Bernardo M. Villegas
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Marriage Is An Inviolable Institution

             One of the boldest statements in the Declaration of Principles in the Philippine Constitution of 1987 is “Marriage is an inviolable institution,” suggesting that divorce cannot be legalized in the Philippines.  As Our World in Data in the internet quoted social scientists Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser, “Marriage, as a social institution, has been around for thousands of years.  With things that are thousands of years old, it’s easy to assume that they can change only slowly.  But developments since the middle of the 20th century show that this assumption is wrong:  in many countries marriages are becoming less common, people are marrying later, unmarried couples are increasingly choosing to live together, and in many countries we are seeing a ‘decoupling’ of parenthood and marriage.  Within the last decades the institution of marriage has changed more than in thousands of years before.”  Even more notorious is the rate of divorce in countries like the United States, where approximately 45 % of marriages end in divorce.

            Among the most common causes of divorce in the U.S.  are too much conflict, incessant arguing, bitter battles and going to bed angry every night.  As many psychologists comment: “How you handle conflict is the single most important predictor of whether or not your marriage will survive.”  The third volume of the series of books entitled “Your Happy Marriage” by married couple Boni and Alice Belen goes to the very root of the major cause of troubled marriages, which can be summarized in the three words that are the anti-thesis of “I love you”:  Struggle for Dominance.  Book 1 presented the bright and joyful prospects of married life.  It was easy to sell because “relatives and friends of engaged couples are generally open, optimistic, and supportive of a blossoming relationship.”  Book 2 portrays the end of the honeymoon stage:  it graphically depicts the “couple whose marriage has come to a shuddering standstill and who now harbor disillusionment and disenchantment.”  The trick here is to be bold enough to exert the tedious and severe soul-searching effort to discover the roots of marital difficulties.

            Book 3 touches on the worst stage in some married couples’ journey during which the  struggle for dominance will ensue and could remain for an indeterminate period of time when the egos of  husband and wife are pitted against one another.  This may be compared to the “dark night of the soul” described by some Catholic Saints or the obscure night of purification that the authors  Boni and Alice  had conceived as the episode of “failures of expectations” in Book 2. It is not an exaggeration to call this stage as the “Battle of Egos” which lead to each spouse trying to establish “who is of finer breed and stock, and therefore deserves to dictate and make the decisions at every instance.”

            These battles of the egos are usually the most common reasons for marriages to break up. If we are to examine other possible causes of marriage breakdowns, we can resort to the three-fold concupiscence mentioned by St. John in his Gospel:  the concupiscence or lust of the eyes, the concupiscence or lust of the flesh and the pride of life.  As Christians understand these obstacles to virtues, the first (that of the eyes) proceeds from an inordinate attachment to worldly goods, which is the opposite of the spirit of poverty.  Some marriages breakdown because of quarrelling about money or property issues.  Other marriages break down because of the marital infidelity of one or both of the spouses who fall prey to the lust of the flesh.  The most difficult of these concupiscences to combat is that proceeding from the ego which is also called the pride of life.  It is pride that is actually the root of all evil (not money).

            As the authors wrote in the Introduction to the third volume, “The struggle for dominance  which is at the  heart of any protracted impasse,  is an expression  of conflicted individual freedom. The married couples seek to exert their individual rights, as if, having lost them on the day of their wedding, they now want to repossess their precious liberty.  As a result, at this phase of the marriage, the couple will each try to topple or at least control the other, only to end up dejected  and woeful each time.” Pride, more than any human weakness, is at the root of most divorces.  As Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote in his classic book about marriage entitled “Three To Get Married,” in any marriage crisis, “one has not hit the bottom of life but only the bottom of one’s ego.”

            Although the entire book is devoted to describing the various human means of resolving conflict such as having recourse to a mediator when direct dialogue fail, in the final analysis there is need for God’s grace which can be the way to mutual forgiveness.  It is notable that in the U.S. where close to 50 % of marriages end in divorce, according to Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research only 28% of Catholic marriages end in divorce, about 10 % less the rate among Protestants.  For those who believe in the supernatural life, this can be explained by the fact that Catholics can count, not only on the human efforts they exert to solve the inevitable conflicts in any normal marriage, but also on the superabundant graces they received from the Sacraments that were instituted by Jesus Christ, God-Man, to help human beings to reach perfection or sanctity despite their frailties, especially the Sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist, not to mention the Sacrament of Matrimony received  by couples who get married in the Catholic Church.

            As the authors wrote in the Introduction to the third Volume, the consent given in the exchanging of marriage vows must be followed through with Commitment.  Consent is what makes a valid marriage.  Commitment is the lasting fruit of consent, a fruit that has to last for the rest of the lives of the spouses.   Commitment is consent renewed day by monotonous day, come rain or shine. Commitment is the antidote to the urge to dominate.  The struggle for dominance can be resolved if the love between the spouses is founded, not on feelings alone, but on the will to seek the good of the one loved, even when feelings fail. If the couple know how to combine the human and supernatural means, the title of the series of books can still be “Your Happy Marriage” despite the “Struggle for Dominance” that surfaces in most marriages. For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.