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12 Thoughts on Marriage As We Approach Our 40th Anniversary

September 19, AD2014

As Holy Mother Church plans the World Meeting of Families, my husband and I are approaching our 40th wedding anniversary.

As a child bride of 17 marrying her high school sweetheart, I felt the invincibility of our union with the passion of youth. Now, some four decades later, I’d like to reflect on what we’ve lived and learned. Some of our enlightenment came from trial and error; but much of it came as the result of the grace available in the sacrament of matrimony.

I in no way mean to imply that I know it all; in the same way the children of God are as unique as snowflakes, so are the relationships over which He watches. What I’m sharing here is simply a look at what has worked for us.

1: Genuine love isn’t the mushy thing you feel; it’s an act of will.

At first blush, the feelings and attractions spur our interest in one another. This is the breadcrumb trail God leaves to bring your spouse onto your radar screen. Some semblance of this will remain in a relationship but it becomes a minor player. Instead, grace shows us that true love is much more substantial than mere feelings. It’s an emptying of self for the good of another.

2: Children come third, after God (#1) and spouse (#2).

God’s nature definitely created an unbreakable bond when it came to offspring. The instinct of protection and nurture is a formidable force. This ensures the safety of the little ones and the furthering of the human race. As strong as these impulses are, a worthy spouse will never let children displace the primary earthly spot given to spouse.

3: Nurture your relationship while you have children so that you will have a relationship when the nest is empty.

This one goes with #2. The two of you became one through the sacrament of matrimony. Building a family is a vital part of that for those who are blessed with children. Yet, ideally the two of you will have the blessing of growing old together.

During the crazy days of diapers, school, and recreation your relationship may be in danger of occupying the back seat of life. Do everything you can, no matter how small, to maintain your connection as a pair. Bonus: your example will be a positive witness to your children. They will surmise, this is how marriage should look.

4: Share interests, but also have your own.

A principal component of being a loving spouse is to give of self. If your spouse has a passion, do your best to understand and share it. That doesn’t mean you have to glue yourself to the television for every sporting event nor go sky diving; what it means is that you lovingly acknowledge this passion. My husband has spent our married life tolerating and encouraging my love of horses, for example. I’ve also understood when he didn’t feel the need to fully participate. The balance has kept us on track.

5: Alone time is a must!

As adults, we have a need to interact with someone who isn’t pooping, spitting up, or suffering from teen angst. That’s a key to maintaining sanity when your darlings have you a bit overwhelmed.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a few minutes on the porch swing during naptime or a short drive through the countryside, find time to be adults together. The refreshment you find from a bit of effort will go a long way toward your relationship as a couple.

6: Don’t underestimate the importance of intimacy.

Intimacy is an important aspect of your marriage. It’s a two-member club, so the needs and desires of each are vital.

Don’t share your secrets with others; this is strictly between the two of you. Physical intimacy is a big part of this equation, whether in love-making, snuggling, or flirting. Mental intimacy is important too.

When we pray together as a couple we share a vulnerable, intimate side of ourselves. I’ve learned a lot about my husband by hearing his prayer petitions, joining him in listening to a podcast (and the ensuing discussions), and just getting to know what makes him tick.Marriage kiss

7: The time to consider the importance of marriage and the impact it will have on the rest of your life is before you say ‘I do’.

No matter how many people tell us this, there will come a time when we realize that we had no idea what we were getting into. That’s both a moment of grace and a moment of needing grace.

As a 17 and an 18 year old, my husband and I had experienced much during our short lives … enough to warrant the support of parents as well as our pastor. However, we were still suffering from the naiveté of those who had lived only a fraction of what life would later dish out.

That’s where that intimacy (including your prayer life) comes in. The grace acquired will see you through those unexpected rough spots.

8: Be silly together.

Remember, you’re a part of a two-person club. You know things about each other and have experienced things together, that no one else on earth is privy to.

Inside jokes can give you just the boost you need when life lands you in the doldrums. I’m blessed to be married to my very own court jester. His jokes and made up songs keep my sense of humor intact and have been known to diffuse a testy situation.

One thing we both share is the ability to refer to a song for almost any situation. Our kids and grandkids have become accustomed to one or both of us bursting into song at the most unlikely times.

9: Be serious together.

Life, as they say, is not all fun and games. Sometimes a joke or song simply doesn’t fill the bill. Know that you can count on the other to discuss some tricky topics. Get to know each other’s philosophy of life, death, illness, eternity, and other important matters. When crisis hits — like my bout with breast cancer eight years ago — know what moral, real life stances your spouse holds.

10: Pray and read scripture together.

This one sounds so simple; but yet, I must confess, it’s something in which we haven’t always been successful. We’ve gone through periods when we prayed together every day. Fortunately Mass attendance has never been an issue that finds us at odds; but the prayer life has come and gone. Currently, we’re on the right track. We’ve made a commitment to get together every morning, to pray and read the day’s Mass readings. It’s become a habit for us — in a good way — and something we really miss when it’s not possible. I’ve seen the positive effects, both in myself (and my husband) and in our relationship as a couple.

11: No matter how difficult, discuss things that are hindering you.

This one can be difficult — just like confession. There will ultimately be topics from which we’d rather shy away. It’s not always easy to share our innermost fears or faults. But this is the one with whom you are one. He is your other half.

Empty yourself and take the risk. Your relationship will flourish. And who knows, you might just find yourself encouraged and freed from perceived fears!

12: If you’ve lost ‘it’, get it back!

Marriage isn’t some mamby-pamby club or sport you can opt out of; it’s a life-long commitment, a covenant, and a sacrament.

When things are going in a troubling direction, don’t abandon ship; fix what’s wrong. You had it once, so get it back. Marriage is worth fighting for!

I think most, if not all, couples experience times of disharmony, some more than others. When that happens, brace yourself for the good fight. Don’t live a life where relationships are disposable. Nurture and repair. Remember and retrieve.

You had that certain something that brought you together – find it and get it back. Arm yourself with grace. Go to confession. Pray earnestly. Humble yourself and be insistent.

*     *     *

Conventional wisdom tells us that as the family goes, so goes society. With the proper care and effort, we can play a role in making society worthy of the blessings of God Almighty … one couple at a time!

What have you and your spouse learned during your marriage? Share your experiences and suggestions with us. Let’s resolve to join the family, society building team of Holy Mother Church.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Birgit is a 50-something cradle Catholic who is passionate about the pro-life movement. She has been married to her Catholic convert husband, Rick, for 40 years. They have four children and nine living grandchildren (all age twelve and under). Their frequent visits eliminate any fear of an empty nest! Birgit can also be found on her personal blog Designs By Birgit and Facebook fan page Designs By Birgit, where she shares the pro-life memes she creates.

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  • Emily

    Thank you for your sage advice! I’ am now 27 years into marriage and wise enough to listen to you! If only I had been wise earlier 🙂 I’ve shared this post on the fb page for Conversation with Women http://www.conversationwithwomen.org/

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      Emily, thank you for sharing. What an interesting site!

  • David Peters

    Wow Birgit what great advice! No wonder you’ve been married for so long. What a testimony! My wife and I just celebrated 30 years together. She is the most incredible person I have ever met.

    • David Peters

      Time away together has been very important for us.

  • Pingback: Marriage - BigPulpit.com()

  • Anil Wang

    I’d personally say the order is: #1 God, #2 Children, #3 Spouse.
    The reason is simple. God is the source of all love and strength in times of trial, so without God, there is no #2 or #3.

    As for Children, recognize that when Two become One flesh, that one flesh is quite literally the child. It is the bond that forever cements the marriage, and couples with at least 4 children have a minuscule divorce rate. Even parents that divorce as stilled tied to each other via the child and the child constantly reminds the parent of the spouse who gave him/her the child. A child is a common mission that unites both parents and forces each parent to develop humility and patience that in turn manifests itself in the marriage.

    Finally, placing the Spouse at #3 doesn’t diminish the spouse. Because you have your priorities straight, your love for your spouse will be greater than if you placed your spouse second.

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      If, as you say, “when Two become One flesh, that one flesh is quite literally the child”, what do you make of couples who can’t have children? Or older couples? What makes for well adjusted children is that their parents take the covenant to which they have sworn seriously and place it high on their priority list. Without a stable marriage, children suffer from maladjusted lives or even divorce. Further, while Holy Matrimony is one of the seven sacraments, having children is not – it is gift of that sacramental covenant. Marriage is the institution that brings godly children, children aren’t the institution that bring a godly marriage.

    • WSquared

      Thank you for this logical and truly excellent response. What gets especially irritating is this equating being “fruitful” almost exclusively with having children (which is what biblical fundamentalists do: Pope Benedict XVI was absolutely right– faith without reason devolves into fundamentalism), when the Church’s respect and reverence for celibates and virgins directly challenges any such assumption, and married couples are fruitful in ways other than having children, anyway, whether or not God gifts them with any. Because parenthood still has a spiritual reality that cannot be ignored or divorced from material reality.

      Which would tie in again with your points about stable marriage, and even those about having an empty nest.

    • BiologyBrain

      Not all marriages have the blessed gift of children. So what of them – are their marriages deficient? I surely hope not because I know many couples who truly place their spouse ahead of themselves and have extraordinary marriages. Nature built into our instinct to love, protect, and ensure the health and well-being of our offspring. However, loving a spouse is a conscious choice that requires attention, devotion, and self-sacrifice. Even if you don’t feel ‘in-love’ with your spouse, since a sacramental marriage joins you as One-Flesh, you are charged to love your spouse as yourself regardless of the lack ‘mushy feeling’ of love mentioned as #1.

      You mention that parents separated by divorce are still tied to their children. While that is true, divorce is forbidden by Jesus himself, so how can that be an expression of sacramental love? As I mentioned earlier to Phil above, statistics show that children benefit from solid covenant-type marriages and love. Children of divorced parents have more developmental issues, emotional issues, and behavior issues according to statistics. Even secular scholars have had to admit that strongly devoted marriages, marriages in which couple’s consciously express their love by working through their issues, lead to more stable children not just when the children are young, but also as those children get married themselves.

      The USCCB also seems place more emphasis on strengthening the marriage covenant than parental love for children. The articles and help for marriages includes some article references for the care of children. However, even these point to the special nature of marriage and how to make your marriage nurture and form your children. All of this seems to point that the Church considers the love between spouses as a precursor and requirement for love of children. However, children are not a requirement of a fruitful marriage. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/index.cfm

    • WSquared

      All of this seems to point that the Church considers the love between
      spouses as a precursor and requirement for love of children.

      Yes. And that’s a very, very crucial reminder.

      In some of these discussions, we often seem to be equating love for children as not just equivalent, but even integral to the love between spouses, if not to the point that it supercedes all else.

      Sure, caring for, raising, and loving children can in fact teach us not to be selfish– that is, if we’re receptive to allowing God to teach us through those children, as He does through anything and everything else. But if we aren’t careful and self-aware enough, placing so much emphasis on loving the children can also obscure and plaster over any existing problems in a marriage that aren’t getting the attention they need: a couple that elects to “stay together for the sake of the children” is making a good choice on that one level, but they also cannot afford to neglect that their marriage has deeper problems that need addressing. Staying together for the sake of the children should not become a replacement– or even excuse– for doing that much-needed work. This doesn’t just address Birjit’s comment about having an empty nest, but also when we see a couple that’s been together for twenty years or more, who has grown children, but who ends up divorcing nonetheless, despite being “respectable,” and having done in the eyes of many “all the right things.” Marriage being forever until death do us part also means that there is no home stretch, cruise control, or autopilot, all of which point to a lack of growth in a marriage, simply because we thought we’d “grow old together.”

      Look also at the way we talk about stay-at-home moms versus working moms and family size. We talk about selfishness in such a lopsided way, without realizing that a person who is narcissistic and expects to have everything their own way (and the Devil is subtle enough to dress selfishness and unholiness in the clothes of sacrifice and piety) is going to be a disaster anywhere and everywhere, regardless of whether they work or stay at home. Children also need their parents to be present in a significant and affirmative way. They do not, however, need their parents to be an audience that encourages them to think that they’re the center of the universe.

  • Jeanne

    Loved this article and thought it was spot-on. Good advice!

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      Thank you, Jeanne!

  • Not to be disagreeable and this is only MY opinion. Been married 34 years, the past 16 my wife and I have cared for our totally disabled son (non-verbal, non mobile, spastic, contracted, etc as the result of a camp accident). So as far as #2, it is Child(ren) first, wife second, and God third…we both are in perfect agreement with this order.

    • Camila

      Phil I confess I had to stop to reflect on the order too. I am not sure we can really say what come first or second. Once a baby is born there are duties that as parents we take upon ourselves even at some (or sometimes great) personal cost. Children are the crown jewel of marriage; then how can they come third? Yet your spouse is two-become-one with you, how can they not come first?

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      Exactly, Camila. That’s why it’s good to clarify my train of thought. Am I talking about the practical – food, shelter, clothing? Or am I talking in more spiritual terms? See my response to Phil for my thoughts.

    • Debi Vinnedge

      I agree 100% with you on this one Birgit: No. 1: God, 2 – Spouse 3 – Children. A husband and wife teach the children together and God ties all three together. Too many couples invite God to the wedding and kick Him out of the marriage. We just celebrated our 40th anniversary in August – my high school sweetheart too! 🙂

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      Warmest congratulations on your anniversary!

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      Phil, not disagreeable at all! It’s good to have discussions about these things and you’ve made me think. Now I’d like to share some details that might help explain my train of thought:

      Although the Bible doesn’t specifically lay out an order of relationship priorities, there do appear to be some general principles that might be helpful in understanding what I’m attempting to share. Obviously, there is no disagreement with the fact that God comes first.

      In direct relationship to this, however, comes the instruction for a married man to love his wife as Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25). Similarly, the wife is to submit to her husband ‘as to the Lord’. (Ephesians 5:22). This appears to support the perspective that spouses are second only to God. Since they are ‘one flesh’, this should be a two-way street.

      Further, under the heading “The marriage bond” the CCC states:

      1639 The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself.[141] From their covenant arises “an institution, confirmed by the divine law, . . . even in the eyes of society.”[142] The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man: “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love.”[143]

      As a logical conclusion, this places the fruits of this divine love (the children) as the next natural priority. In this context we find the institution of the Domestic Church.

      1666 The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called “the domestic church,” a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.

      I must admit that we may be thinking of this in different terms. Naturally, the physical needs of children (whether infant or disabled) must be dealt with on a practical, earthly priority scale. A grown man or woman can certainly deal with their own physical needs – food, shelter, etc. That really isn’t the point I was attempting to make. But even in this instance, care must be taken as to the soundness of the marriage. After all, the natural product of a good marriage is healthy, happy children who are given all they need whether it be spiritual, mental, or physical. Further, when the children mature and go their own way, the covenant that was first established between husband and wife remains.

    • Well, Birgit, here is the rationale for my reply and as I said it applies to ME only. I am an old spirit with many past lives (long story). My son, Adam, is also an olde soul and he and I have shared many past lives…in some of them he took care of me. I believe that we choose our path and our family before we come into this life and that our spiritual masters help us decide what we need to learn and what we are here to give others the opportunity to learn. My wife and daughter are younger souls. My life choice is to live a worthy life. My son knew and told me before his near drowning (25 minutes under water) that he would need to have me take care of him for life…exact words….he knew; and as a matter of fact, so did I. We choose this path this time thru. My daughter and wife joined us to grow in spirit and to learn. I have met my spiritual guides and I have met angels in the real…so I know this is true. A very knowledgeable Jesuit paleontologist in 1955 wrote the “Phenomenon of Man” and said “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a human journey.” He wrote of noogenesis, the cosmos as the Host, etc. Of course, RCC officials denied his premises, yet Benedict 16 resurrected his ideas in several speeches. So my cosmology, places my child first, my wife second and God third, since all is God and he set in motion each of us evolving over time a Christ-consciousness.God allows life events to unfold with the expectation that we learn over our lives to live a truly worthy life. Of course, time, space, place, dimension, anthropomorphic conceptualizations of God are man made concepts which do not exist in reality…all is God energy working to an evolution of perfection…that’s His plan. I have already give God his due…a worthy life, so he’s taken care of. Again, this not argumentation, but my experience and my soul’s journey and my ordering of things….blessings!

    • BiologyBrain

      While it is possible that others rank their Godly love priorities differently, I think it is God-ordained that spouses come before children. Statistics show that the most ‘well-adjusted” children come from strong devoted parents in a covenant of marriage. Parents that stay together only for the sake of their children statistically do not achieve the full fruits and bond of parents that are truly and consciously devoted to one another. Since the Catholic Church doesn’t actually endorse the ‘old’ vs ‘new’ soul theory of past lives, we have to deal with the current relationships. The relationship between parents is more intimate and permanent than the relationship between a parent and child. The marital bond is strengthened through marital relations, but not necessarily strengthened by children. In fact, children can be a serious strain on relationships when they’re handicapped, difficult, sick, or even just new. Many parents of newborns begin to feel distant from their spouse because a newborn requires so much dedicated attention. When those spouses realize their marriage is suffering and address that issue, the care of the newborn becomes less of a burden or obligation and more of a cherishing the fruit of the marriage.

    • Ladasha Smithson

      I actually agree with Mrs. Jones arrangement. Once you are married, you are one flesh with your spouse.