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.
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.
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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.