Reflections on Marriage after 53 Years

William E. May
(c) 2011. Culture of Life Foundation
Reproduced with Permission
Culture of Life Foundation

October 4, 2011, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, was our (Patricia and Bill) 53rd wedding anniversary. God has blessed us with a happy marriage, giving to us seven loving children, 4 boys and 3 girls, 52 to 40 in age. Six of our children are married, whose spouses are terrific men and women deeply devoted to their husbands and wives and children, 16 of them -our granddaughters (10) and grandsons (6), ranging in age from 22 to 4 months. Our unmarried son enjoys immensely his role as "bachelor" uncle.

Why is our marriage so happy? Here are some of the major reasons.

The importance of faith in God and his providence

First of all my wife and I are persons of faith. We firmly believe that God is a loving Father who has inscribed our names in the palm of his hand (cf Is 49:16) and who will never abandon us but will be with us to help us become fully the beings he wants us to be -- persons who return his love and act as befits his very own children, "adopted" brothers and sisters of his only-begotten Son who became man and died for us in order to show how deeply God loves us.

When we exchanged our wedding vows 53 years ago, the priest who witnessed that exchange and celebrated our nuptial Mass gave us a beautiful "Instruction," one given in those years by priests in the United States prior to witnessing the exchange of vows. That "Instruction" is so beautiful that each year, on our anniversary, my wife and I read it and pray over it. In part it instructs us as follows:

As you know, you are about to enter into a union which is most sacred and most serious, a union which was established by God himself…. The union is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life and are to be expected in your own. And so, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death….It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that, recognizing their full import [the import of these words], you are nevertheless so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice…. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this common life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.

Some practical matters

It is inevitable that husbands and wives will disagree, sometimes seriously, over different issues, become angry with one another, give the "offending" spouse the "silent" treatment, etc. This can and does happen, and Pat and I have not been immune to such arguing and bickering (one of our favorite old time Radio shows was "The Bickersons," starring Don Ameche and Frances Langford). But, and this is the important point, we always (or almost always), before we went to bed or were in bed and about to go to sleep, asked each other to pardon our "bickering," and we have always ended the day by my telling each other "I am happy that I married you." If husbands and wives do this every day before retiring, this will surely help their marriage to be happy.

It is also most important not only to forgive the other spouse his or her failings, nastiness, selfish use of family funds, etc. but also to forget and never bring the matter up again. This is sometimes a difficult thing to do, but if husbands and wives do so, this will contribute greatly to the marriage.

A third most important ingredient for a happy marriage is the courage to correct in charity one's wife or husband if she or he has done something or proposed doing something that is hostile to the good of the marriage and family or perhaps unjust to others. This can take courage at times; do not condone any evil doing by a failure to correct the wayward or, perhaps, instruct the ignorant.

It is also very necessary not to argue or "fight" in the presence of your children. When you are with them, be united; it is not the time to offer any "fraternal correction", much less to argue over disagreements no matter how serious. Such fighting between parents will harm the children and perhaps tempt some to manipulate one parent against the other to get his or her own way.

More positively, one of the greatest gifts a father can give his children is to love their mother and show them that he does, and likewise this is one of the greatest gifts a mother can give her children.

In addition, make sure that you know your children's friends (and their parents). Make it evident to your children that their home is a place where their friends are welcome. If they don't want to bring their friends home, then watch out; those "friends" might be dangerous.

Finally, try to begin and end the day by praying to God, offering him your service in the morning, asking his forgiveness and thanks in the evening; and also pray with your children. As Father Patrick Peyton said, "The Family that Prays Together Stays Together."