“Congratulations!” I said. “If I remember correctly, your first wedding anniversary is coming up soon!”
“No, it didn’t work out, it’s over,” she replied.
At that point, I didn’t really know what to say. But it did give me quite a bit to think about.
A marriage doesn’t work all by itself: both spouses need to work on it, husband and wife rowing together in the same direction. Marriage is the coming together of two wills made one, united on a firm foundation for a common purpose and life project.
There are certain lasting values that serve as the basis on which we can build our union: these are the classic virtues – good operative habits – that help us to build solid marriages.
Living a happy married life is totally achievable. However, it does require a fair amount of effort, dedication, and perseverance. We have to work rigorously to make these virtues a way of life, both individually and as a couple. Both spouses need to be committed to bettering themselves, and we each need to help each other to be better. The more I work on becoming a better person, the greater my love will be, and I will become an increasingly better spouse.
Love is the greatest and most valuable virtue we must cultivate in marriage – and love understood and lived not solely as a natural human feeling, but as a supernatural virtue: as charity. The supernatural virtue of charity is indeed what will help us to elevate our human love to the level of the One who is love itself and who bestows it upon us: God.
If we allow our love to remain merely on the sentimental level, overlooking the fact that love is transcendent, our merely human affection will be insufficient to keep our marriage moving forward – and at the first crisis we face, we will want to throw in the towel.
Here are some key virtues that strengthen, perfect, and protect marital love:
Treat each other with kind-heartedness and courtesy. It’s not enough for me to love you: I have to work hard to make sure that I make it easier for you to love me!
- For example, receive your spouse at the door with a smile when he or she returns home from work, even if you feel exhausted. Make your spouse feel important and welcome. Don’t let it be the case that the dog makes them feel happier than you do when they arrive!
Humility and forgiveness
“Without humility, there can be no real virtue,” said the great Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. Arrogance and pride are a cancer to marriage. Lack of humility kills love because the proud person only thinks of himself. Love humility and love humbly!
- For example, the next time you have an argument or feel there’s friction, be the first one to apologize, even if you think you’re right.
Generosity and mutual service
Be careful not to approach your married life with a measuring tape. Avoid the type of thinking that says, “I’ll give if you give” or “I’ll give in exchange for” or “This is yours and this is mine.” Selfishness has no place in married love. Marriage is about forgetting oneself and serving the other. By giving unconditionally, we receive, in return, boundless love and joy without measure. Give up that fallacy that says that we have to look out for ourselves first to be able to find happiness, in order to be able to give it. Too often we become so centered in our “finding ourselves” that we end up lost in self-absorption. No: happiness is found in practicing unconditional love and service-oriented surrender to the other.
- For example, ask your spouse: What can I do today to serve you and make you happy? And do it! Be generous, even if that means leaving your comfort zone.
Here, exercising detachment is a good thing. Set your heart on all that has true value and no price tag. Beware of becoming too attached to material things, individually or as a couple. The happiest marriages are those that enjoy the ordinary things in life and who are happy if their hard work earns them a sufficiently dignified life. That means a life that isn’t necessarily full of luxuries and riches, but has enough to provide for what is truly necessary.
Truthfulness and sincerity
These virtues allow us to reveal ourselves as we truly are. Lying hardens the heart and damages our relationships. But, in order for there be no lies, we must also be willing to always be told the truth.
- For example, when you discover something about your spouse that bothers you, don’t simply bottle it up. Let them know, but do so in private, with charity and respect, delicacy and grace. Not sharing in this manner what you’re feeling with your spouse, could be jeopardizing the virtue of mutual honesty.
Successful marriages are built on the solid foundation provided by these virtues and others, including trust, compassion, understanding, simplicity, courtesy, and a life of piety.
A virtuous life yields high dividends. Indeed, without a life of virtue there is no true happiness.
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