Marriage is by its very nature Trinitarian. Venerable Fulton Sheen once wrote a book called Three to Get Married that highlights the many ways that married love is Trinitarian—lover, beloved and God who binds them. Unfortunately, God is not the only “third” who wants access to a marriage. If God is the one who binds the couple, it is Diabolos (which literally means “one who tears asunder”) who is constantly trying to rip them apart, often in hidden ways. As St. Ignatius said the devil is like a lover who tries to seduce a young girl or another’s wife; once his machinations are revealed the evil one is vexed and flees. It is only by exposing him that we can actively engage in spiritual warfare and be free to live the high ideal of Christian marriage.
It is important to recognize that the Devil had his sights set on marriage from the beginning. He insinuates himself between Adam and Eve. Not only did Eve disobey God, but she also did not trust Adam when he relayed to her God’s command not to eat from the Tree. By using the second person plural in the original Hebrew, the author of Genesis is telling us that Adam was silently standing beside Eve while she battled the Serpent. In many ways the battle was already won because the Serpent had come between them.
Why marriage in particular though? In Hell, there is no love; only competition. Everything is done out of self-interest. Marriage is the cradle of love and represents a great threat to hell. It is the place where spouses have their love purified. It is the place where children from an early age learn they were created out of an act of love. They learn that love is not competitive, but self-giving. If the Devil wants to bring the competition of hell to earth, then he will naturally target the school of love.
Knowing that marriage has a particular bullseye on it, what are some of the ways we can protect it? First it is important to understand something about demons in general. They are extremely legalistic. They only operate in those places where they have a “right” to be there. They establish this right when someone who has authority abdicates that authority or someone rejects the God-given authority over them. Returning to the Garden, we can see what is meant.
God gives Adam the command to “keep” the Garden. “To keep” in Hebrew is more accurately translated as “guard.” In other words, it is Adam’s duty to protect the Garden and all its inhabitants from the Evil One. So too, Eve has a right to be protected by Adam. Adam abdicates his authority and stands by while the Serpent attacks Eve. By failing to exercise his spiritual authority over Eve, he opened her up to attack. He failed to shield his bride.
This unwillingness of a man to shield his family is a perennial problem and one that is particularly acute in our time, accounting for the near collapse of marriage and family. With Christ as his model, the man must be prepared to exercise his spiritual authority over his wife and children. He must be willing to undergo trials and temptations for his family in order that they be protected from the snares of the Evil One. He does this knowing that he has God-given authority over them and that his grace of state that came from the Sacrament of Matrimony empowers him. Likewise the wife and children must be willing to be subordinate to him. The man may be the shield, but those under him must be willing to stay behind the shield.
When one of our boys was three, he would often wake up in the middle of the night screaming. I would always be the one to go to him, pick him up, ask for St. Michael’s intercession, and he would fall back to sleep. One night it happened several times so the next night I was very tired. My wife went to him instead that night and he cried out, “Daddy help me!” This made me shoot straight up in bed, not only because he cried for help, but because he has autism and was non-verbal at the time. Once again I took him and prayed and back to sleep he went. Knowing now exactly what was going on, I spent the next night on the floor at the foot of his bed knowing that whatever was after him would have to go through me first. And for the first time in a while, he slept through the night. Once my God-given authority was exercised, the demonic attacks were ineffective against him. Men must be willing to shield their wives and children regardless of the cost to them personally.
As an aside, I should mention that we had the house exorcised the next day. Within two days my son began to speak because someone in the house had bound his tongue. If you have not had your house exorcised then I would absolutely recommend it. You never know what went on in the house before you moved in. In our particular case, there were three previous occupants all of which ended up divorced. Clearly someone was at work in the house.
Most of his attacks are more subtle than this and so it is important that we are on the watch for them because of their cumulating effect. The “ordinary” ways in which the devil tends to attack a marriage fall into two main categories: division and discouragement.
First, the Evil One uses division. It usually starts with an accusation that we latch onto. Once we are hooked on it, he then supplies us with reasons why they do it. For example, a man is driving in the car and his wife is telling him to pass the car in front of him. The devil is quickly there to point out to the man “she always does that when I am driving.” Notice the absoluteness (“always”) of the statement so that there is an implication that she has a serious problem. Once the man agrees with this, the devil then gives him reasons such as “she is so controlling.” Now the man gets angry that his wife doesn’t trust him. Meanwhile, the demon is acting in unison with another demon planting the same sort of accusation the mind of the wife; “He always blows things out of proportion.”
The antidote to this weapon of division is what I like to call “compassion in small things.” It is an attempt to see things from other people’s perspective. Returning to our example, the man might simply say “No she doesn’t always do that. In fact she usually only does it when she is worried about being late. She must be worried. Let me reassure her.” Likewise it is helpful to tell your spouse when you hear that voice because they are probably hearing something too. All too often once he is exposed, the demon flees.
Finally, there is discouragement. Marriage often suffers because of the quirks and character flaws of each of the spouses. Being “stuck” with a person who has serious flaws that you find annoying (at the least) can lead you to discouragement. “This just isn’t what I expected when I fell in love with you” or “For better or worse. Yes, but this is the worst.”
He can also tempt us to discouragement by getting a comparison game going in our mind. When we are at our lowest, he will point out other (seemingly) perfect marriages. In this regard, Facebook and other social media is a tremendous weapon. People tend to handpick the good news they want to post. Because that is all we ever see, we assume that everyone’s life is better than ours. This is not to point out the inauthenticity of most people of Facebook, but to recognize that if you are discouraged or are finding yourself discouraged when you are on Facebook, you should log off immediately. Discouragement never comes from God.
We also have to remember that love is a two way street. It does not just require self-giving, but also other-receiving. We must renew our commitment daily to receive our spouse, warts and all. The second antidote to discouragement is to dwell on the positive characteristics of our spouse and to practice forgiveness. For marriages that are heavily burdened, gratitude that God has given you someone to suffer with can often lift us out of discouragement.
It is no accident that St. Paul’s great hymn to married love in Ephesians is followed by a call to arms in spiritual warfare. Marriage, in our fallen world, is a battleground. The only question is whether we will identify the real enemy. It may take three to get married, but no doubt it also takes three to destroy it.