How Will the Catholic Faith Change Your Marriage? (Part 6 on Becoming Catholic)

Jan 26th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Most adult Protestants are married and value marriage. Nevertheless, Protestants are adamant that marriage is not a sacrament. Hence, Protestants and Catholics have a fundamental disagreement over the nature of marriage. So then, one of the most neglected considerations regarding a conversion to the Catholic Faith is how it will affect your marriage. How?

I will say with 100% certainty that every convert that I know (perhaps up to 100 of them) have each said that Catholicism has enriched their marriage. The difference of course is that Protestantism sees matrimony as regulated by the State as a rite situated in the created order, but the Catholic Church teaches that matrimony was raised to the dignity of sacrament and that it pertains to the supernatural order. This places holy matrimony under the watch of the Church just like baptism or the Holy Eucharist.

This also entails that there is explicit theology about marriage and explicit rules about marriage in canon law. It’s not up to the local pastor to use his view of the Bible to decide if a couple can marry. Instead, canon law is used to determine everything – just like the other sacraments.

Yet this is a rather stuffy explanation. What you probably want to know is how will Catholicism change your life. Right?

Here are five ways in which it will change your marriage for the better:

1. You will be going to confession regularly and so will your spouse. Guess what? Your spouse will be confessing all the sins that they commit against you: losing tempers, complaining, not taking care of the children, fighting in front of the children, complaining about money, arguing over budgets . . . you get the picture. Meanwhile, you’ll be doing the same. The priest will be in your grill (and your spouse’s grill) all the time about it. He will know the details you reveal and he will begin challenging you (and your spouse) about it. Suddenly you have secret referees that are challenging you to be a better parent and spouse. Whenever I go to confession, I usually come out thinking, “I need to go apologize to Joy about that last week.” And my wife does the same when she goes to confession.

2. You will cease from contraception and other illicit actions. You marriage will be rightfully ordered to the procreative act. Intimacy will not be just for pleasure. This may strike you as a negative, but trust me, it will radically improve your marriage. Just ask anyone on CtC or any convert who lives the Faith.

3. You may start having more children. The old adage that you cannot take anything to heaven isn’t entirely true. You can, by the grace of God, take your children with you. Your portfolio, your house, your car, your boat, your everything will cease to be. But children are forever. Their souls will never be snuffed out. The procreative power is very powerful!

4. You marriage will become your vocation. I don’t want to make a caricature here, but my experience is that Protestants are usually very interested in their vocation being related to a role at Church – Sunday school teacher, women’s ministry coordinator, small group leader, music minister, pastor’s wife, youth minister, deacon, elder, etc. For Catholics, it is commonly understood that your vocation is marriage, which is to say, your vocation is to your spouse and children. I really do think the Catholic way expresses the Biblical notion of matrimony. Take this verse as an example:

“Yet she shall be saved through child bearing; if she continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety.” (1 Timothy 2:15, D-R)

As a Protestant, I didn’t know what that meant. Yet if our salvation depends on faith and works, and a married woman’s vocation (the way she primarily expresses her good works) is through being a wife and mother – then this verse makes perfect sense. On judgment day, Christ will judge a mother primarily on her work as a mother, not on her small group Bible study. The same goes for husbands.

5. Fifth and last, your children will be united to your devotion as parents. Catholicism doesn’t have the divide of “Big Church” and “Children’s Church.” The Holy Mass is for everyone. This means that babies, toddlers, children, and teens sit with their parents. They have years of seeing dad kneel, fold his hands, pray, genuflect, receive Communion, etc. It makes for a strong family.


Taylor Marshall, Ph.D.

PS: This is the last one for the “Becoming Catholic Series.” Please take time to look at the other posts: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

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  1. Sir Marshall,

    If two baptized non-Catholic Christians marry, is it recognized as a sacrament by the Catholic Church at the moment it happens or the moment they both enter the Catholic Church?

  2. “Hence, Protestants and Catholics have a fundamental disagreement over the nature of marriage.”

    This, along with the inability to rationalize the nature of marriage and how contraception results in the unnatural use of human sexual organs is the major reason why most Protestant Christian polticians are collapsing under the weight of the “gay marriage” issue. They can’t properly defend “marriage” because they deny it’s Sacramental nature, cannot rationally defend the purpose of marriage, nor can they face the contradiction of the acceptance of contraceptive use.

    It is the diminished view of marriage that began with no longer viewing it as a Sacrament by so many Christians that has inevitably led to widespread acceptance of contraceptive use amongst married (and unmarried) Christians that has inevitably led to the inability to logically defend marriage in the political sphere against the “gay marriage” advocates.

  3. Note: All of the entries in Taylor’s series “On Becoming Catholic” are collected in our Index, under the sub-section Catholic Life, Devotion, and Spirituality.

  4. Taylor – Barrett and I couldn’t agree more! #4 is particularly poignant for me as a mother to three little ones. I finally understood the verse about being “saved through childbearing” when I heard the Advent Gospel reading from Matthew: “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”
    Even on a day when I can barely get up to feed and dress my children, I know that may be all that Christ asks of me right now! It’s comforting to have confidence that my salvation comes to me through the very activity that is so overwhelming some days.

  5. I can’t remember if I’ve already commented or not, but in case I didn’t –

    This series has been such a blessing to me. Thank you so much writing it!

  6. Joseph, very true.

    If marriage is just a contract that is protected by the state, then there is reason why all forms of relationship contracts including incest unions, bestiality unions, polygamy unions, pedophile unions, and same sex unions should not also be allowed. After all, it’s just a relationship contract and historically, some of these were quite common with different cultures through out history. Divorce of all these should also be no more difficult than breaking any civil contract.

    If however marriage is a sacrament from God, then no man, not even the religious leader or a unanimous vote of the entire faithful can change redefine marriages or change the rules of divorce (assuming that divorce is allowed at all). The state cannot thus define marriage. The most states can do is to recognize a God given marriage, and the most a pluralistic civil government can do is to recognize the marriages of many different religions.

  7. I will say with 100% certainty that every convert that I know (perhaps up to 100 of them) have each said that Catholicism has enriched their marriage.

    My wife and I had been married as Protestants for 21 years (now almost 40) when the storm broke over my head, in September, 1993 – the storm that arose from my realisation that it might be the case not only that the Catholic Church was right about this or that – but that it might be right about what it was, and that I might have to become a Catholic.

    Our marriage had, itself, been pretty rough. I was emotionally violent – occasionally physically violent – full of fears and anxieties. I was divorced (the Church has judged my first marriage to be null – waiting for that decision was itself a fairly anxious experience). I had not been brought up a Christian of any sort.

    I remember, in fear and trembling, going to my wife in October, 1993, when I had to admit to myself that this storm wasn’t something that would quickly blow over, saying to her that this thing – I found it hard to get the words out! – was happening and that I … I mean, I … well … I might have to become a Catholic.

    She was, not surprisingly, stunned. She told me that during my stammering and stuttering she had thought I was going to confess adultery – as, indeed, in a way, I was.

    Where the next thing I said to her came from I have no idea – perhaps the Holy Spirit took over. I embraced her and said, “I don’t know how this whole thing is going to work out, but one thing I am certain of: our marriage will never be the same.”

    It hasn’t been. I must immediately say that that prophecy looked like being fulfilled in a decidedly negative way at first. We entered the Church at the end of 1995. By the middle of 1997, things looked, if anything, worse.

    It was at that point that I went to my priest and asked about counselling. He responded, instead, by suggesting a special Mass of healing for the relationship.

    I cannot begin to express the wonderful thing that our marriage has been – beginning from that point. The change was not instantaneous. It was not, however, slight. My wife and I have been freed from a kind of idolatry of family – a sort of feeling that our family – and our marriage – was itself the Kingdom of God. It meant that I was controlling, she was resentful – and the frequent outbursts were terrible, for us and for our children.

    I had no idea what marriage could be until I became a Catholic.


  8. Taylor,

    You might consider commenting on the potential impact of conversion on a marriage where one spouse converts (or is contemplating conversion) and the other does not. This can generate significant animosity and marital discord. Perhaps if one converts the other will eventually, but perhaps not.


  9. @Burton:

    You might consider commenting on the potential impact of conversion on a marriage where one spouse converts (or is contemplating conversion) and the other does not. This can generate significant animosity and marital discord. Perhaps if one converts the other will eventually, but perhaps not.

    Scott and Kimberley Hahn had this situation for several years – and their own testimony about it is very moving and helpful.


  10. Great points, I have found this to be true. Thanks for verbalizing it!

  11. […] Part 1 – Becoming a Catholic in my heart Part 2 – How Catholicism Made Me Socially Aware Part 3 – What Would Your Family Say … If You Became Catholic? Part 4 – Salvation Pinball & the Devotional Life of Catholics Part 5 – Going to Confession: How it works Part 6 – How Will the Catholic Faith Change Your Marriage? […]

  12. I am a 61 year old cradle Catholic who left the church at age 18 after deciding against my parents wishes to marry my then boyfriend who insisted I had to be pregnant first in order to obtain permission from his parents. The act did not result in pregnancy but one year later we attempted it again and this time I became pregnant. We ran away and got married by a justice of the peace, no witnesses, in another state. After 8 years of a very stormy relationship, he left me and 3 years later, the non Catholic church I was attending at the time examined my case and determined that I had biblical grounds for a divorce. He was now living with another woman who was pregnant with their son. I obtained a divorce and then got permission from the same church to marry my current husband of 30 years. He was a bachelor with no previous relationships and he is a non Catholic Christian not interested in the Catholic Church.

    Now, I am returning to the Catholic church and wonder how important it is to go through an annulment process and then a marriage validation by the Catholic Church I am currently associating with.

  13. Bonnie,

    I will pray for you! What a great blessing that you are returning to the Church. Thank you for sharing your story.

    I am sure others will respond as well, but as you progress in your return to the Church I think you will find yourself wanting to have your marriage blessed by the Church. It is only natural to desire to obtain God’s sacramental grace through the gifts of the Church.

    I am sure others who are more expert will follow up on the marriage details, but I’ll add my own understanding as well.

    Given the circumstances you describe, I don’t think you will have much problem, although you will have to fill out paperwork to obtain a decree, I don’t think you will have to do the full annulment process. Since you were baptized a Catholic, you are subject to Canon Law as a Catholic. Although all marriages, or anything that looks like a marriage, is presumed valid the Church has expectations for Catholics to follow proper form (e.g.; marriage in the Church). Therefor since you have always been Catholic according to Canon law, your previous marriage was not properly formed. Since the relationship is long over, the Church will likely act fairly quickly in determining that the marriage was not valid. I don’t think you will be required to get testimony from witnesses or do the whole history for an annulment. Probably you only have to demonstrate that you were married by a JP without permission from the Church and that the marriage has long been dissolved.

  14. @Bonnie – great blessings to you! I myself was married at 19, divorced six years later, and remarried when I was 29. At age 53 wanted to enter the Church. Unlike you, I had not been a Catholic. I must admit that it was with fear and trembling that I went to the Marriage Tribunal. My wife and I were prepared to “live as brother and sister” if that is what it took for us to be full communicant Catholics. The Church concluded that my first marriage had not been valid and issued the decree of nullity – which was received, by FAX, only on the morning of the day before we were to be received into the church. I strongly urge you to go to your tribunal, tell them your story, and trust God. You will be blessed. Feel free to e-mail me off-list if you want details of my own history.


  15. Admins – somehow my mailto: link wasn’t right in the above. Perhaps you could fix it.


  16. Note: All of the entries in Taylor’s series “On Becoming Catholic” are collected in our Index, under the sub-section Catholic Life, Devotion, and Spirituality.

    Thank you Andrew….I was wondering where parts 1 through 5 were. Also…lots of other good stuff at that index. :)

  17. This is an update on the annulment process. I’ve been informed that the decree in my favor will be sent out on Monday, 3/12. I am getting very antsy and eager to move on to the next step. My husband (non Catholic) has been so supportive of me throughout this process. In the meantime, I’ve learned so much about the Cathoic faith I never truly understood growing up. It is so exciting!

  18. After being an ardent atheist most of my life I fell in love with a practicing Catholic. In going to Mass with her I started studying its rituals and meaning. When I started studying the sacramental basis for marriage, especially as my own previous marriage ended in divorce due to her infidelity (and, note, I got the house AND the kids in the final settlement), my heart perked up.

    My girlfriend totally believes in the sanctity of marriage and her own, previous, marriage which ended when her husband died of heart failure, amply proved her devotion. This is what I had been looking for since the more than 20 years of being single after my divorce.

    I couldn’t stop learning about Catholicism and started to realize that, the more I practiced and learned, the closer I felt both to my girlfriend and to my own centeredness. Though I still find it hard to fully agree with all the Church teachings, I find myself coming around as I study the logic behind it all in the Catechism. For the first time in my life, praying made complete sense for me and I grew to love participating in the Mass, though I obviously couldn’t partake in Communion.

    As our relationship grew I asked her to marry me and, now, she’s my fiance. I wanted a sacramental marriage and, though she would have accepted something less, I had started to become a believer, as it all started coming together in ways that I never previously understood. But for marriage, I simply wouldn’t accept anything less than a full Catholic union so I wanted to convert and joined the RCIA.

    I’ve always been a man of my word and, in realizing that the Nicene Creed was the heart and foundation of what being Catholic means (and a lot more of course) I knew that, for me to be true to my word and fully honest, I had to grow to the point where the Creed would be my promise and belief. RCIA has helped me sort out some of the rougher spots as, remember, I had strong atheist beliefs for many years. But praying helped so so much and, besides, believing in God felt more “natural” and right for me at this point. My new Catholic friends only helped to reinforce and fight against old doubts and beliefs so I decided to fully involve myself in our Church and all her activities that time would allow. It didn’t take long for me to understand why the Church is a home of sorts as I eventually felt a strong kinship to my new friends and the beauty of it all.

    Though now I feel I’ve wasted so many years being an atheist and antagonistic towards religion, I know that I had to have that experience to fully appreciate what my life has evolved to presently. I love Catholicism, God and the whole experience and can hardly wait for next Easter when I’ll be welcomed into my Church as a new Catholic. By that time, all that I’ve been doing will become a lifetime habit of prayer, devotion, sacrament, love, Jesus and, a marriage appreciated in full conformity with Catholic understanding.

    I NEVER would have even guessed that I would grow as I have.

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