There’s No Pill for Boring

If you were to organize a game of Family Feud with married couples under the age of 30–Family_feuddividing the teams into husbands versus wives–and the question was, “Which aspect of your relationship do you most fear losing in the next 30 years?”, topping the list for the men would probably be some version of “losing my world-class sexual virility.” Even those of us who consider ourselves to be merely average lovers might put this response in the top three, alongside “no longer being able to support my family” and perhaps “having to become the primary caregiver for our kids/her mom/anyone, really.”  Of course, I have no clear idea as to the answers that might top the ladies’ list, which would require more insight into the female psyche than I’ve ever possessed.

Anyway, the fear of no longer being able to satisfy our wives sexually is, I think, fairly universal among husbands.  Evidence for this comes in the sheer volume of ads featured on ESPN-type sports channels and NFL games for drugs that treated the dreaded “E.D.” and which, by most accounts, adequately address the problem for many, if not most guys. (These ads do not, of course, suggest that, at age 60, our wives may not want us to be Hugh Jackman in the marital bed, instead preferring more of a Michael Buble-type of experience.)  The point here is that, for us husbands and our primary concern growing older–THERE’S A PILL FOR THAT!

Busy-ParentsFor young married couples with children, what few private conversations we’re able to share probably center around the kids, our jobs and the news of the day delivered by our TV sets–sports, a murder somewhere, bad weather, etc.  In the evening, once the kids are safely in their beds, we sit down in front of the TV, suck up a little screen, and then head up to bed, preparing to do battle with the world again the next day.  Published data suggests that married couples with children spend, on average, something like seven minutes a day actually talking with one another.  I suspect that many of these conversational snippets include one or both spouses punching away on a smartphone.

My wife Nancy shared an observation with me years ago that stuck in my head.  She said that the only difference between a person today and that person a year from now is the places he (or she) has been, the people he’s met, and the books he’s read.  For many parents with busy kids, travel opportunities are often limited, our circles of friends include mostly other parents, and we rarely have time to luxuriate with a good book for a few hours.  Over time, these problems change, but don’t go away.  Our children and their schedules continue to dominate our non-work time, even after they leave for college or elsewhere, our circles of friends tend to shrink as people move or get divorced, and the amount of free time available to us never seems to grow.  If we’re fortunate enough to advance in our careers, work increasingly intrudes on both our family and free time.

As the expression goes, life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.   Suddenly we’re in our fifties, empty-nesters, with fewer friends than we used to have.  Our careers may be winding down, or perhaps we’ve been displaced from once lofty jobs and have joined the legions of post-50 workers facing unemployment, or under-employment, in which the job satisfaction quotient is drastically reduced, along with the space in our consciousness formerly occupied by work.

As couples, the question, suddenly, is, “What are we going to talk about together?”  If you couple talkingtrack divorce statistics, you see the predictable spike around the so-called “seven year itch”, but then observe another one that jumps up around year 30.  It is this second one that we must prepare for, as it is avoidable and at least as destructive as the early one.  It is the one that would leave us facing the rest of our lives alone, damaged by the loss of three decades of our personal life story, contemplating the brutal prospect of re-entering the “dating game” and its attendant impossibilities.  As Catholics, it is also one bereft of the possibility of a second marriage, one which is even more likely to fail than was the first.

The challenge, and the opportunity, is to remain interesting to each other.  To take advantage of the occasional stolen minutes or hours while we’re young to go to a museum or gallery, meet some new people through, say, volunteer work or a parish ministry, and to read books.  Reading books is, by far, the easiest, as Kindles and books-on-CD offer opportunities to turn dead time spent waiting in airports, driving our cars, or waiting in our cars for soccer practice to end into time spent staying relevant and interesting.  What we see, where we go, and what we read is not nearly as important as the seeing, the going and the reading itself.

The momentary discussions about our kids, our jobs and the news du jour will, over time, give way to expanses of time together.  When that time comes, it is important that we have things to talk about.  As we mature, we owe it to our spouses, even if we can’t stay physically buff and movie star-gorgeous, to remain interesting, aware of the things each other takes pleasure in, and capable of conducting a coherent personal conversation. Otherwise, we are at risk for becoming incurably, terminally dull.  And there’s no pill for boring.

old-couple in love

Defeat vs. Freedom

Another thoughtful post from our favorite guest blogger Anne Slamkowski

Funny how one man’s defeat is another man’s freedom.  Isn’t it amazing how one spouse can feel uplifted and free while the other feels defeated.  What is even more amazing is that we can walk around and not realize these differences for what can be years unless we open up and talk about them with each other.  And how many of us take the time to do that?  I know I just assume that Pete feels the same way as me.  If I am on an emotional high, then Pete is.  If I am floating in God’s arms, then Pete is.  If I am on vacation and feeling free, then Pete is too.  Right? (You all can stop laughing here).

happiness image ChristineThe point of this is, if we don’t communicate our feelings to one another, then our spouses will never comprehend what we are going through emotionally.  Sometimes we NEED to communicate and share those feelings so that our spouse can also see our unique and beautiful view of life.

After selling our Florida condo last week, Pete and I journeyed down to pack up a few personal belongings (pictures, and might I add “stuff”) before closing.  We sat outside one night looking at the ocean, and Pete shared with me that he felt defeated.  Mostly because he felt like we had given up because it was too hard.  I, on the other hand, felt freedom.  Free from all of those rental calls about things that were broken.  Free from all the emotional baggage of worrying about what is going on at the condo when we are 1000 miles away.  Free of debt – that was a big one!  But his feelings were valid, even if they were different from mine.  His feelings were slanted by societal views, and I could relate to that.

Throughout this process of downsizing our lives, Pete and I have felt very differently about it.  I have felt freedom and he has felt defeat.  It is hard for a man to give up “things” in life (and I am not speaking badly of men because women can feel this way too).  “Things” in life are what society tells us we should work toward.  Unfortunately, those “things” can ruin our relationship with God.  Our family had begun to idolize those things above God, and I knew that was wrong.  Pete knew that was wrong too.  Our family was beginning to look like society wanted us to look – and I didn’t like that.  “Things” are not bad, but they are open doors to sinful behavior.  And when we started to look like everyone else – I knew something was wrong.  God made us all unique, and we shouldn’t conform to be something that God did not make us to be.

Pete and I began to realize over the last year, that our life could be significantly different Old married couplewithout all that stuff.  Instead of each of us having our own bathroom (like we did in our old house), we now share two.  Actually four of us share one, and our teenager has her own in the basement (which trust me – is okay with me).  Instead of having 4000 sq ft to run away from each other in, we now have 1200 sq ft to snuggle up together within.  Instead of looking out at our neighbors everyday, we look out at 8 acres of woods and creek.  It is different, and in my viewpoint, it is freeing.

Our perspectives may be different on what we have accomplished over this last year, but all in all, Pete and I both feel a closer relationship with God and our family.

Eventually, I suspect, Pete’s defeat will turn into freedom.  We all have to work through emotions when big changes take place in our life.  Even with the freedom I am feeling, I still am remorseful over losing “stuff”; I still am sad about “things” that are left behind.  So Pete’s words made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my thoughts.

It seems easy to rid my life of stuff, but it seems hard to look at it through society’s eyes.  I am the queen of throwing stuff out!  I dream of a large dumpster being parked outside my house so I can trash all that “stuff” that people leave lying around.  That has not been the hard part of this downsizing kick we are on.  I think the difficult part of this ride has been watching others look at us.  The thoughts go through my mind about what “they” might be saying… Did Pete lose his job?  Have they racked up too much debt?  Why are they selling off everything?  Are they crazy?  How do you think their kids feel?  How can they just uproot their kids lives like that?  It can be good for their family to just eliminate all that excess, I bet they will regret it.

Life has been a roller coast ride for all of us this last year. Those thoughts of doubt usurp me sometimes, and I can see where defeat could set in.  I can see Pete’s side to the story, but I wouldn’t have, if he didn’t share it with me.  By him sharing with me about his feelings of defeat, I could see his roller coaster ride a little more clearly.  I mean this has been a roller coaster ride for us this past year.  God has poignantly made his message clear to us.  He has not nudged us, instead he has pushed us – hard.  Listening to Pete made me realize that even though I thought we were on the same ride – we weren’t.  He was on the roller coaster named Defeat.  I was on the roller coaster named Freedom. He was on one with twists and turns and upside down hills.  I was on the kiddie version.  I thought we boarded the same ride.  I thought we were in line together. I thought we were in the same car, but that was not the case.

In marriage, we can think we are all feeling the same way, yet that is so far from the truth.  Communication can change that in an instant.  We still might not board the same roller coaster, but we can share in the joys and sorrows of it by just communicating.  I don’t like those roller coasters with twists and turns and upside down hills, but Pete does.  I prefer the kiddie ones.  I get to listen and relive Pete’s thrill ride though when he chooses to share it with me.  He gets to hear my side too – which probably seems a little boring to him, but he listens anyway.

Defeat versus Freedom – it really doesn’t matter which ride you board, as long as the two of you end up walking off the ride together -in the arms of God.

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Archbishop Joseph Kurtz on Love

man and woman“Couples, like individuals, acquire virtues through the repetition of particular practices and behaviors. They make the virtue their own by freely choosing to act in certain ways, every day.”  

Introduction to the “Marital Virtue of the Month” Series By Archbishop Joseph Kurtz   (An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

Archbishop Kurtz continues, “Love, of course, is the more excellent way that includes all the virtues. As a couple grows in virtue they also grow in love. Hand in hand they walk the journey to holiness. I pray that you may persevere in this journey, knowing the love of God, the encouragement of the Church, and the support of the many couples who are walking this journey with you.”H

This up-to-date piece continues the conversation we’ve been having on this site, i.e., the responsibility of spouses not to simply strive for perfection on their own, but to bring their spouse closer to God as well.  We do that not by encouragement/arguing, active evangelization or subtle pressure, but by prayer, by living a committed Christian life, and by creating a wake with the power of our spirit that eventually overtakes our less-committed spouse and becomes irresistible, a wave that can help him along the road to faith.  As usual, we must allow The Holy Spirit to work in our lives and those we love.  And acknowledge that these things take place in God’s time.  Amen.LSE Papyrus logo

Get Connected – Turn Toward Your Partner to Create Intimacy

Cute-Romantic-Love-CoupleHere’s another nugget from John Gottman, courtesy of the Alabama Healthy Marriage Initiative.  This piece discusses the specific types of connections we make with our spouses, how some are positive and some are negative.  Mastering the art of opening positive connections–leaning in versus leaning away–with your spouse invites a warm, open relationship in which conflicts heal quickly and intimacy is part of everyday life.

Get Connected – Turn Toward Your Partner to Create Intimacy

The story many of us tell ourselves is that our marriages are imperfect, that they are what they are, and there’s no point in trying to re-build them.  But what we also see are research reports, by Gottman and others, that suggest practical techniques for improving our relationships.  That yours, and mine, is imperfect is due to the fact that each of us is imperfect. We are all sinners.   And, therefore, it’s not so much about finding the right person as it is being the right person.  If our marriage appears to be failing, we will be taking some of the reason for that with us in the pursuit of a new, improved marriage.  Logic dictates that even in the unlikely event that Spouse #2 were, in fact, perfect, it would bode poorly for the success of the relationship.marriage-vs-money

Marriage literature suggests that most marriages go through three distinct stages.  Euphoria, that unmatched feeling early in the relationship when it seems the sun, the moon and the stars rotate around your intended spouse.  Disillusionment, when you realize the natural order of the universe and where exactly you and your spouse, and probably children, fit in it.  And, finally, That Third Stage, in which the partners either don’t work it out, manage some kind of peaceful coexistence, or, at best, feed and maintain a relationship built upon respect, trust and intimacy, both emotional and physical, and thank God for that person, for the loaning of your partner’s spirit, if only for a short time, that is at the core of sacramental marriage.

The practice of leaning into your spouse when discussing important issues is what the Masters of Marriage do.  It allows couples to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise in marriage quickly and without any need for retribution.  It is a skill, and can be developed by anyone ready and willing to try to improve their marriage.  The story we need to be telling ourselves is that we can improve our marriage if we want to and if we enlist the help of The Holy Spirit.  As Nancy constantly reminds me, “The door is open.”

old-couple in love

Beatitudes for Young Mothers

Of the eight beatitudes from The Sermon on the Mount, several can be applied to our marriages and to each of us in our roles as parents.  When we fail to respond to Christ’s calls to these heavenly blessings, we not only tarnish our hopes of seeing heaven, but we can damage our relationships with our families.  When we turn some of our worries over to God, we are better able to handle those that remain. 

Busy-ParentsI am going to assume that, all other things being equal, in the early part of the 21st century, American women, young and not-so-young, do more parenting than their men.  That WAY more of the burdens of caring, planning, packing, arranging, scheduling, and doctoring, are borne by our wives, no matter how liberated we husbands claim to be.  (As for playing with our kids, that may be a draw.)  I infer, then, that way more of the pressures of parenthood end up on the moms.  This vestige of the days when we lived in caves seems almost universal.  Therefore, I suggest that two of the three Beatitudes discussed here are more relevant for mothers.  (Men are welcome to shoulder the other five, and will probably become better fathers in the process.)

As I see it, from the perspective of 38 years of marriage and three children, the most important of the Beatitudes for young parents tells us that the merciful will be shown mercy.  As the speed of life increases, as our families grow, and as the demands upon us from one another, our children, our parents and our siblings continue to build, we often reach a point at which we must release pressure.  How we release this pressure is important.

Although I routinely confess to having cursed A LOT when I go to reconciliation, I do everything I can to avoid cursing at Nancy.  In the worst of our arguments, over almost four decades we have used next to NO profanity.  If cursing one another is a regular feature of your lives, whether you’re fighting or not, you are chipping away at the foundation of trust, respect and intimacy at the core of your marriage.  And over long periods of time, a damaged foundation will be prone to collapse when under stress.  Agree not to curse at one another.  Ever.  It’s not that hard.

To me, it’s not surprising that so many working mothers are stressed out.  To me, the wonder is that not ALL working mothers are stressed out, followed in short order by mothers, period.  (Heck, maybe they are, and I’m just too old and out of touch to realize it.)  Raising children takes more out of people than almost anything else I can think of.  I applaud our readers who are doing everything they can to be good parents.  During Lent especially, I pray that mothers everywhere can find it in themselves to show their children, and their defective, fallen husbands, mercy.  Even when they don’t deserve it.  For the fathers, I pray that you fully grasp the mental and physical challenges involved in being a mother, and that you not only appreciate her efforts, but do all you can to lighten them.

Earlier, Christ tells us that the meek shall inherit the earth.  Today, for many of us, the meek are, in fact, our own children.  They are the ones depending upon us for all of their needs–physical, emotional, intellectual.  When we release our pressure on them, we probably cause harm.  We may instill doubt in their hearts, doubt that we truly love them, and this can be a corrosive concern for a kid growing up.  Our children need have no doubts that they are loved by their parents, even on the worst of days.  Shielding them from our impatience is a grace from God, received through prayer.  Short, momentary bursts of prayer during the day, staying in touch with God, staying cool, staying in tune with the universe.  🙂

Most of us know people, women generally, who like the idea of being surrounded all day by five kids under the age of six.  At our bible study last fall, one of the young women at my table, working as a nanny to put herself through school, asked God for forgiveness for having had all three of her charges in tears that day at the same time.  This latter person is, I believe, far more common than the former, although most of us know women like this, and some of us have been blessed to have them look after our own kids at times.  But if this isn’t you, it doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective and loving mother. It just means you need to pray harder.  You’re already doing all you can.  So get help–invite the Holy Spirit to lend a hand when doing it all alone seems to be too much.

I wrote a witness for bible study this week in which I observed that I never really got along very well with my own mother.  She was something of a perfectionist, I was anything but perfect, and an only child, to boot, and her continuous disappointment with me colored our relationship until the day she died.  If you’re a young mother, and you’re struggling, you may want to pray about how your child will remember his or her childhood.  If, during times of stress, you remember that we are called by God to be gentle, that the meek shall inherit the earth, it may be easier to maintain your composure and allow the rough moments to pass, so that they easily recall good times growing up.

Finally, it is the peacemakers who shall be called children of GodThis, thankfully, applies to husbands and wives, mothers and fathers.  If our children grow up amidst chaos, they will seek it as adults, and will find themselves in tumultuous relationships.  Our home should be our refuge, and all of us crave the comfort and security that comes from a home that is one of warmth, love, understanding and acceptance.

Sure, things get wild, maybe every day, and hopefully on purpose; our homes are not meant to be tombs.  But they are, at some point, and on some level, where we rest our heads and our hearts.  Couples willing to spend half an hour together after the kids are in bed putting their homes back together for the next day’s festivities are, again, sharing God’s grace.

There will be more basketball games on TV.  There will be more IMs on Facebook.  But there will never again be a time when you can have this much positive influence over your kids and the adults they will one day become; their peers are gaining on you.  The world is filled with people who regret not having been more engaged parents.  There are relatively few people out there who, looking back over their lives, regret not having watched more basketball.

God in skySo, during this Lent, let us all promise to do more to promote peace, love and understanding in our own homes.  Husbands, fathers, let us support our wives in their roles as mothers, and let us all show mercy to our own families first, and the rest of the world in its turn.  While it’s not as good as having been there for The Sermon on the Mount, we will be integrating the word of God into our daily lives.  He will be pleased with us.

Valentine’s Day Revisited

Thanks to WikiPedia for the following introduction:  

February 14 is celebrated as St Valentine’s Day in various Christian denominations; it St Valentine shrinehas, for example, the rank of ‘commemoration’ in the calendar of saints in the Anglican Communion. In addition, the feast day of Saint Valentine is also given in the calendar of saints of the Lutheran Church.  However, in the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feast day of Saint Valentine on February 14 was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”  

Seems there may have been several St. Valentines, at least one of whom was of some low character.  The Church, choosing safe over sorry, has given St. Valentine, all three of him, the boot.  Not damaging in any way the onslaught of red-colored confections and fru-fru parked in the center aisles of better discount, drug and department stores near you.

Once again, we Christians have managed to turn what was once a religious feast day into a secular selling opportunity.  In the process, we routinely substitute grasping for short-term pleasure for seeking lasting happiness.  Marketing types endeavor to raise everyone’s expectations, and we approach February 14th with credit cards extended, to ward off any hint of mediocrity or penury in outward displays of monetized affection we tend not to duplicate for another 365 days.  Your basic flash in the pan.Wedding

Whether it’s on the calendar or not, Valentine’s Day is, in my opinion, another opportunity to affirm for your spouse that you will love him or her forever, that you are glad you married him or her, and that you would happily marry him or her again on most days.

Heading toward our 38th anniversary, Nancy and I don’t go overboard in celebrating most holidays.  We are staring retirement in the face, and big displays of what is fairly obvious anyway only serve to put the day when we no longer have to make the daily trudge that much farther away.  Christmas and Easter are still big, but Labor Day–not so much.

On most holidays, a bunch of roses from Costco is received as nicely as an FTD delivery and at a third of the price.  A plate of salmon on Friday night  is virtually indistinguishable from one on Thursday night when we’re busy anyway.  Any intra-marital competition is limited to who can find the funnier card.  With joint bank accounts, ostentatious gift-giving is a little silly anyway.  “Here’s your fabulous gift, darling, and here’s the bill!!  Happy Valentine’s Day!”

My new favorite cliche is, “The best things in life aren’t things.”  If you want to talk about gifts that keep on giving, talk about the spouse who keeps The Four Horsemen out of your marriage.  The spouse who offers to get up early with the kids while you sleep in on a Saturday.  The spouse who shows your son how to ride a two-wheeler and your daughter how to bait a hook.  The spouse who does so many things around the house without being asked, or expecting to be thanked.  The spouse who cleaved to you to create a family, with whom you can be Nanny and PopPop, watching your kids building families of their own, and who will join with you again to envision the families those grandchildren will have someday.  All linked inexorably to two people–in our case, a couple of old hippies who met by accident and quickly sensed a connection that will ultimately have led to generations of descendants.  Many of whom will have myopia and teenage acne.

In accordance with God’s will.

Though it  saddens me to see how a number of my bad qualities have passed on to my children, and are likely to get passed along again, it is a gift to see them working to be effective parents and good wives, as all three of ours are girls.  They all married well, and that, too, is a gift from God.  These gifts–gifts of serenity, gifts of progeny, gifts of patience and affection and comfort–these are the gifts that experienced Valentine’s Day celebrants look for.

The fru-fru and chocolates can stay right where they are.

Old married couple

Love for the Long Haul, by Susan Vogt

This is a find from Gary Galvin, who posted the link to this nice article on Twitter yesterday.young-couple-in-love-

Susan Vogt is a freelance speaker and writer on marriage, parenting and spirituality (www.SusanVogt.net). She and her husband of 35+ years, Jim, live in Covington, Kentucky. They have four adult children. She is the author of Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference and Just Family Nights. Susan advised the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family (2000-2002) and is content editor for their For Your Marriage Web site.

Enjoy these ten tips for a long, loving marriage.  Here’s a taste:

“Successful marriage is not so much a matter of finding the right person but being the right person. There are probably quite a few potential partners with whom an individual could be happy. The challenge is knowing when to bend and change yourself versus when to stand up for yourself. It takes a pretty flexible pair of people to make this dance work. Love is essential but not sufficient.”

old-couple in love