I met my fiancé, during my year of service in New York City and for most of our relationship up until now, we’ve been in a long-distance relationship since he is enlisted Army. Throughout our dating experience, I found myself going through a checklist, asking “is this the man I want to marry?” (Ladies, we all know about this secret checklist). I realized early on in the relationship that this checklist had been influenced by many outside variables in my life.
Here’s what that list of outside variables looked like:
- Comparison or the desire to be like the perfect Instagram Catholic Couple
- Only Physical Intimacy or the influence of Rom-Com’s on Saturday nights hoping that every day would be like the ending of a Rom-Com where the music is playing, the wind is blowing, and he is kissing me in the middle of Times Square.
- Past Encounters or propensity to compare his flaws with the flaws of other men who had broken my heart. This sometimes led to thinking he was only capable of doing the same.
The reality of this checklist was that it did our relationship more harm than good when it came to discerning marriage and the rest of our lives together. Comparing our relationship to the endless smiling photos on the ‘gram captioned with sweet words had me thinking that every day had to be this perfect. Comparison is a thief, and for a while in our relationship I let it steal the important lessons behind many of the arguments we had as well as the ability to create a relationship that fit us as a couple. Falling into the trap that physical intimacy is the only type of intimacy you need in a relationship made me indifferent to the other types of intimacy that are vital for a relationship such as spiritual, mental, emotional, intellectual intimacy. Not being able to let go of negative past relationship experiences with others kept me trapped in a mentality that questioned all of my fiancé’s motives, which many times led to arguments that could have been solved with better communication on my end.
Keeping up with this checklist throughout our relationship proved to be exhausting for me. It caused more challenges, challenges that by the grace of God we have been able to work through and still work through to this day. When it came to discerning marriage, I allowed for this checklist to cloud my mind and instill doubt within my heart. That said, the discernment process in marriage is hard and for many reasons has proven to be even harder for us for several reasons, but this checklist was definitely a source of problems for us.
So instead of the comparison, the focus on intimacy through physicality, and the comparison with past encounters checklist - I want to share with you the revised version, the version that I have used to discern within our relationship recently. Deciding to enter into the sacrament of marriage is more than just a checklist, and so what I want to share with you today is a shift in the understanding of what love is supposed to look like, and its integration within discernment.
- You are responsible for getting your spouse to heaven, and they are responsible for getting you to heaven. This is something that we as Catholics cannot take lightly. In discerning my “yes” to my fiancé this was something I made sure that we talked about, and still do. I want to love you but love you all the way to heaven. Cheesy? Maybe. Important? Yes! Is this someone that will help you get closer to Christ through the good and the bad? It’s a tough question, but crucial to discern with while dating.
- Your relationship will look different than everyone else’s. If you are consumed with someone else’s relationship and are trying to mirror it within your own, then marriage is not the next step. The next step is an honest discussion with your partner about how you feel in the relationship and some soul-searching on your end trying to figure out why you find yourself consumed in another’s relationship. And look – it happens. I have found myself before wanting my partner and I to look like someone else, in the way we dress, talk, even practice the faith. A lot of it came from my own insecurity of being proud of who I was and who he was. Don’t be ashamed if you find yourself here, but make sure that you engage in an honest conversation with your partner and yourself as to why you are feeling this way.
- This is the rest of your life. I had to sit with that phrase for a bit when my fiancé and I were discerning marriage. This is the rest of, not only my life, but his – and I realized that the rest of our life was and is still unknown to us. I don’t know what our family life will look like other than what we have imagined together. I don’t know how many kids we will have other than what we talked about. I don’t know how we will handle seasons of hardship other than the game plans we have for ourselves. The reality is that walking into marriage is walking into unknown territory for the both of you. It is important that throughout your discernment process with your partner, you both realize that plans may change, even people may change and despite the change, your commitment to this person in the sacrament of marriage reminds you that neither of you are alone in this journey. God is with you, will be beside you – and this realization is a crucial part of discerning marriage. We cannot let ourselves fall into the mindset that any difficulties in marriage we handle alone, but rather that God is there among us – and part of discerning marriage is coming to this realization together.
These are suggestions, methods of discernment that I have come to learn and that have helped my fiancé and I come to the decision to start our lives together. There is no clear-cut formula that helps any couple discern marriage, but making sure that it is something you do together and communicate honestly about is crucial in allowing for that discernment to take place.
The biggest thing that has helped in our discernment though that I think we all can do in our own ways is welcoming the Holy Spirit into our relationship. Let God draw you closer together. Fall in love with Him as you continue to fall in love with each other.
In letting God love you, you learn to love your partner better.
To God be all the glory.