Making Marriage Work

by Ken Clayton Barbeau

The indissolubility of marriage and the intimate union that exists in a sacramental marriage do not, of course, mean that marriage dissolves the personal identities of husband and wife. Their marriage vow is not a magic formula that wipes away all that marks them as unique persons. It does not replace their separate personalities with a neuter “we” that is neither the husband’s nor the wife’s personality.

The “we” must indeed be created out of the love of each for the other, but the man and the woman must both work to create this we.” They must labor to bring into being this new personality, a personality that expresses their oneness, a personality that is larger and richer than that which either could know alone.

For men and women help – by their complete dedication to the marriage and by their love – to bring each other to maturity; This is something that may be accomplished consciously or unconsciously, although too much self-consciousness about the transformation that is being worked out can be as harmful as being totally unaware that such a transformation is meant to come about.

What both husband and wife must know is that their life together will be one long creative endeavor to fulfill the other, to unfold tenderly in the other all of the good that the lover has seen there, to let it nourish in an atmosphere of love and appreciation.

What too often happens is quite the reverse. Each party comes to the marriage radiant with the belief that this other person is going to heal all of his physical and mental aches and pains and is quite surprised to discover, not too much later, that the other has aches and pains of his own. This leads to disillusionment, to bitterness, the feeling that one has been unfairly trapped by sexual desire or the wiles of the other person, often followed by recriminations, arguments, or embittered silence and the bearing of a sometimes lifelong grudge.

Love is Creative

How different is the marriage that is founded upon a true love for the other, a constant desire to protect and feed and keep healthy the happiness of the other. Such a marriage cannot become the vicious snake of disillusion eating its own bitter tail of dissatisfaction. Such a marriage, rooted in mutual love, becomes a creation of marvelous beauty, with each party seeking new ways of expressing the love and happiness he or she knows.

Every sort of symbolism comes into play here, and the world becomes rich with unexpected surprises. The canvas of marriage becomes glorious with one shared experience following another; each tries to outdo the other in finding new ways to express love. The early verbalizing, the magic and romantic lyricism of love letters, and long, late-night telephone conversations – all of these are left behind. Even the constant repetition of the words of love finds husband and wife admitting to each other that words do not express what they wish them to express.

Thus, verbal symbols give way to a thousand variations of concrete symbols: a surprise gift, a note on the refrigerator, an evening planned totally for the other – always designed to unlock in the other that secret closet of joy. In creating their masterpiece, truly “their life’s work,” husband and wife each look to the others needs. Each seeks to understand the other person, to meet and respond to the call of the other at each given moment.

For the man this demands a knowledge not only of what it is he has married – a woman – but of whom he has married: this very personal, unique woman. Thus, the husband must drop his easy assumptions and superficial estimates of “women” and truly seek to understand and love this particular woman.

Marriage, then, is a creative work. Both parties must labor to make a beautiful marriage. The wreckage of the miserable marriages we see all about us today is due mainly to this: that one or the other or both parties did not know – or did not have the maturity or psychological freedom to act upon this knowledge – that to make a marriage work means to work at making a marriage.

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