Does patience run out in marriage?

May. 31, 2016
May. 31, 2016


I keep thinking about the role of patience in marriage, or should I say patience in love if that is what all married relationships imply. I can say that patience is one of the most difficult virtues to practice even as a priest. It is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit. When Saint Paul gave his love lyric in the letter to Corinthians, the first thing he said is, “Love is patient”. I imagine Paul himself struggled with patience as well. Love, as we know can be trying. Love can stretch the lovers to an elastic limit.

In marriage, couples feel stretched by their partners. Ironically, the stretch of love can go beyond spouses to include in-laws and relatives. It can even stretch into other factors such as sex, finance, health, children, religion, etc. There are times when the tendency to respond or give back mounts aggressively. The common slogan is, “my patience is running out”. And patience can truly run out.

Think about Jim and Ceil who have been married for fifteen years. They already had three kids, two girls and a boy. Ceil wanted to adopt a second boy but Jim was adamant about the idea. Ceil said she needed them to have a second boy and through that means extend support to the lucky motherless boy they might adopt. Jim had many counter arguments that ruled out the idea of adoption. Their arguments went on for about three years, and eventually injected bad blood in their relationship. Their communication gap widened. Disagreements took over their usual contacts. What Ceil told Jim was, “my patience is running out”. That’s to say, Jim was playing the delay game when he noticed how desperate she was. This couple was at the brink of asking for divorce when a miraculous solution came. Ceil didn’t believe how she became pregnant in the midst of such cantankerous, chaotic and almost nearly punctured relationship. She went for scan and it happened to be a baby boy. “I couldn’t believe it,” she echoed, “but I almost messed our marriage up”.

Does patience run out in marriage? The first question would have been, “does all marriage imply love?” I find it difficult to answer the second question. But I seem to believe that not all marriages are built on love. For that reason, I can say yes to the first question in the sense that patience can only run out in marriages that are not based on love. Some marriages are based on external attractions only. They flourish in as much as those attractions remain. In some lucky ones, those attractions evolve into deeper appreciation over time. In some others, the attractions fade, so also what they tagged love. That’s why so many divorce cases occur. Patience runs out in such marriages.  If we use the case of Ceil and Jim as instance, one could see that they had a lopsided definition of love. A marriage with three kids almost allowed their relationship to be messed up by another child contest. Isn’t that ridiculous? What if Ceil didn’t become pregnant? They would have headed to the rocks. They didn’t understand that marriage is a community of a man and woman meant to share life and love together. They needed to dialogue their differences in a way that would give preference to their love for each other most intimately. They could only do that with patience. Ceil felt she was becoming weak, so also Jim. Their relationship was becoming more of a contest devoid of consideration for the other. Rather than appreciate each other, they competed regarding who is to win or lose. They resorted to argument rather than dialogue. They became angry rather than empathetic. Those are threats against patience.

Pope Francis says, “Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us. We encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the center and expect things to turn out our way. Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively. Unless we cultivate patience, we will always find excuses for responding angrily. We will end up incapable of living together, antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds” (Amoris Laetitia, no.92). How about God? Ceil and Jim never believed they would have a divine solution after all, but it came. Ceil’s pregnancy was a divine solution to their marriage crisis. God simply rescued their marriage. Patience can never run out if couples seek solutions to their problems in God. God=Love=Patience.