When God Turns the Tables

Perhaps 15 years into our 42 year marriage, it became pretty clear that Nancy would outlive me. Women generally outlive men. She has always taken better care of herself than I have–better diet, more exercise, meditation, yoga, Sudoku. For me, this natural state of things was always premised on the virtual guarantee that I would, by predeceasing her, leave her to deal with the messy emotional and social fallout.   Similar, in many respects, to my point of view concerning the weddings of our daughters–they just seemed to happen on their own, and all I had to do was show up properly dressed with as few prepared remarks as possible.

Along with the diagnosis of late stage pancreatic cancer came this ridiculous possibility that I would outlive her. A scenario I had literally never considered. I recall having laughed out loud at my father, 14 years older than my mother and with his own cardiologist, who would occasionally wring his hands about what he was going to do when Mom was gone. His worries were, as expected, unfounded.  Mine, perhaps not.

[In fact, my concerns may be misplaced, just like my father’s were.  Nancy is doing remarkably well with chemo, her blood chemistry is all in the green, her weight has stayed up and she shows very little in the way of slowing down.  She doesn’t complain about her neuropathy the way she used to, especially during infusion week. My own health is “OK,” which is to say not perfect but not imminently dangerous.]

As an economist, I’m comfortable around statistics.  As a reformed gambler, I still figure the odds and go with what seems most likely. As (determined by StrengthFinders) someone who practices intellection, these statistics and odds and percentages bounce around in my brain.  I talk to Jesus about them in the Chapel. He reminds me we know not when nor where. I remind him of five year survival rates and the physical effects of long term exposure to chemotherapy.

Since Day One, Nancy has not wanted a prognosis attached to her condition, and has been more or less actively disinterested in her disease other than routine conversations with her oncologist. In this, her approach differs from mine, as I’ve always been more comfortable with a devil I know than one I don’t. But, as a spouse, I have recognized, out loud, that this is her journey, that I am beside her for care and support, that she will make these types of decisions–what and whether to talk about–and I will respect her choices.

old-couple in loveAnd so here is the point. The spouse with the serious illness gets to make these calls, all of them. How much to know and how much to leave unsaid. What to discuss and what not to discuss. The caregiver must willingly include these in the inventory of things about which you will want to talk less. If, as in my case, you find a need to discuss concerns you cannot comfortably share with your spouse, do what I do and talk to a counselor every now and again.

In the most recent ten years of our marriage, when we both worked, we had maybe 30 minutes in the evening to sit together and discuss the day’s events.  Now, we no longer have work, we have a few subjects that are off limits, and instead of 30 minutes we have more like 10 hours. Nancy has been more comfortable with these periods of sustained silence than have I, but I’m getting better. Spouses may want to prepare for these in advance, as they should not be misinterpreted as character flaws or a lack of bonhomie, as it were.

It has taken me awhile to understand God’s will in this radically-altered future of ours. This, what we are living, is God’s will. It is God’s will that Nancy carry on her lifelong interest in learning and teaching, and that she be allotted time to do so. It is God’s will that she can suffer in private and go out socially looking healthy and vibrant. It is God’s will that she have someone like me to hang around and take care of her. And it is God’s will that I have finally found a vocation, after decades of searching, that gives me a feeling of purpose and allows me to express my love language–acts of service–every day.

Life is not a bed of roses, and Christian marriage comes not without costs. But being married, at this stage in our lives, is a blessing beyond measure. If you are struggling in your marriage, it may help you appreciate each other by fast-forwarding the film 25 or 30 years, to an empty nest and a dread disease. For the sick spouse, you are unlikely to be able to purchase such loving care on the open market. For the caregiver, being in a position to uphold the marriage vows you made 40 years earlier is a great honor, likely held in high esteem by God. And no couples get there without weathering some serious storms along the way.cropped-lse-masthead6.jpg

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Changing Direction

As of September 2017, this blog is no longer formally associated with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Carmel, Indiana. The Love’s Sacred Embrace ministry has been discontinued at the parish in favor of other efforts directed toward celebrating Catholic marriage.

The focus of the blog will, at the same time, change from ideas about how to joyfully achieve 42 years of marriage to how 42 years of marriage helps hold couples together when one of them receives a serious medical diagnosis.

Without examining any data, I suspect the typical reader is younger than me, as I am in my mid-60’s. If so, the posts to come may be of help in thinking about stuff going on with your parents. I think about images of Nancy and me from the 80’s, and look at young couples with small kids today oblivious, as we were then, to the trials awaiting them in their futures, to the crosses they will be asked to bear together, if they’re blessed enough to stay together for the duration.

This is my promise not to violate Nancy’s privacy as this goes along. I will share thoughts and lessons learned along the way, mostly for my own benefit, as I tend to work things out as I type. I have a weekly conversation with Jesus in the prayer chapel at OLMC to try to get him to see things my way which is generally fruitless.

Obviously, the reason I choose to undertake this now is because we’re finally in one of those life trajectory-altering situations I’ve always been thankful that we, as a family, have managed to avoid up until the summer of 2016. I have been “on hiatus” since then dealing with the changes going on and yet to come in my life as husband and caregiver. I feel I’ve covered enough ground mentally and spiritually that I can engage with people about these things and help others approach peace, to seek and accept God’s will.
If you are interested in updates concerning Nancy’s health specifically, please visit her CaringBridge page.

 

 

 

The 10 Commandments of Marriage

Not sure how I found my way to Bridal Guide magazine, but I did, in searchman and woman of something suitable for this site now that my regular second job is on hiatus, leaving some time to work on marriage issues. The article from which these ideas are stolen is one of those multi-page things that most of us hate, but I encourage you to stick with it and read them all. Very sound secular advice.

1. Thou shalt be fun.
2. Thou shalt be sexy.
3. Thou shalt be financially honest.
4. Thou shalt be grateful.
5. Thou shalt keep confidences.
6. Thou shalt keep thine own lives.
7. Thou shalt be an extended family.
8. Thou shalt let bygones be bygones.
9. Thou shalt be faithful in every way.
10. Thou shalt live a healthy lifestyle.

Had this article been prepared with a more spiritual outlook, it probably would have dropped a couple of these in favor of, say, “practicing thine faith together” or “thou shalt respect the sanctity of the marital bed.” Actually, it’s not too hard to imagine a Catholic magazine publishing this same article and replacing items #1 and 2 with these two directives.

Cute-Romantic-Love-CoupleWhich, in my opinion, would be a mistake. The first two items on the list deserve their place of prominence not just because they apply to young brides and grooms, but moreover because they enable couples to navigate the waters from “newlywed” to “golden anniversary.” Being fun, or funny, is one of the failsafe techniques for keeping relationships blooming. I like to think that my wife of 40 years has laugh lines around her eyes partially due to me; lacking any number of social graces, I’ve always tried to at least keep her smiling, if not laughing out loud.

Item #2 is, likewise, important during the entire course of our marriages. old-couple in loveAs we age, our sexual abilities, wants and desires change.   However, these changes do nothing to our ability to be interesting, perhaps playful, to show interest, to initiate intimacy, to be clean, shaved and fresh, to put clean sheets on the bed, light a few candles, put on some music, etc. Sexual encounters, once a couple is empty nesters, are fairly simple to arrange, but sometimes difficult to execute in the conventional way, or ways. With young kids in the house, it takes real commitment to intimacy to find time—or even a place—to enjoy each other’s presence. There’s some frustration built into each scenario—having the ability and not the time, or having the time with diminished skills—but it remains important to keep fun and physical intimacy in your relationship, else couples risk ending up living together as brother and sister, polite and considerate with nothing resembling passion ar mutual engagement. This is NOT how to keep a marriage strong and healthy.

I think items #3-10 are pretty intuitive. Gratitude, forgiveness, faith, maintenance of self are all qualities that we easily maintain with our friends, but not always so easily with our spouses. The one commandment that is REALLY missing, the one that is more important than perhaps any of the others, goes something like this:

Thou shalt be friends first, foremost and forever.

holding handsAs we have remarked often in this space, couples have a much better chance to make it to their golden anniversary—roughly 2-3% of married couples accomplish this—if they are friends as well as lovers. Friends don’t cash in their relationship because of a fight or disagreement. Friends tend to usually fight fairly with their friends; spouses perhaps not so much. John Gottman, in his book we have virtually worn the cover off of in this blog, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, states unequivocally that friendship before and during marriage is one of the great predictors of a couple’s likelihood of staying together, happy and content.

God bless all married couples during this busy and exhausting season of joy.

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So, That was Peaceful

© Denise McGonigal.  October 2015

Family meals have only become more chaotic. Our nightly events with four daughters have evolved into loud and crazy commotions, with three sons-in-law, a boyfriend, and four rambunctious grandchildren added to the mix. As we packed up to leave her home last Sunday night, securing crying babies in car seats, placating over-tired toddlers who pleaded for “just five more minutes, Mommy,” Meghan remarked in her usual irony-laden tone, “So, that was peaceful.”

Ha! Not so much! Yet, when I sounded a family dinner invitation the following Wednesday and again on Sunday, everyone came pouring back together and the whole raucous riot played out again.

You know the “stuff” of typical family dinners. A glass of milk invariably splatters across the table. Twin boys produce messy diapers and bombard the table with sweet potatoes as they practice their new spitting trick. An argument ensues among the girls about who-wore-whose-sweater-last-and-who-should-wash-it-before-returning-it. Mom’s “you look tired” comment gets blown all out of proportion. “Catch the stupid ball” erupts from the family room when a Colt’s receiver misses a pass. And a two-year-old tumbles down the steps – boom, boom, boom – throwing everyone into a panic.

Same scenarios. Different homes. Yours and mine. Every time.

So why do we keep coming back for more? Is there something imperceptible that happens deep down inside the fabric of our families while the symptoms of our brokenness, our humanness, play out when we’re together?

Perhaps it’s…
…the laughter we create that connects our joy with the heavenly chorus.
…the sadness we unload that deepens a bond that forever roots us.
…the forgiveness we extend that forges a trust that can’t be shaken.
…the dreams we weave together that give us courage to face the future.
…the hands we join in prayer that unite our hearts to a love beyond us.
…the story we create as family that connects our lives to the Great Story.
…the peace within our chaos that announces God’s kingdom within our midst.

During his visit to Philadelphia, Pope Francis offered a charming off-the-cuff tribute to the joys of marriage and parenthood, remarking, “Families have difficulties…in families, we quarrel. Sometimes plates can fly. Children bring headaches,” even adding, “I won’t speak about mothers-in-law.” But he also offered the profound prayer, “Holy Family of Nazareth, reawaken in our society the awareness of the sacred and inviolable character of the family, an inestimable and irreplaceable good.”

Let’s all pray that we keep sight of that “inestimable and irreplaceable good” of our families amidst the messiness of flying plates.

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Accept One Another

Once again, we’ve turned to Huffington Post for some great advice on making marriage work.  In a culture that seemingly wishes to see the institution of marriage torn down to the ground, HuffPost occasionally stokes the fires of dissolution.  Yet, it also clears the bases every now and again with a thoughtful post about building stronger marriages.. This piece was written by Ravid Yosef, a California “Dating/Relationship Coach.”  We reproduce it in its entirety as it is short, concise and in need of no embellishment.  God bless you all.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Love in fact, does not conquer all. It’s a common misconception that if you love someone, everything else will work itself out, but love alone is not enough.

Acceptance is what will get you through to the other side. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that you can choose it for exactly what it is. Because when you do choose it for what it is and what it isn’t, it brings something entirely new into your world.

Once there is acceptance, you bring peace and change to your energy, and from there anything you create with the person you love is possible.

That’s not to say that you must accept everything in your relationship. You shouldn’t accept any abuse, physically or emotionally, and you must establish your deal-breakers along with making sure you are compatible, have similar core values and a vision for your future.

However, there are things you must accept in the one you love and in your relationshipCBurrowsphoto #1 in order to bring peace into your life.

Here are 20 things you must accept for your relationship to succeed:

1. Accept the things you cannot change.
2. Accept that you cannot fix your partner.
3. Accept that your partner is not perfect.
4. Accept that not everyone will behave as you do.
5. Accept that just because they don’t behave like you, it doesn’t make them wrong.
6. Accept their flaws.
7. Accept love as they are able to give it to you.
8. Accept that you love them.
9. Accept that we all experience things (including love) differently.
10. Accept that sometimes they can be a bit of a mess.
11. Accept the mess in the sink.
12. Accept that they are human and will make mistakes.
13. Accept their apology.
14. Accept your differences.
15. Accept that everyone has a past.
16. Accept that they cannot read your mind.
17. Accept that they can’t live up to an expectation you don’t communicate.
18. Accept that you are not always right.
19. Accept that there will be good and bad times.
20. Accept them.

What you resist will persist and will drive you absolutely crazy. By accepting, you are opening up a space for something completely new to happen in your relationship. Can you accept the challenge?

Ravid Yosef works with clients in Los Angeles and virtually around the world. Download her free eBook “Is He Realtionship Material?” from YourTango.com to learn all the signs to look for before you commit.

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Want More Love? Be More Lovable.

One of the consistent themes of this site is that a lasting, fulfilling and spiritually rewarding marriage is not about finding the right person, but about being the right person.  We have also embraced, since day one, Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which lays out the Church’s position on the importance/sanctity of physical Theology of the Bodyintimacy in a loving sacramental marriage.  Yet, it has become something of a running gag in American society that couples continue to have serious, relationship-threatening issues about sex, regardless of whether the marriage was blessed by a priest, or whether the couple is even married at all.

Focusing on married couples, it’s no big revelation to assert that sex is complicated. Ignoring for the moment (mostly male-specific) concerns such as frequency and variety, the reality for most couples is that both spouses work and must deal with work-related issues including fatigue, overnight travel, stress, shift work, and being connected to their jobs 24/7 by text and email.  Add a few kids, with their homework, social and extra-curricular activities.  Some couples must Busy-Parentscare for elderly parents or relatives. Money is often a source of conflict.  Throw in time spent with friends, the pursuit of separate hobbies and interests, housework, yard work and even time devoted to church ministries, and it’s a wonder most couples are having any sex at all.

Though there are no easy answers for much of this, there are a number of things spouses can do to improve the overall quality of their relationship and, by extension, their sex life.  Some of you may recall a book popular back in the 80’s called The Five Minute Salesman, the main premise of which was that in order to get what you (the salesman) want, you must help the customer get what he or she wants. Here are some examples we hope may be useful to you and your spouse:

  • We have occasionally expressed an idea here suggesting that rather than seeking a 50/50 sharing of marital responsibilities (which inevitably leads to some form of score-keeping) we, as spouses, should be willing to give 60% in exchange for 40%.  Going the extra mile, without seeking praise or recognition, will almost always enhance our esteem in the eyes of our spouse, in some cases making us appear more desirable.
  • Take the time to pay attention and learn what he or she likes.  This lies at the heart of Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languageswhich expounds on the idea that all of us have a love language we prefer when receiving love and another, possibly different, language we prefer when giving or showing love. Guys, if your wife’s preference for receiving love is words of affirmation or spending time together, a bunch of flowers from Kroger is unlikely to flip her switch.  Both of you need to figure out how the other likes to be shown love; if you can’t do it on your own, read the book together.  I’ve observed that many of us are not loved in the way we want.  If this describes the two of you, you can fix it.
  • Worship together.  If you share the same faith, attending church together is a high quality hour, feeding both your soul and your relationship.  If you attend different Stained Glasschurches, try to arrange your attendance so that neither of you must take your small children to church.  (If you want to do so, that’s different.)  Facilitating a peaceful hour apart is another act of love.  Finally, if one of you does not attend church on a regular basis, that spouse can volunteer to get up early and look after the children while your spouse goes to church.  In any case, there are plenty of ways to show you love your spouse connected to the observance of your faith.
  • Cook for each other, or cook together.  The drudgery of getting dinner on the table during the weekday scrum can be offset by serving her breakfast in bed on Saturday morning or cooking up something fun together when the opportunity arises.  Try a new dish.  One of you can chef while the other preps.  And you never know where a late dinner after the kids are asleep might lead.
  • Talk to each other.  Statistics suggest that the average married couple spends seven (7) minutes a day talking with each other.  If your busy lives make you feel like “ships passing in the night,” commit to finding 15 minutes a day, just the two of you, talking about stuff other than work, the kids or money.  Recall when you were courting how you could literally spend hours like this.  Now that you’re married, you need this time to maintain your connectedness.  Even if it means waking up 15 minutes earlier than normal, this is time well-spent.
  • Observe the power of random acts of kindness.  Taking her car out on Sunday afternoon for a fill-up and a wash means she can go to work on Monday with a shiny ride and a full tank.  If he’s been out of town for a few days and gets home later in the evening, a hot meal and a beer, served in some sexy pajamas, might fulfill his every (unspoken) wish.  The key here is to do whatever it is without being asked.  Complying with a request is one thing; showing kindness on your own initiative is something else.
  • TOE time refers to what we call the Touch of Eden.  During TOE time, spouses get naked, get in bed, and simply hold each other close, without any sexual agenda.  Spending 15 minutes like this helps spouses reconnect in an intimate way, without any pressure.  It is not meant to be a prelude to sex, but allows room for the agenda to be amended by majority vote.  Sorry guys–she holds the tiebreaker!
  • WP_20150421_001Pay attention to your personal hygiene.  When you find an opportunity for a physical encounter, make sure you are clean, that you smell good, that you’ve shaved, that your breath is, um, unobjectionable; in short, send the message that this is a special moment and that you want to make it as pleasant as possible for your partner. [These may not be universally shared.  I read recently of a note Napoleon sent to Josephine in which he wrote, “I will arrive on Saturday, Do not bathe.”  Different strokes…]  A little background music, some candlelight and his favorite scent can put an exclamation point on things.

If you and your spouse have some different suggestions, please share them.  God tells us that the marital bed is a sacred place, and we honor Him when we approach it as such.  In the 21st century, we may miss the spontaneity that accompanied such encounters when we were first married.  Maintaining a healthy physical relationship in a world spinning a million miles an hour takes commitment, planning and thoughtfulness. Being the right person for each other can only help.

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Quora.com–a rich source of marital wisdom

Recently I tripped over a site dedicated to creating conversations around a multitude of topics.  I happened to be searching on the word “happiness” and found myself on a page with a number of thoughtful responses to the question, “What habits do healthy couples have?”  After reading responses from a number of members, I decided to cut and paste what I think is a typical response from a reader named Tim Grahl.

Using Quora.com is easy.  Sign up, list the topics you’re interested in, complete your profile, and the site will feed relevant content to your desktop.  Bookmark the site, and you’re ready to go.

happy older coupleWhat habits do healthy couples have?

My wife and I recently celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary and we dated for three years before we were married.  Also, for context, we have two young boys ages 6 and 4 and she doesn’t work outside of the home.  While we have fights from time to time, we are generally a very happy couple.  Here are the things we’ve put in place to make sure it stays that way:

1. We constantly communicate about anything remotely important to us as individuals or a family.  When I was growing up my mom used to drill into me that “99% of marriage is communication.  If you can communicate, you can get through anything.”  At this point in marriage, I would say that’s completely true.  We talk about our hopes for the future, where we want to be individually, as a couple and as a family.  If there is a disagreement or a fight, we never just “let it go”, we talk about it until each of us understands the other’s point of view and we come to an understanding, apologies are said, etc.  We talk about how we’re raising our sons, we talk about how we spend our time, we talk about our schedules to make sure we aren’t too busy.  On anything remotely important, we make sure we stay on the same page and come to an agreement before moving forward.

2. We tell the truth. I don’t know where this idiotic idea came that you have to lie to your significant other.  An early rule was established in our house… “Don’t ask a question you don’t want an answer to.”  If she asks if she looks fat in an outfit, I will say “yes” if it’s the truth.  But you know what?  When I tell her “no”, she believes me.  This goes for everything.  I’ve been on a diet for a bit now and lost some weight.  I asked her the other day if she could tell and she said “no”.  The truth.  Sometimes it hurts, but I appreciate it and know she’s telling me the truth when she says good stuff.

3. We continue in our choice and commitment to love each other.  Contrary to how I see the word “love” used in most contexts, it is a choice as much, or more, than it is a feeling.  My definition of love is “to look out for the other person’s good as more important than my own.”  Nobody has made me feel more angry or feel more love than my wife, however, through it all my choice to love her (seek her good above my own) is unquestioned and she does the same for me.  This alone provides an extreme level of security.  Divorce or separation is never an option because we both made a choice to love each other and never leave each other and to treat each other as more important than the other.  While this obviously falls down from time to time when either of us want to be selfish or are going through a rough spot, etc.  But day in and day out, we choose to love and care for each other no matter how idiotic or selfish the other is being.

4. We treat each other like grown ups.  One of the things we always say when we joke around is “I’m a grown-ass man”.  Or “woman”, of course.  But this is true.  Inside the parameters we’ve agreed to in #1, we let each other do pretty much whatever we want.  I watch whatever, dress however, go out whenever, etc.  We have our own hobbies that we don’t feel like the other has to be a part of.  She doesn’t nag me and I don’t nag her (usually we don’t have to; see #3).  We have freedom to be who we want to be and do what we want.  Since our #1 commitment is to each other and to our family, we can trust each other to make good decisions outside of that.  For instance, I like to go out with friends to movies, drinks, etc.  Since I don’t overdo it because she comes first, she never says ‘no’ or even questions it when I do.

5. Constantly inject your creativity to make things easier and better.  Some of the other things I’ve seen in these answers like keep separate bank accounts, play together, have lots of sex, exercise together, laugh together, surprise with gifts, etc. are all just tactics that may or may not work for you.  When you have young kids that need cared for, it’s hard to exercise together or go throw the frisbee; does that mean your relationship is doomed?  Of course not.  We’ve all had friends that brag about all the sex they have but you wouldn’t want their relationship.  The point in all these things is to constantly look for ways to grow your love, maintain your commitment and make sure life doesn’t squeeze the joy out of your relationship and/or drive a wedge between you.  My co-worker and good friend has a great relationship with his wife and she calls him throughout the day to talk.  It drives me nuts when my wife calls me (unless it’s important) because I’m trying to work.  To each their own, as long as you’re putting work and creativity into making your relationship easier (don’t be too busy, spend time together, etc.) and better (puzzles, movies or whatever), then it’s going to work.  Don’t be lazy and put the other’s good above your own.

So that’s it, that’s what we do to stay happy as a couple.