In the intoxicating swirl of wedding preparation, is the serious business of a covenantal relationship being neglected?
The same meticulous planning that goes into color palettes, cake icing and bridal gowns, needs to be applied to planning the marriage, according to a couple who examines the myths of marriage in a recent book.
“The Seven Big Myths about Marriage,” was written by Christopher Kaczor, 44, who teaches a philosophy course on Love and Marriage at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and his wife, Jennifer. They are the parents of seven children.
Appealing to reason rather than religious authority, the book tackles the most controversial and talked about positions of the Catholic Church on contraception, marriage, reproductive technologies, cohabitation and divorce, and argues for the reasonableness of the church’s views on these issues.
“Ever since I began teaching this course, I thought it would be great to have the heart of the course in a book so that people who I can’t teach could pick up the book and read it,” he said. “I asked my wife to include some of her stories which added a lot to the book. Some people might think that by my writing a book on marriage, that ours is perfect, but adding Jen’s stories to the book, it shows that all marriages have difficulties. I think she is a good writer and people could laugh and feel sadness and get a sense of what it is like to be married.”
Seven big myths of marriage
While marriage can seem idyllic to the unmarried, it can be gritty, unglamorous and challenging, and, despite the myths about antiquated ideas, through the church’s teachings, marriages can not only survive, but also thrive, according to the couple.
In his book, Kaczor describes seven big myths:
- Love is simple
- Marriage is 50/50
- Love alone makes a marriage
- Cohabitation is just like marriage
- Premarital sex is no big deal
- Children are irrelevant to marriage
- All reproductive choices are equal
Kaczor said sometimes people are more polite and courteous to strangers than to their spouse during marriage. It isn’t through big gifts that couples find unity, but through daily small acts of kindness, such as unloading the dishwasher, going to the store for bread and milk, and appreciation for the other person.
Marriages need random acts of kindness
“These are things that I did not really understand for the first 18 years of my marriage, and I am embarrassed to say that. But part of love is really seeking out and seeing the good in your spouse,” he said.
“When you first begin dating you are enthralled with the person and everything is magical and stupendous. After being married for 10 to 15 years, the feelings can be dulled and the couple loses that wonder and good news with the spouse.”
A conventional marriage is comprised of self-giving love where the most important aspect is the will to do good, and a small cost to the person doing the giving.
“If I choose to empty the dishwasher, that is time I could have read a book and listened to music, but if I choose to do good for others, it is a sacrifice, but I paradoxically benefit myself when I intentionally offer random acts of kindness,” he said. “There is more positive emotion and enhancing, and that and the cost benefit we receive is at the heart of all kinds of love, for as long as you live.”
Cohabitating often leads to divorce
Cohabitation as a stepping-stone to marriage, a sort of practice run to see if the couple is sexually and physically compatible, is a common myth among many couples, he said.
Most couples who cohabit either have a high view or a low view of marriage; most of them do not get married or get married and divorce after a short period, Kaczor emphasized. Generally, the women have the high view of marriage, he added.
“I wanted to show the wisdom in not cohabitating before marriage, because the statistics when they cohabit is that they increase the likelihood of divorce. They are shocked to read the secular sociology and research, and really lots of different studies that point out that it is especially not a great idea for female students, and detrimental to their own likelihood of finding marriage,” he explained. “A typical case involves a couple that moves in when they are 25 and don’t get married. What has happened is that the man has gained what a woman is looking for and a 32-year-old man is better able to provide, but the woman is not as well off as they were earlier because a typical man prefers youth and beauty and most women have more of that at 25 rather than 32. Female students haven’t thought of that, but it does make sense. When the church says ‘no’ to cohabitation, it isn’t trying to put a cold blanket on them or rain on their parade, but it really is a kind of wisdom summarized for us.”
View children as gift, not hassle
Kaczor believes despite the headaches, and challenges from activities, and worries, that children are good for the marriage, and as Pope Francis has stated, “Families are an important mission within the church.” He said a large part of the disintegration of marriage and parenthood comes from viewing children as an option or a hassle rather than a gift or a blessing.
“Children increase the meaningfulness of life, and parents work to help their children succeed. Having children is a real way to get a sense of lasting contribution to the world, and encourages a real depth of relationship with their children and their spouse,” said Kaczor. “The parent-child relationship lasts from the beginning of life and all the way through until the parents are old and, hopefully, the kids are still around to keep that enduring relationship.”
Jennifer Kaczor recalls in the book the day her eldest son left for college, the changes in the household, and the loss she felt at this new chapter of her life:
“He felt sorry for me. I sensed it rather than saw it. I could not look at him. He muttered something about being home for Christmas. I said nothing. I wrapped my free arm around his neck, and then for one instinctive primal moment, I nuzzled my lips into his neck, inhaled his scent, and kissed him softly.
I will probably never do that again. He will probably never let me. It was the most intimate moment we have shared since I stopped breastfeeding him – like a bookend set in place to secure his childhood.”
Through information gleaned from experts, including James Stenson, Catholic author and educational consultant, Kaczor learned about raising his children, and now passes it on to his college students.
“I have students read Stenson’s book, ‘Compass,’ and it really has all kinds of helpful suggestions for raising kids,” he said. “For example, praising children for their efforts and determination that they put into school, sports or another activity, rather than praising their accomplishments. I have a daughter with learning disabilities and I praise her for her efforts. She works so hard and diligently and perhaps won’t be a tenured professor at Harvard, but she will do a great job. That is one of the tips I learned and it has been helpful. I wish I were the ideal father, and I love being a father, but following these guidelines helps me in the direction of being a better father.”
Kaczor believes if more college students and young adults understood the truth behind these marriage myths, more couples would marry rather than cohabit and more marriages would be successful.
“I know that in society, almost all people get married and I think that is great, but marriages and lives would be happier with understanding some of the themes in my book, if they took them to heart,” he said. “I hope to make a difference. Everything begins with happiness and how to seek it at a higher level.”