It was Sunday morning, and my wife and I were listening to a couple talk about how to tune up your marriage. At one point, they asked the audience to share what they thought was the most crucial ingredient for keeping a marriage healthy. Good communication, mutual respect, shared commitment, and praying together were all excellent suggestions. But as I mulled it over, I realized I had something else in mind—my relationship with Christ. Does that sound pious or sanctimonious? I think my reasoning might surprise you.
When two people meet and fall in love, it’s an exciting time of discovery and adventure. They continue to find new and wonderful things about each other and build their relationship.
Over time, they also become more attuned to their differences and the behavior patterns that can act as minor annoyances or become major conflicts. Gradually, their different personality styles, habits, backgrounds, opinions, and flaws become exposed.
The struggles they encounter in their relationship can be viewed as due to problems with compatibility or previously undetected character defects. What happens next?
While they learn to put up with some of the insignificant differences, the more troublesome ones should prompt a dialogue. Communication can help resolve misunderstandings, clear the emotional air, find common ground, and open opportunities to reconcile and negotiate solutions. Ideally, this discourse will lead to changes that will smooth out the rough spots.
I call this overall pattern static, not because nothing changes, but because while the two people at times need to change their behaviors, they don’t necessarily have to change who they are. In fact, expecting the other person to become someone different and trying to accelerate that change in them can cause more problems.
The Static Conundrum
I left out a critical part of this discussion: the role of sin.
Sin wounds everyone, leading to character defects, negative behaviors, and an ongoing tendency to continue to sin and resist change.
Sin can cause even basically healthy people to crash and burn in their relationships. Our social structures and the people we encounter every day have a dysfunctional side because of it. We even have a supernatural adversary (i.e., Satan) who’s out to get us.
Our brokenness appears in the form of selfishness, addictions, pride, poor communication, anger, jealousy, envy, etc. Promises to “do better,” despite our best intentions, won’t always do the trick. We really do need to change who we are and how we approach life and one another. But where do we find the direction and means for this transformation?
Understanding Dynamic Relationships
My answer to the dilemma has been Jesus Christ.
Christians speak of salvation as accepting Christ through a decision of faith, gaining them access to eternal life. While this is a great truth, as a Catholic, I also see my salvation as an ongoing process. Faith in Christ doesn’t automatically change the temporal effects of sin in my life. If I was a jerk before accepting Christ, I could still be a jerk afterward.
But here’s the difference. I received God’s Spirit through Baptism, and this Holy Spirit is a dynamic force that continues to draw me to become like Jesus. Not only does God convict me of sin and motivate me to change, but he also shows me how I can grow and gives me the power to be different. The depth of transformation frequently goes beyond what I desire or am capable of on my own. Thank God, He is there to heal me and move me toward holiness! This is what Catholics mean when they say they are being saved—not that they are earning their way to heaven, but that God is continuing to heal and perfect us.
Claiming that my relationship with Christ is the secret to marital health should now make sense. My wife cannot change me, nor should she try. But she doesn’t have to, because the Holy Spirit is at work within me. In this dynamic relationship I have with God, I find the means to become a better man and husband to my wife.
Thank God, He is there to heal me and move me toward holiness!
The Secret to a Happy Marriage (or any relationship!)
I’m not saying that if you aren’t a Christian that you can’t have a happy marriage, or that if you are, you’ve got it made. But if you recognize, as you must, that you have faults that can keep your marriage from becoming the best it could be, why would you not want to gain access to the means of relief? If you feel challenged by this, then here are the three steps to start you on your journey:
Recognize your need for ongoing, personal conversion and growth.
Growing relationships are not meant to be static. Ongoing conversion is necessary for relationships to stay healthy and grow.
Admit you can’t do it alone or under your own power.
Sin is ubiquitous, and no one can overcome it by their strength alone. You will seriously underestimate sin’s influence if you reduce it no more than minor character flaws and personality defects developed during childhood.
In this dynamic relationship I have with God, I find the means to become a better man and husband to my wife.
Seek Christ and to become like Him through the work of the Holy Spirit.
If you don’t do it for yourself, at least do it out of love for your spouse. Pray, read scripture, pursue virtue. Seek out others to help you on your way. Ask God to make you into the man or woman He means for you to become.