1. Dysfunctional Families:
Coming from a dysfunctional background or suffering from a strained relationship with one or both parents will definitely have its effect in a future marriage. I used to work at a Catholic orphanage which took in children that were physically and sexually abused. Having seen the effects, I can tell you that physical abuse is bad enough; but sexual abuse cuts to the soul and turns it inside out. If sex was just another recreational activity, as secular-liberalism maintains, then the misuse or exploitation of it should not cause the trauma and damage that it does. Many who have yet to marry may have had some experience with sexual abuse. Or perhaps they were deprived of a healthy relationship with a parent. But few appreciate the impact it will have on their future marriage.
God gives us two chances, so to speak: The family we are born into and the one we make for ourselves once when we come of age. As for the former, we have no choice in the matter; the family is just given to us by virtue of our birth. But when it comes to choosing a spouse and making a family, we have the choice to repeat what was given to us in our childhood or we can pursue a better path. As Dr. Scott Hahn said, if you come from a dysfunctional background and you want to continue the dysfunction, all you have to do is…well…nothing! Just go with the flow.
This leads me to point I wish to make: If you come from such a background, I would highly recommend you pray and search for a spiritual director: one who is solid in his or her Catholic faith. This, of course, is in addition to whatever counseling or psychiatric help that may be needed. Ideally, the spiritual director should be a priest or a consecrated in the religious life. The advantage of having a priest as a director is that you can go to him for confession on a regular basis. A lot of the healing that needs to take place is not only psychological or emotional in nature, but spiritual as well. Exposing your wounds and scars through talking things out is a must!! Usually people choose to do this with a counselor; and, to be sure, that may be required. But if counseling is not grounded in solid moral and spiritual principles it will undoubtedly overlook critical aspects which need attention. As such, the root cause of the problem will persist.
For instance, one important contribution Catholic spirituality makes towards the healing of wounds is the insistence that forgiveness is absolutely necessary. Indeed, forgiving the offender is the first step in the healing process. On the other hand, harboring a grudge or hatred towards a family member will adversely affect your relationship with God and with your future spouse.
Another contribution towards healing and making oneself a better candidate for marriage is the knowledge that other person’s (the abuser or perpetrator) sins or misconduct towards you does not define you. Mistreatment, neglect or abuse should not be allowed to define you. To grasp this truth through spiritual direction can make all the difference in the world. It can be refreshingly liberating!
To heal is to make important distinctions. Catholic theology is full of distinctions. However, many fail to make the distinction between the mistreatment they endured growing up and their own dignity as a son or daughter of God. It is quite common to assimilate the mistreatment, the lack of love or the abuse and hence make it apart of their own identity. But through good spiritual direction and an active prayer life, Jesus can salvage what was lost through the sins of others. And through the meditation of the mysteries of Christ- principally that of his suffering and death -a person can discover meaning in his or her own suffering. This is important because for those coming from an abusive or dysfunctional background, it is natural to have felt abandoned by God.
Through spiritual direction, spiritual reading and a Christian social life, a wounded person can begin to see that even most painful memories can be an instrument of resurrection and renewal in God’s hands. To be sure, God does not arbitrarily permit evil and misfortune. In his wise and loving providence, the Lord foresees that some greater good will come from our suffering. But in order for us to benefit from that greater good, we have to resist the temptation to rebel or murmur against him. Instead, like the prophet Job, we should bless the Lord and trust that he has our best interests at heart.
2. Not Knowing What a Christian Is:
Unfortunately the definition of what a Christian or follower of Christ really has not been sufficiently explained in many Catholic parishes for several decades; nor has it been enforced with the Church’s pastoral practices and disciplinary actions. With this in mind, it is understandable, but yet regrettable, that it has become difficult to find a good Catholic husband or wife. People do not even know what is truly consistent or inconsistent with an authentic Catholic identity.
Reading the Catholic catechism or sound Catholic theology books is always helpful. But even these sources can present principles of sexuality and marriage in the abstract. What you need is something concrete and practical. And as far as getting the necessary knowledge of what a Christian really is, there is no better source than the lives or writings of the Saints.
As mentioned earlier, this kind of spiritual reading will not only help us discern what a Christian thinks and how he talks and how he behaves, but in the writings of the Saints you will find virtues and attitudes that make for a good and long marriage. For instance, St. Francis of Assisi once said that being silent when criticized is worth more to God than ten days of fasting. As difficult as it is, this virtue goes a long way in making peace in one’s marriage. And then there is St. Dorotheus. As for keeping peace in one’s heart, he had this to say:
"The man who finds fault with himself accepts all things cheerfully – misfortune, loss, disgrace, dishonor and any other kind of adversity. He believes that he is deserving of all these things and nothing can disturb him. No one could be more at peace than this man.”
There are so many of these gems worth reading about. Truly, the Saints are the continuation of Christ’s life on earth. They shed light on those specific and practical matters in life that can make or break a marriage.
3. Virtues and Vices Exist in Families:
This third obstacle in recognizing red flags has been addressed in the previous post. In it I explained that virtues and vices do not live in isolation but rather in groups. This is to say that one red flag will usually lead to another. Worldly people compartmentalize. As such, they see the different aspects of their life in unrelated and disconnected segments. But as we draw closer to Christ, we compartmentalize less and less. We begin to see values in a larger context; as part of a vast tapestry, if you will. In writing about the soul’s conversion to Christ, Bishop Sheen wrote the following:
“Things which before seemed precious are now considered trivial, and things which before seemed inconsequential, have now become the essence of real life. Without the Divine sense of values, which conversion brings, the soul is like a department store where the wrong price tags are on everything hairpins sell for a thousand dollars, and diamond rings for a nickel. Conversion hangs the right price tags on the right things and restores a true sense of values. That is why the outlook of a convert is entirely changed on subjects such as marriage, death, education, wealth, pain and suffering...He now sees why religious education is essential– for unless the soul is saved, nothing is saved.”
Conversion not only helps us to see the hierarchy of values and truth, but it also helps us to see- as if from a bird’s eye view –the unity of values and truth. The same applies to vices and virtues. Indeed, they are so interrelated that one leads to another. This is why St. Peter encouraged his flock to build one virtue upon another. He said,
“[M]ake every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted, forgetful of the cleansing of his past sins. (II Peter 1:5-9)
Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted. They not only forget what Christ did for them, they forfeit what Christ can do on their behalf. And one of the most useful gifts he bestows for those who are called to the married life, is to discern red flags in prospective spouses.