Chapter V – Choice of a Marriage Partner

May 4, 2012 | Author: | Posted in Chastity Guide

The preceding chapters on friendship and sex attraction contain sound theory in a very compact form. They have to I)e read and studied thoughtfully before their full value is appreciated. But even after much study and full understanding, such theory is useless unless it is put into practice. The most important practical use of those chapters should be in the choice of a partner for marriage. In a certain sense, that question does not pertain to this book, as we are not dealing directly with the questions of courtship and marriage. However, many who read the book very likely are preparing for marriage and the question of choosing the right partner is bound to present itself; and even those for whom the book is primarily intended can profit by the consideration and thus know what to prepare themselves for and what to avoid, even remotely.

General Characteristics of Marriage Partners

We assume that all will agree with this statement: Human beings ought to prepare for marriage intelligently. Such intelligent preparation requires first of all the personal striving to fit oneself for leading a worthy and holy married life, and then the choice of the right partner. We shall say nothing about the personal preparation (though everything said about the partner might very well be applied to oneself), but we shall expand somewhat on the notion of choosing the right partner. Now, in general, it can hardly be denied that marital companions should have for each other: a) the qualities that each expects in his or her best friend, and b) sex attraction.

Your best friend:Leaving out the question of sex attraction for a moment, is it not reasonable to assume that a companionship so intimate as marriage, in which two people are called upon to blend their entire lives into one, must have all the requisites for the finest and truest kind of friendship?

And is it not unreasonable for a person to go to the altar and and enter into the most solemn kind of contract, in which he pledges his whole life to another until death do them part, without having some well-grounded assurance that the lasting qualities necessary for carrying on such a relationship happily and without extraordinary strain are present I Common sense gives the answer; so we say, before you marry anyone, check first on the qualities of true friendship and apply them as best you can to married life, and unless the prospect of fulfilling those conditions is very high, do not marry; and if you have already fallen head-over-heels for that particular person, break it up, no matter what the pain.

Sex Attraction: But marriage is not a mere Platonic companionship. It is definitely a relationship between the sexes, and God Himself has given sex attraction as an inducement to enter marriage and as a means of fulfilling its purpose. So, before marriage, there should be a mutual sex attraction. But, it need not be physical, especially on the part of the girl. Does that sound like an explosion of all the modern findings of sexology? It is not. We simply state, and we state it without equivocation, that one can enter marriagesafely and surely without having any premarital assurance of physical sex attraction toward the person whom one is to marry. We do not say that physical sex attraction is not an ordinary requisite of a happy marriage; we agree perfectly with the statement that many marriages are unhappy because of lack of harmony in regard to physical relations. But we deny most emphatically that this lack of adjustment is the basic cause of the unhappiness. Almost invariably, the maladjustment is itself the result of something else; for example, undue ignorance, or fear, or the sheer selfishness of one or both parties.

In other words, we feel perfectly safe, both scientifically and conscientiously, in telling two young people that if they love each other with the love of true friendship, and if they have towards each other that attraction which we described as personal sex attraction, then they have the basic qualifications for a happy marriage. If such people are given competent instruction on the few difficulties that might present themselves in regard to the physical relationship, there is little to fear of marital unhappiness on that score.

These, therefore, are the general requisites for entering marriage: a ‘ true spiritual friendship, and personal sex attraction. They should be considered carefully before marriage, and not in a general way, but in regard to the needs of marriage itself. During the last several years almost innumerable tabulations of these needed characteristics have been printed. It is not our desire to add to the list of these catalogues or to write a compendium of them. However, we are going to indicate here many ways of making a practical application of the criteria of friendship and sex attraction, always keeping in mind that these criteria must be applied with a view to the companionship which is required in marriage. These criteria are meant for young men and young women alike, and we may be pardoned if we do not always use both pronouns. Whatever pronoun is used, both parties are meant, unless it is stated explicitly that the quality refers to the husband or the wife. We should like to preface these helps with the remark that this “check-up” cannot be a purely mechanical thing, like working a cross-word puzzle or adding up the score in a bridge game; hence do not mind if our divisions have not the accuracy of a catalogue of newly published books. In general, the summary of one’s prospective partner (and incidentally of oneself) may be made somewhat as follows.

Moral Qualifications

The first requisite of true friendship (remember?) is that it be morally beneficial. Of all types of friendship, none requires this quality so much as marriage. For marriage of its very nature is a state of moral perfection! That may sound like heresy to a Catholic, who is very likely accustomed to thinking of perfection as comprising the religious life and the priesthood. As a matter of fact, it is a simple, basic ethical truth which acquires a new splendor in the light of the Christian revelation. There is no divinely established state of life which is not a state of perfection. God created us for His own glory, and in terms of our lives that means He created us to be like unto Himself, to manifest a divine perfection in our lives. He instituted marriage as one means of helping man to attain that end. In the Christian dispensation the family is a little Church, and that means that its aim is the salvation and sanctification of the members of the family. To think of marriage as a state of imperfection and the religious life or the priesthood as the only states of perfection is to cheapen an institution established by God and raised to sacramental dignity by Christ. All Christian states of life are states of perfection.[1] The various states differ from one another, it is true, but all have this in common that they are intended as means of helping souls to God. Hence, every person about to enter marriage should ask himself: Will this union help me to avoid sin and to save and sanctify my soul?

With these ideas in mind, try out some of these questions: Does he make you want to be better, bring out your loyalty, devotion, inspire you? Are you, as a matter of fact, morally better or worse for having been with him, and what can you expect in the future; in other words, would marriage with him help you to observe God’s commandments and practice, your religious duties faithfully? Imagine a crisis in your life (poverty, sickness) that might make a high quality of virtue necessary in order to remain faithful to God, would he be a help to the practice of such virtue? Does he drink too much? Want to indulge in petting, even at the expense of chastity? Practice his religion? Control his temper? What are his views on divorce, on having children, on Catholic education, on the frequentation of the Sacraments? Can you actually point out any definite virtuous qualities in him that evoke your respect and admiration and inspiration? Are they lasting qualities, or are they put on for your benefit now?

Frederick Ozanam, one of the most illustrious Catholic laymen of the last century, prayed thus for a wife: “Above all I trust that she will possess solid virtues and a good heart, that she may be worth much more than I am and so draw me upwards rather than drag me downhill, that she may be resolute since I am faint-hearted, that she may be fervent since I am lukewarm, that she may be filled with a sense of compassion so that I may not feel too strongly in her presence my own sense of inferiority. These are my desires, these are my hopes.” Ozanam, with the humility of holiness, underestimated himself. But he had the right idea of a worthy partner in marriage.


[1] In canon law the expression, “state of perfection,” has a technical meaning and refers only to the religious life and the episcopate. The religious life is said to be the state of acquiring perfection; the episcopal office is said to presuppose perfection. In this technical meaning neither Christian marriage nor virginity in the world, nor the priesthood could be called a state of perfection. In our text we are not using the expression in this technical sense.


Again we can argue from the requirements of ordinary friendship to the needs of marital companionship and say, if there must be agreement and harmony in all friendship, then a very high degree of such harmony is required in marriage. There should be a mutual understanding regarding religion and art and music and recreation, in reading, in conversation–well, in everything. A mutual understanding, that is, the parties have enough in common to come to harmonious compromises even in little things. They agree on big things, as we said before, and they know how to settle their little disagreements. When people achieve this kind of harmony, they avoid a prevailing situation that goes something like this: Jean likes a bit of poetry, but John likes to engulf himself in wood-pulp magazines; and when either one tries to read just a little bit to the other, things begin to go wrong in the house. Jean enjoys an occasional dance or theatre party, but John much prefers to sit with his shirt unbuttoned and his slippers hanging just over his toes and read his magazines or the newspapers until he begins to snore. The day comes when Jean decides she will have her dance after all, and John lets her have it; and after that many things happen, and now the little house that looked so nice when they were married has a “For Rent” sign in front of it, and John is living at the company boarding house, and Jean shares an apartment with a girl friend of hers. And the two children oh, yes, they are out with the Sisters at the orphan asylum.

Silly? Decidedly, but things like that happen. Just read the daily newspapers and see what a variety of trifles are listed under “mental cruelty” or some such charge for divorce. We are quite willing to admit that practically all such things could be ironed out by a decent spirit of self-sacrifice on both sides. But it is not common sense to leave everything to the manifestation of a spirit of self-sacrifice after marriage. Furthermore, there are some fundamental differences that you can practically wager will not be ironed out after marriage. Therefore, before marriage, the sane thing to do is to put infatuation aside and face the realities of life by checking up on the things belonging to married life that might make a tremendous difference in regard to this agreement factor. The following may be helpful questions in that matter:

Is there at least a reasonable degree of similarity between you in regard to the recreations you like? Could you both enjoy staying at home in the evening, especially. when children come? Are there any habits now that not only get on your nerves but which you find it extraordinarily difficult to overlook? Do both fit into about the same kind of social life? Does each get along with the other’s family? Have both sufficient health for marriage? What are your respective habits of life: cleanliness, orderliness, good manners, good grammar? Are you able to harmonize judgments on things that pertain to family life: food, kind of house, furnishings, and so forth? Have you the same religion and same standards as to practice? The same attitude towards children and their education?

Do you feel at ease together, whether you talk about the weather or make love? If you do not meet for some time, are you able to take up where you left off, with something of the naturalness of a family reunion, or do you have to try to work up an acquaintance all over again? Has he a nagging, or reforming disposition? Do you see his failings, and are you willing to tolerate them; and does he admit them and is he willing to get over them? With children in mind, would you say that this person would be just the right other parent for them? Has he a sense of humor? Can he keep a secret?

Is it a wife you want: Can she cook? and make the house a home? Has she that womanly quality that instinctively puts things in order? (The Notre Dame Bulletinonce cited the fable of a wise old fellow who tried this experiment: He was looking for the right girl, so he dropped a broom near the door. Five young women entered and stepped over the broom; the sixth picked it up. The wise man proposed-and there is much to be said for his wisdom.) And would this girl be a real mother; would that be a vocation for her? Could she bear children and sacrifice for them? Could she give the child that early introduction to God that would so fill his soul that he would never forget? Is she convinced that motherhood is an all-day and an all-night job; that it is the normal perfection of womanhood, and that those who take it right are enriched by it, no matter what sacrifices are involved? How does she speak of children? How does she treat them? What do her younger brothers and sisters think of her?

Is it a husband you want:How does he like children? Does he like to work? Can he hold a job? Has he a sense of responsibility? Is he “grown up,” or does he have to be pampered? Too jealous? A braggart? An alibi-artist? Is he courteous?

You can multiply such questions till you are weary of it. They are not exactly a court-martial, but it is good to go over them because they bring one down to earth and keep one from estimating things merely on the score of fascination. Many points of agreement cannot be tested out before marriage, but often enough risks, at least glaring ones, can be easily recognized. Those about to be married must keep in mind that theirs must be a universal companionship. It is a psychological fact that you can work with some people, but you cannot play with them; you can play with others, but you cannot work with them; you can work and play with some, but you simply could not live with them constantly. In marriage you have to work together, play together, live together on terms of the utmost intimacy. And it lasts a long time. That requires great harmony in many things. What would be your score?


Selfishness is a terrific barrier to a happy marriage. A person who would have a favorable count on the first two points would, in all likelihood, not be selfish. Nevertheless, one should make a definite check of the prospective companion in regard to his thoughtfulness of others and his power of self-discipline. These few questions may be added to the foregoing as a means of making a more definite check on this important element of marital friendship:

At his home (each should know the other’s family) does he show thoughtfulness of parents and brothers and sisters and do you get the general impression that this is ‘ the regular thing? What little kindnesses, not only to you but to others, have you noticed in him? When he is wrong does he admit it, and try to make up for it? Does he easily and graciously pass over others mistakes? Does he look for sympathy too much? Can he give sympathy willingly, or does someone else’s trouble always bring out a greater trouble of big? Is he emotionally grown up; at least does he show that he knows his temper and jealousy and such things ought to be controlled?

As we said at the beginning we do not consider this set of questions mechanically perfect. It is intended merely as a tort of running examination to help one cheek up on the various things that pertain to friendship as it should exist in marriage. Many of the points mentioned are not in themselves important; the general picture that is created by the various answers is very important. A prospective bride or groom would do well to take advice from parents and good friends. They are on the outside and can be more objective, and they have very much at heart the question of a happy marriage.


There is one final point we should like to mention before leaving the subject of marital friendship. Perhaps we can best express it by telling what happens year after year in the novitiates of religious orders. Fine young men and women come to those novitiates bent on serving God with their whole souls. Gradually the ideals of the order begin to unfold before them, and to most of them at some time or other, there comes the depressing thought: “Oh, I can never get that high, not with all my faults.” Then they learn an important lesson of their religious life: the order does not expect them to come to the novitiate as saints ready-made. It expects them to bring certain necessary qualifications for leading the life and a willingness to strive toward the ideals of that life. That striving will go on until death.

Marriage is not different, The various questions indicated here give a sort of conglomerate picture of the perfection towards which married people must be willing to strive. Neither party should expect all these characteristics to be present in a high degree at the time of marriage. But each ought to have the beginning of them and be willing to improve. And one of the supreme joys of their married life will be their mutual effort towards the perfect adjustment of all that pertains to their lives. A genuine willingness to improve is a guarantee of success.

Sex Attraction

Usually an examination is hardly necessary on this point; sex attraction is present or the parties would not be thinking of marriage. The more common difficulty is not to learn whether sex attraction is present, but rather to keep it under proper control. However, there are cases in which people make the mistake of thinking that Platonic friendship is enough for marriage, or they go to the other extreme and think that mere physical attraction is enough. Neither is enough. One must have at least the tendencieswe described when we spoke of personal sex attraction. For instance:

Has your love an exclusive tendency about it, No that other boys or girls are ruled out I You need not be crude about it or go around insulting others just to show you care for only one, but you ought to notice a decided centering of your heart on this one. And have yon a tendency to feel jealous over this one party? Here again, the jealousy itself should be overcome, but the tendency is a good sign. And do YOU chafe when you two are separated I It is not a good thing to spend the time mooning or writing love letters, but it is a sign of sex attraction to be inclined that way. And do you want to kiss and embrace, or be kissed and embraced? There is absolutely no need of practicing these things, but the prospect should not be an unpleasant one. We always encourage reserve in kissing and embracing, and that in a good thing, even for engaged people; but the lack of the inclination would be a bad sign from the point of view of marriage. And finally, do you feel a growing tendency towards oneness of life; do you want to take complete possession of the beloved and give yourself completely? If these inclinations are present, then the necessary element of sex attraction is present,’and all that is needed in to keep this attraction of your heart from running away with your head. But if the love of the head in also present, and you are both old enough, and other circumstances of time and place and finance are favorable, then, as the old saying goes–let the wedding bells ring out.

Digitized, marked-up and posted by the Augustine Club at Columbia University, 2001

Last update: March 1, 2002

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