"Do you have a happy marriage?" A divorcing client recently asked me this question. It's not the first time a client in that situation has asked me if my marriage is a good one and, if so, how do I do it. I answer with a "Yes" and usually follow it up with "It takes work to make a happy marriage - work from both spouses."
The answer I would like to give is more involved...
A good marriage takes work. That work begins before a couple marries. I've seen people who dated six weeks before exchanging vows have a marriage that lasts decades. I've seen people who date for ten years before their wedding yet divorce within the first year after their nuptials. While being with someone a set amount of time before getting married may have some influence on the length of a marriage, I completely believe that the expectations the couple has for their marriage has more of an impact.
Before my husband and I married, we were required to attend Pre-Cana - a marriage course/counseling a couple is required to attend before getting married in a Catholic Church. What a wonderful experience that was! While Pre-Cana may mean several sessions privately with a priest or deacon or a weekend retreat led by clergy with other couples planning to get married, our Pre-Cana was a series of weekly sessions led by a couple in our church who had been married for some 20 years. Our priest would talk with us on occasion about our progress through the Pre-Cana course. I recall meeting with our mentor couple - discussing our plans for a family, parenting styles, finances, future employment, our expectations from one another. It was a slow, time-consuming process [that is said with fondness, not complaint] that forced us to contemplate things that would happen in our marriage - and prepare us for the way we would handle the unexpected. While Pre-Cana cannot coach a couple into knowing every pitfall that might creep up during a lifelong marriage, it does give a couple the knowledge that there will be good times and bad times, and you've got to work through it all...together.
Another thing Pre-Cana taught us is that our marriage is a marriage of three - me, my husband, and God. Personally, I think it's hard to expect a marriage to work if God is not part of "the deal." I have been to country club weddings, hotel ballroom weddings, waterfall weddings - and I always have a bit of an empty feeling. Sometimes there is an invocation and God is mentioned, but there is a lack of the holy, sacramental nature of the ceremony without the church setting. Without the presence of God, even from the outset, I think the parties to the marriage are going to have to work even harder still than those with a marriage where God is part of that marriage of three.
So, while I know not every couple getting married has the benefit of Pre-Cana, I do believe every couple should take advantage of religious pre-marital counseling.
It's unfortunate that women (and sometimes even the men) get caught up in the wedding ceremony. This is NOT the premarriage work I discussed above. Couples (and/or their parents) spend thousands, if not multiples of thousands, of dollars for one day. Let me say that again. ONE. DAY. Many of those same couples do not take the time to look beyond that day - or to look beyond that day together. Months spent buying flowers, trying on dresses, picking colors, registering for gifts, interviewing photographers, and tasting cakes; however, planning for their futures - the highs and lows, the stops and starts - never enters into their minds. News flash: The size of the wedding and the money spent do not relate to the length of the marriage!
I have many more opinions on the matter, but time and my unwillingness to sit at my computer any longer today, are drawing this little diatribe of mine to a close. So, I'll end with this...
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. -Matthew 19:6