Stages – Love Over Time

© Bruce Allen

“To be in love was to understand how alone one had been before. It was to know that if one were ever alone again, there would be no exemption from the agony of it.”

–Michael Chabon, “Moonglow”

This is a look at marital love through the years as a series of passages, the effect of which is, in the best marriages, cumulative. Think of these as Six Stages of Relationships That Work Over Decades, if that helps. I admit that this is mostly a ‘best-case’ scenario and may, in fact, be as good as it ever gets with couples who decide to become parents. It is not all roses and champagne. It would all be easier but much less meaningful without kids. (God, too, has an opinion on that subject.)

It is clear to me that these stages and the passages between them form the arc of a long-term Marriage with Children. It is equally clear to me that there are numerous impossible real-world situations that disrupt the smooth geometry of the arc described below. I’m not sure if this is how I think things are, or even how they ought to be, and I know that most relationships don’t get to touch all the bases. Perhaps this may be helpful to couples during the grueling Commitment stage, that there is light at the end of the tunnel if you can just keep the train on the tracks and get through the tunnel. Anyway, I hope some of this resonates with you, and that you can find God’s love somewhere in here.

  • Friendship – Maybe coffee later this week…

It is, for me, undeniable that a couple intent upon a long, meaningful relationship ought to be friends before they ever become lovers. Serious lovers. Research by John Gottman at The University of Washington suggests relationships built upon a foundation of friendship have a far greater chance of surviving difficult periods than couples whose relationship was founded upon a more casual and/or physical basis. Think about it—if you and your best buddy had a fight, you wouldn’t ‘break up’ over it. You would cool off and pick things up where they left off. As boys, being told by a girl that she wanted to be ‘friends’ was the kiss of death. As an adult—perhaps this marks the change—it is only good sense to see if you can BE friends with someone of the opposing gender without it being sexual.

  • Desire – I’d like to…

It is a good and natural thing when friendship leads to desire, on its own schedule. If physical desire Cute-Romantic-Love-Couplebecomes part of the basic foundation of a relationship, friendship is the footing upon which it rests. Desire can occur instantly or develop over time. It is essential. It is also secondary to the friendship, upon which all else is built, and without which the difficult periods can become impossible to endure.

Desire comes in many shapes and sizes, but healthy desire is often encountered on whatever one thinks of as the road to Stage III, Love. This can take years to develop. Desire is cheap; love is rare. One’s marriage vows are meant to be taken seriously, and it takes time to do a meaningful assessment, to determine that what you feel is love and not some complicated form of lust.

  • Love – I take thee…

Love, to me, also takes years to really take root. It may show up at first sight, but most simple attractions never become more complex. It shows up, in I-want-to-marry-her strength, once friendship has been established and desire acknowledged. Not until one has had a chance to see how the other handles money, waiters, anger, pain and difficult conversations is there a chance this mutual attraction can become something that lasts, that helps define one and the other, that becomes the sun around which the rest of their lives revolves. It needs to be solid and strong, built on footings and foundation, to withstand the passage about to occur.

  • Commitment – I take them…

Parents and kidsWelcome to the next 20 years of your life. At least. The commitment to have children and to raise them mindfully is its own set of promises, above and beyond the promises you made to one another at your wedding. These promises, to willfully allow babysitting, changing and schlepping to replace golf, after-work drinks and MNF parties. This is the point at which spouses, as friends, must dig in together. It takes great determination, massive sleep deprivation, high standards and huge hearts to survive that period when the kids are little and the days are long and the years are short.

As the children age, some things become easier and some things become harder. But if your marriage has survived the initial barrage or barrages of passing from spouses to parents, the remaining challenges are likely to seem much more manageable. In a perfect world, anyway.

In the real world, there are minefields which didn’t exist when we were raising our kids, and it seems like there are more ways for kids to go wrong. We are told that, character-wise, the die is cast for children in their first two or three years. So, the mantra that helps get young parents through this trial is that the ‘human capital investments’ they make in their children, at their own expense and exhaustion now, will pay benefits for the kids for the rest of their lives. This trans-generational deferral of gratification and installation of values is what raising kids is all about. And you can’t do it without a real commitment to one another and to your children.

One day, God willing, the children are gone, to colleges or jobs or the military or whatever, and suddenly it’s just the two of you again. Empty nesters, with grown children at arm’s length via Facetime, etc., naturally come to focus more of their attention on their work and one another. This passage, from commitment to devotion, is, as with most things, an act of will. Some marriages break down when the children leave, if the kids were the only things holding the relationship together. Those that survive can move beyond commitment.

  • Devotion – I could never leave…

Relatively few couples make it this far. Divorce removes, like, half. There are family disputes andhappy older couplepremature deaths and any number of things that stand between being newlyweds and being an older couple devoted to one another. A couple that has seen much of what the world has to offer and has weathered the storms successfully. A couple with grown kids setting out to start families of their own, using their parents’ marriage as a template. This is a beautiful thing to see. For couples inclined to lean toward one another, this stage can reveal several layers of satisfaction. Retirement occurs somewhere in here. This can be one of the sweet spots in the entire marriage.

In some relationships passing from devotion to the next stage, people like me will trip over the fact that the word ‘cherish’ does not lend itself to being anything other than a verb, available mainly in present and past tenses. How does one make a noun from the word ‘cherish?’ The gerund is lame. I’ll just let it go.

  • Cherish – How does one even live alone?…

old-couple in loveAs we approach the last few innings of our lives, this has become the glue that holds things together once they start trying to fall apart. This is the stage at which the willingness to give 60% to receive 40% in return—another secret to successful marriages—becomes the willingness to give 100% in exchange for simply allowing the other to experience the fullness of life. Old couples who cherish one another are a beautiful thing, a wonderful thing for young children to see and be around. Even, or especially, if one or both is in poor health. A good lesson for children is that love and devotion have nothing to do with physical attractiveness. PopPop may be a fat, lame old wreck but Nanny still loves him.

Aged spouses, so fortunate in many respects, will typically bear a heavy burden as time passes and the inevitable occurs and one finds oneself living alone. This is the price one pays for having loved successfully. Our children will assure us that our dearly departed would have wanted us to be happy and spend time with people. They, in turn, must understand that the person we most enjoyed spending time with may no longer be speaking to us, as it were, and that some of us are reluctant to sub-optimize.

Widows and widowers are not to wallow, but must be permitted to spend their remaining time living on their own terms. Social interaction is good and worthwhile; it shouldn’t matter whether one seeks it out for social or medicinal purposes. Those of us with a tendency toward reclusion must not allow it to claim us. I admit to greatly admiring widows and widowers who can continue to attack life, much as my mother did.

* * *

We’ve listened to countless country and/or rock and roll songs over the years, bemoaning, often in the first person, those stricken with unrequited love. We have clichés about having loved and lost. Shakespeare probably had a hundred catchy couplets on the subject. Rarely, however, do we hear about or discuss those people who have loved and won, only to ultimately lose their best friend and lover after, say, 50 years together. This sense of loss, this epitome of pain is refined and expensive and available only to a select few. It does not lend itself to pop music.

It is generally not interesting to young, euphoric, indestructible couples. It is hard to explain and difficult for young people, trying to get through year six, to relate to easily—the crazy idea of being 70 years old and still together. It seems like the most satisfying relationships result, in the end, in the most thorough loss. It is of much higher quality than the pain of a marriage that ended in, say, year ten, which itself can be indelible. It becomes the point of inflection for one’s entire adult life, the life with, and the life after. For practicing Christians, it parallels one’s spiritual life, decades spent living God’s word, daring to hope for life ever after.

We are reminded, as our former pastor taught me, that God sent his Son to the world to save it from sin, not from suffering. As Catholics, we are left to ponder the great ironies of Christianity. The meek shall inherit the earth. The last shall be first. The richest sacramental marriages ensure the most exquisite mourning. If you love someone you must let them go.

‘Love is a rose

but you better not pick it

It only grows when it’s on the vine.

A handful of thorns and

you’ll know you’ve missed it

You lose your love

when you say the word “mine”.’ – Neil Young, “Love is a Rose”

We’re probably better off listening to rock and roll. Or holiday music. Rock and roll holiday music, that’s the ticket. That, and seeking to understand God’s will in our marriages. I hope He blesses you with peace of mind, united resolve, and loving hearts during this busy season.

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How Not to Hate Your Husband

In my ongoing study of the science of staying married for a long long time, I picked up a book at the library called How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, by Jancee Dunn. The book is aimed at new parents, or new-ish parents. I’m 25 pages into it and it has a hold placed on it at the library, so I probably won’t finish it. And since our youngest daughter is 34, it’s an academic read anyway. But there is enough good stuff in the first 25 pages to, as it were, fill a book.
Baked into the book are two major differences from when Nancy and I were raising our girls. The first, and most important, is the presumption that both spouses hold full-time jobs. The second is that fathers are presumed to be actively invested in childcare and domestic chores. Back in the day, Nancy quit her job and was a full-time mother for 14(?) years. My responsibilities at home were limited to the easy stuff–an occasional diaper change, a rare laundry folding, taking out the trash, cutting the grass, pushing the vacuum cleaner around every now and again. And I thought I was doing great!
I wasn’t doing great. And if I tried to get away with doing so little today, in the 21st century, I’d end up sleeping in the garage. The book offers a TRE (target-rich environment) for wives who rightfully feel that their husbands don’t carry enough of the domestic load, backed up by plenty of research and interviews with folks like my boy John Gottman. In the interest of brevity, I’d like to list the main takeaways from the first 10% of the book:
  • Since 1965, men have more than doubled, from four to 10, the average number of hours spent weekly doing household chores. But we tend to cherrypick from the Big Five: cooking, meal clean-up, grocery shopping, housework and laundry. We generally choose cooking, cleanup and shopping.
  • Throw in childcare and the number goes up from 10 to 24, which sounds good until compared with wives, whose average number is 37, with both spouses logging the same number of hours at work. Researchers also discovered that men did fewer hours of housework per week after the baby arrived.
  • Men also tend to cherrypick their childcare activities, choosing the fun stuff–trips to the park and reading bedtime stories–over the grittier chores of diaper duty, getting them dressed (often a horror show in our day), etc. Adding insult to injury, when the kids return from the park, they are wont to say things like, “Wow, we had such fun with Dad at the park–he’s awesome!” Meanwhile, while they were away, mom (the un-fun parent) did the breakfast dishes, made the beds, did the laundry and made lunch.
A couple of insightful quotes culled from all-women gatherings when these subjects arise:
“My husband works all week, so on weekends, he tells me he doesn’t want to ‘deal with’ our sons. I’m amazed that he doesn’t notice that I’m basically radiating hatred all the time.”
“I’m running on 5 hrs sleep and irrational anger at Adam while cortisol pumps itself into my breast milk.”
“I’d divorce Jason, but he drops the kids off at school in the mornings.”  😂
    • Per Gottman, 67 percent of couples see their marital satisfaction plummet after having a baby.
    • Working mothers are now the top earners in 40% of families with kids, yet they are still doing three and a half times as much housework as married fathers.
    • When men do help around the house, we tend to choose chores with a “leisure component.” Yard work, driving to the store to pick up something, “re-ordering the Netflix queue.”
    • This next one is key: On top of working full time and practically quadrupling the time spent on household chores, women generally do the “invisible tasks,” stuff that wouldn’t show up on any kind of time use study. “Kin work,” for example–giving emotional support to relatives, buying presents and sending cards, handling holiday celebrations, and so on. (Under this heading lies perhaps my own greatest failing as a husband.) “Emotion work”–keeping everyone’s emotional gyroscopes spinning, even the dog. Then there’s “consumption labor”– buying the kids underwear and school supplies, researching the car seat and the high chair. Husbands, by way of comparison, get into this arena only when it involves fun stuff like big TVs, cars and major appliances. Schlepping (school, sports, doctor appts) is another major task in this collection. But the granddaddy of them all is
    • Household manager, the position most eagerly ceded by husbands. Being the person that remembers everything–dentist appointments, kids’ food preferences, arranging for babysitters. Constructing shopping lists. Giving direction to everyone. For most wives, if they don’t mention it, it doesn’t happen, and that includes pretty much everything. Sure, dad might take junior to his swimming lesson on Saturday morning. But guess who packs his bag, empties his bag when they get home, dries his wet clothes, and gives him a snack and a bath while dad sacks out on the sofa? One of the author’s friends spoke about her own dad, saying, “He did car stuff, and stuff with the dog. Oh, and he liked to put up wallpaper.”
    • Finally, another major point. Wives are forced to become absolute time management mavens. “Give a mother a sleeping child for an hour, and she can achieve ten times more than a childless person,” and about 20 times as much as her husband.
​The book’s title suggests Ms. Dunn has found, and shares, ways of getting her husband, and most husbands, to pick up the pace and get in the game. And while the book is clearly written for women, I can’t think of a single husband–well, more than one–who wouldn’t benefit from reading this book.
Guys, never forget that if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Show your wives we’re not a bunch of halfwits stumbling around the house with our flies down, blind to the obvious needs staring us in the face. Do your job. Put as much mental energy into your home life as you do your work life, and everyone will be better off.​
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The Ties that Bind

© Bruce Allen 2017

If you are fortunate enough to enjoy a predominantly happy marriage for decades, the fruit on the backside can be wonderfully sweet. Few people tell you this when you’re suiting up to exchange your wedding vows. In the beginning, you’re all eyes and skin and dreams, most of which don’t hold up well over forty years. In their place are these elegant moments that help us appreciate the life that is given to us and what we’ve done with it.

Even if we fall short of our dreams, there is something in me that says we’re allowed to, that it is the chase and the perseverance and the falling short that teaches us who we are. As seniors in our own family, we have the advantage of hindsight, and are still able to influence the thinking and behavior of our kids and grandkids. Those sweet, rare occasions when we make a positive, indelible impression on the life of a child are gifts beyond measure, especially to someone like me, whose main long-term concern is being forgotten by my family. I don’t give a rip about being forgotten by The World, just my own family. How to survive in people’s memory banks for longer than two generations. What will the grandkids’ kids learn about their Nanny and PopPop?

Here’s an insight. The stories they will tell about their Nanny will be funny and will emphasize her willingness to believe stuff, her loving, upright nature, her gentleness and consistency, her being there as a safe harbor when things might get tense with The Parents. Their stories about their PopPop will be about his generally futile attempts to corrupt them and his long, boring stories about when he was a kid. How he could bang on the piano and occasionally, quietly tell them inappropriate jokes.

Sweet. But as to our grandkids’ grandkids, probably next to nothing. Sad.

Another pleasure, a non-intuitive one, is having family responsibilities that one enjoys. There is no one I would want as Nancy’s primary caregiver more than me. I get to serve her, to drive her, to make things easier for her, some of which is scut work, at which I’m highly proficient, while some of it is “learned intuition,” knowing how she likes things, her meals and her schedule and so on. I am certain there are men she has worked with over the years whom she has dazzled with her Jersey and professionalism and insight and who must have wondered, at some point, “What must her husband have going on to keep up with HER?” Sweet. My goal–duh–is to relieve her of much of the drudgery, allowing her time and energy to heal, pray, snack and talk on the phone.

It was the right decision, to let our daughters survive their teens in order that they might someday present us with grandchildren. This sweetness I’m trying to describe is there again each time “the girls” (or their husbands) demonstrate good, loving parenting skills. Each time the grandkids reflect the receipt of good, loving parenting skills. Each time one of the grandkids complains that mom is more strict than the other moms. Each time they engage in the Movie Ratings Debate. “Why does it have to be PG?” “My friends have ALL seen it, and it’s only PG-13!” Each time they argue over after-dinner chores.

I can’t get enough of this stuff. This is exactly the kind of stuff about which Nancy was setting the bar 30 years ago and their moms didn’t like it then either but it was the right thing to do and PopPop would comfort them by suggesting they go write their congressman. What is left unsaid is, “And you’ll be happier and a better person as an adult if you ’embrace’ high standards as a child.” Best of all, I’m not even ALLOWED to get involved. Sweet.

So here we are almost 45 years later with glasses, skin that has sagged, and dreams constrained the way a football team’s playbook gets compressed in the red zone. Despite the challenges God has placed before Nancy and me, we have a seemingly endless source of these sweet moments, many of which are courtesy of our daughters and their families.

I was an only child and never knew my grandparents. I have become a big fan of this whole extended family thing, although I find it difficult to maintain over long periods of time. Short bursts are great; I’ve found I’m kind of a five day guy when I’m visiting. Here, in Hoosierville, kids and grandkids can stay as long as they want. There’s plenty of room, our local daughter’s family is somehow almost always available to get involved, and it’s all good. Plus I figure it’s important that they all get as much one-on-one time with Nanny as possible. Sweet.

This is the good stuff they don’t tell you about when you’re getting married. This is the stuff people need to know to survive those years when the kids are growing up and married life is way more work than fun. This is the kind of stuff that makes old age and arthritic knees and wigs such minor inconveniences.

These are the ties that bind.

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.

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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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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