“Marriage changes people, she’s different now” stated the young man speaking about his new wife. “We lived together for two years, then suddenly”, claims the new husband, “the ring popped on and she changed?”
Is she really different, I wonder? Did the marriage really change her?
Many engaged couples I meet are already sexually active and living together. It is in fact a rare occurrence when I interview a couple that is not in this category or had a prior marriage…or three.
These beautiful young souls do not think they are harming their future marriage with their current conduct. To the contrary, they believe they are helping it. Oftentimes I have to explain the Church’s teaching to help them comprehend what is at stake. Some nod their heads as the “lights go on,” others sadly, respectfully disagree. They believe their relationship is different, and not doomed to befall a sad fate. I only hope and pray they are correct.
I present to you dear reader, a common scenario, albeit oversimplified. For the purposes of distinguishing our hypothetical couple, I will refer to them as Sean and Allie.
Sean meets Allie. Allie thinks to herself… this could finally be the one.
Sean and Allie date and sooner or later have sex because that is the expectation in our over-sexualized culture. Allie is likely already on chemical contraceptives courtesy of mom from her high school days.
Sean is satisfied in the relationship. His basic needs are met; Allie makes him happy and doesn’t demand too much. Both are captivated with the other.
Allie yearns for a little more emotional intimacy, but doesn’t want to complain or refuse sex for fear of a fight or worse, a break up.
Their sexual relationship actually thwarts the growth of their communication and authentic knowledge of the other, giving only the illusion of intimacy.
Neither truly gets to know the other in reality because their hearts and minds are clouded by the natural pleasure chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin). The relationship is based mainly on a purely erotic level.
Allie tends to sentimentalize Sean’s attributes and disregard his shortcomings with the always popular, “I can change him” attitude.
Their sex life continues, as well as the false understanding of what real love demands, masked and driven by their feelings and emotions.
The next [il]logical and expected decision is to cohabit… after all they are a “cute couple, get along pretty well, and the sex is great.” They believe that trying the other out for compatibility is the best way to ensure they are “marriage material”…if marriage is even part of the equation. Allie might believe this is the natural course of events, Sean may not be thinking this at all. Neither has any idea what their compatibility is, sans sex.
Their bodies, hearts, friends and money are vested in this relationship-and soon, no doubt, a pet will join the liaison.
Neither mentions any real issues that might upset the other. Allie in particular will not say anything to risk the relationship, despite the fact that there are certain things beginning to concern her about Sean. She may even be feeling a little used at this point.
Both may be feeling from outside sources the pressure to marry. Allie’s dream of her perfect wedding invades her thoughts regularly. Sean may or may not have this dream.
Allie and Sean have been together for a few years now and may have some unspoken reservations in the back of their minds about the relationship; but it is better than being alone.
If marriage is on the horizon- they may consider a church if it fits their belief system, the prep period isn’t too long, too hard, too costly or just too inconvenient. Anyway who needs some self-righteous church person telling them what to do when they really are more “spiritual than religious?”
Sean and Allie take the plunge and tie the knot. Sean feels Allie might be overspending and possibly feels cut out of the planning which is predominately filled by her friends and mother.
They marry and both are happy…for a while.
Allie may think that she got what she wanted and now feels a little more comfortable in bringing up those little issues that have weighed on her mind for some time now. Sean is no more receptive to this now than he would have been before. Allie pushes onward. Sean wonders what has changed all of a sudden.
Allie may be getting tired of sex on demand- after all she is contracepting so there is no valid “excuses” in Sean’s mind. If she rejects his advances too frequently, this affirms in him that she has in fact “changed.” Allie wonders why Sean is distant and isn’t attentive to her emotional needs like she hoped he would be by now. She wants to be loved for more than her body.
Sean may or may not wonder what’s happening with Allie chalking it up to “moodiness.” Allie is frustrated wondering why she didn’t notice all those things that bothered her about Sean sooner.
Each wonders why the other seems to have changed so suddenly.
They may be reminded erroneously by their friends that marriage ruins people and is impossible.
Should they have married?
Neither understands the other, or what happened? Everything appeared fine when they lived together.
Neither Sean nor Allie is happy anymore, and life is supposed to be about personal happiness.
For the first time they consider divorce.
Both think they have fallen out of love when they never understood the demands of real love.
The marriage ends.
Both are unhappy, but think they are better off and eventually repeat the same foolish cycle this time hoping for different results.
This little scenario is not meant to depress us. Rather it is an all too real look at what is happening all over, at a shocking rate. The newest spike in the divorce rate is eighteen months. The marriage I referred to at the start of this article ended right about that time. I have known still others that lasted less than a year. All of them shared the same components outlined above in chilling detail.
So what is the answer?
Arch Bishop Fulton Sheen writes, “The greatest illusion of lovers is to believe that the intensity of the sexual attraction is the guarantee of the perpetuity of their love.” This statement strikes at the heart of the problem.
In my next article (to be shared tomorrow). I will reflect further but also share more optimistic news.