A while ago, I read a blog post about “how not to destroy your marriage,” written by a man with two failed marriages. It had a lot of good advice, some of it common sense stuff, some of it obviously learned the hard way. But it also had some advice that didn’t resonate with me and got me thinking about why I deemed it to be bad advice.
And then it struck me: it was marriage by works.
Okay, I’ll back up a bit. I’m going to borrow rudely from Protestant theology here. Oversimplified, Protestant theology accuses Catholic theology of being based on a model of salvation by works. That is, “I can get into heaven so long as I am very, very good and do very, very good things.” Protestants, on the other hand, believe in salvation by grace: the idea that God is very, very good and we are very, very bad and there’s nothing we can do about it, so God sent Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. Okay, I told you that was oversimplified.
So, my theory is that some marriages are based on works. Some couples believe that if only they take good enough care of their bodies (“don’t let yourself go”) or avoid farting in front of their spouse, or any other thing that they can think of to do to show their spouse that they love him/her, then their marriage will be saved.
I disagree. I believe that marriage is saved by grace. It’s saved by two people who pledged before God and their communities that they will love their spouse through the good times and the bad, through sickness and health…etc. But it’s important to understand that our pledge to love our spouses means that we love them even though they fart in front of us, or even though they gain weight, or even though they stop manscaping, or even though they stop wearing makeup every day, or even though they sometimes get grumpy, or even though…have you got the picture yet?
Does that mean you shouldn’t wear makeup, manscape, fart in the bathroom, hold your tongue, etc.? Of course not! I told you I oversimplified Protestant theology! Salvation by grace also includes the desire to show God how much we love Him by doing good things, not because of anything we will get from the experience, but simply because we want to do good things. Same goes for marriage. If you want to get dressed up for your spouse or do other nice things to show that you love him/her, do those things. But don’t expect that you will get love—or other reciprocal actions—from your spouse. You are doing these things because you love him/her, not because s/he is a vending machine that you can plunk a good deed into and get a candy bar out of in return (same goes for God, by the way).
And your duty is to love your spouse with grace, not expecting him/her to do anything to earn your love. You love that person because they are your spouse. Love is a posture your heart takes, and, yes, it is a posture his or her heart needs to take as well. That’s the difference between marriage and our relationship with God: marriage is two-sided, but God’s grace is one-sided (and here is the inevitable place where my analogy falls apart).
So, my secret to a strong and lasting marriage (and mine is in its tenth year, so take that as you will)? Grace, grace, grace, grace, and more grace.
Love with grace, love actively, love gently, love without expecting love back, love kindly, love patiently, love broadly, love focusedly (okay, I made that word up: it means love just this one person in just this particular way. To be more obvious…no adultery, real or imagined!), love passionately, love with laughter, and above all, love with grace.