Monday, December 3, 2012

Passive spouses and aggressive in-laws

Reposted for new Sky View readers and especially newlyweds.

As one who has given talks at diocesan engagement encounters, led Cana marriage programs at the local parish and personally counseled spouses from distressed and broken marriages (on a personal level, not professionally) , I have come to learn over the years that fewer people are being prepared for the demands of marriage. What used to be common sense and good instincts, as far as making relationships work, are fewer and far between nowadays.

After all, Hollywood and the entertainment industry at large so emphasizes and even glorifies the first phases of romantic and sexual love that it completely ignores the self-denial and virtues that are required for a life-long marriage. Perhaps, this is why so many television programs are centered around unmarried or divorced/remarried couples. Hollywood produces these kind of television shows and movies precisely because this is all they know! Indeed, their lifestyle and values lead to a total disillusionment of that "forever kind of love"; the kind of love Christianity upholds as the ideal.

So, what about the mistakes married couples make? Inevitably, the in-law factor eventually comes into play in every marriage. In some marriages, in-laws are blessing; yet, in others, a curse. And it is unfortunate that many married couples realize only after the wedding that they also married, in addition to their spouse, their spouse's family. What they signed up for is, quite often, a commitment with many unnoticed details.

Even if the local parish marriage-prep program is less than ideal, a person who is well-formed spiritually and morally will have a head-start.  One of the advantages of having the Cross of Christ as the standard by which we live our lives is that we are more disposed to make sacrifices for loved ones. It can even be said that we better understand what ditches are worth dying in. The question we, as spouses, often have to ask ourselves is this: Second to God, who comes first in my life? Who comes second? And so on.

It is surpriseing how many spouses want to please, as their highest priority, their own mother, father, brother or sister; even against the wishes or well-being of their own husband or wife. Excuse the digression, but what is also common among married couples is the mistake of making the children the highest priority; even above that of their own spouse. I'll never forget a picture I saw in someone's kitchen. It reads something like this: "The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." How true! And yet, for a good number of married couples this proverbial truth is not etched on their marriage stone.

How many times have we heard a husband (or wife), for the sake of "peace," not get involved when his sposue is being verbally abused or infringed upon by his immediate family? How many times have husbands or wives failed to mediate the concerns of their spouses to their own flesh-blood family? And when I say mediate, I mean defend the legitimate concerns and the best interests of the spouse.

Marriage implies that a man and a woman graduates, if you will, from the family he or she grew up in. They are supposed to leave family they grew up in and become "one" with their spouse. This oneness is an indissoluble union- composed of two distinct personalities -that God himself has fused into one thing! Indeed, this union, according to two thousand years of Catholic teaching, becomes second only to God and the highest priority for the married couple. Anything that threatens that unity is suspect; including a disgruntled a mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law or sister in-law.

I am especially critical towards men because I believe that in Western Civilzation many of them have become soft. They should be the first to sacrifice, the first to take the lead and the first to take action. But quite often (at least from what I observe) they do not! Sometimes, they fail to act like men because they are still "mamma's boy" or are beholden to their siblings. Indeed, they refuse to defend their wife for fear of displeasing their own relatives.

However, the "momma's boy syndrome" can put a lot of stress on a marriage (I have to say women can be equally guilty of this dereliction). In any case, not standing up for number one, namely, one's spouse, is symptomatic that we have lost sight of the proper order of things. Moreover, many couples are not accustomed to make the proper sacrifices needed in order to keep marriages intact.

The Good News is that being a disciple of Christ implies doing God's will and doing the right thing when it is hard or even when no one is looking.  Furthermore, such as spiritual dispositon makes us willing, if necessary, to upset those closest to us; especially family members. Perhaps, this is why Jesus said, "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." [italics added]

Notice Jesus did not draw the line of division between husband and wife. There is a reason for that! He will not divide what he himself has united. Again, second to God, spouses come first in a marriage; even if it means clashing with other family members! Therefore, stand up for the number one person in your life and let chips fall where they may.