Original Title : BASIC PREMARITAL UNDERSTANDING: WHAT I SHOULD KNOW/BE BEFORE MARRIAGE
This article is an excerpt from my book “Love and Fidelity in the Family, a guide to family stability”
This section is concerned with what a person should know or attitudes he is to cultivate before getting into marriage. It presupposes an appreciation of the seriousness of marriage. Really it is not my intention to make marriage look too difficult, the points here are only put forward for consideration, so they may be more or less important than this section says.
Some of them are treated below:
A PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF MARRIAGE
It is most natural that an overly repeated act begins to lose its true meaning or effect. If I am so used to shouting, people who have gotten used to it will hardly notice or be touched by it except I increase it or change it in some way. We quickly sink ourselves into new events and customs that we can no longer detach ourselves a little from them to stand away and gaze at them; appreciating their true meaning and beauty and consequently be refreshed by them. You cannot appreciate the beauty of a building if you do not draw yourself out of it for a while to gaze from outside.
We have indeed gotten used to marriage, we often hear of it, we see people get married from time to time, and we are in fact fruits of this institution. For the very fact that we have gotten used to it, we face the danger of losing sight of its true meaning and purpose. It begins to become aimless or “just one of those things that happen”. The Church does not understand Marriage to be a mere historical reality, She sees further than this; She views marriage as an institution ordained by God from creation for the continuation of his saving works and raised by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament for the sanctification of the world.
In order to “draw away” from the usual perception and prevalent blindness to the meaning of this lofty gift it is important to study. We can gain such understanding through personal study and prayer, listening to sermons and homilies, attending lectures given in the Church (like the Family week, catechetical week, Bible week etc.), the source of this understanding is God’s words given in the Scriptures and in the Church’s tradition. I strongly believe that if one makes use of such opportunities, he/she will build himself for a stronger and more stable family. This book also presents some of the teachings but exhorts you to read further than just this one book.
SELF-CONTROL AS A MARRIAGE PREREQUISITE
We are used to the popular Igbo phrase “chi ba ukwu” (which according to popular understanding implies that a married person quits fornication upon getting married). When negatively considered, this phrase also promotes casual sex and holds that one abandons it only when he/she has something higher, permanent and more serious (marriage). This is one of the phrases that undermine the importance of premarital continence and the self-control, which comes in concomitance. I totally disagree with the popular belief that every youth must either indulge in sex to be “normal”, feel happy or even to be healthy!
Self-mastery is one of the foundation stones of fidelity; one which assures its posterity. I challenge the youth to go on living in purity. Self-mastery is not really something a promiscuous person can decide to put in himself at any time. It is a grace of God, given only to those who earnestly struggle to live in purity in heart and body. This struggle does not mean keeping sinful materials and companions and then conquering them anytime, No! The struggle largely involves physically running from every temptation and destroying whatever leads or can lead our hearts to such sins and arising to fight twice harder should we mistakenly fall at any point.
Self-control involves not only control over the sexual appetites but other like capital vices: anger, gluttony, envy etc. to achieve this we must first decide; we decide to accept this grace when it comes and pull down all other strongholds that may rise against it. These strongholds may be what you love the most but this is what Christ meant by “cutting out your arm” when it causes you to sin (Mt 5:30). This does not mean that a person must be perfect before marriage. It rather means that one must have engaged in this war with considerable level of success before going into the married state. Everyone needs constant conversion as Blessed John Paul II rightly points out. Engaging in this struggle is the beginning of victory.
STRUGGLING ONESELF TO MATURITY
Maturity can mean different things to different people. However, real maturity is synonymous with being reasonable. A person who is either piqued or angered at everyone’s mistakes is immature. A person who is governed by greed, lust or other vices and willfully indulges in them is immature. A person who trusts only in his own counsel and is “wise in his own eyes and clever in his own sight” (Isaiah 5:21) is immature. Marriage is an institution of mature people.
Therefore before I can rightly assume I am fit for it, I must have begun the struggle with immaturity; conquering and daily engaging in new battles. Man is a potential being; always in the making. Completion shall be found only in Christ glorified. Marital state demands a “state of consciousness” which the parties must not pay deaf ears to. For instance, a married woman cannot put on anything she pleases even if her tastes are in accord with them, she must always endeavor to reflect discipline and maturity by being decent. The prospective husband/wife must engage in study, prayer and discipline in order to gain mastery over himself.
I must always be conscious of the fact that:
- Nothing evil/sinful gives lasting happiness; Goodness alone endures.
- I am not better than my neighbours just because I think so; we are all equal in God’s sight.
- I am prone to mistakes and must always accept rebukes or corrections no matter who gives them, how or where they are given.
- I am always a learner, no matter my academic level, I continue to learn.
- I must be open to truth and accept it when it is recognized as such.
- I must be sensitive to the needs of others and struggle to shun all selfishness.
- I must be considerate and avoid judging others.
GUARDING AGAINST CONCEPTUAL DISORIENTATION
In my opinion, disorientation is simply the natural tendency in some people of shunning reality in pursuance of their personal inclinations; the popular attitude of leaving what IS (reality) to what a person THINKS or LIKES. Experience shows the futility of the thoughts of man especially when they are unreal and Ipso Facto opposed to the Mind of the Maker of all things. For He is the foundation of all things; of reality itself. Therefore, anything outside of Him is non-existent. Everything that exists was created out of nothing and only man has God given the grace of being “made in his own image and likeness”; the grace to be truly real, to be like God; To BE like HE WHO IS. This is God’s gift to man: that “He created him a rational being conferring on him the dignity of a persona who can initiate and control his own actions”. But does not this will have imperfections and limitations? Of course it does. No one can have whatever they wish for.
Furthermore, in an attempt to run from the often-rude awakenings of reality, which strike in proportion to one’s level of disorientation, some people love to craft out their own worlds; where they “feel secure”. They make their truths, their laws of gravitation, and most probably their god! But test these truths on the simplest of scales they fail, let him jump from the rooftop he sleeps in a hospital and let him cry all he can and his god pays a deaf ear. Conceptual disorientation can be either outspoken or subtle. But there is one general scale on which to weigh all we hold dear in order not to be greeted at last by a woeful fall from our high horses.
This scale is a simple question: is this a truth without any contradictions; is it really real or reasonable? Any truth with a contradiction has a problem and should not be held with tenacity; nothing can be both white and black at the same time. Let us pause for an example to elucidate the point a little. Truth: God is Omnipotent. If we are in the process of discovering any other truth that contradicts God’s omnipotence (which is an absolute truth) it means that our theory is wrong not that God has ceased being omnipotent. If there is any form of weakness in our relations with him, it comes from us, if there is any power, it comes from him. This is a simple example of what I mean by weighing our truths.
Again we must remember that “truths” do not depend on us to be true; they do not derive their reality from us. 1+1 cannot depend on us to be 2, and no matter the height of our personal displeasure for the number “2” we cannot change this to “11” (we cannot create our own personal mathematics). Laws of gravitation did not depend on any scientist to be so; rather according to Fulton Sheen, those scientists were instructed by Mother Nature; they learned, they discovered what has always been. And God does not depend on our tastes to be what He is. Some people like him as a “God that destroys” some as “a God that tolerates any sin so long as we’re happy” yet others as a “God that strikes sinners with evils and misfortunes”.
Yet none of these can affect what God is in himself. Is it better then to keep depending on these? To keep our world, our truths and our “man-made god?” Or is it wiser to come out of our cocoons to discover real truths even when they are most bitter to us? I think it is much saner to break free from our cocoons to experience the redemptive power of truth. People say truth is bitter. Is it? A sick man says the Chicken you enjoy is bitter, so much so that it makes him vomit. But is this “bitterness” in this Chicken or in his sick palate?
Truth is sweet but our palates are bad.
REORIENTING BAD ATTITUDES
Maturity has different dimensions. However from my own evaluation the most important is the attitude we have toward things and life in general. As a prospective husband/wife there must be a conscious reorientation of negative attitudes. Before one can boast of being mature enough to get married, there must be a cultivation of the attitude of seeing the “good” in everyone and in every situation. This attitude saves a lot of stress and makes one peaceful with almost everyone. One of the key things that make marriages successful is for one or two of the partners to imbibe the habit of always saying “ok the deed is done, what next?”; of seeking a way out of bad situations or a way to make things work out better no matter the condition /shape of things instead of capitalizing on accusing others or reminding them of the wrongness of their acts. Of saying “sorry” when we wrong others no matter how slightly, of saying “thank you” when we receive favours, no matter how insignificant.
The above stated task involves serious personal struggle and prayer. Personality refinement is no easy task as it may involve giving up even what we love the most or things that we are most attached to. But what can be more painful than being involved in a marriage that breeds nothing but regret and unhappiness? Another attitude to avoid is that of judging from appearance so as not to be deceived by our personal (and often imperfect) perceptions and views.
One of the key reasons why marriages do not work is because of this mistake; people jump into marriage presuming “they’re in love” when they are only infatuated (Treated separately below). Surely, that emotion you feel for your prospective marital partner may be a pointer to the existence of great love for the person but that emotion is not itself the love. Love resides in the rational will, although it often overflows on the sensual part of man. The emotion is often “sweet”, and so many wrongly cling to it thinking it is the love itself without knowing that such emotions often vanish in time.
The problem is not that we feel this emotion, rather the problem is that we build everything upon it; that we find it difficult to cope when we can no longer feel anything in us. Truly one can love without emotions. We can love our brothers and sisters, our parents, our grannies and friends without necessarily “feeling”. The stress here is not on the evil or irrelevance of emotions, for that would be unreasonable, the stress rather is on avoiding such emotions that cloud our sense of judgement. The better attitude is to welcome those emotions when they come, but then prepare for those difficult days when they begin to vanish; it also entails seeing through the veil of those emotions; not setting our “Mr/Mrs rights” as perfect people but always remembering the fact that they are always human and therefore beginning on time to make room for their future mistakes (which inevitably comes).
AM IN LOVE, OR AM I NOT?
Love is beautiful as well as those emotions and passions which accompany it. I decided to separately treat the case of true love and infatuation because it may make the previous discourse more difficult. It is important to understand how the human heart works (by heart I do not mean the organ but the “heart” which is used to metaphorically speak of the soul, as when you say “with all my heart I believe/love). The primordial fall introduced three principal disorders in man, viz. (i) the disorder in communion between man and God, (ii) between man and the rest of creation and (iii) ‘between’ man and himself. This last one is the reason for the many “malfunctions” we perceive in us. Many things went wrong in man, which the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ has come to heal. Our perceptions deceive us, we cherish and trust the wrong people, we purchase fake products, and we mistake someone for another person, to name but a few.
I firmly believe that true love is love for the PERSON, not love for a quality in the person. You cannot love him because he is fair, classy, rich, and intelligent. However, these things may help strengthen the love we have for people, but they must never be the primary bases of our love for them. When love bases itself primarily on a quality, it is not true love. Again, some fall in love with an experience they had of a person rather than the person. He fell in love “at first sight” when he saw her smile and wave a friend goodbye; that instant he feels “she’s perfect”. Yet others’ loves are actually prompted only by sex drives, nothing else is of greater importance than the body; sexual attraction is to them the ultimate. What happens when she stops smiling? What happens when she is too old for sex? Does love die then?
All these things are good (experience we have with people, sex etc), when kept in their right places. The mistake we often make is not having any of these feelings and thoughts. Of course, there should be something about your fiancée you love; her smile, laugh, voice, step etc. I believe that if there is nothing like this in you, then maybe you are not in love at all, because these things renew the love we have within our hearts. The problem rather is that we absolutize the wrong things; we make mere servants our lords.
Our take-home is that whenever our love is impersonal or based on some fleeting feeling; something changeable, then we are not in love at all. Infatuation builds itself on something fleeting; something momentary; something changeable. True love on the other hand is built upon something somewhat immutable; a person. Much as we rightly say a person changes, however it is his qualities that change, and no one or two qualities in him is him. So the bottom line is when we love qualities in a person, we are not loving the person for the person but for what the person possesses and this is the mistake.
With Fulton Sheen, I believe that we all carry a sample of our loves in our hearts. So that when we see the “Right One”, we go “That’s it!” Nothing can equal Love. But infatuation breeds disturbance and unease. Immaturity is the primary cause of being infatuated. Some jump into relationships before they are mature enough for such; before they are old enough and ready to be married. Jumping into relationships causes great danger to the emotional development of people, as it may stunt the full development of a person’s emotional life. What is a primary/secondary school girl/boy doing with a lover? Good God! This is disturbing. These are the people who in future find marriage unhappy; they are also the people who find fidelity difficult. God cannot be mocked, everything has its own time; stretch it beyond its point, and someone gets hurt. I do not wish to discuss this further as I have not written this book for children.