If you’re reading this, chances are you’re called to marriage. It’s also likely that you’ve never before considered marriage as something that must be prepared for. This is a little strange, as you’d study for an exam, train for a marathon, or practice for a job interview, so why not prepare yourself for this incomparably greater event? This is because most of us believe, often unconsciously, in an Altar Switch. To believe in the Altar Switch is to believe in the idea that despite no preparation, after you’ve pledged your love to one another and declared your vows before your family and friends, you’ll instantly become the man or woman, the husband or wife, that you’d always imagined or dreamed you’d be. Unfortunately for us, no such thing exists. The character you bring to the altar is the character you’ll bring to your marriage. If you wish to be ready; if you wish to treat the man or woman God “destined for you from eternity” (Tobit 6:17) as they deserve to be treated, you must prepare to do so here and now. In this blog, we’re going to consider a couple of things you can put into practice right now whether you’re single or in a dating relationship. These suggestions will not only help to prepare you for your spouse; they’ll help you to make more of a gift of yourself to God and to others, furthering you down the road to sainthood.
Become A Man Or A Woman For Others
As a student studies for months before their exams, and as an athlete trains for years in the build-up to their competitions, so too must we prepare for our spouse. What is the best way to do this? By becoming a man or a woman for others.
Preparing for your spouse, and the ensuing marriage once you’ve found them, will push you beyond what you could ever imagine in terms of love, generosity, patience, and sacrifice. You find yourself responsible for another person with all of their needs and desires, hopes and likes, fears and dislikes, as well as their weaknesses, hurts, and faults. While attraction and romantic feelings get the ball rolling and sustain the relationship in its early stages, they’re not enough to build a lifelong relationship on, as feelings come and go. When your partner’s needs, fears, weaknesses, hurts, and faults come to the fore, then you’ll have a choice to make. True love consists in this choice; to put the good of the other, in this case your spouse, before yourself and your own desires. This is what is meant by “becoming a man or a woman for others”. Being the best version of yourself for your spouse will involve dying to your own interests, comforts, and preferences in order to serve them best. To be clear, this love does not come naturally to anyone. Everyone has to work at it, just as we all have to work at becoming saints.
However, we can make our job much easier if we start serving others during our singlehood. You can begin to do this in any number of small ways. Fulfil your commitments; when you say you’re going to do something, follow through on it. For example, if a friend invites you to a party, don’t wait and see if a more interesting offer comes up in the meantime. Be true to your friend and commit. Or at a social gathering, try approaching those who are alone, or struggling to make conversation, not just those who look like the “life of the party”. Or even at home, do the washing up when you don’t feel like it in order to save someone else from doing it. All of these little steps go towards making you a man or a woman for others.
Begin To Appreciate Virtue Over Charm
Begin to value virtue over charm. Good looks and a pleasant personality may have a part to play in forming an initial attraction, which is an essential part of any relationship, particularly in its earliest stages. However, as we have mentioned, true love is more about a decision than it is about feelings and mere attraction. It is the decision to put the beloved before yourself, especially when you don’t feel like it. If you want a spouse who’ll behave this way towards you, you’ll have to begin prioritizing character over charm. To help us seek virtue in others, a couple of questions can point us in the right direction.
Firstly, what place does God have in his or her life? We date in order to find a spouse, and we want a spouse who’ll point us towards Heaven in our marriage. They can only do that if they’re centred on God alone. It has been said that three people are required for a successful relationship, and the marriage that follows: the man, the woman, and God. A successful relationship does not consist of two people who are obsessed with each other; rather, it consists of two people who are obsessed with the Good. Only then will they be treating each other as they deserve to be treated. A second question you might ask is how they treat their family and friends. This will reveal much about how they will love you one day. Are they loving, patient, gentle, and kind in their interactions? Or are they selfish and self-centred? How they interact with those closest to them will reveal all of this, as these deeply rooted relationships bring to light what lies in the heart of a person. Armed with the knowledge of the place God has in their life, and how they treat their loved ones, you’ll be in a much better position to discern a suitable spouse during your singlehood. After all, good looks won’t drive a person to get you chicken soup when you’re lying sick in bed, but virtue will.
Develop Your Prayer Life
As we mentioned above, the most successful relationships are those in which both man and woman are focused on God above all else. Deepening your relationship with God is a good idea no matter what state of life you find yourself in, but it is vital that we do so as we seek out our spouse and prepare for marriage. If we wish to love our spouse as perfectly as possible, we must draw close to He who loves perfectly. How do we do this? Through prayer. Adoration, Scripture, and the Rosary are invaluable tools for Catholics looking to focus themselves on God. In Adoration, we come before Jesus in the Eucharist and are transformed by this contact. In Scripture, we hear the words God himself wishes to speak to us, messages full of love, life, and counsel. In the Rosary, we let Jesus’ mother, and our mother, guide our gaze to Christ as we contemplate the mysteries of his life. When these are accompanied by a regular reception of the sacraments, it’s reasonable to trust that God is finding his way to the centre of your life. It’s reasonable to trust that he’s transforming your heart day by day into one capable of loving your spouse as they deserve. We aren’t capable of such love under our own power but, “with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).
Another good habit to develop is to pray for your spouse, even before you meet them. If you’re to be married, your future husband or wife is out there right now, with their own life, their own family and friends, their own struggles and triumphs, and they need God’s help with these are surely as you need it with your’s. Pray for their intentions, and ask God always to lead them to himself. You’ll meet them there when the time is right.
Turn The Waiting Into Living
Everyone has been panicked at some time or another, plagued with questions like, “Why do I have to wait so long?” or “Will I ever get married at all?” So many of us fall into this trap, thinking that our lives will begin the moment God sends us the perfect guy or girl and no sooner. Unfortunately, years are wasted in longing, years that could have been spent living. We must embrace the wait. We must understand and trust that every moment of our lives is given to us for a reason, and that this period of singleness is no different. We’re inclined to see only the challenges and the sufferings of the present time, while ignoring the purpose God has for your life right now. The waiting itself is part of the work, if only we would open ourselves up to him. St. Augustine said, “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This time of waiting is intended to show us that no human person will ever fulfil our heart’s deepest desires – only God can do that. He loves us too much to allow us to believe anything else, and so he lets us wait and learn to depend on him alone. Not only does he do this for our happiness, but for the good of our future spouse as well. Once we’ve grasped this, we no longer view our single life as one, long wait, but as an opportunity to plunge into the adventure that walking with God is.
How does this comfortability with the wait play itself out in the here and now? Indeed, how do we choose to “live” instead of simply “waiting”? We take this time to pursue that which God has placed in our hearts. Perhaps you’ve wanted to pick up a new language or an instrument? Or maybe you’ve always thought it’d be cool to learn how to dance? There might be a number of books you’ve planned to read, or countries you’ve dreamt of visiting, or meals you’ve wanted to learn how to cook. Now is the time to see these interests through. Now is the time to forge the person you’ll bring to the altar.
If you’re called to marriage, it’s important that you start preparing for your spouse here and now. Not only will this improve your relationship with them one day, but it will improve your relationship with God right now. If we have the courage to accept responsibility, to shoulder our cross, God will do the rest, helping us to fulfil the command of Jesus, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Your spouse will thank you for it.