In the divorce court the reason is giving as mental cruelty, or incompatibility, or desertion, or perhaps infidelity. In the consulting room it may be called lack of a proper understanding, or inconsiderateness, or emotional immaturity, or instability, or call it what you will, but if you are looking for the real cause of the big breakdown in the marriage bond today, if you want the reason why plaintiffs have to queue up because of numbers, you can find the answer in one word. That word is selfishness.
If a marriage is to be successful, it must be built on unselfishness. When you have said that, you've said a mouthful. You've said all of it.
We just can't conceive two people who are totally selfish falling in love with each other. One or the other party may cleverly guide a courtship to the altar while hiding his selfishness. Even here the motives must be concealed. But for two people totally dedicated to the big "I" to enter marriage with each other is not for this world.
The usual pattern before marriage is that lovers find it difficult to do enough for their intended. They vie with each other to please, to make sacrifices, to deny themselves for the sake of the other party. Successful marriages are built on self-denial and sacrifice. And if this brings them closer together before marriage, then this same spirit and attitude is going to help them be happy after marriage.
Thomas Aquinas, a very wise saint, looked objectively and with an unbiased mind when he gave us his definition of love. "Love," he said, "is the ability and desire to promote the welfare of someone else."
Many married partners have the ability. They prove this before marriage and oftentimes in the early stages of wedded life. But it takes more than ability. It takes desire. And desire to please in marriage is not a one-way street. Love, then. means sacrifice, and self-denial, and self-immolation without consideration of the return. It is not constantly examining one's partner's conscience; taking their inventory.
If things aren't going as well as we would like in our marriage, is there anything we can do? We would suggest that large doses of unselfishness taken daily will cure the problem like a charm.
From Contact with God, by Fr. James Moriarty