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Ten Reasons for the Marriage Mess

7. Promiscuity The more sexual partners a person has the less that person is able to establish a permanent, mature and caring relationship. Promiscuity spreads the person too thinly. Every time a relationship breaks down it is like a mini divorce. Part of that person is broken, part of their ability to love is impaired. Part of their capacity for a good marriage is wounded. Part of their ability to trust and give of themselves in total loving relationship is destroyed.

8. Cohabitation living together before marriage actually makes for a shaky marriage–not a good marriage. Here’s why: the woman gives herself to the man as if they are married, but they are not. She has therefore got herself into a relationship with a man who she admits will sleep with a woman to whom he is not married. Deep within the relationship, therefore is a seed of distrust and with holding oneself from the other person. They have colluded together to publicly live a lie and to live immorally and they know that even if they deny it. That lie becomes the foundation for their relationship and any relationship based on a lie is unstable from the start.

9. Suburban Nuclear Family We think of the “happy family” as being Father, Mother and a few children living in their own house in the suburbs. This is un natural. The real family is a large extended family or “tribe”. The extended family supports marriage. When there are problems in the marriage an aunt, uncle, brother, sister, parent or grandparent is there to help the wife or husband through the crisis. An extended family provides peer pressure, negative sanctions for bad behavior and positive sanctions for good behavior. In a multitude of ways the extended family builds marriage and supports marriage. The American suburban nuclear family unit is a fragile concept. When combined with mobility and the other factors the pressures on that “perfect family” unit are immense.

10. Destruction of the Christian Meaning of Family Many Christians including many Catholics (because of the pressures above) have forgotten –or never knew what a marriage and family were for in the first place. We swallowed the lie that marriage was about finding self fulfillment rather than finding a way of self sacrifice. We forgot that marriage was a sacrament and a sacrament is always a sacrifice of some kind. We forgot that marriage was one of the ladders to heaven and we started to think that it was merely a pathway to personal happiness here and now. Because we forgot the eternal meaning of marriage it was an easy thing to dispose of. If marriage was only a means to personal happiness, and that avenue to happiness failed us, then why not discard it and look for some other way to try to be happy?

These factors and many more have contributed to the Marriage Mess and are some of the complicated reasons why there are so many divorces and so many remarriages. Is the answer to simply throw  open the doors and say it doesn’t matter–that anyone can come to communion no matter what?

Of course not, and this is not what anyone is saying who cares about marriage. These factors simply indicate why a pastoral approach is sorely needed.

But when I say “pastoral approach” this is not code for  a wave of the hand and “Well, we all make mistakes. I can’t be bothered with all that legalistic annulment nonsense. All are welcome. Jesus loves you. Of course you can receive communion. Its all about mercy after all…”

A true pastoral approach assists people who are wounded by the Marriage Mess and helps them find repentance and mercy. It helps them fit the mess they are in with the high standards the Catholic faith demands.

The true pastoral solution involves rolling up ones sleeves and entering the mess with them, offering counseling, care, discernment, listening and welcome. It also involves the church’s charism to assess whether a marriage was truly valid, and expects as part of the process the appropriate discipline regarding communion for those who are working through an annulment process.

That process is often difficult and time consuming, but because we take marriage seriously and we take our flock seriously we will help them through the mess to find the repentance and mercy that will eventually bring their healing and restoration to full communion.