Want More Love? Be More Lovable.

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

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

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

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

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

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Marriage and Unconditional Love

eph-5-25-web-wRecently, while topic shopping, I came across a site called Marriage Builders.  It is the work of Dr. William Harley, who seems to be a one man corporation when it comes to writing about and discussing marriage.  He has a decidedly Christian bent to his work, although I’m guessing he’s not Catholic.  At any rate, having read a number of his articles, they are consistently well-reasoned and well-written.  I recommend you bookmark the site, as there is a wealth of material available to those interested in the subject of marriage.

After our Valentine’s Day Marriage on Tap event, one of the best ever, I was hunting for articles on the myths of marriage and, while having discovered several good ones and many not-so-good ones, I came across one of Dr. Harley’s articles on the subject of unconditional love in marriage.  Please follow the link, for the article contains some controversial thoughts with which many of you may disagree.

I recall a parish mission some years ago at which the speaker asked the audience to list Heveryone they loved in the order in which they loved them. Along with many of the attendees, I put my wife Nancy at the top of my list, followed by my kids and The Holy Trinity. Now, please don’t let my poor writing skills confuse you into thinking that hundreds of men put Nancy at the top of their lists; they put THEIR wives at the top.  🙂  The speaker went on to explain that we should ALL have God at the top of our lists, that God’s love for us is unconditional and therefore of a higher order than the love we feel for our spouses.

Dr. Harley’s article supports the notion that God loves us more than we love one another, but takes on the notion of its being unconditional.  Discussing this with Nancy, she flat out disagreed with him, arguing that God’s covenant is not a contract, citing several verses from scripture, and basically taking advantage of my lack of knowledge of the Bible.  She agreed with the author and with me that spousal love is not and should not be unconditional, that if I were to come home from work everyday and beat her senseless she should not continue to love me as she does.  Again, being better at this stuff than I am, she cited Thomas Aquinas, who famously argued that the nature of love is willing the good of the other for his own sake, which describes God’s love for us, in that God does not need us.  God gets nothing in return for loving us.  And this despite the fact that we may, using our free will, choose not to love God in return, which does nothing to diminish his love for us.  This, in turn, suggests that it is, unfortunately, possible to be loved by God and to also go to Hell.

cropped-lse-masthead6.jpgWhere was I?  Right, unconditional love in marriage, which seems to belong on one of the many lists of marriage myths that clutter up the internet.  Please pray on this and discuss it with your spouse.

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We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us

Happy New Year, couples.  Yes, we’ve been in hiatus for months, dealing with a number of issues ranging from travel and health concerns to a relative lack of inspiration from many of our usual contributors.  Now that 2015 is upon us, I am hoping for some renewed energy and relying on The Holy Spirit to provide it to all of us, with a tip of the hat to Walt Kelly

UnhappyA recurring theme in this blog is that successful marriages are not about finding the right person as much as being the right person.  When things go wrong in our lives, it is not unusual to blame others–employers, spouses, friends, bad ju-ju, etc.  Yet, in most cases, we have only ourselves to blame, which is inconvenient in that it forces us to change our behaviors and/or our attitudes toward the things that comprise our lives.

I direct your attention to a recent article published in Huffington Post (yes, them again) about a failed marriage, written by the now ex-wife.  In a nutshell, her ex lied to her, cheated on her, and finally abandoned the family.  Some time later, in therapy, she realized that her own foibles were at the root of much of what went wrong in the relationship.  I encourage you to read the article, but let me summarize what she refers to as the “four huge mistakes I made” that led to the breakdown of the marriage:

  1. I put my children first.  While it is a holy obligation to care for one’s kids, it is easy to allow them to become a place to escape to when difficulties arise in your relationship with your spouse.  This particular issue typically afflicts wives more than husbands, but men are not exempt, either.  This evokes the instructions we get while waiting for a plane to take off, that we are supposed to affix our own oxygen masks before taking care of the kids.
  2. I didn’t set (or enforce) boundaries with my parents.  While many of us are blessed with parents who live nearby and love interacting with and helping out with our kids, for some spouses this can become burdensome.  Our spouses married us; they didn’t marry our entire families.  For some spouses, when this occurs, it is a hard conversation to have, telling your spouse that you want/need some space from your inlaws.  That conversation, however, pales in difficulty to the one in which you tell him or her you’re moving out.
  3. I emasculated him.  The author’s reflections on this subject are straight out of John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse–criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.  Talking smack about our spouses with our friends simply adds fuel to the fire, stoking our own rage and setting the stage for gossip which can work its way back to the spouse.  “I hear your wife said you’re lousy in the sack” is not something I want to hear while waiting on the first tee with my golfing buddies.  Reading Gottman’s book allows us to both recognize these deadly sins and offers concrete advice on how to work through them.
  4. I didn’t bother to learn to fight the right way.  The notion of “fighting fairly” is one that intrigues me and is, again, a subject to which John Gottman devotes a lot of attention.  All couples are going to disagree at times, and a number of these disagreements can escalate into fights.  Learning how to fight fairly–my wife Nancy is better at this than I am–provides opportunities to turn these arguments into understanding.  Keep in mind that, when it comes to arguing, your objective should not be to win; your objective should be to recognize the root causes of the fight and change behaviors in order to avoid them in the future.  We need to seek understanding rather than victory.  In the long run, winning is less desirable than creating win-win situations.

The title of this post is one of Pogo’s lasting contributions to western society.  When holding_handsdifficulties arise in our marriages, we are encouraged to reflect on how we have contributed to the problem, rather than taking the easy, shortsighted way out and simply blaming everything on our spouses.  It takes two to tango; the reason cliches are cliches is because they are generally true.  Let us pray the Serenity Prayer and look inside ourselves before berating our spouses for their shortcomings.  More often than not, the enemy is us.

Happiness, too, is often an act of will

Busy-ParentsMy friends and I have been doing a terrible job keeping up with this blog this summer.  No excuses.  As fall approaches, we hope to revive this site and bring some new energy to our ministry and our marriages.

Recently, our community was shaken by a murder-suicide that took the daughter of one of our most prominent and generous families.  Events like this, which drastically change the trajectories of numerous lives are, mercifully, pretty rare.  I pray virtually every day that God’s will for me and my family does not include a tragedy like this.  For the grieving family, most of what follows will seem like empty words; their solace will come from God and leaning into one another.  For others, I hope you can find some useful ideas below.

As we have pointed out numerous times on this site, love is an action, not a feeling. Feelings come and go, while the actions of our wills are up to us; we are in control of our wills.  Thus, we have the ability to be in control of our relationships.  Much the same can be said for happiness.  We have the ability to create our own happiness.  Heck, there are even exercises we can do to upgrade our own happiness.

In her book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, CBurrowsphoto #1author Sonja Lyubomirsky takes a clinical approach to examining the subject of happiness. This study is briefly summarized in one of my favorite blogs, The Generous Husband. As blogger Paul Byerly observes, this is an important subject, as happy, effective, successful people have better marriages.

A New Twist on Spring Cleaning

healthy habits happy homes

By Joe McGonigal

I am definitely ready to walk outside without layers of coats and sweaters!  But with the change in season comes the dreaded…spring cleaning.

Instead of figuring out how to dodge my upcoming “chores” I thought I would give some thought to sprucing up my relationship with Denise!  Check out this article in All Pro Dad…maybe your success with this list could eliminate some entries on your “honey-do” list!

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Four Ways to Be a Better Spouse

Here we go again, with an article borrowed from Huffington Post.  This one has a semi-Buddhist flavor to it, which is a switch from our usual fare.  Unfortunately for you, this fact reminds me of the only Buddhist joke I know, in which the Buddhist says to the hot dog vendor on the streets of New York, “Make me one with everything.”  Wait for it…  Anyway, since the article refers to I Corinthians, I thought it would fit in our blog.

PsychiatristBrandy Engler is a clinical psychologist and the author of The Men on My Couch: Stories of Sex, Love and Psychotherapy.  Her recent post, “Four Ways to Love Better” visits a recurring theme on this blog, namely, rather than seeking the right partner, we should BE the right partner for our spouse.  As most people married more than once will attest, in the absence of abuse–physical, mental, drug–the grass is rarely greener on the other side. We bring most of our relationship problems with us; if we’re capable of cheating on one spouse, we’re obviously capable of cheating on another, etc.

Engler does not specifically address marital love in this post; rather, she points us toward a wider, more inclusive love of the world and the people in it.  This is a very Christian attitude from a writer who strikes me as not overly, or overtly, Christian.  But by inference, we are to include our spouses in this view.  And if you can guess her four prescriptions for being a more loving person, well, you’re better at this stuff than I am.  YOU should be posting on this blog.

 

 

“Give Me What I Need”

Today at Mass our pastor gave a homily about greed and material items and how we seem to need it when in reality we want it.  Our pastor went onto say that his friend would oftentimes give up a petition after a rosary asking God to “grant him only what he needs; not what he wants”.  This would be a challenging prayer for any of us because maybe what we need isn’t exactly what we want.

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There’s Someone Out There for Everyone

Then after Mass I struck up a conversation with a fellow who I have not met before.  During the conversation he indicated that he just ended a relationship with his girlfriend and was back at Church looking for direction.  We’ve all heard the saying “there is someone out there for us” well if we try to find that person by ourself with no help from God we will miss the chance of meeting who God intended us to be with.  But if we, like this fellow I met, look to God to guide us then we will find that person we need to be with.

I was moved by this short conversation with this fellow and I applaud him for seeking direction from God and Church.

~God Bless

 

*image courtesy of http://josephinebila.com/6-life-quotes-my-mom-loves-to-say/