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.

Advertisements

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.

LSE Papyrus logo

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.

Wedding

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.

2014-09-26-Marriageisgettingirritatedbythethingsthatalwaysirritateyou.Andtoleratingitbecauseitiswayoverbalancedbythegoodstuff1.jpg

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!

LSE Papyrus logo

Like Fine Wine…

Fine-wine

…marriage often improves over time.  Through the marriage enrichment ministry at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, we meet lots of couples, some who have been married for five months, others for five decades.  The couples whose relationships have survived and thrived over 30 and 40 years often find themselves living in a sweet spot in their conjoined lives. This would include Nancy and me as we head into our 39th year together.

Here’s a nice little article from Huff Post entitled 7 Signs Your Long-Term Marriage Is Even Stronger Now Than It Was On Your Honeymoon.”  Sit down with your spouse, grab a couple of beverages and go through the list, see how many are true for you.  And don’t miss the slide show at the bottom in which readers share their secrets to long, happy marriages.  The old adage that “keeping score raises the score” may be true for selling life insurance, but it is definitely NOT true when it comes to marriage.

If you’ve only been married for a few years, or even a few months, relax.  Read some John Gottman.  Buy the book “Crucial Conversations.”  Take on Art and Laraine Bennett.  Contrary to popular belief, there are a few good instruction manuals out there for being happily married.  As we’ve said here before, successful marriage is not about finding the right person.  It’s about being the right person.

Happy Easter, everyone.

LSE Papyrus logo

Being Known

cropped-sunset-lovers.jpgRecently, I tripped over two nice blogs focused on Christian marriage.  Written and collected by Lori and Paul Byerly, they are, respectively, The Generous Wife and The Generous Husband.  I have added them to my blog feed at feedly.com and look forward to re-posting their stuff on a regular basis.

One of Paul’s recent posts is entitled 7 Awesome Things I Love About Being a Married Man.  In it, he discusses, among other things, growing, having a best friend, sex (!) and one gift to which I haven’t given nearly enough thought:  Being Known.

According to my wife Nancy, being known is a basic human need, derived from God’s selfsame desire to be known by us.  Certainly, we accept the notion that God knows us–including the shrinking number of hairs on our heads–and scripture teaches us about His desire to be known, intimately, by us.

As I look back over our 31 years of married bliss (punchline: the other seven years weren’t all that bad; thank you for the kind applause), I realize that Nancy knows me better than anyone on the face of the earth.  Better than our daughters do.  Better than my parents ever did.  Better than the best of my friends does or ever will.  Better, perhaps, than I know myself.  Why is this so important, at least to me?

  • It relieves me of having to explain any number of tiresome things–things I like and dislike (ranging from food to politics), stories from my past (she’s heard them all a thousand times), in short, the way I like the things in my life ordered.  She can pretty much tell just from my body language exactly what I’m thinking at any given moment.
  • She has seen me at my absolute best and my shameful worst, and has committed to stay with me until death do us part.  She requires no impressing, although I continue to try. (She’s from New Jersey, and so it’s hard…)
  • We have arrived at a set of shared values that are well understood, mutually, and upon which we can each rely 24/7/365.
  • I find comfort in the fact that, in the likely event I will one day predecease her, she will help keep my memory alive for our kids and theirs.  For, along with wanting to be known, I have a pronounced dread of being forgotten. (Other than their names, I know virtually nothing about my father’s parents; completely forgotten within two generations.)
  • Ironically, I find that I do not really want to be well-known outside of my immediate family.  I cultivate a persona at work, for example, that does not really reflect who I am.  There is a very small group of people with whom I work–maybe three or four–whom I allow to see what I think of as the REAL me.

Lustrous woodCouples who meet, start dating, become engaged, get married, and survive the first ten years of marriage do not typically enjoy the gift of being fully known.  The gift of being known is, for me, comparable to wood or metal which, over time, gets burnished by touch and use, becoming slightly worn but more lustrous.  The more visceral gifts of new relationships that succeed thus give way to the cerebral joy of knowing, and being known by, the person who will, ideally, become your favorite person in the world.

God willing.  And He is.

LSE Papyrus logo

Pleasing God, if Only for a Moment

TOn Saturday, February 8, roughly 60 couples renewed their wedding vows at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.  The event, organized by the Love’s Sacred Embrace ministry, was lightly publicized, yet the response was robust, and included a number of couples that had not previously attended Marriage on Tap or any of the annual retreats.  Those renewing their vows spanned a wide range, from friends married for five months to others married more than five decades.  Father Doerr and Father Arbuckle sounded a bit hoarse when the blessings were finally concluded.  God’s grace was present in great abundance last night.

After dinner, Denise McGonigal and I were chatting about the evening.  She and Joe are young-weddingfacilitating a day-long marriage prep day today at church, prompting us to marvel at the general lack of awareness with which most young couples approach the sacrament of marriage.  Although the demographics of couples getting married for the first time are changing (trending to older and more affluent, while the overall numbers shrink), it’s still true that the vast majority of couples entering into the sacrament have absolutely no idea what they are in for, no idea of the scope and depth of the promises they are making. Generally, they are far more aware of the atmospherics–planning, invitations, seating charts, cakes, rehearsals–than they are of the promises they are exchanging, ostensibly until one of them dies.  Even if they are exceptionally aware and alert, there is no practical way to describe how the entry of children into the equation changes things.  Add to all of this the weight of a popular culture that is generally scornful and corrosive toward the institution of marriage, and it’s no wonder so many marriages fail within the first ten years. In fact, it may be a wonder that so many survive.

The only possible explanation behind the marriages that actually make it until the death of a spouse is God’s grace.  Yet, as Catholics, we are taught that grace cannot be earned, that our only hope of receiving something approaching “our share” is to be open to His Spirit.  Active practice of our faith–attending Mass, prayer, studying scripture, serving the poor and those less fortunate than ourselves–may put us in a favorable position with God, but guarantee nothing insofar as gaining grace is concerned.  Is it, then, simply the luck of the draw?

Perhaps.  But there are things we can do to improve our chances.  As Anne and Pete Slamkowski shared with us last night, we can love our spouses intentionally.  We can read and learn from folks like John Gottman and Art and Laraine Bennettwho have written about the secrets of highly successful marriages.  We can commit to BEING the right person, rather than SEARCHING for the right person, when it comes to marriage.  We can focus on fixing our own flaws, rather than harping on the flaws of our mate.  We can approach the challenges of keeping a home and raising children in a spirit of equality, of shared duties, rather than the common practice (engaged in by many men) of relegating these functions to the wife, an anachronistic vestige of the “women’s work” mentality of the 19th century.  Finally, we can enlist God’s help, through prayers of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication, to see us through the difficult times, and help us appreciate the good.

WeddingLast night, 60 couples said, in effect, “I chose well when I married you the first time, and I am blessed and happy to be able to marry you again.”  In an age of rampant materialism, obscene popular culture, shameful income inequality, global strife and a planet seemingly dedicated to contravening God’s word, in a small, quiet snowy community in central Indiana, a few of us gave God reason to celebrate His creation.  It was an honor to be a part of it.

LSE Papyrus logo