Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More Than a Piece of Paper

I always cringe when I hear people say, "marriage is just a piece of paper". And I guess in some way, it  is. But if you are a person of faith*, it's so much more than a piece of paper. Marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament is in outward sign of an inward grace (my favorite explanation) and an encounter with Christ (our RCIA priest loves that explanation). Saying it is just a piece of paper cheapens it. My priest said one recent weekend that he thinks the church needs to get out of bed with the government as far as marriage goes. I made up the 'get out of bed' thing, but he said something to that effect. I actually agree and it gave me a lot to think about. But I digress.

Back to marriage being sacramental... I think part of the problem, and part of the contribution to the divorce rate, is that people do tend to view marriage as 'a piece of paper'. I think so much of what marriage is, is missed when it is viewed as a technicality. If it's just a technicality, what's the incentive to make it work when the rest of the world shows you that you can get divorced and try to find happiness elsewhere?You can cheat to find happiness, or divorce and date to find happiness, or decide to be single to find happiness. And while I'm not suggesting that those paths are easy, it seems like they are the most selfish paths because they focus on just one person and not on the couple. Staying in the relationship, sticking it out through all the crap you might have to wade through to get to a better place, and giving of yourself for the sake of another person is selfless and, I would imagine, one of the hardest things to do. But I've seen marriages come out on the other side of that. It's unfortunate that our society screams so loudly about doing doing what makes you happy (and not what might work for the marriage) that people can easily miss the message of how rewarding it can be to be selfless in a relationship or marriage to work for joint happiness.

 I know a lot of people have beef with the Catholic church's stance on divorce, but I find it beautiful and comforting. If Steven and I ever were to divorce, we could not remarry. To me, it seems like a Catholic couple (who is completely faithful to church teachings of course) might be at the absolute end of their rope, and not able to see any reason why they should stay together, and realize that an incentive is that it is either together and figure it out, or call it quits and be alone for forever.

Now, I'm not referring at all to a couple where one partner is a victim of abuse. This also doesn't take into an account a couple whose marriage wasn't valid in the first place, because obviously they could seek an annulment. But those couples are far and few between. I'm just referring to your 'average' couple. Hopefully there are other shreds of hope a couple is holding onto and can make it work, but I think the thoughts of knowing I will be alone forever if I don't do my very best to make this work serves as a great reminder of just how big of a deal marriage is. I'm not looking at our belief of divorce as a scare tactic at all, but as a belief that shows just how devoted to marriage a person should be. I'm guessing one would be more tempted to save their marriage when they can't dust themselves off after 6 months or a year and jump back into the dating pool, searching for someone else to be with.

I'm getting more and more excited to enter the sacrament of marriage with Steven. We both have great examples in my parents, who have been married 34 years this coming May, and his parents, who have been married 38 years (on our wedding day!). Knowing that this is a lifelong commitment, we have done a LOT of work on our relationship to make sure we have the armor we need for what I can only imagine will be the most rewarding and most difficult commitment we will ever make. I absolutely love and recommend the book 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married. This seriously brought up many of the best conversations we'd ever had, and probably wouldn't have thought to have had otherwise (until we were fighting about it at some future point, possibly). It helped us to understand each other's views on topics that will be very relevant in the future and helped us work through things that we didn't agree on. It's not a faith based book, and would make a great gift to any dating or engaged couple. We worked through it over a span of about 6-8 months and loved it so much that we've decided to do marital workbook exercises throughout our future marriage. I told him pretty early on that I don't believe in divorce and, luckily... thankfully!, he felt very strongly about it as well. Now that he'll be coming into the church, we share the exact same beliefs on it, which I think is comforting to both of us. On a side note, now that I have learned that the sacrament of marriage happens when we exchange vows, I hope I can wait until the end to kiss my handsome husband!

*Obviously you can be a person not of faith and feel very similarly about marriage, but my blog is faith based so of course I'm approaching it from that perspective as I have no clue what it would be like to not be religious at all but view marriage in the same way ;).


  1. When you both believe in marriage and had healthy lasting models for marriage, and when divorce has just never been an option to either of you, it's amazing what you can get through. Obviously I'm just a newlywed so I can't speak to the peaks and valleys that couples experience over the course of a decade or more, but even for us since our marriage, it's amazing what DOESN'T threaten that bond. We are STILL learning our differences, and it impresses me how much it doesn't bother me. I recently learned a political perspective we had that is pretty different...if I'd gone through a workbook and learned that before I married her, would I not have? Of course not. Our souls are bonded, we are a match, and everything else is just details. But I do think there is such a security in marriage, that it didn't shake me like it may have before--it was just an interesting fact that I learned about my partner, who is a separate person from me, rather than letting my mind run off with it like it has the tendency to do. Because that tie is unbreakable now. I would like to believe it was unbreakable BEFORE 8/21, of course, but like you said, marriage is NOT just a piece of paper. I really feel a difference in the strength of our bond and our commitment because it isn't just hypothetical, it's demonstrated.

    Nothing scares me now. I am famous for letting my mind run away with itself to a lot of unnecessary "what-ifs" and worst-case-scenarios, and that happened in a couple arguments we had before we were married. Now it just doesn't. I feel safe to be annoyed with her without worry about the implications of it, because it's never a question that she's there, always WILL be there, and that we'll work our way through it. It's a sense of safety and comfort and protection of my relationship that I never fully imagined in all my fantasies of what married life would be.

    But like you say, that's if both partners view marriage this way. That sense of security would vanish if I was married to someone who saw it as a piece of paper, or saw it as "let's give it a try" like so many people do.

  2. It's great that you and your fiance are taking marriage so seriously. My husband and I entered into our marriage with a vague feeling that it was important, but had never heard Catholic teaching about just HOW important it was. I think many non-religious or minimally-religious people feel this way, without knowing how to articulate their reasoning.

    The idea of marriage being a sacrament was what drew me into learning more about Catholicism. So many of the teachings affirm what I had intuited without prior religious background.

  3. I also love the explanation that it's an outward sign of an inward grace.

    My parents have been married for 40 years and my in-laws for 39. My grandparents just missed making 63 years of marriage. I can't believe that in a couple weeks, it will be 10 years for me. It's been an "interesting" experience and the amazing thing is that everything that we've weathered in that time, we did together.

  4. I love this post and completely agree. I feel so much more secure in my marriage knowing that my husband and I both believe that marriage is a sacrament and a covenant relationship. I think a lot of people get divorces because they are no longer happy in their relationship or they have "fallen out of love." I think this is so sad because I think marriage is about so much more than a feeling, but also the commitment and the sacrificial actions that two people do for one another on a daily basis. It gives me a lot of comfort to know that while we may go through bad times in the future or possibly even times where we can't stand one another, we will have a deep commitment to one another that will keep us together and get us through anything. I heard this quote before, and think it's so true - "It's not the love that sustains the promise, but the promise that sustains the love." Wishing you the best on your journey to marriage, and I'm looking forward to reading your posts! :)

  5. I liked this a lot, you're really good at writing these more thought provoking posts!

    It's true that marriage doesn't just happen, you have to be actively committed to loving each other to make it work. Our faith really helps us in this aspect because our relationship with Christ is all about active love even when we don't feel like it. I'm so excited for you and Steven!

  6. Loved this! I was just thinking about the "just a piece of paper" argument the other day, shaking my head. Like you, I am deeply thankful that the Church has maintained her position on divorce throughout history (which is exactly what Jesus taught). Marriage is lifelong or it is meaningless, or at least no more meaningful than being in a long-term dating relationship. With our society's (and, sadly, other Christian church's) approval of divorce, it's no wonder that so many people think marriage isn't worth the bother, "just a piece of paper," or nothing more than an excuse for a big party.