For a number of reasons, looking for a wife or husband is more complicated today than it used to be. For one, there are more broken families today than fifty years ago. A person carries whatever dysfunction or baggage comes from that broken family into what is hoped to be a lifelong marriage.
Second, although it is better now than it was before, Catholics (at least in America) have not done the best job of defining what a Christian or disciple of Christ really is. Frankly, from the late 1960’s up until this last decade, the definition of a Christian has been pretty watered down. Couples who cohabitate, who use contraception and who regularly miss Mass, refer to themselves as “Catholics.” Unfortunately, many practicing Catholics go along this custom and give nominal Catholics who live by their own rules the courtesy of calling them what they are not, namely, a "Catholic." This makes the discerning process all the more difficult. As a result, when someone says that he or she is "Catholic," we can no longer take it at face value. Unfortunately, the title of being a "Catholic" no longer means what it once did. We have to look beyond the cover of the book, so to speak.
To use a book as an analogy, when it comes to dating and finding a spouse, it might happen that the title of a book suggests that it is a Christian book. It might even happen that the first few chapters are Christian in every sense of the word. But as you continue to read- especially towards the end of the book –the material begins to show inconsistencies with what the book claims to be. Upon discovering this, instead of ignoring it, you have to ask yourself: “Is this book really a Christian book? And should I buy it?”
The point of this analogy is that it is of the utmost importance to get to know the person, with all of his or her dark corners- as much as possible -before committing yourself to a lifelong relationship. It just may be that their more enduring attitudes and habits- not apparent in the initial phases of dating -are inconsistent with their claim to be a Christian. If you think that “your new found love can do no wrong,” then you do not know your prospective spouse enough!! Remember, love is based on knowledge. You cannot love someone you do not know. And if you think you do love that special someone without knowing him, then, in reality, you are only attracted to him; love has yet to enter the picture.
There is no better test of finding out a person's character as when he is under the crucible of trials and contradictions. It really is true that adversity builds character! However, it is equally true that adversity reveals character; that is, you often get to know the deeper, more hidden attributes of a person when his will is contradicted. Indeed, it is always good to know how your girlfriend or boyfriend responds when you are the cause of that contradiction. I cannot say it enough, virtue acts quietly but the disagreeable circumstances reveals the real character of a person.
One more consideration before we venture into the third point: Christians can often make the mistake of spiritualizing their problems and their own wounds. That is, some are led to believe that because they found Christ or because they participate in a prayer group or even attend daily Mass, that their problems automatically go away. Keep in mind that grace builds on human nature, it does not replace human nature. Therefore, even though you or your significant other is praying more, reading Scripture more or attending religious events, this does not absolve them from working through their problems.
To be sure, there can be a temptation, after having a profound experience with God, to presume that we are instantaneously healed when in fact we have some work ahead of us; the work of dealing with bad habits of thinking, feeling and doing. No doubt, self-conquest is the hardest conquest in the world. But with God’s help, it is within reach.
This leads me to the third about why looking for a husband or wife is difficult these days. We do not readily see that vices and virtues exist in groups or families. I am amazed at how many people overlook the most blatant of red flags while they are dating; the time when they are supposed to be vigilant and actively discerning the suitability of their lifelong mate. The following general principle might help in the discernment:
Keep in mind that both virtues and vices do not exist alone or in isolation; they exist in families. If you read the Catholic Catechism or a good book on Catholic moral theology, you will find that the cardinal virtues, the theological virtues and the seven deadly sins are grouped together. And the reason why they are grouped together is due to the similarity and affinity they have with one another. As such, they tend to conglomerate and reproduce other virtues and vices very similar to themselves. And when they are reproduced, they tend to cling to one another. Just as every person is not only an individual but a social being, virtues and vices do not like to be alone.
If a man, for instance, is addicted to pornography, chances are he struggles with bearing false witness. After all, what man wants to tell his wife or mom what he was just doing (i.e. viewing immodest pictures of women). Also, any man who depersonalizes women through the pleasure of viewing porn will also depersonalize a woman in his anger. In many cases (but not all cases), pornography can lead to some kind of spouse-abuse.
Another example is that if a man does not get along with his mother, treats her with disrespect, he will undoubtedly carry this over into his marriage. Quite often, the parent-child relationship serves as a template for future marriage relationships. On the other hand, if a man loves and respects his mother, he has a solid foundation from which to love and respect his wife.
As for a man’s suitability to a prospective wife, it is always good to know that the quicker she gives of herself emotionally in saying “I love you” and sexually in terms of giving too much of herself physically, she will be just as quick to leave the relationship when sacrifice and perseverance are required. I would be remiss if I didn’t add this: In worst case scenarios, we instinctively know that porn stars and prostitutes do not make good mothers. Similarly, any woman who overly sexualizes herself or puts a great deal of emphasis on her sexual appeal will be deficient in those virtues that make for a good mother. After all, a virtuous mother is a vocation of sacrifice and self-forgetfulness. In such a vocation, the accent is on the giving! But women who focus too much on their sexual appeal to men, they are being groomed to covet attention; that is, in receiving and not giving.
Men have to realize their attraction to pretty women is often immediate and superficial. He is visual and as such he can be drawn towards a woman’s beauty in an instant. However, this power of attraction can go just as quickly as it came, especially when an attractive woman begins to impose demands or simply annoys him.
If feminine beauty were sufficient to guarantee a man’s unconditional love for a woman, then the divorce rate in Hollywood would not be so astronomically high.
In closing, the benefit of drawing close to Christ is that he reveals- not only himself to you –but you to yourself. In other words, with Christ, we begin to see ourselves as we really are. And in seeing ourselves as we really are, that is, sinful and imperfect human beings, then we begin to learn more about how human nature and relationships work. By living his life and following his precepts, we are less likely to believe in false promises and overlook critical red flags in discerning who are future spouse is going to be.
Read the sequel: How to catch red flags before its too late