Why Marriage?

I work full time in marriage ministry. I have the honor to work with excited, newly engaged couples anxious to start the prep process. Their exuberant joy is quite contagious. After gathering the critical contact information, I like to pose deeper questions to ascertain where they are at in their understanding of marriage, and to get a peek at their relationship with God.

Starting with the groom actively brings him into the process and fires up his pulse. A typical conversation goes something like this:

Me: Why her?

Him: “Uhhh, What do you mean?”

Me: “What do you love about her? Why did you choose her from among the millions of women?”

Him: “That’s a tough one.” “Hmmm. Uuummmm. Umm. Like what do you mean? This is hard.”

Me: “Tell me all the ways you love her.” (She starts to get teary-eyed at the delay in his response.)

Him: “Well she makes me happy.” (Silence)

Me: “You asked this woman to marry you, you want to spend the rest of your life with her, what about her do you love?” (This is like pulling teeth. Now she is looking away trying not to let him see she is crying so I give her a tissue, and him some helpful words to get things moving along).

Now it’s her turn.

Me: “Why him?”

Her: “He is honest and sweet and has a huge generous heart. He is handsome, caring, and loving and so kind to my family. We have the same values and we are best friends. He is so sweet to his mom and even my grandma loves him. He is a hard worker too and so dedicated to me. He is smart, funny and cute, he makes me laugh……

Me: “Wonderful, thanks. That’s plenty.”

Her: “Can I say a few more things?”

One of the funniest responses I can recall in hundreds of these conversations was a Polish-American couple. She was petite, beautiful, smart. He looked like a thug. Shaved head, tattoos, piercing blue eyes.

Me: “Why her?”

Him: (Leaning in and looking me straight in the eyes.) “Are you kidding, look at her!”

And, no, I didn’t let him off the hook that easily.

When I pose the question of what marriage is to them, I get answers ranging from “a partnership, commitment, 50/50, give and take”, to deep theological ponderings.

One of the craziest answers I ever heard from a groom was this:

Me: “So what is marriage to you?”

Him: “No drama.”

How do you respond to that with a straight face? You realize you are marrying a woman right?

Preparation for marriage includes three required classes in our Diocese to help couples understand Sacramental marriage, the practical aspects of living as man and wife and not just roommates, and Natural Family Planning. The classes are every bit as helpful to Catholics as they are to non-Catholics. They provide a foundation and act as a catalyst for deep conversation. Since many couples come from broken families they may never have seen a happy, highly functioning, authentic marriage in action. Often they are already living together, forming bad habits they can take into their marriage.

What good marriage preparation can do is open up entirely new possibilities to these couples. The beautiful timeless teachings of the Church on the meaning and purpose of sex, the nature of sacrificial love, and the necessity of a total gift of oneself to their spouse, are countercultural and life changing. We hear it from the couples themselves all the time.

When the new marriage policy came out about seven years ago it required more of the couples in the way of classes and time. Many people thought it would drive couples away from marriage and from wanting to marry at all in the Catholic Church. They couldn’t have been more wrong. One mother of the bride complained to me about “all the unnecessary stuff they ask of busy couples these days.” I took the time to open her mind to what is at stake and what is to gain by their good efforts.

I would add one other thought to all this. Clergy, please do not think you are doing the couple who you let “off the hook” any favors just because you know the family, or think the prep is too arduous. It is they who lose out on what is often the best thing that can happen to secure a life-long, faithful, and fulfilling marriage bond. Encourage them instead to dive deep and do whatever it takes to make a great marriage. Believe me, they don’t have a clue.

And don’t worry, I’ll check back with the groom who thought marriage would be “no drama” in a couple years and see if he wants to change his answer.

Barbara Lishko works full time as a Lay Catholic Marriage Minister. She and her husband Mark, an ordained Deacon, have been married for 35 years and are blessed with five young adult children, whose lives grow and expand through marriage and grandchildren.

Through the inspiration of her family, work in the Catholic Church and wacky life experiences her dream of writing was born. She is the recipient of the Diocese of Phoenix St Terese of Lisieux award. Barbara can be reached at blishko_58@yahoo.com