Happiness in marriage must be earned. It is something you must work out for yourself, chiefly by forgetting yourself and serving others. Marriage involves the art of human relations, the psychology of children, the economics of running a home, the maintenance of health, but, above all, the development of the moral and spiritual life of the family. All this demands a wide range of talents and skill. No marriage is a success unless you make it so, and that takes persistent effort and, still more, a constant and humble reliance on God.
The supreme object of your effort and striving is the family. You worked and saved in order that you might be married and have a home of your own. Once married, you worked and saved that you might successfully bring up a family. Your purpose in Matrimony should be to bring God’s children into the world and rear them properly, to be one in body and spirit, and to make a happy home. You are to help one another and your children in every possible way, especially to get to Heaven, which is the final and eternal destiny for us all.
You and your spouse must be willing to work at marriage as the greatest job of your lives and not desert when problems arise. When you married, each of you took on a responsibility for some part of the work that goes into the making of a home. Both assume the responsibility of encouraging and helping the other, insofar as is possible, in the specific tasks designed for each. The training of children is the mutual responsibility of both husband and wife.
Thus, marriage is very much a fifty-fifty proposition. Only when you are willing to bear your share of the burdens of married life can you hope to have real love and peace.
Marriage is normally a source of equilibrium for you, because it brings you legitimate and healthy pleasures. But equilibrium always consists of an effort to impose the guidance of reason upon all your activities. Welcome without narrow-mindedness and weakness the joy marriage offers; use your reason in meeting the difficulties that marriage inevitably entails.
If your temperament is inherently unstable, if your life is weighed down with unfavorable conditions, you can recover the health of your emotional and spiritual life only if you seek above all what is right according to the sane reason that God has given you, providing, of course, that you make yourself do it. Only this effort can bring you the joy that is worthy of you.
Avoid the tendency to be irresponsible
Love can be destroyed if you show no interest in and offer no help and encouragement for the work of your partner, or, what is worse, if you shirk and neglect your individual responsibilities to the family.
Irresponsibility is the failure to shoulder the basic obligations of marriage. An irresponsible husband considers himself entitled to all the privileges of marriage but frees himself from most of its responsibilities. Selfishness runs through such a person’s entire makeup. Frequently he is waited on hand and foot and has never tried to think of others or to accept responsibility, with the result that he is emotionally immature, self-centered, and socially irresponsible.
Some married women harm their homes, their husbands, their children, and themselves by too much external activity: organizations, societies, luncheon groups, clubs, and civic committees. Other causes are too much wealth and, therefore, too much leisure, so that even mothers of sizable families can hire people to do most of their work; and the appeal of social prominence.
Some fathers take little part in the administration of their homes and the raising of their families. Sometimes they use their jobs as a cloak for laziness in regard to their duties at home. They may be dynamos of energy in trying to make money and in getting ahead, but they refuse to help their wives or do anything for or with their children. Marriage is a partnership in which husband and wife are intended to work together for the decent upkeep of their home and, above all, the proper supervision and raising of children.
Apart from his work at making a living, the husband is bound to help his wife at her tasks in any way that he can. To fail or refuse to do this is not only selfish, but also unfair. A husband may take an extra job to help his family financially or put in extra study to make himself fit for a better job, but he can do these things without completely neglecting his wife and children.
Then there is the husband who adopts the principle that, besides being faithful to his wife, the only contribution he is called upon to make toward the upkeep of a home and the raising of children is money. He selfishly imagines that it is his wife’s part of the bargain to keep the home neat, to feed, clothe, and train the children, to correct and punish them — to do all the work involved in making a home and raising children by herself.
Such a husband proves himself to be lazy, inconsiderate, independent, and selfish. He may work eight hours a day in the office or shop, but his wife’s work is never done and requires her to be on the go sixteen hours a day. He comes home from work and settles himself in front of the television or with the newspaper or behind closed doors and seldom raises a hand to help with the household chores or to keep the children occupied in a wholesome way. Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays are spent in the same way.
No matter what excuses may be made, this is an abuse and a cause of many of the failures in modern marriages. Irresponsibility is the third most frequent cause of broken marriages. Such irresponsible fathers should find a way to get around the excuses instead of permitting them to stand in the way of their active sharing in the important tasks of the home.
The wife of an irresponsible husband has a right to demand more consideration from him. If he fails to heed suggestions, a good wife can only take comfort from the family she is raising, and from the fact that the example of her patience may someday make an impression upon her self-centered husband.
If a husband gambles away most of his time and money, it may be fundamentally because he has no incentive to find something better to do with them. A good wife must give him that incentive by making him want to be with her. She should do everything she can to make her home a place where her husband might desire to relax in peace or where he can be proud to bring his friends. She can make herself a pleasant hostess by entertaining his friends as well as her own. She can keep up her own external appearance, dress neatly and becomingly, and train her children to be good to their father when they are around him. Above all, she should never complain to her husband about the hard life she may lead.
Seeing his wife sacrificing her own tastes to his, a husband will be moved by sheer self-respect to sacrifice his tastes for her. Eventually he will realize that he has a fine, restful home, an intelligent wife, and children of whom he may be proud. He will appreciate such things and will want to show them off to his friends. A good wife will be compensated by the comfort that her orderly home and kind children will bring.
Put your family ahead of your activities outside your home
Marriage demands companionship. The wish to be with the one loved is a sign of true love. To be satisfied being with each other only when this can hardly be avoided leads to taking love for granted. Some husbands defend themselves by referring to sins they do not commit, or to the money they bring in, or the work they do around the home.
Sometimes, as a father, you may feel more like spending your evenings at a club or at a meeting than at home with your wife and children; or, as a mother, you may feel more like engaging in activities outside your home than in making a true home for your husband and children. Your feelings must be subject both to your sense of duty and to the wishes of your partner and children.
So many people crowd their lives with too much activity and squeeze out of their schedule some of the things they would like to do or ought to do. They are doing many things that are good, but they are neglecting other things that are better and more important. Perhaps this is because they lose sight of the primacy of the obligations arising from their family and home.
Your first duty is to your home and family. You have solemnly sworn an obligation to work for their happiness and salvation. To be successful, families must be happy; and to be happy, the members must anticipate and fulfill the reasonable needs and desires of one another.
There is the husband who feels that he must have his nights out and his days off for bowling, golf, the club, the bar, and the gathering with the boys, but who rarely gives his wife an opportunity for relaxation away from the constant duties of the home. He considers it beneath his dignity to take his wife out with him once in a while. He might just as well say that she ought to enjoy staying home and working all the time, as if she were not a human being and, therefore, did not need recreation.
It is quite reasonable for a wife, whose life is confined almost entirely to the duties of the home, to long for some relaxation and change occasionally. A husband should be willing to make the sacrifice of some of the comfortable evenings at home so that he might offer his wife the opportunities for the relaxation she needs. He may have to cut down on some of his activities outside the home. If he gives a little more time to making his wife and children happy, he will find that he is getting a fair amount of relaxation and rest himself by sharing with them the simple joys of an occasional evening out together.
Trust in God
You are assured of God’s help. The Church teaches that through the sacrament of Matrimony, you and your spouse are assured of God’s constant help. Therefore, you must firmly trust in God. In the next life, you may expect still greater blessings if on earth you have tried to build your home on the model of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
God is never outdone in generosity. If you serve Him as well as you can, you can be certain that He will bless you abundantly. If, on the other hand, you deliberately break His laws, you can be sure of depriving yourself and your family of His blessing.
The primary requisite for family happiness is union with God, who is the source of all happiness in this world and in the next. No one has such powerful means and more frequent opportunities of being united with God than a conscientious Catholic. Keep in touch with God through the frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist and by much prayer.
Work hard for your family and their happiness as if everything depended upon you. Pray to God and trust Him even more, because everything really depends upon Him. Our Lord said, “Abide in me, and I in you. .. . Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Fr. Lovasik’s The Catholic Family Handbook, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.