By Mieczysław Guzewicz,
Most of the striking number of marital crises and breakups occurring these days are the result of lack of proper preparation for adult life with another. To remedy this situation, we must first put out of mind every living arrangement that is not marriage.
Let us begin by considering the matter in the light of what The Book of Genesis tells us. We find there a readily accessible plan for building a happy marriage: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 1:24).
This verse contains conditions that must be met if there is to be a marriage at all; and these conditions must be met even before the couple sets foot in the church. We have here specific requirements for building an enduring union, which must be fulfilled before entering into it. Ignoring these preliminary conditions is one of the main reasons for the growing number of failed marriages that bedevil us today.
The right sequence
The first principle contained in the biblical verse is a clear sequence of steps:
3. Becoming one flesh.
The very order of these stages testifies to the genius of the inspired author. Already many thousands of years ago, a man had set down in a brief sentence a logical truth that still holds today. A successful union of a man and woman must be built in this order: first the couple must leave their parents, then they must enter into a marriage (formally, not just by living together, but by following a set procedure), and only then can they form a full spiritual and bodily union. The bodily union is the completion of the spiritual. By itself, the bodily is not a full union, but neither is the spiritual, affective union (even when duly blessed) complete — until it is “consummated.” Let us dwell for a moment on the sequence alone, for the success of a marriage depends on observing the right sequence.
Today we see around us the general practice of reversing the order and ignoring the requirements of each successive stage. All too often young people first “consummate” their marriage (even before it is one), enjoying the bodily delights and creating “one flesh” — but only in a bodily sense, which trivializes and degrades the value of a true union. Next, they think about the wedding, which frequently follows as a result of an unplanned pregnancy. Only then do they start thinking about where they will live, often without the means to stand on their own two feet — if not financially then at least professionally, since lack of education often makes for poor employability. The couple will not solve the problem by living with their parents. And so not only do they reverse the order of stages but they also fail to fulfill the requirements of each of given stage. What we have then is a dramatic paradox, which brings about the destruction of the marriage even before it is entered into.
The inspired text tells us clearly that observing the right sequence is a basic condition of an enduring marriage. Equally important is the fulfillment of the requirements of each of the separate stages.
Leaving one’s parents is a condition of marital happiness. Just as an infant cannot develop further until it has left its mother’s womb and had its umbilical cord cut, so too a marriage cannot fully develop without the couple parting with their parents. Even though leaving one’s father and mother is often accompanied by a degree of pain, it is a necessary pain, which must be born for the good the marriage.
The verse from The Book of Genesis makes specific reference to the man, but it is obvious that this applies to both the man and the woman. The circumstance has more to do with the fact that in all cultures and traditions it has always been the man who takes upon himself the building of a house and introducing his bride to it.
In order to realize the first stage, the couple must achieve professional independence. They must acquire the education that will guarantee finding a job capable of supporting them and their family. Next they must gain a degree of financial independence, which will enable them to move out of the family home. Moving out is all but absolutely necessary. It is the visible, external way in which the couple part with their parents, separate themselves from them, and achieve a sense of independence and freedom to act for themselves. Equally important in this first stage is gaining the emotional and psychological independence necessary to live without having to be led by the hand. This involves acquiring basic life skills such as attending to legal formalities and caring for one’s health. Also involved in this stage are: being able to take responsibility for one’s self and one’s actions; readiness to take responsibility for others — one’s spouse and future children; readiness to sacrifice oneself for others and accept suffering; and, last, knowing the basic moral principles, the tenets of the Ten Commandments and the Catechism, including the sacramental meaning of marriage.
All too often parents prevent their children from taking this step. In so doing they cripple their children psychologically by making them emotionally and financially dependent on them. In many cases they build huge homes with plans to have their married children move into them. This is a serious misunderstanding, which does great harm to the children. Leaving the home to study in another town contributes greatly to a child becoming independent on many levels. Military service can also be of great help in maturing a person.
In the past it was easier to realize this stage of life before marriage. People matured psychologically more quickly than they do now. Extreme situations such as wars and their consequences accelerated young people’s — sometimes very young people’s — entry into adulthood. For this reason, in war-torn countries like Poland, multigenerational families did less, if any, harm to their youngsters’ marriages by not having them move out of the family home, for both the parents and the young spouses were very conscious of their role in life. Certainly other factors contributed to this earlier maturity as well, such as economic and proprietary ties, inheritance, the dependence of women on their husband, the traditional structure of the family with its recognition of the authority of the patriarch and often of the matriarch as well. Also undergirding the multigenerational family was a lofty understanding of the role of the husband, the father, the wife, and the mother, as well as a highly developed sense of responsibility for the society at large — for one’s country.
Under today’s conditions, when both emotional and psychological maturity and a sense of responsibility for oneself and others lag far behind physical maturity, moving out of the family home, even at the cost of delaying the marriage, is a necessary condition of building an enduring union.
Moving out does not mean severing ties with the parents or relieving the children of their duty towards their parents, particularly when the latter reach advanced age. What it does do is create a level of initial comfort for both sides and facilitate the development of mutual respect. It is easier to respect each other at a distance, when the one side is not dependent on the other. Living together may indeed have its advantages, but these are far outweighed by the disadvantages. Great tension and stress often result from such an arrangement. In situations where this cannot be avoided, a great deal of tolerance and constant compromise will be required on the part of both sides. But such an arrangement must always be seen as a temporary, transitional measure, with the clear necessity of moving out always uppermost in mind.
Thus, leaving the family home is essential to forming a lasting marriage and attaining to the highest level of humanity. “Only by making a break from this initial reality and being able to entrust our life to another do we reveal that specific quality by which we may be seen as the image and likeness of God” (Z. Kiernikowski, Two in One Body in Christ.)
The external and internal fulfillment of the first stage (leaving the parents) also means recognizing that henceforth our spouse is the most important person in our life. Leaving our parents means that we have matured to the point of understanding that while the parents continue to be important to us, they are no longer as important as they were before we left home. We recognize that the person of primary importance to us is now our spouse. After this come the fruit of our union — our children, and only then our parents, relations, friends, etc. Parents must also accept this truth and not expect their married children to treat them as more important than their spouse.
Leaving the family home also means having to, and being able to, entrust oneself to another. This involves a great risk. When we leave our parents and break our dependence on them, we take a courageous step. We throw ourselves into the arms of someone with whom we share no ties of blood. This act of entrustment to one’s spouse is something altogether different from our earlier relationship with one’s parents. With the latter we were more receivers of good and solicitous care. Then it was our parents who served and devoted themselves to us. Now we assume the role of providers of good. This means a transition from a position in which we are served to one in which we serve. Leaving the family homes is therefore a transition to a much higher level of values. This is an extraordinarily difficult, risky, and, indeed, impossible step to achieve fully. But in the new dimension that is Christ the realization of this ideal becomes possible, chiefly through the Eucharist, by which the humanly impossible becomes possible.
Perhaps no other stage more than this one requires both the children who are leaving and the parents who are duty bound to accept their departure, to base their human decisions on the power of Divine Grace.
(to be continued)
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010