This is an excerpt from the book, Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage, by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak. In it they answer the popular question: Why do marriages fail?
“What is the biggest reason marriages fall apart?”
Most people expect us to give answers such as “infidelity” or “addictions” or even “in-law problems,” but the real answer is none of these. In fact, the most common reason for marital break-ups actually cause all of these problems and more.
The biggest contributor to marital problems and, eventually, marital breakdown is that husbands and wives tend to love their own comfort zones more than they love each other. This leads to no end of opportunities to feel rejected, resentful, and angry.
“Comfort Zone” Defined
Some people ask us what we mean when we talk about “comfort zones.”
Your comfort zone represents the range of experiences, relationships, and ways of being that are familiar, common, and preferred. A comfort zone represents the way you like to live your life, dress, behave, and organize your day. Your comfort zone includes those things you know how to do well and things you enjoy doing in your free time—for instance, your hobbies, interests, and skills.
It represents the way you prefer to act around people. For example, are you the life of the party, or do you like to keep to yourself?
Likewise, your comfort zone represents the ways (and the degree to which) you like to give and receive affection. For example, do you like to display a lot of affection, or are you more reserved? Do you like exploring lots of different ways to show your love for each other (in and out of the bedroom), or are there certain things that are more comfortable and meaningful than others?
In short, your comfort zone represents most of the preferences you may tend to think makes you “you.”
Marriage is a Sacrament
The fact that marriage is a sacrament means, at least in part, that marriage is all about getting you and your spouse out of your comfort zones in order to create a unified couple. Why? Well, in a sense, a sacrament is a powerful engine that God uses to drive us toward sainthood, and as wonderful an idea as sainthood may be, there isn’t a lot that’s comfortable about it.
People who are striving for sainthood (that is, anyone who considers himself or herself a Christian) must be willing to grow, to stretch, to be transformed from who they are today into the person God created them to be. We do that through the heroic generosity Catholics call “self-donation.” That is the commitment to use everything we have—our time, talent, treasure, and even our bodies—to work for the good of others.
This can sound like an intimidating call, a call meant, perhaps, for some special people but not for us. But it isn’t just monks and missionaries and martyrs in far-off lands who are called to be saints. Every Catholic is called to strive for sainthood, and with God’s grace, every Catholic can achieve it.
As St. Thérèse of Lisieux showed us in her Story of a Soul, the path to sainthood doesn’t necessitate great feats of derring-do. It just requires us to spend every moment of every day doing “small things with great love.” If that isn’t a recipe for a terrific marriage, we don’t know what is.
“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”
–St. Thérèse of Lisieux
For more on this topic, read Dr. Greg Popcak’s post on his Patheos blog, “Marriage Enemy #1.”
(photo credit: MinnesotaDavis)