Bishop Thomas on the Qualities of a Happy Marriage

The Qualities of a Happy Marriage

On Friday, July 10, I presided at the wedding of my nephew Mark and his fiancée Raisa. Family celebrations like this bring a special joy into my heart.

In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, I asked myself, “Why do some marriages remain forever young, while others grow stale with the passage of time?” What qualities are present in those marriages that thrive both “in good times and in bad?”

During the past 41 years, I have prayerfully observed married couples in my extended family and circle of friends, and have concluded that they hold a number of qualities in common.

Here are a few observations I have drawn from couples whose marriages have remained vibrant and full of life. You may add your own.

Imperfection   In his book entitled, The Seven Laws of Love, David Willis wrote, “A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.” Every married couple will tell you that their marriage is a work in progress, a relationship that is flawed, imperfect, and incomplete. But the power of love helps them fill the imperfections, complement shortcomings, and bring out the best in each other. A nationally syndicated columnist observed, “Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good times and bad times. It settles for less than perfection, and makes allowances for human weakness… If you have love in your life, it can make up for a great many things you lack. If you don’t have it, no matter what else there is, it will never be enough.”

Time    Every married couple I know knows that the occupational hazards of married life are habit, routine and mediocrity. Happy married couples know that the marriage needs renewal, refreshment, and rejuvenation every day of the year, most especially following the arrival of children. Happy couples never stop courting each other, and never take each other for granted. They keep the flames of passion alive in the marriage. They remain forever young at heart by having a weekly date night, by spending time together over a quiet dinner, a movie, or an anniversary break away from the kids. They intentionally spend the gift of time in their marriage as a gift that keeps on giving.

Little Things    An old love song says it well – “Little things mean a lot.” Simple kindnesses, a loving glance across a crowded room, a bouquet of flowers for no good reason, a note, a phone call from afar, or a text message that says I love you more than any other person in world, are precious gifts that cost very little. These little things are present in abundance in the lives of happily married couples I know.

Forgiveness    A comedian once opined, “Marriage is a relationship in which one person is always right and the other one is the husband.” Happily married couples have learned that when they make a mistake, they ask and receive the gift of forgiveness from their spouse. They learn the art of moving forward instead of keeping their eyes fixed on the rearview mirror. They deliberately avoid resentment and grudges. They remember the sobering advice of a noted psychiatrist, who wrote, “Those with whom you choose to remain angry will control you. They will limit you physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” Happy spouses know that forgiveness emancipates the heart, and fills married life with peace. They have discovered the healing grace that is present in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They also know that some problems in marriage need professional guidance and are humble enough to ask for help when they need it.

Flexibility        Strong Married couples have learned the necessity of flexibility, the art of compromise, and the wisdom of “going with the flow.” The art of negotiation has salvaged many a difficult situation, and the absence of compromise can lead to rigidity, resentment, and an infinite number of Maalox moments. A humorist once observed, “When I married Mr. Right, they forgot to mention that his first name was “Always.”

Communication          Mastering the art of communication is a lifelong endeavor. The happily married couples I know share their innermost thoughts with one another and avoid the poison of secret keeping. They have learned to fight fairly, and when disagreements come, they avoid mean spirited characterizations and name calling. They never resort to the silent treatment as their weapon of choice, and don’t let the sun go down on their anger. They laugh together often, retire the cell phone away during meals, and limit TV and computer time. Husbands learn early on to enter birthday and anniversary dates into their electronic calendar, realizing that it’s cheaper than buying those next day roses at Safeway.

Spirituality      Every happily married couple I know has built their marriage on a strong spiritual foundation. The happily married encounter Jesus deeply, daily and personally. They nourish their marriage on Word and Sacrament, and live out their faith through works of charity and compassion. They are actively engaged in the life of their parish, and have learned to pray together as a couple. They introduce their children to the Lord and help them to love Him as “the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life.”

In 2014, Pope Francis addressed married couples during an audience at the Vatican. He described the love between husband and wife as “an icon of God’s love for us.” He characterized marriage as a “beautiful reflection of God’s love, permanent, faithful, and life-giving.” His words were practical, concise, and born in the heart of a pastor who is well acquainted with the joys and struggles, the challenges and hopes that every married couple encounters.

I ask God’s abundant blessings upon the married couples of our Diocese, and pray that your own marriage will always be that “beautiful reflection of God’s love.”

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