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the "bests" and "worsts" of marriage

By Steve and Bridget Patton

He says: She wants a divorce, I had no idea.

Out of the blue, Rachelle says she’s seriously thinking about a divorce – I didn't even know there was a problem.

That’s actually a huge part of our problem right there – James is just so clueless and unconcerned about my feelings.

James can at least be grateful that he first encountered the word “divorce” directly from Rachelle, and not via service of legal papers. Many stunned spouses are not so lucky. Still, the fact that he didn’t see this coming speaks volumes of sadness.

Whether he is a poor communicator, or he is not meeting her emotional needs (or some combination of the two), it will help to review both the commitments they made at their marriage, and the reasonable hopes – versus expectations – that flow from those commitments.

The trigger line in a Catholic wedding liturgy – what creates the marital bond – is the mutual commitment to take the full, mixed bag of a fellow sinner. While there is also a corresponding mutual commitment to fully, exclusively and irrevocably give one’s self, the spoken words of binding consent are limited to the “I take you…” half. And they include a sobering litany of “for worsts” that accompany all the “for betters.” 

Now since, as the saying goes, an expectation is a pre-meditated resentment, the safest way to begin a marriage is to hope for “the betters,” expect “the worsts,” and never get the two mixed up.

In other words, Rachelle, while you might hope James will meet all your emotional needs, that might be more than he would ever be capable of. In most healthy marriages, we need to rely on family and friends for a full spectrum of emotional support. That said, James, you might need to do some major work on both the “take” and the “give” parts of your marital commitment.

Rachelle has a basic human need to be fully listened to, that is, to be taken in. This might be extremely difficult for you. But that’s no excuse for doing nothing. Recommit yourself to give all you can to learn and to be healed. 

An important step is to consider attending a Retrouvaille weekend retreat and/or seeing a marriage therapist together. Your marriage is worth saving, and that means it’s worth working for. And pray. God is a guarantor backing your marriage and he wants to help save it. But you have to ask. 

Steve and Bridget Patton hold master's degrees in theology and counseling and serve as family life ministers for the Diocese of Sacramento.