The Fermentation of Marriage

The quality of a marriage, like a fine wine, depends on the aging process. As grape juice ferments, the yeast acts upon the sugar to produce alcohol—the wine. The greater the percentage of sugar present in the grapes, the more raw material there is to be converted and the greater the potential for a fine wine. Isn’t that symbolic? The greater the sweetness in our relationship, the greater the potential for a fine marriage. But just as the wine ran out at the wedding at Cana, many couples feel the wine has run dry in their relationship.

Call for Help

I’m no marriage expert — just ask my husband — but recently, four strangers contacted me (three women and one man) regarding their problems — you know — their spouses. They went to my website, saw all the kids and must have thought that maybe I knew something about holding things together. Some of the people who have contacted me are in high profile jobs within the Catholic media. They promote and seek to live solid Catholic lives with every fiber of their beings. Yet it escapes them through their marriages and leaves them feeling defeated and embarrassed.

At first, as I took these calls and emails, I sympathized, promised to pray, offered every suggestion I thought might help and then felt a little guilty. Who was I to offer advice of any kind? I have a dysfunctional marriage myself. Sometimes. Okay, it’s way less dysfunction than it once was. Back in the day, only the Fifth Commandment stood between us and homicide. Hey, just kidding. Sort of.

Mark and I are far from perfect. We can be stubborn when we think we are right. Since we tend to think we are right a lot, it’s a good thing that we agree on so much — just not everything.

As a matter of fact, I’m embarrassed even to admit this, but many years ago we traveled to speak at a conference together and argued the morning we had to speak. Stress was the order of the morning for a number of reasons. It turned to conflict and argument. Still, once we got in the car to drive to the conference, we immediately prayed the rosary and apologized for loosing our cool. The loose ends of our relationship made me think we weren’t ready for prime time yet, but still, after our talk on Mark’s vasectomy and subsequent reversal, several people approached us to reveal that our talk had inspired them to get reversals. It was clear that we are a powerful unit when serving God but our weaknesses could knock us out of the game if we do not keep our guard up.

I expected my confession of a far-from-perfect marriage to disappoint people and turn them away. Instead, I found them encouraged. Knowing of my own struggles and progress seemed to make them feel a little better, a little more hopeful.

Through a devotion to prayer and daily Mass, Mark and I navigate the sometimes-turbulent waters of marriage. But even though we occasionally slip, we have a very functional response: prayer. We keep leaning on it, doing it together as a couple and as a family, and I think it’s going to save us in the end. We continue to strive for love and holiness and realize that without the grace of God, we haven’t got a prayer, so to speak. For example, on one occasion, there seemed to be a dark cloud over us. After about a week of this, I suggested doing a nine-day rosary novena in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The cloud lifted day by day. By the end of the novena, things were fine again. Whatever was ailing us disappeared.

In the early years, we never prayed together. Funny how so many couples can have children together but praying with each other feels too personal. For us, it began many years ago by reading a St. Jude novena prayer card together when our house would not sell. It was the first time we prayed with just the two of us. Reading from a prayer card was really not so hard and it got us started praying together at times, over and above our nighttime family prayers. Now, whenever we go out for the night, we pray for the kids at home. And often we begin our night out by stopping at church to say a rosary. We would never have thought of doing such a thing in the early years of marriage.

Amazing Grace

But enough about us. I only mention it here for perspective and honesty. I’ll never write a marriage manual, but I did help to write a book about marriages. Amazing Grace for Married Couples (with Jeff Cavins and Matt Pinto, ) was easy to do because I was ghost writing and editing the stories of other marriages. And these relationships were some of the worst I had encountered short of physical abuse. What I found in each one of them, however, was a miracle of love reborn.

With each couple, we began with the courtship phase. Love swept them off their feet and they walked down the aisle confident that their love would be everlasting. There was only one exception to this scenario where a man felt trapped due to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. After the honeymoons, things were good for a time. Then, slowly, the relationships started to unravel. For some couples it happened quickly, but for one who went on a second honeymoon on their eighth anniversary, it seemed to come out of nowhere.

These marriages were all so different. Some married young after a brief romance. For others there was a much longer period of courtship and a determination that the two were compatible and mature enough to make a marriage commitment. Then, life and sin interfered in a big way. Alcoholism, gambling, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, boredom, obsessions with career, and atheism, were some of the corrupting factors. These were not marriages one would expect to survive. Not even.

A friend who read this book once said to me, “Sometime I’d be in the middle of a story and say to myself, ‘There is just no way this marriage is going to survive.’ But then, I realized that it had to make it because it was in the book.”

The one common factor in all the marriages is God’s grace doing the seemingly impossible — saving a relationship that appeared hopeless. In two cases, neither partner was praying for the marriage — both had called it quits. But, in both instances, there were a host of relatives and friends praying for the couples. In the other cases, at least one spouse was praying and pleading with God for help.

Help came in different Divine ways but the couples finally both turned to God to build up their relationships. The amazing part is that in every case, all the couples said they were more in love at the present than on the day they married. A few are now working in various Catholic ministries together. That is quite a feat considering some of the extreme cases of sin and betrayal.

In some cases, we used pseudonyms to protect families from the personal details that were revealed. We wanted to include everything, knowing that others could be helped by these extreme stories. Yet, there is one caveat. As I was writing this book and marveling that, had these couples split up, they never would have experienced the resurrection of their unions, I had a conversation with a priest friend. This priest had actually sent one of the couples to me to be included in the book. He cautioned me to temper my enthusiasm. Sacramental Catholic marriages are for life, but there are no guarantees. What must be lasting is our commitment to love our spouse and not betray our marriage vows. We can pray and do our best, but in the end, everyone has free will. The challenge then, is to keep loving our spouse even in the face of difficulties. Given our frail human condition we need God’s help.

Prayer to Our Lady of Cana

Mary, we have no more wine.

We run to you knowing that just like at Cana, you will look to the needs of our marriage.

Help our troubles be but fermentation and through your intercession and the grace of God, pray that our union grows strong and sweet.

At Cana, your Son, Jesus, said it was not His time.

Through the outpouring of love He had for you, He performed His first miracle and turned water into wine.

Lord, we turn to Your mother and again ask her to take our needs before You. We trust that, again, her motherly care for us and Your infinite love will grant us this request.

Our Lady of Cana, pray for us.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place all our trust in You.

Patti Maguire Armstrong


Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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  • GaryT

    Thanks for sharing this. My wife and I were just talking about how couples just don’t have an ideal model for what a Christian marriage ought to be. Thanks for reminding us of the centrality of prayer for our marriage.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more Patti! Of course I am the “Mark” referred to in the article. One thing that I would add as well, is to “be fruitful and multiply.” Although we didn’t know it as we added to our brood, God was giving us gifts that gave us meaning, grace and purpose to our lives. Couples that are open to life in their marriages are open to God’s plan for them.