“Ask a Priest: What If I Have Second Thoughts About Marriage?”

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Q: I just got engaged to my boyfriend of four years. For much of our relationship I’ve felt confident that we would one day commit our lives to each other before God. My fiancé makes me laugh, we can speak openly and honestly about our faith, and he showers me with attention and affection in the form of compliments and support. I believe he truly loves me and wants to lead me to heaven. He has become my best friend. However, our relationship hasn’t always been easy. In fact, it got off to a rocky start as I was only 19 when I started dating him and my parents were struggling to accept the realities of me growing up. They wanted me to form my own goals and identity before joining myself to another person. That created a lot of conflict between my parents and myself, as well as between myself and my fiancé. Unfortunately, he never felt comfortable at my house. While my parents treated him with respect, he never felt the same joy and excitement that his parents bestowed upon me from my own parents. Fast forward to today: Even though I knew the proposal was coming, when he got down on his knee to ask, I wasn’t overcome with the elation that is so often depicted in films and TV. Rather, I was very anxious. I said yes because I knew that at many points in our relationship my answer was an enthusiastic yes. But in that moment, I was doubtful and scared. As the congratulatory messages started flooding in, I was made more anxious by the fact that everyone was so excited for us, and still I was feeling this concern. I don’t know exactly why I am feeling this way, although here are some thoughts that keep going through my head. Despite our families sharing the same faith, they have different levels of education, different political views, and different hobbies and interests that I don’t know how to reconcile with. His family really want me to take his last name – I feel a strong connection with my last name as it is my tie to the country I had to leave when I was very young. I feel a sense of disappointment coming from my own insecurities, that I should have developed my own life and career before getting married. I feel insecure about our young age. I would really appreciate any guidance. Thank you. – C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It sounds as though you facing the tough realities of what marriage will mean — and what it doesn’t mean.

You mention that you didn’t have that elation that is depicted in films and TV. That might be healthy. As best you can, you want to forget about Hollywood for the moment. Marriage isn’t about warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s about serious commitment.

Given that there is a range of emotions and relationships in play, and I only have your point of view to go on, I can only offer general advice.

First, tensions with in-laws or future in-laws are not uncommon. When you marry someone, you enter his whole network of family and friends, varied personalities that they are.

Their closeness to you as a couple could vary, of course. You might move to another part of the country or the world eventually, and rarely see them. Or you could end up living on the same block. Be ready for either possibility.

Relations also evolve. There might be tensions today over certain issues. Five years from now the issues might be much different – and bigger.

It’s hard to predict what will happen five years or even five weeks after the wedding day. This is where the core of marriage comes in: Spouses commit themselves to each other for life, no matter what comes along.

Now, you mention the lack of elation and the concerns about marrying at your “young age.”

This is an issue that you will want to deal with now rather than later. Talk with your fiancé honestly about this. You certainly don’t want to enter marriage because of pressure from well-meaning family members (or even a well-meaning fiancé).

Marriage, like any other choice, embraces one path at the expense of another path. Here, you would need to ask yourself what your priorities are.

If establishing a career is worth delaying marriage, could there be other goals down the line that would prompt you to delay marriage even more? Some people get a taste for the work world and then decide to achieve a certain position in a company. Or then they wait to buy “the right house” before tying the knot.

On the other hand, couples who marry young might feel, as you mention, that they missed the opportunity to establish themselves professionally. This view needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For people with family, responsibilities are often motivated to develop their professional skills all the more.

Also, marrying while both spouses are still “building their lives” can give them a chance to intertwine their lives in a beautiful and appropriate way. Marriage is much more than a roommate contract; it is meant to be a sharing of lives together. If you go and “build your life” before you get married, it can often be harder to share that life with your spouse than if you build your lives together from an early age.

There are numerous factors in every case, of course. In any case, you might want to ask yourself how much you are trying to plan the future. Life is full of surprises.

Then, too, you might want to ask another question: How much would you be willing to sacrifice for a spouse and children? Would you sacrifice a career for them?

These are not easy questions. But you might have to answer them sooner or later.

For now, it might be good to intensify your prayer life and sacramental life. Perhaps it would help to find a solid, regular confessor or a spiritual director who can guide you.

In any case, it would be good to resolve these reservations you have before you enter marriage. You owe that much to yourself and to your fiancé and possible future children.

It would be good for the both of you to take this engagement seriously. That means getting formation together on what marriage really is, having meaningful and honest conversations about the challenges of marriage, and staying open to the possibility that during your engagement it is quite possible for you to discover solid reasons (not just cold feet) why you should not marry.

I can recommend our own Three to Get Married retreats for this purpose. But you might also find good marriage preparation opportunities where you live.

You might want to watch together our Retreat Guide on marriage, “Three Hearts.” And two books you might want to read and discuss together are The Last Straw, by Father Michael Ryan, and Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, by Gary Chapman.

One last suggestion: Think about doing a personal retreat at a good Catholic center. The time you spend in silence and prayer can open a valuable window of opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in your heart. Count on my prayers.

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