A Time of Discernment III

Couple Facing Camera On Grass
Matters for Discernment II
November 26, 2017

We discussed some specific matters that need to be discussed during courtship, before a decision to marry has been made.  Here we continue to look at some additional considerations.


Careers can also become significant points of conflict in relationships, particularly as one partner progresses in a career that can demand increased time commitments to the job, moving to new locations, and/or the need for one spouse to subordinate career aspirations to the other.  If these possibilities are not discussed and agreed upon ahead of time, conflict and resentment may very well arise later. The couple must decide or have a plan to decide what they will do in such a case.  As their careers mature, the agreement/plan must be regularly revisited.

Today, it has become common for both spouses to have a career outside of the home.  It also has become increasingly common that for one’s career to progress, or to continue to work in one’s chosen field, a move to a new city may eventually become required.  Each partner must look at his chosen career and be diligent in determining the likelihood that a change of location may be required, where such a move might be, and the ability of the other spouse to continue his career if such a move were to be required.

Excessive time commitments that are likely to take one spouse away from a large number of important family events and lead to the other spouse’s taking responsibility for the majority of family and household demands also must be discussed.  The couple needs to decide if such a situation is really necessary.  A healthy marriage requires both spouses spend sufficient time together.  Children, especially up through the teen years, also need considerable time spent with both parents.  So-called “quality time,” besides being difficult to define, is not a substitute for both parents being present to one another and being present for the formation and nurturing of the children.  The impacts of excessive time demands of a chosen career path on marriage and family life must be seriously evaluated, discussed and agreed upon.  In general, a couple should not opt for careers that demand long periods of time separated from the family.

Career demands can lead to difficult decisions that must be resolved.  In order to avoid careers becoming a serious point of friction in the marriage, a plan must be developed that each partner agrees to.  Moreover, as each career develops, this plan must be revisited by the couple and adapted to changes in the situation.  It would be a good idea to revisit this plan yearly and at major career events such as promotions or significantly increased responsibilities.  If possible, the decision about whose career is most flexible or less necessary to the family’s financial wellbeing should be agreed to early on, understanding that this could change.  If not, the couple must agree that the marriage and family are the first priority and that each will be willing to make the sacrifice that could be required after analyzing the specific circumstances of a particular career decision.

Another important factor that must be recognized is the differences between men and women.  While individual cases vary, it is also generally true that men experience a need to be able to provide for their families.  For example, the husband who acutely experiences a perceived inability to provide for his family because he has given up his career for his wife, may later become resentful, depressed, or otherwise dissatisfied with his family, perhaps not even realizing why.  It is also true that in the early years of a child’s upbringing, maternal nurturing is more significant for the healthy development of the child than is paternal nurturing, though the need for both sexes’ nurturing becomes equally needed as the child enters adolescence.  The developmental needs of children must also be considered.  These factors must be taken into account in career planning. 

The couple needs to be clear in their planning about the fact that it is never good for a marriage and family to live separately for long periods of time.  It is especially unwise to do so simply for the sake of career progression.  Also important is for each spouse fully to understand the consequences of the plan and to commit fully to the decisions made.  Ignoring the consequences or simply agreeing in order put off making difficult decisions increases the likelihood of later conflict.

There are a variety of additional factors that must be considered in family career planning and many will be unique to the couple’s situation.  Some additional, important factors to consider in planning should include: making a distinction between real financial needs and simply desires, cost of living in possible living locations, the desirability of the wife to remain at home during the children’s formative years, the long-term security of each person’s career path, the impact of relocation on children’s education and temperament, the benefits of children growing up amidst their extended families of both spouses, and other financial or personal obligations (e.g. the need to care for elderly parents, children in the care of a former spouse, etc.).  The couple should compile a list of these considerations that encompass both spouses and identify the negatives and positives associated with each consideration for the various options being considered.  These should form the basis of discussion and reaching an agreement.

Courtship and Chastity

It is essential that the couple agree on the importance of a chaste courtship and engagement.  This must be a “deal breaker” if one or both partners are not sufficiently committed to an authentic, flourishing relationship that they are not willing to wait chastely for their beloved.   As we said earlier, there is strong evidence that premarital sex and cohabitation are damaging to relationships and both are closely associated with divorce.  Today, all too many assume that a relationship must progress to premarital sex and cohabitation before marriage is even to be considered.  This error is seriously damaging to marriages, families and to contemporary society.  Discussion of, and agreement upon chastity is essential to a fruitful courtship, betrothal and marriage.

Couple’s Understanding of Marriage

It is likewise necessary that the couple understand and agree to the truth of Sacramental marriage if both are baptized or the truth of natural marriage if one partner is unbaptized (note that a disparity of cult dispensation must be granted by the local bishop before a Catholic may marry a non-baptized person; serious consideration must be given to the advisability of marriage to someone who does not share the Christian faith).  Essential aspects of the truth of marriage include: its indissolubility, its exclusive nature, its necessity of being open to children, the necessity of marital fidelity, and its purpose for the salvation of spouses.

Contemporary society is marked by its incomprehension that a couple could commit to anything for any great length of time, much less for the rest of one’s life.  One premise of those rejecting marriage’s indissolubility is that one must be “true to oneself.”  This premise is not wrong but it is misunderstood.  Trueness to oneself is not to abandon one’s solemn commitments when feelings change or things get difficult; it is to be true to the commitments one has made, regardless of the costs.  The romantic commitments to everlasting love the partners inevitably make one to another early in a relationship must not be empty, meaningless promises.  The couple must bear witness to the truth of selfless love precisely in the midst of the most difficult challenges of life.

Marriage is nothing if it is not a solemn oath to lifelong love and fidelity.  One cannot expect to enter into authentic Christian marriage with a partner who embraces contemporary society’s mistaken notion about the human person, particularly when it comes to the claim that no one can be held to long-term commitments.  Lack of full commitment to a Catholic vision (even if not belief), indeed a human vision of marriage by either the man or woman should be seriously considered to be a “deal breaker” in terms of progression to betrothal.  Anything less leaves open the possibility of entering marriage for the wrong reason or less than a to a complete commitment to an exclusive, irrevocable, fruitful, faithful marriage.

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