive, and that brings wrath into the equation. Like I said, not worth the risk.

    Keeping a promise even when it hurts is a lot less painful than what results if you break a promise. My marriage with my husband is not all smooth sailing. However, we try to avoid turning our lives into a soap opera, and I’m happy with that.

    • “Cheating takes an awful lot of effort…”

      In my experience, cheating was apparently a whole lot easier than actually working on the marriage.

      • IRVCath

        Because it is objectively true, but we are, of course, often blinded by sin.

      • Valerie Finnigan

        I should have said cheating without getting caught usually takes a lot of effort. If cheating were easy, fewer people would get caught. But under no circumstances is it worth the risks involved.

        To put it bluntly, without the theology-speak, my husband would have to be incredibly stupid to cheat on me. I would find out, and a couple of my crosses include zero tolerance for having my intelligence insulted and a very rotten temper. He’d likely come home to find the locks changed.

  • Therese

    Valerie, if anyone would have told me 10 years ago that my dear faithful Catholic husband who thought men who cheat on their wives are scumbags.. that now in our 24th year of marriage, would have recently filed divorce papers to me, having already been involved with another woman for some time.. I never ever would have believed it. I would have laughed at them, not my husband, he is a good man, my best friend. he would never ever do such a horrible thing. we have a good marriage. a happy marriage. He doesnt believe in divorce, or cheating.. One of our priests says often times that when you think you are above sinning, you’d better watch out. ALL of us are capable of sin, some smaller, Some BIG sins. But we are all human and we have free will, and that tendency to sin that we are born with. You are right, breaking a promise brings a lot of pain. That is something unfortunately my husband may take awhile to realize.
    I pray that your husband and you DONT cheat, I wouldnt wish that on anyone. no person deserves that. !! its a attack on the other spouses very dignity, it is such a betrayal that I cannot describe the pain. Obviously we promise to not cheat when we marry- we promise to not forsake the other. But none of us knows the future, none of us has complete 100% control over another persons actions , decisions or choices. back to that darn “free will ” thing. believe me I have complained about that one to my spiritual director many many times.
    at the end of our lives we each will stand alone, one way or another , before God and answer to him for how we have loved him and loved our neighbor.
    The only person I have( almost) complete control over is myself and the choices I make to live as a faithful Catholic.

  • Mrshopey

    I don’t think is was wrong for Emma to compare her marriage as the relationship we have with God as a marriage it is a covenant not just a contract. Many times in the bible we are given the bride/groom analogy. God’s love is like that; he does want to marry us in the sense we are totally his. Is she young and inexperienced? Sure. But so what. A person can give a reflection and their thoughts, especially what their hopes are for their marriage – which will be work. I think it is best to leave the difficult marriages (infidelity/addictions/abuse) to those that have been there, done that and have experienced grace and healing (and I will just add that not everyone has walked the road of infidelity/abuse/addiction. But I allow myself to be happy with those who are not burden as I am) May she never have to experience that as those should be out of the norm. But if she should, may she know where to turn and be surrounded by people who can walk with her, help her during the difficult time. I used to be like you in many ways, Simcha. I would criticize harshly those that didn’t know it all or have it all together. I found out the only person I could change was myself. I didn’t like the way I was. I didn’t want to continue to “rain” on others parade because mine was such a mess. It isn’t that people will sin, it is allowing those to try, have confidence, and provide them with resting places when the burden and days seem so long and hot. Emma, may God bless you and your future husband.

  • Like is an emotion, Love is a choice.

    Make the choice to put Christ first in your marriage, make the choice to be your spouse’s best friend- and the rest, will come.

    • tt

      And it won’t have to be “work”. If it is such flipping hard “work” to find companionship and intimacy with your spouse, then maybe you are with the wrong person. I have been married for five years and we have been through hell in that time–we’re still in it, frankly. We have been through job losses (two each), underemployment and living hand to mouth, shocking sudden deaths in both of our families, and now dealing with my parents’ inability to care for themselves (something that happened much, much too soon…my parents are not 95 or even 75). Through all of that, our marriage has been our haven not a trial of “work”. Yet I am continually told, by people whose marriages are in tatters with way less outside pressure on them than we have, that if marriage is not “hard work”, we’re doing it wrong. Not sure we’re the ones doing it wrong.

      • Kate Cousino

        The amount of work involved in a marriage isn’t a test or evidence of whether it’s “being done right (or wrong)” whatever on earth THAT means. Nonsense either way. Sometimes marriage can be hard work. Sometimes it’s not. You are fortunate to have a marriage that is a haven to you. That doesn’t it mean you’re lying to yourselves or not facing reality. It just means that you don’t find yourselves in conflict often, and you don’t have the weight of any of the kinds of trials that do put marriages to the test (those trials that come from within and affect perception, like mental illness, depression, addiction, attachment to sin, shame, illness, dysfunctional family patterns). Which is a wonderful thing!

        • tt

          My favorite thing…you just did it. That’s when I am told we haven’t faced any difficulties. If you think that all of the stuff I listed happening in a mere 4.5 years does not lead to emotional and mental struggles…congratulations on never having to deal with any of it at all.

          • Kate Cousino

            I’m sorry, I guess I misunderstood you. I read your earlier post as indicating that your external difficulties had never touched your marriage (that it was never ‘work’ and always a haven). If they have, then you probably have more in common with people who use the word ‘work’ to describe overcoming these difficulties than both you and they think, although you apparently have a different definition for the word.

  • Anna

    The combox is evidence of what is so hard about marriage prep: how to be honest about the reality of two fallen people in a fallen world trying, with varying degrees of success, to get themselves and each other to heaven, but without sowing seeds of distrust between the two. The vows have to be taken as absolutes by both people, otherwise you’ve got a decree of nullity made in the shade. However, people change and people sin and both have to hope that they will have the grace to repent and to forgive no matter what form sin takes in their marriage. But we have to be careful about not leading engaged couples (or married couples for that matter) into a constant sense of needing to hedge their bets against their spouse’s potential sin. And that’s hard because *that* narrative is everywhere in our culture, from sensationalized news stories about “the perfect fairy-tale marriage – until one murdered the other!” to the cousins whose marriage ended due to infidelity about 6 months after the wedding.
    So, any ideas on how to present “anthropological realism,” as opposed to either rose-colored glasses about graces given in sacramental marriage or “anthropological pessimism” (now I can’t remember if that was Benedict’s or Francis’ term when speaking to those on marriage tribunals) and teaching spouses to be “masters of suspicion” in regard to each other?

    • Kate Cousino

      What I’m wrestling with how to capture this unique (and frankly scandalous) aspect of Catholic marriage. You are married to the person–and their identity as that person, as he(or she)-who-you-are-bound-to-by-your-vows-and-the-sacrament, *cannot change*, even though everything about them, everything that makes him (or her) who you know him (or her) to be *can change*.

      We make vows to someone in good health, which we must keep when they are ill, when they are dying. We make vows to someone who knows us and loves us, which we must keep if they forget us or despise us (dementia, anyone? traumatic brain damage?). We make vows to someone who is charming, kind, thoughtful, and we keep them when they are selfish, cruel, sinful. We make vows to someone who is tall, but might someday be an amputee; who is intelligent, but may someday lose their faculties; who is cheerful, but may someday become depressive; who is faith-filled, but may someday despair and curse God.

      Everything about that person can and may change–body, mind, heart, they may seem completely different from the person you married, and indeed, in modern parlance we would talk about them being “a different person than he/she was.” But none of that is *who they are*.

      And I don’t really know how to talk about this. I don’t really know how to make it make sense to anyone without using words like “ontology” and “substance” and talking at length about personhood as distinct from accidental aspects. And of course all of these *are* really expressions of the person, and they change because persons change, and they change and they change the person. But our vows persist. There are no exceptions for change.

      So what do we make of this?

      • Anna

        I agree it’s hard to figure out how to talk about what the essence of the person is without removing everything that expresses the person. It’s kind of like grace and free will: wherever you draw the line will be wrong because there’s so much interplay.
        But I think coming at it like Simcha did pointedly at the end of her piece, putting it to people as *themselves* being the ones who will sin, who will change, who will test their spouse rather than “what will you do if xyz happens with your spouse” might help. I mean, I can (do) cringe plenty about the person I was 15 years ago, but there’s no point in the past 15 years where I suddenly stopped being me and turned into someone else, even if I say I’m not the same person I was then. And the reason I’m not the same is because I’ve gotten better about some things, worse about others, and stayed the same for still others. So which part of that isn’t me? Or which parts weren’t me? All of it, of course, is due to little choices I made along the way, none of it is really out of the blue. But all of it is what my husband is stuck with (until 15 years down the road when I’ve changed some more into goodness knows what). 🙂 Anyway, perhaps we need to point out in marriage prep that there are actually three things that are certain: death, taxes, and change. You can only choose your changes (and even a lot of that isn’t conscious), but you can’t choose for your spouse, you can only trust that, since you’ll be changing together, your choices will converge gracefully and you’ll stick it out even if they don’t because you expect the same from them.

    • Mrshopey

      Have a place and resources for those who do have problems in their relationships? Have priests who are willing to get in the middle, get dirty, or at least one in the diocese? And not act like “hands off” when they are struggling? Those are just my suggestions. The talks could incorporate a large variety of married couples including those who have survived infidelity and healed(ing) from it. To much one way or the other and it is a bad thing – you want to keep it real but not just fairy tale or “You are all doomed” echos from the culture and now, inside the Church. That is one reason why so many are afraid of commitment – from what they have heard and experienced (mother/father) themselves.

  • Lena

    When we were engaged, I knew my husband would never cheat. I still know my husband will never cheat. Because I know my husband. Why is this so hard for you to believe?

    Marriage isn’t work, marriage is life – and though some people can’t separate the two, treated marriage as a constant struggle diminishes it. I’m sorry your marriage isn’t the blessing it could have been, but don’t drag the whole world down with you.

    • MightyMighty1

      My husband and I fall into the “cheating is about as probable as one of us deciding to have a sex change operation” camp. I have raised my voice to him once or twice. I don’t really know people who are more happily married. And I can say that “marriage isn’t work, marriage is life” is a bizarre statement. We are meant to work (even Adam had to name the animals and whatnot) and then we get a smidgeon of rest. Why would marriage not involve work?

      Things we work at in our marriage:
      1.) Being patient when we’re both tired and want a break but instead at least one of us has to get up and attend to yet another disaster/need/interruption.
      2.) Being kind even when the other person’s error makes our day that much harder.
      3.) Grappling with our own individual pitfalls that make marriage harder–pride, anger, etc. Our own sinfulness means we have to always work at it in order to make the marriage better for the other person. Our spouse’s sinfulness means we have to work to hold it together when they aren’t doing what they should, when they should.
      4.) Etc.

      There is a lot of joy and comfort in our marriage, and the older we get, more laughter. But because we are each sinful alone and together, we have to work, work, work so that sin doesn’t have the final say.

      @simchafisher:disqus, I don’t feel dragged down by this article! And I don’t think it was snarky. I agree with Katie who pointed out the way women act like it is some huge attack when we want to critique anything. When did we get to be such wilting lillies? What’s really harsh is shutting down a woman’s thoughts/writing every time she talks about something other than baking and decorating.

      Also, who thinks GHM_52 is Smith? Why else the bizarre refusal to acknowledge that livin’s hard?

  • anna lisa

    Simcha, well done my friend.
    I’ve never given up, but there were times in my life, when I didn’t allow myself to look up and see that things could get much, much better– And they are. It was as if I’d given up on the hope, and joy of youth. That was a temptation, just like trading the pearl of great price is a temptation. Our faith is about redemption.
    I am happier now than when I was a newlywed. If I thought my husband and I were deeply connected at the altar, our bond pales in comparison to the present, with so much (thankfully!) behind us. Courage. Fortitude. Forgiveness.

    Wives in the rough patch of the road: Try not to give up. Bring your burdens to Love Himself. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Do what He tells you to do.
    Pray the second mystery of the luminous mysteries for those who are struggling.
    I feel so much love and urgency for the naked voices that I encounter in spaces like this. I feel honored to bring their shared burdens to God, with insistent solidarity.

    • bnls

      Thank you Anna Lisa for saying these things. I really, really needed to hear this today as I continue to pray and trudge through this painful and difficult time of my marriage. I realize that I can do nothing BUT Heaven can do everything.

      • anna lisa

        Yes. yes. yes. Remember St. Joseph too. Offering the mass for your marriage in the morning. Being in love with THE love is more than a consolation when times are tough.
        All good things come to those who wait.

  • Fiddlesticks

    I always thought that my marriage would be like Emma Smith describes – it’s a Christian marriage, right? It was rather to my surprise that I realised that I can’t say for sure that my husband will never cheat on me or that he’ll never become an alcoholic. I decided to marry him anyway and give him a chance. He looked at all my many faults and decided to marry me anyway. He didn’t say ‘well, when you’ve got everything all sorted out and I can be sure you’ll never hurt me then I’ll be interested.’ so how could I say that to him?

    I think the difference between that and the secular worldview is that when these things do happen we shouldn’t try to rationalise them as ‘inevitable’ or ‘just bad luck’ or ‘we shouldn’t have expected fidelity in the first place’ or (I hear this quite often) ‘it’s the Church’s fault for putting unrealistic expectations in people’s heads that human relationships can last’. It’s human to be weak, but it’s not morally neutral.

  • Caitlyn

    I am saddened by the heated comments on this article, and others that relate to Emma’s original article. Christ calls us to be charitable and build one another up. Can we please remember to love our brothers and sisters ESPECIALLY in the com boxes? Yes, we are broken. Yes, even good Catholic marriages have been destroyed through the sin of self or the spouse. It is obvious that many are hurting. But please, for love of God and neighbor, do not take out your bitterness on another sister in Christ. Can you instead pray for her and her soon-to-be husband who are desperately seeking to enter into a lifelong sacramental marriage? Pray that they respond to God’s grace given in this sacrament and that forgiveness and mercy will prevail. That is what they need right now- more prayers and less overly-critical judgment.

    • Kate Cousino

      You know, I don’t really see very much bitterness at all. And it depresses me that it is so difficult to discuss ideas without being accused of malice and (ironically) judging the person. And it seems especially difficult for women to discuss ideas without there being the assumption of personal malice, bitterness, offense, etc. Why do we attribute to our fellow women so much less capability for objective thought and so much less leeway for critical thinking than we give male writers? Why do we act as though young women like Emma are delicate flowers who cannot be engaged with intellectually?

      • simchafisher

        Hear, hear. It’s just embarrassing.

        • Caitlyn

          My comment wasn’t just an exhortation for this article – it applies to many a blog. (Have you seen some of the comments of Fr, Z’s blog? Just using as an example- I like a lot his posts but not all.)

          Maybe I, as a fellow millennial, and recently married, do not understand why the comments of those who have more experience, seem to quench our zeal for our vocations. Yes, I recognize that it isn’t perfect and suffering can be a daily encounter. My husband and I have already sought out counseling in our second year of marriage to work through some major issues. Still, we put our trust in God to work through us and bring healing.

          Anywhoo, I often wonder how these comments would play out in real time discussion… In person. Would we say the same thing? Would we be offended by the same comment? What characterizes ‘engaging intellectually’ versus ‘personal attack’ or judgment?

          • Kate Cousino

            I don’t know. Why do they “quench” zeal? Why are we no longer inspired by faithfulness despite betrayal, and love that goes beyond human love? Why would that douse zeal? Why does our ‘zeal’ look so much like the rest of the world’s idea of success?

          • Anna

            Well, I think some (certainly not all) of the comments do lean too heavily on the “you think you know a guy, but you just can’t trust anyone” emotions. Which, as I said below, is a hard balance to strike, of being realistic about human weakness without insisting that no one should really trust their spouse because you never know what sins that person will commit. I don’t think Simcha’s article did that, and I don’t think all the comments do that, but there are some that seem do be more focused on telling young marrieds that they’d better watch out if they’re so certain of their spouse’s fidelity and that nothing the spouses do has any effect on the what-ifs (even though it was all built on small choices over years). Simcha’s point was, I think, that we’d best focus on what we can control which is our own faithfulness (in all forms) to our vows rather than putting it all on the other. But I see how some of the comments end up sounding fatalistic.

          • Kate Cousino

            I don’t know. I think “you can’t ever be 100 percent certain” and “you just can’t trust anyone” are two different things. The second may be an appeal to emotion, but the first is a reasoned position.

          • Anna

            They are two different things, but they aren’t being treated as such by everyone in these comments. Those who express confidence in their spouse get jumped on for being naive, though I think they’re mainly just imprecise in sounding “100%” rather than specifying “as much as I can trust anything in this world, I trust him.” Also, I think there’s sometimes a certainty that comes from knowing what you or your spouse might be tempted to, like when Chesterton’s Fr. Brown points out that a miser on Monday won’t be a profligate on Tuesday. Goodness knows, it’s an emotional topic, so it’s hard to separate the emotion from the reasoned position. Some here are doing better with that than others; you’re firmly in the well-reasoned camp. 🙂

        • Pathfinder

          “It’s just embarrassing.” Yes, but not, I think, how you think it is.

          1. What is the point of this column and all the comments? It seems to be to a) show how much wiser we are; and b) both to complain and absolve the writers of bad things that happened to them.

          2. “insanely humiliating,” “untried,” “innocent,” “offensively wrong” – really, you were “offended”?- “childish.” The entire tone is one of condescension, superiority, and snark. Yeah, it’s embarrassing, Simcha.

          3. What is disappointing, and embarrassing, is the uncharitable nature of this column and the comments. When we read something, we can try to grasp the argument, even enhance it in our comments and thoughts. Or we can be uncharitable, nitpicky, and determined to miss the forest for the trees. We can take this column and instead of writing more about how to create a successful marraige, we can write 800 words about how naive and hubristic and childish and offensive the author is because we think she stated her case just a little too strongly for our tastes. But wouldn’t it be much more profitable to talk about the core message of Emma Smith’s column, rather than [complain, whine, grumble, grouse] that you think she’s just too darn sure of herself.

          • Kate Cousino


          • Pathfinder

            Yeah, “bitch,” as in “complain, whine, grumble, grouse;”

            Seems like a decent enough word choice, if not the very best. I’ve edited for you

      • Sheila C.

        Cannot like this enough. I think the writer of the original article expected people to have opinions about it, and to discuss it. There’s no better compliment to your opinion writing than to have it spur good discussions!

  • GHM_52

    I think you are missing the point. Israel is unfaithful precisely because It strays from God’s commands and loving advice frequently. Ergo, if Israel made it a point to turn to God day-in, day-out, in a sincere and contiunual way, It would have zero chance of being unfaithful. That is the point of Smith’s article. Is it theoretically possible that Smith and soon-to-be hubbie wiil fail at turning to God day-in, day-out? Of course! But it is also quite possible that they won’t fail. In fact, it is most probable that they won’t because God Himself will not allow it given their sincere attempts to turn their heart (a validly married couple’s single heart) to Him that fully conquers temptations. As for what would she say to people with failed marriages seeking consolation? She would be able to say plenty! She would be able to share how her excellent Christian understanding of marriage from the get-go prevented many of the ills afflicting them and how they can turn their marriage-related sorrows and failures into splendorous opportunities for deeper conversion. Smith is completely right in her understanding that most couples (including Christian/Catholic) enter into martiage either with a total or partial “worldly” vision. It is quite rare to find a couple that enters marriage REALLY believing that it is sacramental and must be a vocation and therefore, requires daily nurturing in Christian sacrificial spirit in order for the sacramental graces to flow freely and cement it

    • Kate Cousino

      “because God Himself will not allow it”
      This is a theological error.

      • GHM_52

        “This is a theological error”. No, Kate, it is not. When God Himself said that if we had faith the size of a (tiny) mustard seed we would order a mountain to move and it would, He meant it. If we live our lives in His Holy Presence and with sincere heart ask Him repeatedly, day in and day out, for the gifts of total obedience to His Will and complete purity of intention, His Grace will be sufficient for us not to commit any sin….That is what “God Himself will not allow it” means. And it is true because He Himself promised that. The problem with us is that we are not attentive to what God has promised us and even if we are, we don’t usually take Him at His Holy Word. And because of our unbelief, we fail to seek Him especially at the hour of temptation.

        • Em

          Where does “He Himself promise that?” The quote you gave from the bible certainly does not prove that. Moving mountains and not committing “any sin” are not the same thing. I pretty sure there were quite a few saints that asked “day in and day out, for the gifts of total obedience to His Will and complete purity of intention” and I’m pretty sure you could still find all those same saints frequently in the confession box. Is God’s grace sufficient? Absolutely, but outside of Mary, no human has been able to completely give themselves over to it. Anyone who thinks they can (especially just with daily prayer and good intentions) is most likely deluding themselves.

          • GHM_52

            He promised that implicitly when he called us to be “perfect as the Father is perfect”. If that were not possible, then why did He call us to it? Figure of speech? Mind games? I don’t think our Lord does those things. God’s grace is quite sufficient for us to be sinless saints….IF we open our hearts TOTALLY to His Grace. And by the way, Mary was capable of sinning. Otherwise, she would not have been free to choose to submit to God’s Will freely. It is true that her freedom from original sin was a great advantage…But, we are also freed of original sin through baptism. What we fail at is precisely what Holy Mother Mary never failed at: being true, constant, persevering, obedient-at-all-times servants of God.

        • Kate Cousino

          God’s grace does not abrogate free will. He would not remove the responsibility of choice (and the ability to choose wrongly) from us even if we asked Him to, because he desires our love, not our slavery.

          • GHM_52

            “God’s grace does not abrogate free will”. Of course it does not, Kate! What our FULL openness to God’s grace does is to allow our will to be aligned with God’s and when that happens we are able to live out our lives without the possibility of sinning. That is why it is a MUST to live our daily lives in CONTINUAL prayer . That prayer MUST include constant petition to discern the will of God for our lives and the graces of desire and fortitude to submit to it no matter the cost in hardship or discomfort. That is a prayer God will never refuse because it is the means to achieve, by God’s grace, the sanctity He Himself calls for. If each one of us TRULY made compliance with God’s will our ONLY goal in life, we would stop sinning as sinning is nothing but following our will in opposition to God’s.

    • Kate Cousino

      “She would be able to share how her excellent Christian understanding of marriage from the get-go prevented many of the ills afflicting them and how they can turn their marriage-related sorrows and failures into splendorous opportunities for deeper conversion. Smith is completely right in her understanding that most couples (including Christian/Catholic) enter into martiage either with a total or partial “worldly” vision. ”

      Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.

  • gregcamacho8

    This reminds me of another post of yours – one of my favorites:


  • oregon nurse

    After reading what some women in the combox think is a valid marriage, I suggest that pre-Cana classes better begin teaching that spouses will have to accept adultery, abuse, abandonment, addictions, divorce and remarriage, and basically any and all unilateral decisions their spouse chooses to make with regard to their marriage. Then and only then could one truly say they have the necessary awareness of the sacrament to be able to make a valid marriage committment.

    You might as well forget about annulments too since it’s hard to imagine anything but a ‘shotgun’ wedding could qualify as invalid. I find it truly amazing that the same conditions of mind and intention, if they exist at the time of marriage, can render it invalid (such as an intention to commit adultery), some spouses think can exist with impunity afterward and not render the marriage invalid.

    • Anna

      Once a valid sacramental bond exists, subsequent sin cannot make that bond vanish. A spouse doesn’t have to tolerate the behavior and can file for civil divorce if need be, but if the sacrament comes into being, sin can’t unmake it any more than a mistreated Host stops being the Body and Blood of Christ.

      • oregon nurse

        It’s all in the meaning of valid isn’t it? And marriage tribunals seem to be able to find something invalidating in most of those sinful situations. It seems to be pretty much a given that spouses who fall incorrigibly into those sins end up being found to be lacking the ability to enter validly into marriage.

        • sd

          This is not necessarily the case. Just because your marriage suffers from abuse / addiction / abandonment / infidelity / loss of faith etc. doesn’t mean the marriage is invalid. It may in fact be invalid, but it may not be. Those things may be reasons to separate from your spouse or even get a civil divorce, but it still doesn’t necessarily mean the marriage was invalid. It seems like a lot of commenters are saying that these terrible things will NEVER happen to them, and in the unlikely case that they do, it just proves the marriage was invalid from the start, so they can just get divorced and remarried. I don’t think you have a good understanding of what makes a marriage valid. It is actually not that hard to enter into a valid marriage.

          • oregon nurse

            There is a lot of psychology involved, now that we have a greater understanding. Spouses who exhibit these sinful behaviors incorrigibly – that word is important – often have a character or personality problem that was present at the time they married but was ignored or masked. People with normal emotional development don’t repeatedly use and abuse other people and refuse to change.

            I’m not talking about a one time infidelity at a time of weakness that is stopped and repented of. Or even a person who struggles with an addiction they sincerely try to overcome, they seek help but keep failing at. I’m talking about patterns of controling and hurtful behavior both large and small and lack of remorse and unwillingness to forgive and change.

            If a spouse wants to call a relationship like that a sacramental marriage I guess that’s their business but please don’t go around giving other people the idea that they have to accept a spouse like that for the rest of their life.

  • Em

    Thank you so much for writing this, especially the final reminder that this is a warning about me, not just my spouse. I was just like Emma. I was young, wildly in love, and oh so certain of our deep Catholic faith. We worked hard, very hard to do everything right. I had worked hard to learn my faith, earning a theology degree from a good Catholic college, we worked hard to stay chaste until our wedding night, we worked hard to use NFP (and worked harder to make sure we only did so for “grave” reason), we worked hard at our faith by going to daily mass, frequent confession, etc. Well guess what, a year into our marriage a tragedy befell us – one that I was absolutely shocked God would allow to happen to such a faithful Catholic couple. In response to that tragedy, the person I thought I knew better than anyone – myself – turned out to be capable of things I never dreamed possible. Both I and my husband would have sworn on our wedding day that I would never ever abandon my faith, that I would be a devout Catholic until the day I died. Guess what, turns out we didn’t “know” anything. I ended up leaving for some rad trad breakaway version of Catholicism. Why? Because they promised me exactly that guarantee- that if I just worked hard enough at being a good Catholic, I could know I wouldn’t have to suffer certain moral failings. If I just prayed the right prayers, in the right language, with the right candles, the right attire, and made sure to every little thing was exactly according to code, I would be safe. It was intoxicatingly comforting, but completely wrong. Thankfully, by the grace of God and my faithful husband, I found my way back, but I now realize there is no sin, however unlikely or distasteful it may seem right now, that I am not capable of. Neither my husband or I have ever cheated on the other and I have great confidence we won’t, but I now know there are no guarantees. That I can’t just rely on my sanctity or my knowledge of the faith to preserve from temptation. Ms. Smith is understandable in her naivete, but it never hurts to be reminded that we are human and never know for certain what the future holds and how we will respond to it.

    • rozdieterich

      Thank you very much for sharing your painful path and God’s faithfulness.

  • Faith Catholic

    “But she is disastrously, innocently, offensively wrong when she thinks that we can somehow guarantee that things will turn out well, just because we intend to work hard.”… “But I hope to God she is never involved in any kind of marriage ministry — not with the childish understanding of marriage that she has now.”

    While I take your point as valid, your article lacks charity, and it’s a bit over the top on righteousness. No need for that.

  • Faith Catholic

    “But she is disastrously, innocently, offensively wrong when she thinks that we can somehow guarantee that things will turn out well, just because we intend to work hard.”… “But I hope to God she is never involved in any kind of marriage ministry — not with the childish understanding of marriage that she has now.”

    While I take your point as valid, your article lacks charity and it’s a bit over the top on righteousness. No need for that.

  • Sheila C.

    Thanks for this. The “prosperity gospel” can be so damaging when applied to marriage (heck, when applied to anything). The Catholic faith gives us no guarantees, no promises that bad things won’t happen to us on earth. The only promises are that God will be with us through the very worst of it, that he will console us in heaven, and that if we are the ones doing wrong, that he will forgive us.

    It can be upsetting to watch the beautiful non-contracepting, tithing, married-in-the-Church couple break up, and the one that cohabited, contracepted, and broke all the rules last a lifetime. It happens. But we didn’t follow the rules to get a prize, but because we loved God and wanted to follow him. I feel like I have to speak up whenever I hear the “promises.” I was told if I gave 10% to charity, I would never be poor; or that if I was always open to life, my kids would turn out right. I never believed it, but if I had, I’d already be disappointed and I’m only 27!

  • Mrshopey

    I think still what is missed by Simcha, but grasped by Emma, is that even when there is evil, God can draw good from it. Emma gets that. I am not confident that Simcha does nor the healing power of God to restore a marriage.
    BTW, when did people start comparing sprains (venial sins/and or faults) to cancer (infidelity/abuse)?
    And when did we, as Catholics, stop taking seriously the vows?

    • Kate Cousino

      How on earth is it “not taking seriously” your vows to recognize that they will still apply *even if your spouse commits serious sin against them*?

      I mean, that’s the point. Emma is saying, “there won’t be any evil in my marriage, only small stuff (which I will forgive).” Simcha is saying, “there aren’t any guarantees, that’s what makes those vows such a huge freaking deal, because you might be called to forgive things you can’t imagine right now.” The latter sounds a lot more like God bringing good from evil than the former.

      • Mrshopey

        I see my error. Thank you dear ladies. Apologies to Simcha!

    • NurseTammy

      You got it backwords. Emma was saying that it WONT happen…and who needs healing when it wont happen in the first place? Simcha wrote more of the healing power of restoration that might be needed because humans are unpredictable.

      I disagree that acknowledging the gravity of what might happen causes us to take vows LESS seriously…I believe its the opposite. When you soberly consider some of the stark realities that might come your way, still deciding to stand in front of people and take vows is a serious and profound thing.

    • CS

      ” is that even when there is evil, God can draw good from it.”
      Yes, He can, but that is not the same as saying that we must ignore the possibility of evil, or that all we have to do is be faithful and we will not suffer it.

      We are not OBLIGATED to tolerate abuse, for example. We can be faithful to our vows and still refuse to allow physical access to an unrepentant abuser.

  • Lydia

    Wow. I guess I may as well wade in at this point.

    Emma Smith’s article is well-meaning, nicely written, and extremely naive. Naivete, while absolutely excusable and downright charming in a young woman about to get married is not a good starting place for a public article about how to be married.

    I got married at the age of 23, having studied philosophy, theology, and attended a myriad of conferences on marriage and family. I did NFP. I KNEW that, since we were faithful, devout and in love, we would not have certain struggles. I knew we’d never really yell at each other, or intentionally hurt each other. Since I know my husband well, I knew then, and now, that he wouldn’t ever be unfaithful to me in the adultery realm. By know, however, I mean that I have a well-founded, reasonable confidence and trust in my husband. That is something quite different from saying “we’re doing it all right so OF COURSE he won’t cheat.” If she had said “I know my fiance’s character, which means I have a reasonable certainty he won’t cheat,” rather than, and I sum up here, “We’re faithful so it won’t happen.” there would be absolutely no problem with that aspect of her article.

    Anyway, articles and talks like Emma Smith’s DID hurt my marriage, and I know of many women and mean who feel and think the same. That kind of “hey, you’re doing it right! nothing can go wrong in your marriage!” thinking is deeply hurtful when the day comes that you hurt your spouse, or your spouse hurts you. You start to think about how you must never have been doing your marriage right, since, if you were, you wouldn’t have these kinds of struggles. The boundless, Pollyannaish KNOWING that nothing bad can happen, because God forms a protective bubble around couples who follow the church’s teaching is simply not true. It is not true, but it is presented as true in this article, and that is the problem. Nowhere does the Church say “do this and you won’t struggle against concupiscence.” I love my husband, and I know I hurt him. I know I hurt him willfully sometimes. That makes me a normal sinner, like everyone else in need of repentance and forgiveness. But, take me back to the first few years of our marriage and I would have assumed that my marriage was horribly, horribly, bad and wrong and I clearly wasn’t doing it right because if I was it would be sunshine and rainbows. Emma Smith’s article, sadly, is indicative of a certain subculture in Catholicism that paints this vocation as a cure-all, when it’s probably the most down and dirty sacrament there is. It’s not all ToB revelations. People sin. People who love each other madly, sin. It’s not mean to point that out. Hopefully, Emma Smith’s marriage prep has covered the realities of marriage and of living with another frail human being. Obviously, sacramental grace and the lived teachings of the church are a safeguard, but they are not a guarantee that something awful might happen. People get brain damage. People go crazy. People get depressed and lash out. This happens. It is unkind for anyone to say “if only you do it right, you’ll be happy like me” It is presumptuous, and a bit arrogant. All brides to be are arrogant, though. And if it wasn’t an article on how to have a good marriage, I’d give it a pass.

  • Andrea Gleason

    If both sides have a clear understanding of chastity before being married I believe that carries over into marriage. I have only been married 8 months and I can say with certainty my husband would never fall to infidelity. Will we fall to other sins? Yes. But our convictions about fidelity are strong and God gives grace to those who wish to do his will. And as a side note, frequent use of NFP seems to cause more misconceptions and distortions about marriage, children, and family life than help it from what I’ve seen and heard from other couples. NFP isn’t the “Catholic” way. It’s an exception, not the rule nor bonding tool.

    • sd

      “I have only been married 8 months and I can say with certainty my husband would never fall to infidelity.”

      I’m sorry, but this made me literally LOL. Check back with us in 20 more years…

      • simchafisher

        Yup, mad me laugh, too – and not because I thought marriage would be great but it turned out to suck. It’s just that marriage is not what I thought. Not. At. All (and that includes good and bad).

        When I was just married, I would say things like “I’ve only been married 8 months, and I can say with certainty x, y, and z about marriage.” Now I say, “I’ve only been married 16 years, so I’m just starting out, but I’m starting to realize that X is true about marriage. But I may be wrong . . . “

        • simchafisher

          And, need I even say it: NFP is what you make of it. Many people never do need to use NFP; but I haven’t noticed that those couples are holier than other Catholic couples. I’ve noticed that they sometimes *think* they’re holier; but I also get an awful lot of letters from people who think they’d never need it, and now they’re sorry they were so snooty about the whole thing!

          • Andrea Gleason

            Never implied anything about holiness in not using NFP or never being open to NFP if it was actually necessary… 🙂 Just stating that there are some deep issues with its use in Catholic culture. Also, I never implied marriage would be a bed of roses. Just that my hubby would never be unfaithful to me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have married him. 🙂 A good man is hard to find and I searched long and hard and found him. And I am confident in his goodness (not his perfection, mind you, but the goodness that is a reflection of his well formed soul).

          • simchafisher

            I wish you both well!

          • Andrea Gleason

            Prayers would be cool 🙂 Sounds like we’ve got quite a road ahead. Thanks! 😉

          • oregon nurse

            I’m not pointing at you personally at all. But I have to say that some of the snootiest, holier-than-thou Catholics I’ve encountered are those who obsess about their NFP use to the point that they come across as contraceptive-minded while insisting they are not. I’m talking about the ones (usually women) who obsess over how to finesse it and perfect it and they proudly ‘share’ their tips and techniques and how they’ve got their fertility window nailed down to only 7 days/mon. They unblushingly crow that they are having lots and lots of infertile nookie. You will find them on just about any mommy or NFP blog.

          • simchafisher

            Well, I imagine if you go to an NFP blog, you’ll find people talking about NFP. But in general, I guess the takeaway is that jerks are everywhere!

          • oregon nurse

            Unfortunately, the women I’ve described are more likely to be held up as inspirational examples (with the right NFP instruction and practice you too can get these results!!) rather than jerks.

          • MightyMighty1

            Should married women blush about having infertile nookie? Or only if they are having lots of it?

          • Manyouwell

            Tell me about this “lots and lots of infertile nookie”. My wife and I will definitely crow.

      • ibookworm

        I’m sorry for your bitterness. Leave us your address and we will. 😉

        I’d frankly be worried about any newlyweds that DIDN’T believe that there could never be infidelity between them. Call me naive if you want, but my wife and I will never be unfaithful to each other. And maybe the fact that I say that with such confidence is why it’s true. It’s self-fulfilling. When you go into marriage knowing what it is for and why, and you know your spouse has the same understanding (and bonus if you say the daily rosary!), I think you can be justifiably confident that that is not something you will ever do. This is not the same thing as saying you can never sin, or there will never be any problems. But if something truly is unthinkable to you, totally off the table, I don’t think it’s naive to expect it to remain that way, especially with divine help.

        • simchafisher

          If you use that email address again, you will be permanently banned. This is your only warning.

          • ibookworm

            Huh? I responded to a snarky response to my wife by taking the person up on their challenge. Is my comment worse than theirs? Or is it not allowed because you disagree with me?

          • simchafisher

            Maybe I have misunderstood, and your real name and email address is very similar to someone I know. I’m sorry if I have misunderstood.

          • ibookworm

            Nah, you don’t know me. 🙂 Yikes, my real name shows up? Where’s that? Or can only you see it?

  • ibookworm

    Tolkien once wrote, “The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called ‘self-realization’ (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering.” He was talking about marriage.

    This is an alien concept in our culture, which treats marriage as a means of self-actualization; if it fails to serve us, we drop it and move on to another. That doesn’t mean, of course, that marriage is all hardship and suffering — far, far from it! But it does mean that going into a marriage I need to know that it is not about ME. It is not even about US, me and my wife. It is about the family as a whole, including whatever children God blesses us with, and it is about God, or rather our response to him. We are serving a greater reality. That can be hard precisely because it means a subsumption of the self to something greater, but it is beautiful too, because that’s actually our mission in life. That’s our whole goal! Our final cause, our end, our goal, is to be united to God, and that means subsuming our will to His, giving our entire self to Him. Only then, in a paradox that would have delighted Chesterton, will we actually “realize ourselves,” since our nature is made for union with God.

    So I understand everyone who says that you can’t guarantee a good marriage by following certain rules or methods (especially the one that goes, “Use NFP and you will never divorce”). It’s not about this or that particular system (except maybe “pray the rosary daily” — I haven’t seen that one fail yet!), but about the attitude that you have regarding marriage: whether you think that the marriage is for you, or you are for the marriage.

    All that said, I do think that if you go into marriage with the right attitude, and you know your spouse shares it, you can be pretty confident in saying that certain things, like infidelity or divorce, are simply not going to happen. This is not the same thing as saying that your marriage will never have problems, or you will never sin. It’s just that the problems you are going to deal with are different (and hopefully less grave) ones. I don’t think this is naive, especially when combined with an ACTIVE trust in God (i.e. not passively expecting him to do all the work), and the sacraments and the daily rosary.

    • But I honestly know a couple in real life that experienced exactly what you say is not possible. They were devout, they understood and embraced the Church’s teachings on marriage, they not only practiced but taught NFP, etc. One of the spouses developed a mental illness which caused the person to act in a manner that made other spouse and children feel unsafe. What was supposed to be a temporary separation quickly became a divorce filing on the ill spouse’s part. Finis. End of story. This is part of the awful truth of free will after the Fall.

      • ibookworm

        Hmm . . a mental illness implies that free will was impaired. If it was truly mental illness then it’s obviously an exception. But if it wasn’t . . . then the man is culpable.

        I, too, have seen apparent good marriages break apart. I think, however, that what looks good from the outside often has fault lines on the inside. For instance, my wife and I would be wary of what you said about the couple teaching NFP — we believe (and I know that many disagree) that the current vogue understanding of NFP as a positive good instead of a temporary emergency measure changes the understanding of marriage at the fundamental level (kids are not the EXPECTED end of lovemaking, and lovemaking at the unprescribed time is viewed as a failure, among other issues — setting yourself up for the possibility of disappointment in the first instance and blame and strife in the second). On the other hand, I’ve seen non-NFP using couples fall apart, too, but in those cases the fault lines were elsewhere — the husbands in both cases were die-hard authoritarians who still, in their own way, treated the marriage (and their wife and kids) as something FOR them, rather than vice-versa.

        Sometimes you don’t really know your spouse, it is true. And I’m not saying that even good couples falling apart is impossible. But I am saying that you should be allowed to be confident that it won’t happen if you really know your spouse and you share a view of marriage that sees both of you united in something greater, that it is not for you but you are for it. Yes, there is free will, and we shouldn’t have presumption. We should always be on guard against sin, because the moment you decide you CAN’T sin is the moment when you let your guard down and it becomes possible. But we should have a holy hope and trust, and a healthy confidence in God. If both spouses keep him front and center, he’ll protect them. And: daily rosary! 🙂 Our Lady keeps a hand on her own.

        And, really, what is to be accomplished by telling a young couple that they can’t predict if one of them will be unfaithful? Being able to say “I told you so” if it happens? Couples SHOULD be confident that neither one will cheat. That’s healthy. I’d be worried about any young couple that believed it was possible.

  • ForsythiaTheMariner

    Thanks for posting this. I am a Catholic, married to a man who was born into and practices a non-Christian religion. Of course, I kmew this going into the marriage, and he has always supported me in my faith, including attending pre-Cana with me. However, there are some hard time when for a moment I start to think, “it would have been so much easier had I married a good, Catholic man.” I know this is a disillusion, and the prayer against Indifference from Fr. Hardon’s book has helped me.

    I have so much pride that I can’t believe that, if we follow God, something bad will happen to us. We have lost a couple close friends to acts of violence this year, and, while i am always worried about the risk to our own lives, I dont think I have yet been able to come to terms with the possibility of something horrible like this befalling us. This article and many of the comments below have helped me to want to pray for more humility. A very timely article, considering its the Feast of the Assumption when Mary said yes to God’s will.

  • John Darrouzet

    Simcha, Simcha, Simcha. As Pope Francis might say: “There’s a sourpuss in your mirror.” Do you see it?

    • Damien Fisher

      At least it’s not a dork, amirite John? Rooty Toot Toot.

    • Rose Nigel

      Oh, I get it. The cat has a lemon for a head! Just like Simcha!

  • mn_catholic

    Thanks for the great article, Simcha! My wife and I both could have written a very similar article to Emma’s before we were married five years ago. By any standard we’ve both had a very trouble-free marriage so far (four kids in five years, no unexpected deaths, stillbirths, miscarriages, or major illnesses, no infidelity, etc), but we’ve definitely learned in a million smaller ways that marriage and parenting means embracing the cross. Raising children is a lot of work, and there are only two of us to get all of that work done. We’ve had a thousand minor struggles such as bouts of depression, acute illness at the worst possible timings, sleep deprivation, and just a general abundance of stress that is bound to occur with four young kids around. The fact that both my wife and I have remained faithful to the Church and frequented the sacraments have prevented any of these smaller issues from turning into full-blown catastrophes, but the temptation to give into selfishness is always there and requires constant vigilance to keep in check.

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