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“Ask a Priest: What If My Wife Thinks Our Marriage Is Invalid?”
Q: My wife and I, both Catholic, were married in the Church 10 years ago and have four children. We have had some good times and a lot of bad times and struggles. We have many times been to the point of calling it quits. One major reason is because I have been stagnant in my prayer life, and my wife has not been. I also have struggled with pornography since before we were married. As we were ready to work out the details of divorce, or seek an annulment, I agreed to try to be consistent in my prayer life and to quit porn. I agreed to try this on a month-to-month basis as I didn’t know if I could do it. It has been two months, and I have not sinned in that manner and feel great about it. We have also been praying as a family, almost daily, and reading from the Bible. My wife has brought up concerns about feeling our marriage was never valid for a few reasons: I looked at porn before we were married, and my wife felt I was not happy about the births of our children. I did look at porn but really tried not to the entire time, and I was not unhappy about the births of our children, although overstressed and not supportive about them. As we continue to struggle together again, we are not sure if we can have sex, as we don’t know if our marriage is valid. When this last bump in the road began, I was ready to walk away from this marriage, but now, after being more prayerful and not looking at porn, I see our lives together in a more positive way and want to continue being married. My wife really would like to see a sign, or have some verification from God, that this is a valid marriage. Is our marriage valid? Do we need to wait to have sex until we have some sign or verification from God? My wife would like to have our marriage blessed, or have it revalidated if she feels this is her calling. -G.P.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is good to hear that you are trying to be serious about prayer and about quitting the pornography.
As to your direct question: The Church presumes that every marriage is valid unless proven otherwise. Your use of pornography before marriage, while not good, would not necessarily be an impediment to entering a valid marriage. So long as you and your wife understood what marriage was about – that it was a lifelong commitment and required an openness to children – and you entered it freely and without pressure, then the marriage could be presumed to be valid.
That you were unsupportive of having children might be a sign that you were a work in progress and that you needed to learn selflessness and to have deeper faith in God’s providence. Those are some of the values that marriage teaches.
Perhaps it would help if you and your wife could see a good Catholic counselor. It is not healthy for her to have this doubt about the validity of the marriage. Such doubt can corrode a relationship.
And instead of “revalidating” your marriage, which can be assumed to be valid, you might want to attend a marriage renewal couples’ retreat (most dioceses and many retreat centers offer this service). In the meantime, you both might benefit from watching together our do-it-yourself Retreat Guide on marriage, called “Three Hearts.” It is available in the Retreat Guide section of this website.
It would be good, indeed essential, to keep up the prayer life. Stay close to the sacraments. Cultivate your devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And think about getting a counselor.
I hope this helps. Count on being included in one of my Mass intentions.