At a recent reflection day for clergy and pastoral leaders in Wellington about marriage in the context of Pope Francis’ letter Amoris Laetita, Louise and Mike Kelleher talked about Amoris Laetitia and its powerful and beautiful messages for couples at each stage of the marriage journey.
‘The life of every family is marked by all kinds of challenges, yet these are also part of its dramatic beauty… every new step along the way can help couples find new ways to happiness. Each challenge becomes an apprenticeship in growing closer together or learning a little more about what it means to be married.’ (AL 232)
Romantic love begins with attraction and magnetism, there is chemistry between us and we are drawn to each other. As the relationship develops, admiration, trust and respect grow and there is a sense of compatibility and congruence – we fit together well. We begin to believe there is promise for the future – if it’s this good now how good could our future be! We dream of being truly that one flesh, and this powerful sexual longing propels us into declaring mutual devotion and commitment.
And so we marry.
‘Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope.’ (AL 219)
Marriage is not a state, it is a journey. It passes through recognisable stages. At each of these stages we encounter challenges and difficulties which must be overcome.
The honeymoon is over!
Sadly, one of our first tasks of married life is letting go of some of the romantic illusions we have had. They have been useful in getting us this far but they are based on dreams and will inevitably lead to disappointment. We can now see each other as we really are.
We learn that we repeatedly need to say sorry, and we lay the foundation for a lifetime of forgiveness and healing. As we discover that we can bounce back from difficulty, we come to understand that a stronger basis for love now exists, our growing ability to commit ourselves to each other as we really are.
‘In joining their lives the spouses assume an active and creative role in a life-long project. Their gaze now has to be directed towards the future that, with the help of God’s grace, they are called daily to build. For this very reason neither spouse can expect the other to be perfect. Each must set aside all illusions and accept the other as he or she actually is; an unfinished product needing to grow, a work in progress.’ (AL 218)
Our world is turned upside down in a most wonderful way. Our roles are redefined since we are no longer just a couple, we are a family and we are parents. We have dramatically less time and freedom as a couple; tiredness and financial strain make us irritable and more likely to argue, and we now have a whole lot more to argue about! As we develop new relationships with extended family we negotiate boundaries around our family. We learn that in going the extra mile for each other, making sacrifices, sharing our innermost joys and fears about parenthood, our intimacy deepens and we forge a new family identity.
‘Love is a kind of craftsmanship…at every new stage the couple can keep forming one another. Love makes each wait for the other with the patience of a craftsman, a patience which comes from God.’ (AL 221)
Mid-life – parenting adolescents
Mid-life is a time of great emotional upheaval for both men and women when life priorities are re-evaluated and personal values and goals are weighed up in the light of where they have taken us thus far. It may be that a husband determines he has invested too much time in career building at the expense of his family and would like to spend more family time together, at precisely the time that the wife is ready to branch out into new career paths as the children are seeking their independence. Add ageing grandparents to the mix and our home feels like a cauldron of clashing needs and values and opinions. Open communication has never been more important; sharing our changing perspectives and dreams, and presenting a united front to the challenges of our adolescent children. We renegotiate the ‘how important am I to you’ question and devise different ways of meeting each other’s needs.
‘In the family three words need to be used. I want to repeat this! Three words. Please, Thank you, Sorry.’ (AL 133)
The first half of a marriage has been spent launching the marriage, building careers and parenting children, and is dictated by circumstances – children, jobs, homes and so on. The beginning of the second half offers new freedom to choose and to change, to seek fulfilment of long-held hopes and dreams. But with the freedom comes risk. The challenge is to now create a marriage that is spouse-focussed rather than activity-focussed since activities can easily become buffers to intimacy. We now have the opportunity to build a deeper friendship, and to enjoy each other, to stretch our boundaries and to have some fun.
‘Love needs time and space; everything else is secondary.’ (AL 224)
Retirement – old age
This is the time of life when we are least likely to figure in the divorce statistics but the potential for marital unhappiness is high. Loss of work identity, health problems and dealing with regrets can turn us inward and away from our spouse. Negative patterns of interaction that have developed over the years become pronounced when we spend considerably more time together than we ever have before. We must let go of past disappointments, forgive each other past hurts and nourish the trust and love which has grown over the years. We have spent much energy over many years polishing and refining our unique relationship; now is the time to draw together spiritually and to spend our remaining days together content and happy in the knowledge that our journey has been grace filled and blessed.
‘The Lord’s Presence dwell in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes. (AL 315)
Living in a family makes it hard for us to feign or lie; we cannot hide behind a mask. If that authenticity is inspired by love then the Lord reigns there with his joy and his peace. The spirituality of family life is made up of thousands of small but real gestures. In that variety of gifts and encounters which deepen communion, God has his dwelling place.’
Louise Kelleher is a case instructor at the Catholic Church Tribunal in Wellington.
Copies of Amoris Laetita and Laudato Si’ are available for $5 each through the Wellington Catholic Centre. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (04) 496-1766.