Most marriage unions start out on a positive note. They start out on a happy note. They start out on an upbeat note. They start out on a euphoric note. They start out on a harmonious note.
The couples feel connected; they feel together; they feel safe; they feel they are one flesh; they feel they have the ideal situation. They feel all is right with each other and with the world. They feel they are now living their secret dreams.
They commit themselves to cooperation; they commit themselves to collaboration; they commit themselves to trust; they commit themselves to loyalty; they commit themselves to exclusivity; they commit themselves to a lasting relationship.
However, they bring different backgrounds, different values, different levels of education, different genetics, different expectations, different values and different beliefs.
Marriage is not easy and it is not simple. It is a complicated union. A unique man and unique woman live under the same roof. They share the same kitchen. They share the same dining room. They share the same living room. They share the same bedroom. They share the same bathroom.
After a few weeks or months or years, the trials and surprises set in; the disappointments and the difficulties surface; the mortgage and the bills come in the mail; home maintenance and household chores never go away; the unexpected ups and downs greet them constantly.
The challenge is for the couple to artfully communicate effectively to each other what they are experiencing internally. Only with good communication skills will they manage to remain connected spiritually and emotionally. Only with compassionate listening and good expresser skills can they experience a committed permanent relationship.
Indeed, the Second Vatican Council stresses the dignity and sacredness of the marital union and family system. This council expresses clearly that couples live out their universal call to holiness in the daily routine of their marriages. Couples do it most effectively when they work on being loving and work on being compassionate and work on being forgiving.
The couple will live out their vocation to holiness when they care for each other; when they care for their children; when they say grace before and after meals; when they go to church and the sacraments with regularity; and when they age gracefully.
Unfortunately, one partner may not be interested in working through the difficult stuff of marriage. One partner may be desperately keen on staying in the relationship. And the other partner for one reason or another may not be interested in staying connected.
One partner may reject all attempts at intimacy with the other. One partner may reject all attempts at getting marriage counseling. One partner may choose to have a relationship with someone else outside of the marital union.
One partner may not be willing to let go of hindering habits, may not be willing to let go of having to be right about everything, may not be willing to let go of blaming the other partner, may not be willing to let go of negativity, may not be willing to express gratitude, may not be willing to take action on something central to the marriage.
The couple may have all the appearances of happiness and satisfaction. But they are painfully unhappy. The alienation is almost unbearable. Their home is the loneliest place in the world.
Then it is not so surprising that one partner exits from the marriage. She or he bails out of a marriage that at one time seemed so ideal, that at one time seemed so happy, that at one time seemed so stable. He or she no longer wants to be the passive recipient of abuse and rejection of one kind or another.
He or she continues to profess that they are searching for another partner. They profess that they want a connection with someone that is a manifestation of God’s infinite love for humankind. They profess that they want to be part of the stream of God’s grace in a vibrant marital relationship.
Often they enter a second marriage. And without an annulment this second marriage at this moment in our church is not a valid sacramental marriage. And these couples in a non-sacramental marriage often live the rest of their lives in blame and shame. They live in deprivation. They live without the “grace.” They live without the strength of “soul” that comes from the sacramental life of the church.
The bishops who met at the Extraordinary Synod in October 2014 knew how difficult it is for a couple to make a marriage work. Also, they were keenly aware of the dilemma that exists for couples who need a church annulment and who for one reason or another do not obtain an annulment.
Further, the bishops identified individualism, a reluctance to enter into a binding commitment, internet pornography, the sexual exploitation of women and children, unemployment and poverty as some of the factors that adversely affect marital life, that adversely impact family life.
The bishops recognized these and other factors that are not supportive of couples staying together “until death do us part.” And they will continue to have more in-depth conversations on these and other pastoral issues related to the pastoral care of the family at the Ordinary Synod of October 2015.
Msgr. Thomas J. Morgan is a retired priest of the Diocese of Camden.