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Love and Marriage and Synods: On Broken Plans and Promises

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They say no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. What about our marriage vows?

A little more than twelve years ago a very young woman stood in front of God and everyone who mattered to her, and she promised her future to a man she deeply loved. Because she was young and naive she assumed she was giving the man a great gift. She assumed her future was bright and would keep getting better. She didn’t realize yet that life could (and would) be devastating, too.

Of course that clueless girl was me … and of course I now know better.

Over the last dozen years my husband and I have known a lot of joy and a considerable amount of pain. We’ve accepted two beautiful and gifted children, an unexpected shift to life in a new place, and the continual hard-won progression of my husband’s education and career goals. We’ve also faced cancer, two difficult births (one high-risk and premature), a job loss, extended periods of abstinence due to NFP (natural family planning), and repeated health crises … leading to my recent diagnosis of a serious genetic disorder and the possibility that I will become disabled while I am still relatively young.

None of this has been easy—not on us, and not on our marriage. In fact, things have gotten so strained between us that we’ve been in counseling for six months trying not so much to save our marriage as to determine whether what we have left is even worth saving. It’s only been in the last two weeks that we have finally stopped using the “d-word” in our talks about the future. It feels like progress.

Twelve years ago, when we made our vows, we obviously weren’t ready. It wasn’t that we meant to lie to one another, though; it’s that we didn’t understand what we were saying. For better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, ’til death do us part—when we’re young, beautiful, and in love, we tend to gloss over the reality of these words and think of hardship as being anything less than all our dreams come true. Sure we understand on an abstract level that things like cancer, disability, infidelity, bankruptcy, and worse can happen. Maybe we’ve even seen them happen to others. But unless and until the hypothetical worst-case scenario happens to us, I think most of us have a hard time considering it a real possibility.

But the statistics say serious adversity—the kind of emotional earthquake that can shake a relationship right off its foundations—is far more likely than we think, perhaps even inevitable. That so many marriages end in divorce is no secret. What people don’t like to talk about is that many of the life events most closely correlated with the death of a marriage are the very things we promised to endure when we pledged our lives and love to our spouse. Chronic illnesses, financial upheaval, general unhappiness—these marriage killers so closely track with divorce statistics that there must be an awful lot of vow breakers out there.

Did they all lie on purpose on their wedding days?

I really don’t think so.

As the Catholic blogosphere begins its evaluation of the Synod on the Family, it’s worth asking why so many of the problems the church fathers sought to address over the past two weeks have become problems in the first place—not in order to place blame but in order to better understand today’s Christian family and the struggles we all face, and how frighteningly little help there is for us as we try to survive these trials with our marriages intact.

I believe there are a lot of reasons why today’s Catholic couples are ill prepared to honor the promises they make to each other on their wedding days, and I’ll be exploring a few of them in the coming days, along with some possible solutions, including an inside look at Retrouvaille, a ministry and weekend retreat for couples in danger of divorce that I’m set to attend with my own husband next weekend. (If you’ve ever wondered what happens during one of these weekends, here’s your chance to find out.)

In the meantime, I will selfishly use this space to wish my husband a belated happy anniversary. As I look ahead to our future, the seas still appear rough, and the skies still look hazy. But despite our differences (and in many cases because of them) there is no one else I’d ever trust to steer us through the storms of life but you.

Likewise there is no one else I’d rather be with if/when the skies finally clear.

Thank you for working so hard to keep us afloat. I love you.

This series is being written anonymously by a regular contributor to Aleteia, in order to protect the privacy of the writer and her family.

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