First Things First: Build Your Marriage On Solid Ground

Curtis and Michaelann Martin
From the Jan/Feb 2000 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

How to Succeed

Every week 45,000 people get married in the United States. Each couple hopes to find joy, happiness, and love in their marriage. They stand with sincerity before their family and friends. Many of the marriages even take place in churches, so the man and woman are also standing before God to profess their love.

So why does the majority of these marriages fail? These aren’t bad people. What’s wrong with these marriages? Where do we turn to find the support and assistance we need to make our marriages work? Is there something missing in marriage today? Is there any hope?

Just a Thought

Imagine a man and a woman who love each other very much. One day they decide to build their dream home. They are very eager to begin this project. They look forward to sharing their lives together in their new home. They go down to their local home improvement store and buy all sorts of building materials and tools. Then they go to their perfectly selected spot and, side by side, begin hammering boards together in an attempt to build this dream home together. Does something seem to be missing?

No amount of love, sincerity, enthusiasm, or dedication can ever make this house a reality without a blueprint or detailed plan. Similarly, no amount of love, sincerity, enthusiasm, or devotion can make your marriage a lasting success without the same: a blueprint. Jesus Christ has given a blueprint for marital happiness to the Catholic Church. In this study, we want to explore the teachings of Jesus Christ and discover the keys for building a marriage and family on a foundation of solid Rock (cf. Mt. 7:24-25).

Where to Start
Imagine a fleet of ships on a journey to a distant destination. C.S. Lewis asserted that three things are necessary for the fleet to succeed. First, each ship must be seaworthy and functioning properly. Second, the ships must avoid crashing into one another. Finally, the entire fleet must know where it’s going. If any of these components are missing, no amount of hard work or good intentions will save the fleet from disaster.

Marriage is like this fleet of ships. If we want to succeed, we must first have our own lives in working order (that is what this first chapter is about). Then we must take care to avoid crashing into one another through selfishness or a lack of thoughtfulness. Finally, we must know where our marriage and family should be headed, so that if we fall off course we can make necessary changes to come back on course.

The very best place to start is at the beginning. We need to ask ourselves, “What does God want from me?” More than anything, He wants you to know, love, and serve Him in this life and then be with Him in heaven for all of eternity. The best way to get to know Him is to spend time with Him in prayer, receive the sacraments, and read His letters to us in Sacred Scripture. After you begin to get to know God, you will automatically begin to fall in love with Him. The amazing thing about love is that it moves us to “do” things for the loved one. The same is true with God. When we really love Him, we are drawn to
serve Him in our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Why is this important? It’s important because all people, single and married, are looking for love. They are looking to other people to give them a good feeling of self-worth and affirmation. As much as we may want to find that perfect someone to fill all of our hopes and dreams, the fact is that we are all broken and we fail to meet each other’s expectations. The only person who will be able to fill us completely is Jesus Christ. That’s why it is important to make sure that we get ourselves in line with what God wants for each of us. Then and only then will we feel His overwhelming peace and joy in our lives. If
we have this priority in place, then we will be better equipped for the relationship that God has designed for each of us.

Once a person is able to get his/her spiritual life right with God, then he/she will be ready to work on making a marriage all that God wants and has designed it to be.

Throughout this Bible study we will develop these concepts and examine the three necessary elements of a successful, loving marriage:


The total gift of self from one spouse to the other. In other words, no adultery.


The lifelong nature of marriage. In other words, no divorce.


The openness to children. In other words, no contraception.

These three elements encompass God’s goals for each of us in marriage. He wants us to be faithful to our spouse for our entire life and be open to His blessings in children. We will discuss the biblical basis of these elements as we study the timeless teachings of the Catholic Church.

In the Beginning

The place to start is with yourself. It may seem odd that a Bible study on marriage begins with the individual, but think about it. As C.S. Lewis said, each ship needs to be watertight and seaworthy in order to survive the journey. What type of marriage will we have if one or both spouses are not living according to God’s blueprint for our lives? What kind of marriage will we have if we don’t have a destination and useful means for not crashing into each other? The great thing is that God’s plan begins with each individual. He created each one of us and has blessed us with guidelines for avoiding disaster and reaching our God-made goals. This goes for marriage, too. Are we willing to allow Him to form us for the sake of our marriage? We may be surprised to find out that we will greatly benefit, and so will our marriage!

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh (cf. Jn. 1:1,14). Jesus is the Word and He became flesh in order to save us, to offer us eternal life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s fitting, then, that we begin with the Word, Christ Himself. How can we have Jesus Christ at the center of our personal lives and at the heart of our marriage? Where can we turn for answers? Where and when do we get started on this adventure? Let’s go straight to God’s love letters to us, the Gospels, and the rest of Sacred Scripture, by answering the study questions that begin on the preceding page.

Talk Tips

This section of the Bible study is designed to aid couples in communicating their thoughts and ideas to one another after completing the study questions.

  • Is Jesus the center of your lives? If not, are you willing to make Him number one?
  • What resolutions or steps are you going to take in order to get to know Christ better?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate your marriage?
  • How can you build on “the rock” in your marriage? (Hint: You may want to commit to doing this study together.)

Additional Reading

This section is designed as a resource and a possible leader’s guide for future discussions and Bible study groups. These additional resources will help
ground your study on the timeless teachings of the Holy Catholic Church.

Please read the following paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:.

  • no. 1, on “The Life of Man-To Know and Love God”
  • nos. 1996-2005, 2010, on “Grace”

In addition to the Bible and the Catechism, there are five small booklets which have been written by modern-day popes which will be a great resource for your study. They may be purchased from Benedictus Books (call toll-free 1-888-316-2640-mention you are a CUF member and receive a 10% discount) or your local Catholic bookstore. The booklets are:

  • Pope Leo XIII, Arcanum
  • Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii
  • Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae
  • Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio
  • Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families

Action Points:

Decide how you can specifically make Christ the Lord of your life. Have you made a good Confession recently?

How can you show your spouse/fiancé(e) that you are willing to make Christ the center of your relationship?

Make a date to work through this study on a monthly basis.

Curtis and Michaelann Martin write from Greeley, CO, where they are raising their five children.

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