When you pronounced your marriage vows you specified that you would love and respect each other in good times and bad, in sickness and health, in riches and poverty, until separated by death. Your love was unconditional. You did not say you would love her as long as she was slim, pretty, charming, cooked good meals, responded to your needs wholeheartedly, laughed at your jokes or admired you. Maybe you presumed that she would.
Nor did the bride agree to be married as long as he earned well, had an athletic build, did not lose his hair, treated her courteously, was kind and considerate, loving and gentle.
Some wealthy people make contracts with regard to their marriage and specify how much money they will give the other should they default. These marriages sadly do not last very long.
A covenant on the other hand is unconditional giving of oneself in love and unconditional acceptance of the other. God made such a covenant with his people, that he would be a loving and faithful God and Israel would be his child, his spouse, his very own. Listen to the language describing such a covenant relationship, in terms of family.
"I took them up in my arms. I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love and I bent down to feed them" (Hosea 11:3-4)
"As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you" (Isaiah 66:13)
Even the language of communion between bridegroom and bride is used (Hosea 2:16, 21-22). The following words exemplify the tenderness of God's life-giving love for the people:
"I have called you by name, you are mine.you are precious in my eyes and honoured, and I love you" (Isaiah 43:1-4)
God's covenant familial relationship with the chosen people is characterized by limitless patience, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and calls to renewal.
Jesus is the bridegroom who loves his Church spouse by laying down his life on the cross to save her. It is a new covenant in his blood, shed to forgive sins and restore us as God's precious children. St Paul in Ephesians 5:21-33 invites married couples to love each other as Jesus loves you. He asks you to love one another with the same sensitivity you have for your own bodies.
This then is covenant love between spouses. It is not possible to love in this way, without the grace of God and without dying repeatedly to one's ego. God gives us the grace to respond to his call daily.
So ask in Jesus' name and you will receive the grace you need to respond to the call. Now I am not saying that marriage is an easy vocation. It is indeed very difficult to love when the other is drunk, abusive, wastes money on gambling, acts rude and uncaring, uses you as a sleeping pill and is not bothered about fulfilling your needs.
Nor is it easy to love someone who nags, finds fault, is critical, cold, uninvolved and wooden when you want to love, acts superior or controls and manipulates you by her moods and anger.
Jesus does not ask you to be a doormat whom the other tramples. Conflict resolution is very important in a good marriage. Spouses need to share their ideas and feelings with each other and to listen with patience and understanding. Winning or proving that you are right and the other is wrong is childish. It only drives you further apart. There are many areas in a couple's relationship which call for deep sharing and listening. I will mention some of them.
Saving, spending and budgeting money. Do either of you manipulate the other through controlling money? Is it mine, yours or ours?
Use of time. Is one punctual and the other generally ten minutes late? Is one a morning person and the other alert after dark? How do you manage your time when there are several demands on it? Is there a balance between time spent at home and time spent at work, with friends, in Church by oneself, in social engagements?
Bringing up children. Both parents are required and each one can balance the other. Do you agree on norms and stand by each other or allow the kids to rule the roost? Do you use the kids to attack your spouse? How do you share Jesus and Gospel values with children by your example and instruction?
Inlaws need not become outlaws. Do you try to reach out to parents and siblings with love and understanding and yet make sure that your spouse comes first in your relationship? Do you listen respectfully, but make your own decisions as a couple?
Your conjugal relationship does not happen by itself. Input equals output. How do you show affection, understanding, kindness and respect to each other everyday? How can you be really involved with building up your spouse? Is he or she really first in your life, before job, children, parents, sports, church groups and pastimes?
Work both in and outside the home is worship. Are both of you interested in each other's work and co-operative, helpful and patient? If both work outside the house, do both of you also share household tasks? Do you express appreciation and thanks?
Health, exercise, diet, relaxation, an atmosphere in the home that is conducive to harmony, dealing with stress, outings together, some romantic interludes, gifts, praying together and listening to God's Word together, Gospel sharing, celebrating the Eucharist as a family together, family meals, sharing with other couples, inviting hurting people to share your love and warmth as a family, reaching out in small Christian communities and in the parish, are some other areas you may want to talk about periodically and try to understand the other's feelings.
A covenant relationship between a husband and wife embraces all these areas of relationship.