Several years ago, we were invited onto a TV breakfast show to talk about marriage. We are all familiar with the format; people interviewed on couches with a polite live studio audience. It’s light and airy entertainment; sort of fairy floss for the mind.
An unexpected question was posed by one of the hosts: “Do you think every marriage can be saved?” It was a loaded question, posed by a high-profile celebrity who we knew had been twice married and divorced. She was the self-appointed marriage expert on the panel.
We gave what we thought was a sensitive and thought-provoking answer. One that was respectful but also called out the truth that many marriages end unnecessarily.
Unsurprisingly, our short slot never actually went to air. Byron says it’s because he has a face for radio, but perhaps the real reason was that our answer to this unscheduled question was a bit too close to the bone.
Can every marriage be saved?
It’s a good question. We know from Church teaching and pastoral experience, there are some cases where people who marry are not truly able to make a free and full commitment to the marriage vows. They have the best of intentions, but there is something fundamentally lacking in themselves, in their partner, or in their relationship that diminishes their capacity to consent freely and fully to all that Christian marriage entails.
Often these ‘flaws’ emerge later when the marriage faces unexpected stress. God intended marriage to be for life. But if the marriage was never valid from the beginning for whatever reason, the chances of it surviving the challenges of living together are reduced.
The Church in her wisdom and mercy recognises this possibility and deals with it through the annulment process. Unlike civil divorce which simply records that the couple are no longer legally married, an annulment is a declaration by the Church that a valid marriage never truly existed.
But that’s not always the case in a failed marriage. Many marriages today fail through simple neglect. They fail because we neglect them and then, when the consequences of years of neglect overwhelms us, we give up.
It’s a bit like a garden that has been left unattended for years. Eventually we feel overwhelmed by the weeds and mess and decide it’s better just clear it out and start again.
In our imperfect humanity, as a husband and wife, we often treat each other in ways that can only be described as sinful. That’s the reality of the human condition: we are all sinners, and if we are married, that is the relationship where our weakness and limitations are particularly felt.
Our sin hurts! Both the small daily disappointments and the occasional bigger failures. We often focus on the major breaches of trust and indeed, they are deeply damaging. Yet the small ones matter also, for they accumulate and over time can become an insurmountable barrier to our intimacy and trust.
Unless we tend to our marriage like we tend to a beloved garden, then we implicitly accept the accumulating cost of these small daily misadventures.
The reality is that as a married couple, we are faced with two fundamental choices every day, every month, every year and in every season of our marriage. To wilfully choose to proactively live our marriage as our vows invited, or reactively ‘go with the flow’ and let the process of life dictate the outcome.
“unless we tend to our marriage like we tend to a beloved garden, then we implicitly accept the accumulating cost of these small daily misadventures”
The cumulative effect of living under those two choices are profound: a marriage that flourishes like a well-tended garden, OR one that is overgrown with weeds and fruitless.
No matter where we are as a couple in our marriage, no matter the state of our ‘garden’, the Easter sequence provides a life-cycle snap-shot full of hope.
- the triumph of Palm Sunday – the exuberance of friends and family on our wedding day as we process from the Church.
- the fellowship of the Last Supper – the gathering as family around the table that nourishes us, day after day.
- the crippling fear of the Garden of Gethsemane – facing life-threatening illness, tragedy, heartbreak, or grief.
- the horror of the crucifixion – enduring suffering, loneliness, betrayal, the isolation of deep hurt, of widowhood or divorce.
- and the joy of the resurrection – renewal and restoration in Christ… if not in this life, then in the next.
Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection models for us what we are called to do in our own marriage vocation; to lay down our life for each other so as to enter the fullness of life. Easter Sunday reminds us that even in our darkest seasons, there is the promise of resurrection, there is hope.
Without hope we become hope-less, and then helpless. That is not the Christian promise and it’s not the way of the Gospel.
“CHRIST’S PASSION, DEATH AND RESURRECTION MODELS FOR US WHAT WE ARE CALLED TO DO IN OUR OWN MARRIAGE VOCATION; TO LAY DOWN OUR LIFE FOR EACH OTHER SO AS TO ENTER THE FULLNESS OF LIFE”
We are not called to live in a state of disrepair and dysfunction. That is not God’s desire for our marriage. Christ gave his life so that we could live in the fullness of his glory and we are called to proclaim that through our lives and through our marriage.
So, our answer to our morning show host? … it was along these lines: “No, not every marriage can be saved. Some were impossible from the start… but many, many more could be saved if we took a more wilful and intentional approach to our marriage; perhaps like we do to our jobs and our health.”
Easter Sunday reminds us that nothing is too big, too overwhelming for God. No matter the state of your marriage garden, hold on to hope… for all things are possible are with God.
Francine & Byron Pirola are the cofounders of SmartLoving. For more, visit www.smartloving.org