Let's talk: What does 'for better or worse' really mean to you?

Marriage vows can be broken. Source: Pexels

When we get married, we take our partners “for better or worse”, but what does that really mean? At what stage do you stop making excuses for your partner’s mistreatment of you and realise that you really do deserve the “for better” part of that promise? 

“Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice.” Those are the words of Pope Francis, in Amoris Laetitia.

Surely if the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church holds that belief, those who follow him should hold similar views or at least practice what he is preaching. But according to an ABC News article, many Catholics in Australia still believe that “for better or worse” means forgiving one’s husband for their failures, including that of domestic violence. 

Maria George, a senior pastoral associate at a Melbourne parish, told ABC News that she had come across dozens of women suffering from intimate acts of violence over the past 30 years. One woman had been raped repeatedly over the course of her marriage, enduring “something like 16 pregnancies, quite a few miscarriages, and the stillbirth of a baby” according to George. 

“Her response to [the abuse] was, ‘This is my duty as a wife, for better or worse’ and ‘I said in marriage vows that I will stick with this,'” George said. 

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Another woman who sought advice from a priest was told that her alcoholic husband’s verbal, physical and emotional abuse were “God’s will” and that her marriage vows were more important than this behaviour. 

“That is what the Christian faith teaches us,” George said. “That you must be forgiving, and basically forgive and go back and get more of the same treatment.”

No matter what society tells you, if you are a deeply religious person and the leader of your local community tells you that this is something you must be strong enough to bear, it’s easy to see yourself (and others who have struggled with these issues and walked away) as too weak. There may always be an assumption that you just have to try harder and harder because whatever happens must be God’s will. 

George disagrees with the idea of continual forgiveness for such despicable crimes, pointing out that these abused women “had a right to have a full life, too”.

Do you think Australian Catholic priests need to better address issues like domestic violence with their parishioners?