In this issue of FamFare, we salute and pay tribute to the couples who have struggled amidst severe challenges in their marriage and have persevered in upholding their marriage sacrament when it would have been easier to just give up. They managed to find the humility to own their problems and return to a right relationship with God, turning to prayer and fasting, seeking the grace of God as well as appropriate help and intervention. Most importantly, they refocused on their covenantal love relationship and gained a keener awareness of their true vocation and mission in their lives.
In our previous issue, we highlighted that nobody enters into a marriage able to manage it perfectly. Our model for marriage will have come, in most cases, from our parents. And our spouse may have a different frame of reference for what a marriage should be, due to a different upbringing or family of origin. We believe man and woman are created with equal dignity, in the image and likeness of God. Yet they are also distinctly different, not to oppose nor subjugate one another, but to complement each other and to make each other whole.
Yet couples cannot walk alone
We need the grace of God and the support of the Church’s community to sustain, nourish and strengthen marriage. ACF works with an eco-system of marriage and family apostolates/partners to help couples build a strong, faithful and fruitful Christ-centred marriage.
Let’s now turn to the stories of our couples. (Their names have been changed to protect their privacy)
When sin divides …
Ian* and Beth* took the models for their relationshipsfrom their parents. Ian did not have a close relationship with his father. The harsh treatment he received and lack of affirmation from his father resulted in his inability to respect his wife, and to encourage and nurture his kids. Beth’s parents divorced when she was 18 years old and, prior to that, she had witnessed quarrels and a perpetuating family cycle of abuse and hurt.
So when pornography reared its ugly head, dividing Ian and Beth in their marriage, neither of them wereequipped with the communication skills to deal with it, and so the problem festered. Ian had been addicted to pornography long before he got married. At a young age, he enjoyed watching pornographic films with his school-mates. He shares that watching pornography and masturbating oneself is a terrible addiction that brings on feelings of guilt, which in turn made him angry at everything around him. “This affected the relationship with my wife and my kids as I took my anger and frustrations out on all of them. I felt unworthy of the grace of God. I tried to give up the pornography on my own, but each time, it wasn’t long before I gave in to the temptation again.”
“My husband’s addiction to pornography was slowly killing our marriage,” explains Beth. “It created a wall between us in our bed and in every other area of our marital relations. He refused to speak openly about the problem, and came clean only once, when he was caught red handed.”
When Ian was forced to defend his actions, Beth heard one of the most painful words ever when he told her he looked for another woman’s attention because Beth was not attractive. This was the day after their second child was born. For years, Beth carried those words in her heart. It destroyed her confidence as a woman and she felt unworthy when they had sex, even when Ian tried to initiate it.
“I realise now that I carried the emotional scars of my parents’ marriage breakdowninto my own marriage,” recalled Beth. “This subconsciously created an atmosphere of tension.Like my mum, I constantly pointed out his faults and never once showed appreciation towards him. We lived like this for years, unable to have an authentic relationship, until my husband signed us up for the Couple Empowerment Programme (CEP).”
The Holy Spirit intervenes
“A while back, I went for Mass alone while my wife and kids were out of the country,” Ian recalls. “There was a CEP roadshow that weekend and I immediately felt drawn to it. I signed up without asking for my wife’s consent, which was rather unusual. By then I had begun to recognise, through my wife’s silence, that she was slowly giving up on our marriage. Looking back, I think it was the Holy Spirit knocking on the door of my heart to take action: Romans 5.5: the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”
After attending CEP, the couple started to spend three to four hours regularly every week talking honestly about their lives, praying and reflecting on scripture passages and turning back to God to get their bearings right. “Then, things started to change,” Beth recalls. “We learnt to calmly discuss hot-button issues in our marriage, including financial issues and our parents and in-laws, in a constructive manner.”
During one of those sessions, Ian finally decided to talk openly about his addiction to pornography. “I was very happy for the both of us that he found the courage to speak about this addiction and that he was willing to make changes to improve our relationship,” says Beth. “We realised that we needed to encourage and support each other on our path to holiness as we administer the sacrament of holy matrimony daily to each other. We both come from abusive families, and we did not know how to treat each other with dignity and respect as spouses. Now we are able to speak with each other without fear of being rejected or attacked. We know, that whatever we are facing, there are larger forces influencing our actions and, through prayers and fasting, we choose to appeal to the Risen Lord to guide us. We now feel more united and our relationship has become more sincere.”
A community comes together
Once Ian opened up, the CEP community rallied round the couple and devised a battle plan. “As I owned up to my problem, I prayed and fasted, and I finally went for the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” saysIan. “I was encouraged by my wife’s support in praying and fasting together with me. The community was also praying and fasting along with us. This battle plan united us; we became a couple again, rekindling the love in us as we sought the good of the other. We shared deeply and cared for each other more tenderly. Of course, we still have our differences, but there are no more lies that separate us, and this is key to building our intimacy and to the healing of my broken sexuality.
“I have been clean for six months now. Having reconciled myself with God and loving authentically again, our marriage has improved, and I have new-found freedom and am less anxious and afraid.”
A marriage takes three
When Joseph* and Samantha* first met through a mutual friend, love blossomed and after two years of dating, the couple married in 2012. Their belief that they needed only one another soon faded as the realities of married life began to take hold. They were soon to discover that they were missing a third, very important, partner in the marriage.
“Although Samantha and I knew that marriage would never be a bed of roses, we were totally unprepared for what was a horrendous start to our marriage,” says Joseph. “It was fraught with constant disagreements and heated quarrels over just about everything. We were both quick to lose our cool. So when troubled times came, like when I lost my job and felt very low about myself, I just could not see her as my helpmate but rather someone who judged me along with the rest. Our marriage crumbled like a house of cards since the foundations of our faith and our marriage were never properly developed.”
Killing a marriage
Their fights were often sparked by a lack of tolerance and poor understanding of each other’s underlying needs and emotions. One negative tone or judgemental look would escalate to insensitive comments, and even expletives. “Sometimes the fights were in the open and our children could hear all the ugly words we threw at each other,” adds Samantha. “We were not even aware that we were repeatedly breaking the 5th commandment: Thou Shall Not Kill.”
Joseph had grown up with a mother who had anger management issues and a father who was extremely reticent and could not protect him. With deep hurt from his family of origin, his anger flares out easily and is often laced with contempt at the slightest provocation. Samantha’s upbringing held no model for what she was now experiencing in her marriage. Growing up, all the way into adulthood, she was doted on by her parents, who took care of her every need. In the workplace too, she was treated with respect and courtesy. Yet, daily, she returned home to a very different environment. “After each fight, Joseph and I were unforgiving and chose instead to store all the resentment. I became angry with God for this hurtful man who made me feel so condemned. I struggled to pray whenever we fought, and I blamed Joseph for the endless cycle of negativity,” says Samantha.
Divorce was on the cards
It was a deeply unhappy and untenable position, and it wasn’t long before the couple decided the easiest way out was to cut their losses and divorce. And they could easily have fallen through the cracks, but for the divine intervention of our Merciful God.
“On the verge of breaking up, while at Mass one Sunday, we heard a church announcement about an upcoming Couple Empowerment Programme (CEP),” Samantha remembers. “We were invited to attend once we got out into the Church lobby and, to my surprise, Joseph agreed, seeming to be ready to give our marriage a last shot.”
God sent in his squad
It was not easy. It took many attempts and long sessions to break down the many facets of the couple’s issues. They even gave up the CEP sessions at one point. “But I suppose God never gave up on us,” said Joseph. “He sent the CEP team after us. When the subsequent CEP run came round, we were invited to continue where we had left off. And so we soldiered on.”
Over time, they started to be able to remove the shades of sins and to see how pride and fragile egos had contributed to the brokenness and hurt that lay deep within. Joseph came to realise that even if he felt he was being provoked to anger, he should not give in to his rage and negative emotions and vent them on Samantha. “She is my wife, whom I vowed to love and honour all the days of my life,” he says. “I need to accord her dignity and respect. She is, after all, a child of God just as I am. Like Jesus, who gave His all to the Church, His Bride; and also like her dad, who always acted in her best interest, as her husband, I am called to be Samantha’s protector and life partner. I should be looking for opportunities to love and affirm her.”
The restoration plan
The couple were provided tools in CEP to repair, heal and rebuild themselves and their marriage.Theseincluded going for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, praying the rosary and other prayers, attending daily Mass, allowing the Word of God to nourish them, and spending quiet moments in the Adoration Room as well as setting aside time to regularly check in with each other, to have their couple dialogue and to pray together as a couple.
Most significantly, they felta deep presence of God’s love through their assigned CEP mentor couple, facilitators and the entire CEP community, who ministered to them, and journeyed and prayed with and for them as Samantha recalls: “They literally carried Joseph and I through our deeply wounded marriage state, helping us to reconnect with God and drawing upon His love to rekindle our love for one another.”
A welcome third wheel
“There were countless times when the conflicts in our marriage seemed unsalvageable,” adds Joseph, “but with every fall we took, we felt God holding us up each time and whispering into our ears: ‘I’m here, keep going’. Through this, we know for sure that God is ever present whenever we call upon Him.”
“It certainly does take three to be married,” says Samantha. “These days, whenever those tense moments arise, we cling on to that all-important third party in our marriage, the Crucified Christ, and allow Him to lead us.”