Looking Back at Marriage from the Finish Line

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

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

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

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How Do We Practice Humility in our Marriage?

What does it mean to practice humility in our marriage?  In Fr. Adam’s homily last Sunday he reflected on this virtue and I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week.  One of the first thing that comes to mind as I reflect on my own humility (or Iack thereof) as it relates to marriage is that famous letter from Paul to the Corinthians.  Love is many things but when practicing humility in our love we must be honest about our own weaknesses.  It’s easy to fall into a pattern of judgment within our marriage.  For example, he didn’t do that.  She is mad at me for no reason. This fight was his/her fault.  I think we can all agree that this is not the love and humility that God asks from us when He calls us to the Sacrament of Marriage.

If we are humble, we are more able to love unconditionally.  God created us in His likeness and He wants us to be like Him.  No doubt I’ve said the term “unconditional love” hundreds of times but not until recently did I really think about what those words actually mean.  Oftentimes you hear the phrase that marriage is a “2 way street” meaning that both husband and wife need to give 50% to make a marriage work.  There is definitely some truth that this but when we love unconditionally, don’t we love without demanding something in return?  Isn’t that the way God loves us?  Despite our human frailty and weakness God loves us.  Although he desperately wants our love in return, He places no conditions on His love for us.  So, in our human attempts to love unconditionally – especially our spouses, we shouldn’t place conditions on our love.  In simpler terms, love doesn’t keep score.

Knowing this truth is easy.  It’s putting it into practice that’s hard.  It is easier to give after we have received, and I guess it’s also easier to give when we know we will eventually receive in return.  What about our gift that won’t be reciprocal?  Isn’t this an example of the love and compassion that God asks of us?  Perhaps, God created us imperfectly so that we would recognize that in practicing compassion we most love as He loves.

During lent as we take the time to discern about our faith and prepare ourselves for Easter, we should also take time to reflect on God’s love for us.  For what greater sign of God’s love is there than the gift of His only son to eventually die on the cross and save us from our humanity.  While it is impossible in our human frailty to fully love as God loves, we must remember that He created us to Love like Him.  It is in giving of ourselves that we receive and what better way to give to our spouse than to love them as Jesus would.

Why Did Paul Write about Love?

The second reading from last Sunday (Feb 3, 2013) was from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians about love.  This is the common reading we often hear at weddings, including mine and Sarah’s.  I decided to dig a bit deeper into this reading and visited various websites to do my research.  I was truly intrigued by what I learned and just how powerful love truly is.

Why did Paul even write to the Corinthians? 

Corinth Greece 1024Corinth was a bustling port city in ancient Greece where Paul established an early Christian church.  Corinth was a tough community for Paul to convert.  The Corinthians seemed to have been stubborn and set in their own ways; after 18 months of evangelizing and establishing a Christian community, Paul felt it was time to leave.  But many issues quickly arose, and people in Corinth were not living up to the Christian values about which Paul preached.  With so many travelers in the area came sexual immorality; the citizens of Corinth were fighting and suing each other, people were drunk, and ultimately everyone was treating each other poorly.  The Church in Corinth was in trouble.

In that era, congregations did not gather in assemblies or halls but, rather, in homes.  Chloe was a Christian woman, the head of one of these homes. Chloe wrote a letter to Paul informing him about the corruption in Corinth and the fledgling Christian Church there, and asked him for advice and direction.

Paul’s response was detailed in his first letter to the Corinthians that we find in the New Testament. One of the first teachings that Paul brings up is that our body is sacred and a temple of the Holy Spirit.  He reminded the Corinthians about the importance of marriage and being loyal and faithful to your spouse. If someone was unmarried, he taught that they were to remain celibate and to refrain from sexual permissiveness.

Paul began to encourage the Corinthians to live as new persons in Christ.  To treat people with kindness, help the poor, and respect others – to live a life of metanoia, which is the conscientious turning away from an old life (of paganism) to new life in Jesus Christ.

And so here we are today.

As one reads the First Letter to the Corinthians, we as Christians need to bring the same message to our present day world. Between the conflicts across the globe, sexual immorality, hatred and other sins, we must still heed Paul’s message and apply it to our own situations.  But it’s Paul’s big finish that sums it up for all of us – the gift of love.  Paul emphasizes that what people want is love, and that love is the greatest gift God has given to us.  He wanted the Corinthians to love one other and to make love the reason for everything they did and said.  As Jesus taught.

all you need is loveLike most of us, each time I hear the reading about faith, hope and love–“and the greatest of these is love”–I immediately think about weddings and marriage.  But after studying more about Paul’s letter to the Corinthians I am convinced that love is everything.  And that The Beatles, though perhaps not great examples of how to live one’s life, had it right when they sang, “All you need is love.”


Posted by Christine Burrows

happiness image #2 Christine

Let’s break it down. Sub= below. Mission = calling, duty. To put oneself below or under the calling or duty which one answers.

Huh? Not words or concepts that resonate in today’s culture. In fact, they seem rather contrary to the contemporary spirit of individualism, independence, and self-promotion. How do we begin to discuss submitting to God or our spouse, when the concept of submission isn’t one most of us often consider? I started with a surrender…

Several years ago, I read Surrendering to Motherhood:  Losing your Mind, Finding Your Soul, by Iris Krasnow.  Krasnow was a journalist with 4 boys under the age of 4 when Ethel Kennedy finally returned her call for an interview. She was hip deep in little boy issues, and simultaneously trying to focus on conducting the interview.  It was bad timing, to say the least. Finally, Ethel said, “You go do what’s important,” and hung up on her.  Iris was devastated, but went on to describe this incident as a catalyst for her surrendering to her calling as mother.

I understood her conundrum. I had 4 kids under 7 at the time, and was doing some balancing of my own – unwilling to surrender one vocation for another.  Krasnow’s story made me smile, and I wondered who would need to hang up on me to give me the push to prioritize my callings, and to do so without resentment.

My own surrender was just beginning.

Flash forward to my first exposure to Theology of the Body. I’m pretty sure I was pregnant with our third child when I first heard a woman give a talk at a retreat about Theology of the Body.  I definitely didn’t get it.  Even though I was a “practicing” Catholic, I had never heard anyone bring God into the marital embrace like this woman did. I thought I was doing well by being a faithful wife, and being willing to have more than 2 babies, albeit on our schedule.  While I may have been surrendering to my vocation of motherhood, I wasn’t all that keen on the idea of submission. I’d say at that point, I was a controlled submissive.  I controlled when and how I submitted to God’s will in our marriage.

Thank God for women like my sister who desired more knowledge and were bold enough to want to share what they learned.  These true evangelists are responsible for spreading the beautiful messages of Theology of the Body my way.  As I learned more, I became more inspired to share, and more submissive to God. It radically changed the way I viewed my husband, my vocation as a mother, our family, my call to evangelization, and my love for our faith.happiness image Christine

Through the grace of God and the courage of these evangelists, I slowly found peace in submitting to God’s plan for me and my marriage.  How many children we have, where we end up living, how much income we generate, how we manage challenges like illness and financial stress, etc. – all managed by peacefully surrendering to God and trusting in his divine providence.

This week I heard a news update about how fewer people are marrying. The analyst spoke about how fewer men want to marry, and perhaps that’s because women have become more aggressive (their words, not mine). Something in this story made me think about that reluctance to submissiveness that we as a culture have. Rather, we have a stronger drive for independence and self-determination. Yet, if we could pause to think about WHO we are submitting to, and from whom we are asserting our independence, this might change. If we openly submit to God, we would desire to enter into the most sacred union God has created for us – marriage.

Surrendering, submitting, and accepting God’s will.  It’s so incredibly humbling!  But in that humility, there is grace and joy.  I strongly encourage all of us to give it a try by taking baby steps in our marriages.  Seek a moment in prayer to ask God for His will in your relationship, and see where that selflessness takes you and your spouse.

Don’t Ignore the Greatest Gift Given to Us – Love

And the greatest of these is love”.  This was a verse from the second reading of our wedding and most likely it was the second verse from your wedding too.  This verse comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13 when St. Paul explains that “Love never fails” and love is the greatest gift God gives us.

Recently, I came across a recent blog post by Fr. Robert Barron’s website, WordonFire.org titled “Sex, Love, and God: The Catholic Answer to Puritanism and Nietzcheanism”.  Fr. Barron starts off describing the shift in sexual morality in today’s society indicating that it is clearly declining and begins referencing the Book of Genesis and that God created us to love and be loved.  Think about it for a second.  Think about all the people you love and those that love you.  As humans it is engrained in our DNA to want to be loved and to love another.  No gift in the world and no other feeling can top the feeling of love.  So as I read Fr. Barron’s article I had to stop and reflect on how God’s gift of “love” is truly the greatest gift of all.

So how come love gets ignored in many sexual relationships?  Fr. Barron explains it as “The goodness of sexual desire is designed, by its very nature, to become ingredient in a program of self-forgetting love and hence to become something rare and life enhancing.  If you want to see what happens when this principle is ignored, take a long hard look at the hookup culture prevalent among many young — and not so young — people today. Sex as mere recreation, as contact sport, as a source only of superficial pleasure has produced armies of the desperately sad and anxious, many who have no idea that it is precisely their errant sexuality that has produced such deleterious effects in them. When sexual pleasure is drawn out of itself by the magnetic attraction of love, it is rescued from self-preoccupation.”

If we ignore the greatest gift given to us by God and only strive to “feel good” then we are truly missing out on something so wonderful that no one can describe.  So I hope you enjoyed Fr. Barron’s article and I hope you stop for a moment and experience the chills or goose bumps of being loved and loving.

God Bless.