Making Good Marriages Great

by Theresa Notare

July 27, 2005

Maybe I've just watched too many MGM musicals in my life, but I think most marriages are good. I believe that most people enter marriage wanting the best for their spouses and themselves. They want their love to last forever. They hope life won't be too hard and that they too can have the American dream of children, a home and a happy life. These are good things to aspire to. The Catholic Church has similar desires for married couples but goes further – the Church wants good marriages to become great marriages.

How can a good marriage become great? Our faith suggests how – by knowing and loving God, and by living in a way that reflects that relationship. As Christians, the starting point for all human relationships is our relationship with the Triune God. It is only in light of that love that we can love the other person fully. As members of the Body of Christ we are called to love as Christ loves – faithfully, generously, and permanently. That's a huge calling, but grace makes it possible.

This common Christian vocation to love God and neighbor takes on a unique focus in the lives of married couples. Its uniqueness is related to God's original gift to humanity: God blessed man and woman to be "no longer two but one flesh," and said, "Be fruitful and multiply." The couple's shared vocation is embodied in the unitive and procreative nature of marital sexuality. To make a good Christian marriage great, these two aspects of marital sexuality must be understood, nurtured and lived.

The marriage bond is formed by a free act of the will, and nurtured by selfless love. That means putting your spouse's needs before your own. If both spouses strive to be mindful of each other, a real communion of persons can be built. Not "me," but "we" can become second nature and their bond will become strong enough to blossom into a greater love for all human life.

The Church teaches that marriage involves a radical act of giving. This is nowhere more clear than in the marital embrace. Husband and wife give all of themselves to each other – body, mind and soul. Pope John Paul II has said that "nothing that is part of themselves can be excluded from this gift." Their fertility, their power to create a new person to love in union with each other, is part of that gift. Here lies the reason why contraception is wrong – it breaks that "inseparable connection" between the two meanings of the conjugal act, the unitive and the procreative" (Humanae vitae, no. 12). Doing something that is against what God designed us for can only harm us.

Living your marriage according to God's design can only make you happy. It can make your good marriage great!

Theresa Notare is the Assistant Director of the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning, Pro-Life Secretariat, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.