Every wedding is the culmination of a love story in which the prince and princess are finally united forever. But if forever is to last, the wedding is only the beginning of another story, this one far more daring and interesting than the first. Newlyweds step from the altar and into an adventure fit only for heroes. Because marriage is a crucible in which all parts of ourselves brush up against all parts of our partners, the intimacy we hungered for could become an interminable friction we think we don’t deserve, an intrusive affront to our privacy, or the greatest growth opportunity life ever gives us. This growth is a spiritual path, and those who walk it gradually develop great character. Great love is available only to those with great character seasoned over a lifetime of commitment to what that love requires.
Take courage. We need emotional courage to face the challenges of a great marriage. It takes emotional courage to talk through issues such as childrearing, work division, how to spend money, and when we are and are not available for each other. If I’m lazy, self-deceitful, unrealistic, or self-centered, will I have the courage to face these character tendencies within me? Or when I think I’m unfairly treated by my partner, will I have the courage to talk the issue through with respect, openness, and resolution?
Or take delayed gratification. An old-fashioned term, delayed gratification is simply a fact of life in or out of fashion. Life is not an ATM machine with on-demand payoffs, but more like a long-term investment which may or may not always yield dividends. This is especially true for husbands with young children who suddenly must share their wife’s attention. Or wives who must later learn that their children are not the center of the family. The marriage is. It may also happen that a husband and wife have an ongoing conflict that will not solve immediately. Do they have the persistence and discipline to be patient as they work it through? Do they have the wisdom to seek help?
Or take empathy. Am I willing to understand and share the feelings of my partner even when we are in conflict? Am I willing to see that my partner has a point of view different from mine, but just as worthy of respect? Or am I still held back by the foolish need to be right or to win at any cost?
Lastly, take humility. Humility is not to be confused with its evil twin humiliation. Humility is a word in disgrace today because we think we are seeing humiliation. Humility is the realistic acceptance of our common humanity, especially between a husband and wife. Humility means I will let you teach me when I’m ignorant, guide me when I’m foolish, and balance me by your example of good attitude, good faith, and good will. With humility we will dedicate our marriage to becoming better persons, to allowing each other to be our teachers, to inspire and be inspired by each other’s acts of grace, honesty, and pure love.
If this seems too much to ask of marriage, you’ve just discovered the adventure that each married couple embarks on when they step from the altar. But we must start to see ourselves as embodiments of love. The greater the embodiment, the greater the love. To know great love, we must grow in our ability to embody it. This is character.