By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published August 7, 2008
“Twenty six years married!” the student exclaimed. “What is your secret?”
I had to reflect. Clearly, it would take more than a few seconds to explain how I have managed to remain married—to the same man, mind you—for 26 years.
Most seasoned spouses will agree that it sure helps to have a sense of humor. How true that was for us, especially at first, when I labored under the misconception that men and women were inherently the same kinds of creatures—despite those obvious physical differences, of course.
This meant I couldn’t understand why my husband didn’t want to go to the mall and “just look” at the cute dresses. To his credit, he came with me once or twice, but the look on his face was that of a condemned man facing the gallows.
He had a similar trouble understanding my reluctance to accompany him to the hardware store. As soon as we entered the aisle with all the various switches, plugs, sockets and doohickeys, I felt nearly suffocated by a massive wave of boredom.
Humor helped us navigate these differences in taste, but we still understood that marriage would not be one big hilarious adventure. On TV sitcoms, married couples face flat tires and unruly toddlers with jokes.
But in real life, people battle viruses, financial duress, addictions, broken limbs—and don’t forget unannounced visits from the in-laws—minus the canned laughter.
Humor can obviously wear thin during trying times in a marriage, but there is something else that will never let you down. It is a shared faith.
When we were first wed, Jef was dabbling in Eastern thought and I was an atheist. But once he embraced Catholicism and I returned to the fold, we discovered a new, vibrant center to our marriage.
It was the Mass.
It seems that no matter what happens during the week, whether it includes limbs being sprained and finances being strained, hopes being dashed and china being smashed, getting to Sunday Mass is the solution.
And even if you have no idea what your mate is praying for as he kneels beside you, there still is enormous healing power in the simple act of being at Mass together.
The centerpiece of the Mass, of course, is the Eucharist, and the underlying secret of the Eucharist is the fact that God loves us so much that he nourishes us with this mystical meal in which eternity lingers.
This particular jewel of our Catholic faith is another of the great secrets to a happy marriage: Husbands and wives who lean on Christ will never encounter any situation they cannot endure.
There may be times at Mass when nothing much seems to be happening in your heart. But if you just glimpse the crucifix and see the suffering figure of Christ on it, you are experiencing the deep mystery of his love.
There is also suffering in marriage. Maybe traffic backed up or the puppy had an accident on the carpet. Maybe Junior flubbed the spelling test, and the mechanic gave you an estimate on the car that means you can forget your cherished plans for a getaway.
If you think marriage is a sitcom with funny endings to each episode, then such situations may seem unbearable. But if you embrace Catholic belief that we live in a fallen world—and many things will go wrong—then you may better endure the rocky moments.
This is because Christ came into this same broken world to redeem it. And He found this place—and all its occupants—worthwhile enough to die for.
As the years pass, I remind myself that my husband and I are not alone in our marriage. In truth, Christ is the third party who is always there with us.
And this is why we have never been tempted to call it quits, even when things have fallen apart.
There was, for example, that terrible summer eight years ago when our old cat died, the car broke down, the air-conditioner quit working—and I was diagnosed with cancer.
During that long, tear-stained summer, my husband and I did the only things we could think of doing: We clung to each other in love. We dried each other’s tears.
And we turned to God in prayer, giving our distress and sorrow to Him.
The beauty of placing the Catholic faith at the heart of your marriage is this: You would no more consider leaving your spouse when things go wrong than you would turn your back on Christ. And in truth, the secret of a happy marriage really is that simple.
Lorraine Murray’s latest book is “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist” (Ignatius Press). Readers may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Artwork featured in the print edition is by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com).