The sacramentality of marriage

| Kate Soucheray | April 8, 2020 | 0 Comments

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On our wedding day, we may not think as much about the sacramentality of our marriage as we should, or the sacramental nature of the mystery in which we are participating. Our focus is often on the dresses, the flowers, the music, and the reception and dance to follow the ceremony. And yet, the sacrament in which we participate will change everything for us from that day forward.

We are no longer one, because we have now agreed to be joined with this person for the rest of our lives. We have also agreed to help this partner come to understand how loved they are, through the experience of being married to us.

The Documents of the Second Vatican Council state, “Outstanding courage is required for the constant fulfillment of the duties of this Christian calling” and couples will need grace to lead such a holy life. As they practice a love that “is firm, generous and prompt to sacrifice” for the benefit of this newly formed bond, they will be forever changed as individuals, and those who follow after them will receive the benefits of this generosity of spirit. The sacrament of matrimony is not something to be entered into lightly and casually, but rather with the full intent to become the best, most gracious and loving person one is capable of becoming.

ACTION CHALLENGERefuse to be overtaken by old, unhealed wounds in your relationship with your spouse. Make every effort to have only kind, respectful interchanges that lead to building trust in your relationship.

Achieving such an encouraging state in marriage requires the ability of the partners to engage in circular communication, which reflects a mature, differentiated and abstract form of thinking, said Gerald Weeks, chair of the counseling department and a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Stephen Treat, director and CEO of the Penn Council for Relationships and an instructor at Jefferson Medical College, both in Philadelphia.

This thinking does not blame a spouse for something that did not turn out as well as hoped for or expected, but rather extends a mature attitude and the desire to work together to find a workable solution. Couples who work together from this perspective set good boundaries, which is what “differentiation” refers to, and “abstract forms of thinking” mean they do not get locked into old patterns of resolving issues, but rather are open to new and respectful means of speaking and relating to one another.

You may say this all sounds good, but how do we do it? We are raising kids, or perhaps we are empty-nesters, and life is busy. Besides that, most marriages have a history of some negativity and non-support. We may have some resentments that have built up, and it is hard not to have those resurface at times of tension. We want to be mature and differentiated, but when those old negative feelings are rekindled, we can’t seem to get past them. John and Julie Gottman, world-renowned researchers and clinical psychologists based in Seattle, refer to this as “negative sentiment override,” in which no matter what is said, negative feelings and unpleasant sentiments override any good that is proposed or offered.

If this happens in your home, the key is to remember that getting retriggered by old, unhealed wounds happens to all couples. When we are retriggered, or when we are less than our best with our spouse, we must remember to take a step back and maybe even take a timeout. Go cool down and think through things before engaging with each other further and causing more hurt. During your timeout, do all you can to manage your own retriggered feelings, defusing the situation before it gets worse by choosing not to gather more ammunition to support your perspective against your spouse.

Make a promise to yourself to not say something out of anger that you know could be hurtful to your spouse, but rather use “I” statements and be respectful. Using kind communication at times of high stress will benefit everyone involved: you and your spouse, as well as your children. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the service of life.” If something you might say is not at the service of life, then make the choice to use words that will build up rather than tear down. Be a person you yourself can respect and be proud of.

During this lovely month of Easter, choose to bring life to every relationship you have with others, especially the relationship with your spouse. Make the extra effort to be kind and loving, encouraging and respectful. In doing so, you will enrich the lives of everyone involved.

Soucheray is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a member of Guardian Angels in Oakdale. She holds a master’s degree in theology from The St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul and a doctorate in educational leadership from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.

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Category: Simple Holiness