3 Hallmarks To A Fulfilling Marriage

Keith KettenringAncient Paths, Christian Living, The Uncommon Journey

For the past few months our family has been in wedding prep mode. During the final three weeks the preparations became intense. A week ago we were setting up for the rehearsal and dinner. Six days ago the beautiful event took place without a hitch. As a result of all of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage. Add to this that Rhonda and I celebrated 39 years of marriage in June. In all this focus on marriage I’m discovering, with the help of others, new aspects of this unique relationship.

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Here is what I’m discovering:

Marriage is Mystery.

Mystery implies something strange and marvelous. It cannot be figured out. It cannot be solved (like a murder “mystery”). How is it possible for parents to give up their children (whom they’ve known and loved for decades) and for the newlyweds (who have known each other for only a few years or months) leave everyone else and join themselves to each other? How can such oneness take place? How can marriage be a picture of Christ’s union with his church? This is not merely a human accomplishment. Every relationship is transformed. Everything changes when two people get married. And the changes never stop. If they stop, the marriage is in trouble. Marriage is a mysterious work of God to transform all of us into His likeness. The newlywed’s home is a monastery where its occupants learn to love and live in God’s life together.

Marriage is Martyrdom.

It is the venue where you show up to die. Marriage is not for your self-fulfillment (unless you understand fulfillment as dying daily) but for your self-crucifixion. Here is where you learn to check your ego, keep your mouth shut, serve, sacrifice, suffer, and embrace it all in Christ’s love. Here is where you plant yourself in the ground, die, and experience new life. At times you will be treated poorly, misunderstood, taken for granted, or dismissed. Yet, as you allow these realities to shape your heart, not reacting in ego-driven anger or shame, a better you will begin to emerge. Death brings forth life. Marriage is the crucible where new life takes place. (Ephesians 5.22, 25)

Marriage is Morality.

It is in the beautiful bond of marriage that chastity is preserved and cultivated. It is not just the “avoidance of immorality, but integrity of the person, body and soul, and direction of oneself towards holiness” (Catharine P. Roth, Introduction to On Marriage and Family Life; St. John Chrysostom). “Due to the temptation of immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman here own husband,” writes Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7.2). One purpose of marriage is to make you chaste – to set a limit to your desires; teaching you to keep yourself for one person only. In marriage you can become more holy, pure, clean, sanctified (Ephesians 5.25 – 26).

There is so much more yet to be learned and experienced in marriage. There are no experts (some try to be) in this most intimate of human relationships.

As wonderful as our experience has been to watch two young people fall in love and get married, Rhonda and I are also close to a couple battling through an awful divorce. The first couple is aiming to live out their marriage with the guidance of these three realities. The second couple did not know about these realities let alone live them out.

A greater concern for me, however, is how I’m living out these realities. With Rhonda, am I growing in oneness, learning to die, and becoming more pure in my relationship with her? I can’t control the marriage of others but I certainly can do something about myself within my marriage.

Of the three realities above, which one resonated with you the most? What can you do about it? 

Dr. K 

P.S. My thoughts on marriage have been stimulated by the writings of St. John Chrysostom (349-407) some of which have been captured in On Marriage and Family Life, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986. His thoughts are relevant to us today.