The rings of a happy marriage

SUBDUED IN ELEGANCE BUT RICH IN CATHOLIC liturgy, the wedding of Andre Mananzan and Liza Castillo at the Manila Cathedral last Aug. 18 was conceived on earth but blessed in heaven. The principal sponsors, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, Ms Charo Santos-Concio, Dr. Eduardo R. Gatchalian, Dr. Angela Halili-Jao, Justice Jose A.R. Melo, Mrs. Veronica D. T. Hosseinzadeh, Jess C. Dilao, Dr. Beda C. Lacap, Dr. Emerlinda R. Roman and I, stood in rapt attention as the couple said their “I do’s” before Msgr. Nestor C. Cerbo and Fr. Rex M. Mananzan.

Wedding ring. What struck me, however, were the tears that swelled the eyes of the couple as they exchanged wedding rings. The romantic strains of an old song reverberated in my mind? “A circle in a spiral, a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning reel?” How true, the wedding ring is round, with no beginning and no ending. It symbolizes eternity, not just “till death do us part.” That is why there are timeless songs that moonstruck lovers swear by, like “Eternally” and “Endless Love.”

Back on earth, however, a sage once said that there are really four rings that couples exchange when they wed. These are the wedding ring, caring, sharing and offering. Whenever lovers go to me for advice, I use these four rings as the simple, easy to remember guides to a happy marriage.

Losing self in caring. By caring, I refer to a person’s surrender of self to the other. After marriage, the “I” dies and the “we and us” are born, to live as long as the marriage lasts. So, every decision—where to reside, what sports to enjoy, what movies to watch, which school the kids shall go to and how weekends are to be spent—becomes consensual.

They are not even voted upon. One spouse is expected to know the other so well that a consensus on all matters can be reasonably expected. Romantic love begins with the honeymoon and can last a lifetime when each of the partners take seriously their vow to love each other “in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer.” This is possible when the happiness of a spouse no longer consists in self-satisfaction, but in caring, tending and serving the other. The self must die and give birth to the other.

Legal sharing. By sharing, I no longer talk about emotional ties. Instead, I summarize to the future spouses what happens to their properties at the moment they say, “I do.” In the olden days, couples—unless they execute a written prenuptial agreement—automatically enter the conjugal partnership of gains. Here, each of the partners retained ownership of their respective assets, but the fruits or rentals of their separate properties and their income from their work or occupation become jointly owned.

But the Family Code, which took effect on Aug. 3, 1988, instituted the regime of absolute community of property. Under this system, all pieces of property owned by each of the future spouses prior to the marriage, or acquired thereafter, become community-owned. Unless—prior the wedding—the parties enter into a written “marriage settlement,” the absolute community regime takes effect immediately, even if the titles to the assets are registered in the name of one spouse only. Accordingly, land, condominiums, cars, computers and jewelry of each of the spouses automatically become communal. Excluded are property for the personal or exclusive use of either spouse, like clothing, shoes and cosmetics.

The administration and enjoyment of community property belong to both spouses jointly. For example, each is entitled to the equal use of the family car or TV set. Neither spouse may sell, mortgage or give away any communal asset without the consent of the other.

Together, the couple shall fix the family home; manage the household and exercise parental authority over their minor children. However, either spouse may exercise any legitimate profession, occupation, or business without the consent of the other. The latter may object only on “valid, serious and moral grounds.”

Offering to God. The sagacious Bishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote that it takes three to get married: the husband, the wife and God. When a couple ties the knot, the state intervenes to govern their personal and property relationship, but God blesses the union to make it last through the years. Even if the husband and the wife care for each other dearly and share with each other all their worldly goods, there will always be problems and tensions.

But as another song goes, “there is no problem so big God cannot solve it, there is no mountain so high God cannot move it.” True, there are parents, sponsors, relatives, friends, and even the courts to turn to when seemingly insurmountable problems arise, but when all else fail, there is the final arbiter—the almighty, loving and merciful God.

In fact, I advise my inaanaks not to wait for a crisis, but to offer daily all their aspirations, hopes and frustrations to the Lord. Without fail, pray together upon rising in the morning and before sleeping at night. The evening worship is most essential. Couples should hold hands every night and offer to the Lord, as their mutual sacrifice, all the concerns, problems and quarrels of the day. If couples do this habitually, they will never fall asleep on a quarrel.

To sum up, marriage has four rings, the wedding ring, the sentimental caring, the legal sharing and the spiritual offering. All of them are essential to a happy and contented marriage.

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