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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Do You and Your Spouse Do These Five Things?

CBurrowsphoto #1Huffington Post strikes again, this time in Facebook survey results compiled by staff writer Yagana Shah, who tallied responses from a FB survey that asked married couples what they believe helps them maintain lively, enriching marriages.  Ms. Shah’s interests include, presumably among other things, “health news, bucket lists, and the British royal family.” Not sure where this particular article fits within all that, but there are some suggestions in here that are worth your time.  If these are old news, it means you spend too much time on Facebook.  My guess is that if you read this blog regularly you’re already doing a number of them.  If not, it’s never too late.

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1.  Travel together.  I remember vividly when we were first married and Nancy was flexing her New Jerseyism she told me she thought we ought to take separate vacations. This was back in the day when “open marriage” was a very hip concept and married couples were exploring all sorts of ways to do the same things they did when they were single.  (She also told me she like the idea of deer hunting, which shocks me to this day.)  But couples active on Facebook say traveling together is one of the joys of marriage, and both Nancy and I agree.

Though we do occasionally take separate vacations (she went to Africa with two of our ???????????????????????????????kids and their husbands back in 2013, and I went to Malaysia on a junket last fall) we generally travel together.  If you believe that the only difference between you today and you a year from now is the books you read, the people you meet and the places you go, traveling together is a third of the whole trip.  We have pretty indelible memories of our trips to Ireland, Alaska and Spain, and look forward to more such jaunts in the years to come.  Day trips and weekend getaways have much the same restorative effect, though you may need to take some pictures to capture those memories.

Man-Laughing2.  Laugh together.  I make a conscious effort to give Nancy a good laugh or two every day, as I believe this is one thing that keeps her looking young and, well, beautiful.  She has an active sense of humor too, although I’m not sure why I look so beat up and worn out.  For most couples, the funniest jokes are the inside jokes that only the two of them get.  Our parents had expressions we repeat on a regular basis that make us smile and help us remember them, and they’ve become part of the fabric in our marriage as well as our relationships with our kids.  If your marriage is in good shape it is probably easier to look back over the years and recall the funny episodes than it is the not-so-funny ones.

3.  Keep dating.  This is somewhat trickier than it sounds, based on whether you’re a husband or a wife.  Most husbands, I suspect, equate date night with sex, while fewer wives make the same connection.  One book I read suggested that couples pursue several varieties of date nights:  a) sex dates, b) outings that don’t include sex, and c) the Swiss army knife of dates, a fun outing that includes sex.Wedding

The important point here is that getting married doesn’t/cannot signal the end of dating.  Nor is it necessary that a date be expensive; a bowl of popcorn and a movie after the kids are in bed counts.  For whatever reason, guys are still, I suspect, expected to do the heavy lifting when it comes to arranging non-lame dates, so guys, turn off the TV and gather some fun ideas.  Play your cards right and you may end up enjoying a Swiss army knife.

Couple-planting-tree4. Work toward a goal together.  Not as easy as dialing up dinner and a movie, but the possibilities are virtually endless.  Growing your faith together by taking up a ministry at your church, taking on a project like landscaping the backyard, finding common items on your bucket lists and checking them off together, these things can contribute to a sense of common purpose, especially during the empty nest years.

Certainly, parents with young children have some built-in common goals, i.e., get them kids raised and out of the house. Once they’re gone, though, couples have the freedom, if not the responsibility, to find some common activities that provide a healthy sense of pursuing shared objectives.  HINT:  Our experience shows that taking up tennis, paddling canoes and wallpapering a small room together can have negative outcomes.

5. Hold hands. Always.  Although neither of us are prone to much in the way of PDAs, this is a healthy practice, as it provides a physical connection in a world in which they are increasingly hard to come by.  There’s no way a healthy emotional/spiritual relationship cannot be enhanced by increased physical contact.holding hands

Recall when you were 13 and held someone’s hand for the first time, the jolt of electricity that traveled through you.  25 years later, the physical jolt may be long gone, but the value of the touch itself remains.  This is especially true for spouses whose “receiving” love language is physical touch.  So, when you’re out together, hold hands.  Keep in mind that if some teenager sneers and tells you to “get a room,” you can, without having to tell him to “get a girlfriend.”

The common thread in all of this, I suppose, is that each of these five activities releases endorphins, to a greater or lesser degree.  For married couples in committed relationships, endorphins are rocket fuel–you can’t get too much of them.  If you have additional ideas for releasing endorphins, please comment and share.

God bless you.

Contraception and Marriageability

CBurrowsphoto #2As a convert to the Catholic faith, one of the hurdles I’ve had to deal with, at least intellectually, is the Church’s position on contraception.  As one who was born in the 1950’s and came of age in the 60’s, I always thought the birth control pill was one of the great inventions of the 20th century.  From my point of view, it took away one of the two big perceived risks of sex outside marriage.  That the Catholic church was opposed to it was, I felt at the time, just another symptom of how out of touch Catholic leadership was with the realities of modern life.  As a quasi-radical free spirit in the 70’s, I was far more concerned with the economics of excessive population growth than I was with the dogmatic pronouncements of a bunch of celibate old men in Rome.

Over the years I’ve had to re-visit this opinion, having come to realize that there is so much I don’t understand about our faith that I should probably shut up about subjects on which I’m essentially ignorant.  I suffer from the sin of pride, but at least have come to understand that having an opinion on a subject is not nearly as important as being informed thereon. So I tend to keep more opinions to myself than I used to.  Still, at mass on Sunday mornings, I wonder how many women between the ages of 15 and 40 receiving the eucharist do so in a state of mortal sin.  And how many more might attend mass and receive communion were it not for the fact that they are on oral contraceptives and thus feel unwelcome, or unworthy of receiving the sacrament.

Theology of the Body & my thoughts on contraception.As it turns out, there is some biology at work in all of this.  An article in Scientific American from 2008 explains some of the perils that arise in the collision of oral contraceptives and marriage.  In basic terms, the hormones in birth control pills change a woman’s perception of the marriageability of a man based upon his MHC profile; if you want to understand what that means, you’re going to have to read the article.  The corollary for men has to do with perceptions of a woman’s overall attractiveness according to where she is in her menstrual cycle.  And while the latter is completely natural, the former is synthetic, and the risks it poses far greater.  After all, if a couple has been dating for six months, the man has likely been around the woman during every phase of her cycle.  The risks of the former, however, can go unrecognized for years, as the following true story illustrates.

One of my wife’s friends growing up was in a live-in relationship with her boyfriend for, literally, 15 years.  Then, in rapid succession, they got married, had a child, and got divorced.  This amazing sequence, I think, demonstrates the power of the MHC profile thing.  Before she was ready to commit to having children with him and on the pill, she found him attractive and desirable.  When they decided to have a child, she went off the pill, and soon he wasn’t nearly as attractive or desirable.  In fact, her perception of him changed so much that they ended the relationship, making an unintended victim of their daughter, who would grow up in a single parent home.Stained Glass

So, are we to think that the Church’s position on oral contraceptives is based upon some science that Catholic thinkers were aware of centuries before modern science proved them right?  No.  Are we to think that a number of the Church’s teachings with which we disagree or fail to understand could possibly have some merit?  Yes.  Is there a lesson in all of this for couples considering marriage?  I think so.  If the woman has been on birth control pills since before they met, it would probably be a good idea for her to go off the pill for several months before stepping up to the marriage altar.  Doing so might be inconvenient, or messy, or a drag, but it might also save both the woman and the man years of unhappiness and disappointment.

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Pillow Talk

In 2008, when we were first discussing the creation of a ministry at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel dedicated to fostering a community that supports married couples in our parish, I recall commenting to Denise McGonigal that this could not simply be about “the theory of marriage.”  That, in order to be successful, grow, and attract married couples from every demographic in the parish, it needed to focus on real-life issues, and to include concrete examples of how happily married couples make marriage work.  This stance would be leavened with a strong dose of Catholic spirituality, keeping in mind our mission to celebrate the joy of sacramental marriage, as eloquently expressed in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

So, here we are on Valentine’s Day, preparing for our monthly Marriage on Tap event tonight at which over 60 couples will be receiving eucharist, renewing their marriage vows, enjoying a date night meal together, and sharing thoughts and ideas around Denise’s presentation about marriages made in Heaven.  An intimate, non-commercial celebration of what marriage CAN be when spouses allow the Holy Spirit to enter their relationship and commit to each other to be the best husbands, wives and parents they can be.

As one of the more secular voices on this blog, I’m always searching mainstream media online for articles and ideas I can steal borrow to share with our readers.  Today I discovered a cheat sheet useful for facilitating conversation in the marital bed.  Why many of us are more comfortable conducting these conversations in our living rooms than in our bedrooms is a mystery.  My own theory, what Nancy would call “the story I’m telling myself,” is that these conversations will either lead to sex or NOT lead to sex, depending on which spouse is more inclined in which direction, comprising one of the worst sentences ever to grace these pages.  She, I suspect, would say it has nothing to do with any of that, that it’s probably due to more practical considerations; in our case, I wear a CPAP mask, which makes it practically impossible to talk, and works, for her, like talking with an astronaut.

Enough.  Here is the Pillow Talk piece borrowed from TheDatingDivas.com:

PIllow Talk

 

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Well said, Dr. Rutherford

Dr. Margaret Rutherford bills herself as a “Clinical Psychologist, Mental Health/Midlife Blogger.”  (She also provides a handy response to the challenge of naming one good thing about Arkansas.)  Just kidding.  At any rate, I thought this post was so good, and so well-written, that I would just copy and paste it herein.  I’ve taken the liberty of bolding those items that speak to me loudly.

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24 years of marriage.

That’s what September 15th meant for me.

We had celebrated earlier so I didn’t remember until I was driving to work. I called him. Told him I loved him. I got grocery store flowers when I got home. Beautifully arranged by the way.

What ever did we do without grocery store flowers?

Between being a marital therapist and my own experience, I have learned a few things. Since I am on year #24, I’ve divided them into 12’s. Just to be cute.

12 Things That Marriage Is Not:

1. Marriage is not for sissies. It’s hard work.

2. Marriage is not about getting what you want all the time. It’s not a dictatorship. It’s not wanting to win all the time because that would mean the other person would lose all the time. May be OK for you. Not good for the marriage.

3. Marriage is not rocket science. The principles it’s based on are really pretty simple. Kindness. Respect. Loyalty. That kind of thing.

4. Marriage is not unfashionable. It stays vital. Even Brangelina must think so.

5. Marriage is not in and of itself stimulating. Since you are with the same person over a long time, the two of you can get in a rut. You have to keep things fresh.

6. Marriage is not about collecting things. The joys of marriage aren’t tangible. You live them. That’s what makes them so very special.

7. Marriage is not for the impatient. Some of the best stuff takes a while to develop. You have to stick around to find that out.

8. Marriage is not the place for criticism. Or abuse. If it is found there, it will ruin any chance of true intimacy or trust and dissolve the hope that once might have existed.

9. Marriage is not a 24-hour repair shop. Your marital partner is not supposed to meet your every need. Some of those needs you may have to take care of yourself. Through your friendships or other activities.

10. Marriage is not self-sustaining. It does not thrive on its own. If all you focus on is the kids, you are making a mistake.

11. Marriage is not boring. Two lives woven together can be quite exciting! There’s just something about watching someone very different from you, living their life in an extremely different way. Up close and personal. You learn from that.

12. Marriage is not without conflict. Knowing how to disagree and work through anger and disappointment is probably the key to lots of stuff going well. Getting to that cooperating, mentioned in #2.

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12 Things That Marriage Is:

1. Marriage is the potential for an intense, deep and diverse intimacy. Sexual. Emotional. Relational.

2. Marriage is knowing someone has your back. Always. You have theirs. It’s about interdependence.

3. Marriage is realizing that you have been seen in your worst times, and that you are still loved. There’s an overriding sense of gratitude and security.

4. Marriage is sharing old jokes. Or some story that may be told over and over but it still makes you laugh ’til you are left gasping for breath.

5. Marriage is getting teary-eyed together.

6. Marriage is thinking about the other one not being there anymore. And not being able to think about it.

7. Marriage is getting irritated by the things that always irritate you. Have irritated you for 24 years. Will irritate you for 24 more. And tolerating it because it is way overbalanced by the good stuff.

8. Marriage is not being able to wait to get home to share some little something.

9. Marriage is wishing you were the one having the operation. Or the illness. Not him.

10. Marriage is sometimes fighting. Trying to slowly learn to fight more fairly. To apologize. To listen. To learn. To find resolution.

11. Marriage is about vulnerability. Giving someone the right to hurt or disappoint you. While simultaneously giving that someone the opportunity to bring you tremendous joy and laughter.

12. Marriage is a promise. A vow. To try the hardest you have ever tried in your life. Marriage is a place for the achievement of a personal integrity like no other.

I’m now living year #25.

So far. So good. Thanks for reading! You can find more from Dr. Margaret at http://drmargaretrutherford.com!

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12 Years, 12 Lessons

Another post from the surprisingly insightful editors at Huffington Post.  Huff may not be your cup of team when it comes to politics, but they run some great articles on the subject of marriage.  Even with the secular bent, there are useful tips here.

Parents and kidsHere are some comments on the lessons that resonate with me:

  • 50/50 expectations inevitably lead to keeping score.  We have argued here that a 60/40 balance, where each spouse is willing to give 60% in exchange for 40% (and an equity position in the marriage) reduces score-keeping which, in turn, reduces arguments over who is carrying the load and who is slacking.  If your spouse is slacking big time–usually the husband, in my opinion–you need to address it, but in a friendly, non-confrontational manner.
  • Courtship cannot end when she says, “I do.”  Even in this age of liberated women (most of whom seem to be in their 40’s and older) husbands are well-advised to go the extra mile to keep the home fires burning, as it were.  Planning and executing rejuvenating date nights is harder than it was pre-kids, but you need to do it anyway. And wives, please don’t forget that your husbands still relish the thought of being seduced by you every now and again.  Just sayin’.
  • Digging in when it gets hard.  Marriage is pretty easy when things are going well, but when life throws us a curve or, worse yet, a beanball, couples need to lean into one another with resolve to weather the storm.  This compares to a previous essay describing the attitude of millennials toward marriage, in which it seems preferable to be able to just wash one’s hands and walk away into a new relationship.
  • Being here now–proximity does not equal presence.  If the two of you spend couple on cell phonesyour time at a romantic little restaurant on your phones, you’re missing out.  Establishing boundaries, such as turning off your phone when you get home from work, will enhance the intimacy in your relationship.  The job stuff will always be there tomorrow; the same cannot be said of your spouse.
  • My wife Nancy facilitates Bible study and recently drew a comparison between attendees who consume Bible study versus those who create it.  Applying the same contrast to marriage, if we are to manage a successful long term relationship we must do more than simply consume the benefits.  We must create, through curiosity, conversation, comfort and consideration, an environment in which both spouses enjoy the pleasures of an intimate relationship with one another. Guys, here’s a news flash–being happily married is not simply her job.
  • As Christians, we are called to forgive one another, even our enemies and those who wish us harm.  Forgiving one another, graciously and completely, is an important element of marriage.  If we are to forgive sworn enemies, are we not to forgive our best friend, our closest confidant, our lover and life partner?  Some marriages, in which cheating, lying, addictions and violence are routine, may exist outside the boundaries of forgiveness, in need of dissolution/annulment.  But in the majority of marriages, we should emulate God, be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

WeddingValentine’s Day is coming soon.  What are YOU planning to show your spouse how much you love being married?

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Looking Back at Marriage from the Finish Line

old-couple in loveOur most recent post was an unsettling look at marriage from the perspective of people in their 20’s, the so-called Millennials.  It talked about “beta testing” relationships, about seven-year options with the right of renewal, etc.  Worth reading, if you have the time. Today’s post examines marriage from the perspective of couples who have been married up to 76 years.  The original article, written by Nancy Hellmich, appeared in USA Today.

Based upon research gathered from interviews with 700 retired people, gerontologist Karl Pillemer has written a new book, 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage. Pillemer, the founder of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging, has been married for 36 years to his own high school honey, Clare McMillan.  Treading dangerously close to plagiarism, I want to share the highlights of the advice I gleaned from his research, as follows:

  • Follow your heart when choosing a spouse.  This was beautifully described as “the thunderbolt” in The Godfather, whose Michael Corleone experienced it while courting his future wife, Apollonia Vitelli, but I digress.  The point is, one shouldn’t get married simply because it seems like the right time.  He or she must make one’s heart “soar like a hawk.”  And although young love is no guarantee, perhaps we should describe it as necessary, but not sufficient. Wedding
  • Use your head, too.  If he or she has a gambling issue or drinks too much, is financially irresponsible or flirts incessantly, it raises the odds against a successful long term union.  Our future mate need not be perfect, but there are some definite dealbreakers out there that all of your love and care won’t overcome.
  • Seek shared values.  Sure, opposites attract, and spouses with different temperaments can enjoy very successful long term relationships.  My wife Nancy and I are different in many ways, but we share core beliefs in raising children, handling money, deferring immediate gratification to achieve long-term goals, etc.  In college, I thought of this a seeking a woman with a “coefficient of boredom” similar to mine, one who could enjoy life at a pace midway between frenetic and lethargic.
  • Find someone with whom you can communicate easily.  It is unrealistic to suppose that Chatty Kathy is going to be able to sustain a relationship with Strong Silent Ken. I’m big and loud and still recall how happy I was to have met a woman in Nancy whom I could not intimidate.  Back when I was in the insurance business I had a client with a basic high school education who operated a food truck and was married to a pediatrician.  I don’t know what became of them, but I remember thinking at the time that they didn’t seem to have much in common.  If you and your intended have trouble talking about important stuff now, it probably won’t get any easier as you age.Parents and kids
  • Choose the time and place to discuss difficult subjects.  My mom used to say that timing is everything, which may or may not be true, but tackling difficult subjects must be done with some forethought.  I may not welcome a conversation about disciplining the kids when I’m in the middle of painting a room.  She may not want to discuss my budget concerns while preparing dinner for eight.  You get the idea. There’s a time and a place for everything.  And while you can’t, and shouldn’t, avoid the hard talks, you can certainly approach them with some discernment.  “Listen, after the kids are in bed tonight, can we talk about that argument we had at breakfast?”
  • Put your relationship first.  Ahead of your family, your kids and your friends.  Ahead of your work, your hobbies, even your favorite NFL team.  If your spouse feels you care more about golf than you do about her–even assuming she’s wrong–there’s gonna be trouble in River City.  Just sayin’.  And, like it or not, your kids should have to fit in your lives; you should not have to build your lives around them.  Just because you would give your lives for them doesn’t mean you should, unless push comes to shove, which it rarely does.
  • Develop some ground rules around in-laws.  They can enrich your lives, they can become a burden, or some of each.  The important thing is to find common ground concerning when, where and how much time you spend with them.  My mom told me to check out a girl’s mom, because that was who she would someday become.  I could argue that perhaps Nancy should have taken a closer look at my father, since he’s who I have become.  And though these prescriptions are offered somewhat tongue-in-cheek, there is something to them.
  • Pillemer says that “marriage is made of thousands of micro-interactions” which John Gottman refers to as “bids” in his own research.  It is hard to give one’s wife too many compliments, indicating not that you are a fawning dolt, but rather that you notice and appreciate the small things she does for you.  If your love language is acts of service (as mine is), it’s nice when they are noticed and received graciously.
  • Cute-Romantic-Love-CoupleMaintain your physical relationship as you age.  Not doing so puts you at risk of developing a spiritual distance between yourselves.  As Toby Keith says, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”  Even if you’re beyond Toby’s stage, it is important to maintain physical intimacy in your marriage.  Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” proclaims that marital intimacy is a gift from God, and we should treat it as such.
  • Finally, it is important to be friends first.  This doesn’t come from Pillemer, but from me, John Gottman, Art and Larriane Bennett and countless students of the game. Can you imagine an argument with your best friend that would cause the two of you to stop being friends?  Me neither.  So it stands to reason that if your spouse is your best friend, you can weather any number of storms in your relationship, knowing that you’ll make up and find a way to laugh off whatever it was.  If you’re just lovers, you might choose to walk away from each other when things get rough, as they will. Being friends first gives you a powerful motivation to solve problems, soothe feelings, and put things right.

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