A few years ago I attended a wedding of a dear friend. During the General Intercessions, the lector misspoke and included the newly married couple in the list of those who had recently died and for whom we were to intercede.
Though unintentional, it did bring a simple truth to light; that amidst the flowers, caterers, DJs, bridesmaids, wedding planners, etc. there is an often a misunderstood reality to marriage. It is as much about death as it is life. In fact, if marriage isn’t first about death, then it likely won’t have a long lasting life. Allow me to explain.
Using ratios to help understand what makes a marriage work, I will often ask an audience what is the right ratio for a successful marriage. What are the numbers between a husband and wife that will afford them the best opportunity for a long, loving, healthy marriage? Most people answer with 50:50. Most people would be wrong.
To enter a marriage with a 50:50 mentality is to enter into it with a limit as to how much you will give and an expectation of how much you need to receive in order to be happy. Give too much and you will be cranky. Receive too little in return and you’ll be upset with your spouse. You’re happiness becomes a matter of percentage points. (Under the 50:50 model, do the dishes for the 51st time when your spouse has only done it 48 times and you’re ticked.)
The next answer people usually give is 100:100. While half of the equation is right (you giving 100%) the other half is wrong. Again, you have set an expectation on the other person. If (and, really, when) they fall short of that 100% threshold, you’re not happy.
The correct answer is 100:0. You give 100% of the effort, 100% of the time and expect nothing in return. (Hopefully you marry someone who believes the same; otherwise it could be a tough road ahead.)
If you are thinking that is nuts, it’s not; it is simply love. Pope John Paul II tells us that “the truth of love is made known through the truth of suffering.” Scripture tells us that, “No greater loves is there than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” Mother Teresa remind us that, “I have found the perfect paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
Think of your own life, perhaps when your child was born. The ratio there was 100:0 and it was done with joy and love. You did 100% of the work and expected nothing in return. In Catholic theology you died to self. That’s what marriage is. In order for the two to become one, each of the two must die.
To the degree that you and your spouse each die to self, your marriage will be filled with life and love. And if your spouse isn’t willing and it hurts, then follow Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s advice and keep loving. No time is better than now for you to do your 100%.