JH: In my book, Return to Order, I talk about what I call frenetic intemperance in economy and culture, which is the desire to have everything instantly and effortlessly. I talk about how this impacts society and economy. How is this frenetic intemperance reflected in today’s marriages?
Dr. Bacon: This is such a great question to ponder. But the frenetic intemperance of marriage is that desire to have the “perfect” marriage on day one of a couple’s life together without any need for work or without ever having to endure any trials.
Why do you passionately believe that marriage should be saved even when it appears that all is lost?
Dr. Bacon: I believe it should be saved because I know that it can be saved. All marriages! Even in cases of abuse, addiction or infidelity, I’ve seen people’s hearts turn and their behaviors change. Most, though, believe in quitting on the relationship because they believe there is no hope of redemption. My faith teaches me that redemption is possible for every soul and thus for every marriage. The irony is that most hearts turn back toward one another precisely because one spouse did not lose hope and became a Stander—and stood for reconciliation until death do they part. The primary role of the spouse is to love the other yet we cease to love at numerous moments within our marriages and thus the loving feelings go away. When this happens, what we need to do, what I do in my daily profession, is to teach couples how to actively love another. I give them strategies for ways to be patient and kind to one another, to not be rude, and to not keep a record of every wrong their spouse committed against them. Appearances are deceiving.
Could you comment on the importance of having a whole society that believes in marriage and disapproves of divorce? How does this reinforce marriage?
Dr. Bacon: Absolutely! There is a theory taught in academia called the Theory of Social Proof. In simple terms, it means that if everyone else is doing it, it must be ok. Abortion rates went up (not down) when it became legal because it validated in many minds that “If the law says it’s ok to do, then I guess I am ok to have one myself. When supposed “no-fault” divorce became legal in the 1970s, divorce also skyrocketed for the same reasons “If everyone else is doing it, it must be ok.” We look to our leaders, our mentors, and those who have gone before us to show us the way and share with us their wisdom. If our mentors are divorcing they will not only NOT stop us from considering divorce ourselves (because their actions speak louder than their words) but sadly, many who have divorced will often tell us to do so in order to validate their having gotten divorced. More than two generations out from this no-fault divorce ruling there are fewer examples of those who fought to save their marriages and lived “happily ever after” than there are couples who have divorced and so our children have few to emulate.
Should society again validate the efficacy of standing for our marriages and teach our children that to do so is a much more preferable option to divorce for a plethora of reasons, the divorce rate would come to a screeching halt. If adults considering divorce would honestly consider the pain they endured as a child from their own parents’ divorce they’d also likely slow the divorce train significantly. But often that does not happen. The pain one is currently enduring in his or her marriage is so extreme that the potential divorcee convinces the self that their case is unique and that their own children will “get over it” just like they did—without realizing that they never really did get over it as seen through their own consideration of divorce.
To be more succinct, for I fear I have digressed, if when one considers divorce, one’s parents, colleagues, and friends all delivered the same message that the marriage is worth fighting for and that happiness can absolutely return, then a struggling spouse would regain the needed hope and encouragement to continue fighting. When all the same individuals tell that person that divorce is a viable option and the stander’s voice is drowned out by them it is nearly impossible to overcome.
Could you speak about the stability that marriage gives to society? The stability over generations?
Dr. Bacon: Marriage is foundational to any human society. The phrase “there is strength in numbers” can first refer to marriage and the family. Marriage gives the greatest opportunity to practice conflict management skills, interpersonal communication, love, respect, and compassion. Marriage provides a safe place to share, to bare one’s greatest fears, failings, successes, and every other example in between. Marriage teaches selflessness. Marriage teaches us that we have a choice to focus on one’s strengths over one’s weaknesses because no one sees both more clearly and intimately than a spouse.
All the strengths that any society needs to survive and thrive is first practiced in the marriage. And as we’ve seen in today’s society, not only are we now lacking in those practices and qualities in our marriages and families but we are lacking them in our governments and our media as well. The epic levels of mudslinging and disrespect we see between political parties and on reality TV shows first began in our marriages. We do not know how to be nice to one another anymore and we certainly don’t know how to put the needs of others before our own anymore.
Should a married couple learn and put into practice these loving and respectful strategies, those same practices, attitudes and behaviors would naturally carry into our professional and public relationships as well. Should a society begin to practice these edifying behaviors and teach them to our children, they would necessarily be passed on to the next generation of children as well. Stable marriages (where one individual feels secure and confident that the other will still be there when they get home each night—despite whatever negative things may have taken place), bring to society the same security and where otherwise its citizens seek to find order, truth and something they can believe in. Where there is security there is stability. Where there is one the other naturally follows.
You are Catholic as I am. Could you speak about the role of the Catholic faith in marriage? Why is the Church and sacramental life so important to marriage?
Dr. Bacon: As a young spouse, I never fully understood the teaching that marriage is meant to make us holy, not happy. It sounded so…well…miserable. It sounded as if to choose holiness one was choosing suffering and dooming themselves to a marriage of toleration—similar to the marriages of our grandparents who stayed married until death but were unhappily so. Marriages of today are paradoxical to that. They seek only happiness and thus lack longevity and commitment. After nearly thirty-four years of marriage and having endured many trials, infidelity and even separation, I have come to see that the journey itself gives me the opportunity for both. If I choose happiness I will likely be neither happy nor holy. If I choose holiness I will likely attain both.
When I interviewed my Super Couples to discover the formula for their extreme happiness in marriage, I saw quickly the formula that uses the acronym S.A.C.R.E.D. (I can’t help to think how detailed God is to have chosen that acronym to express extreme happiness!) If we look only at the first letter of that acronym, we find the key to holiness: Selflessness. Super spouses strive daily to put the needs of their spouses before their own needs. And that is exactly what the Church teaches. It is exactly what Christ taught. It is exactly what Christ DID. He surrendered Himself for the needs (and souls) of each and every one of us. We are called to be Christlike in all our thoughts, words and actions. If all my thoughts, words and actions toward my spouse are selfless and focused on his good, how can I not be holy and how can we not both be happy?
For the Catholic marriage, the Sacraments magnify this calling to holiness and simultaneously give us the tools through which we can more easily become holy. If I receive the Eucharist as often as possible, my physical and spiritual body becomes more Christlike and thus I am more able to live my marriage in a more Christlike manner. I am strengthened. The Sacrament of Reconciliation at its very core teaches the need for humility, forgiveness, repentance and then grants grace to the seeker of those qualities. It reminds me always to humble myself before my spouse as neither I nor he is perfect and thus we will fail. It teaches me to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven times my husband who since 1983 has never once remembered to put his shoes away in the front closet! (Notice a slight note of sarcasm there.) The Sacrament of Baptism reminds me that I am part of a bigger family and that things aren’t always to be done in a way that is strictly Christine Bacon focused but family focused. And Confirmation teaches me to soldier on.
Our Catholic faith teaches most of all the essential need to pray with and for my spouse. It teaches that no marriage can survive without daily communication just as no relationships with our Lord and Creator can be sustained without daily prayer. And lastly, the reason why I am a stander, is that my Catholic faith teaches and expects the forgiveness for all sinners even when an injustice has been committed. Christ forgave us in spite of the fact that we were stealing, lying, drinking, and committing adultery. My Catholic faith teaches me that I am to do the same. My love for my spouse is not contingent upon his good behaviors but on my following the example of the merciful God. To be a holy spouse means to also be a merciful and loving spouse—just as Christ is to me, a member of His Church and His Body. Need I say more?
Thank you very much for your excellent interview. Again, I was very impressed by your perspective.