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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Like Fine Wine…

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…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.

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Be Friends First

As an adolescent, working my way through the minefield residing under the heading “Girls-???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????-Junior High School/High School,” I was the kind of guy with whom the popular, top-tier girls always wanted to be “just friends.”  For most teen guys, this is the kiss of death, damnation by faint praise.  I had plenty of perfectly good GUY friends, and was interested in something, um, different from female companionship.  Being told I was unlikely to rise above the stature of “friend” by a member of the “cheerleader class” was usually a serious blow to the fragile ego of a teenager.  (Generally, I suspected the fact that they even wanted to be friends with me at all was because I was good at math.)

holding handsHeading into the 40th year of my marriage, I understand that couples must be friends before they can be spouses. John Gottman goes into this at some length in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  One of the fundamental qualities of friendship is the habit of ascribing good intentions to our friends.  In her blog post entitled Secrets of Happily Married Couples, writer  discusses this truth very thoughtfully. Please follow the link to her blog site at Proverbs 31 Ministries.

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Hurt people hurt people.

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Alcoholics Anonymous

Thanks to Fr. Emmerich Vogt and his 12 step ministries for the inspiration behind this post.

As humans, we are wounded by living in a broken, fallen world, surrounded by a culture that seems to celebrate failure, death, violence and decadence.  Similarly, as humans, we seek out other humans as our life partners, and they, too, are wounded by the same fallen world.   Despite our best efforts, we often hurt one another.  Fr. Vogt speaks about spiritual healing, sharing lessons learned through years of service to a variety of 12 step programs and hundreds of participants.  He has developed an entire ministry around the divine inspiration built into these 12 steps.  Listening to him this past weekend, it occurred to me that the 12 steps can be easily applied to our marriages.  With apologies to the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, I will paraphrase the steps themselves, in order to highlight their relevance to our marriages.

1.  I am powerless in the battle against sin; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. This does not refer to the petty squabbles that all of us experience with our spouses, but to the body blows, the haymakers, the capital sins of infidelity, masturbation, porn addiction, gambling and drug and alcohol addictions that have the potential to ruin relationships.  Not all of us suffer these afflictions, but those of us that do are largely helpless to fight them by ourselves.

2.  Belief that a greater power can restore us.  This is the first step addicts must take in order to begin the healing process, and is thus one of the most difficult.  It is a necessary, but not sufficient, belief.  If we are suffering in our marriages, we are called to find the strength to first believe that we can be saved, that our relationship is not doomed. In one of Jewel’s early songs, she spoke about all of us having “addictions to feed.”  As spouses, we are all addicted to something; we must embrace this belief in order to begin the healing process.

3.  Deciding to turn one’s life over to the will of God.  Probably very few of you reading this have not, in some way, already done this.  It is God’s will that we live together in harmony; if it weren’t, we wouldn’t stand a chance.  Surrendering to the will of God follows accepting the belief that He can restore us.

4.  Taking a fearless moral inventory.  If we are going to succeed as a couple, each of us must take responsibility for our own shortcomings.  Playing the blame game is a guaranteed path to failure.  We must focus on what we refer to as “I” problems, not “you” problems.  In the immortal words of Pogo, “we have met the enemy, and he is us.”  As couples, I believe that, having taken this painful inventory, we must consider sharing it with our spouses.  Or at least as much of it as we can, without hurting our partner.  As Father observes, “Honesty without gentleness is brutality.”  See #5.

5.  Confessing our sins/faults/shortcomings to ourselves, to God, and to one other person–our spouse.  Confession is itself a sacrament, and acknowledging our sins one of the basic elements of the Mass.  By speaking these words out loud, we take away one of the hiding places most of us use to avoid dealing with our sins–not talking about them.  If we are to seek true health, we cannot ignore our illnesses, any of them.  We must bring them out into the light of day, before God and our spouses.  This one strikes me as another of the more difficult steps in the process.

6.  We resolve that we are ready to have God remove the madness from our wounded selves.  We must acknowledge that we cannot fix our addictions alone, and we cannot expect our spouses to fix us, either.  We need to pray to God, in his mercy, to send The Holy Spirit to give us the strength to choose the narrow gate, to take the first steps toward becoming whole, and healed, capable of loving ourselves and worthy of the love of our spouses.  In short, we must first pray, in order to prepare ourselves to be healed.

7.  Humbly ask God to remove my defects.  One of the characteristics I’ve noticed in the people I’ve come to know and love at OLMC is a deep-seated humility, the constant refusal to take credit for all of the good they do, and their habit of always giving credit to God.  My own personal motto, which I do not practice nearly enough, is “Be humble or get humbled.”  We must be willing to knock on the door, God’s door, but we must do it in a spirit of humility, seeking his mercy rather than justice.  This is true with our spouses as well, for as spouses we all need to give and seek forgiveness.

8.  List everyone we’ve harmed, and be willing to make amends with them all.  At the top of the list, right behind God, should be our spouses, for they live in our presence daily, and are most likely to have been hurt by our sinfulness.  There is undoubtedly a long list of people behind them.  It is an inescapable truth that our sinfulness hurts God, and that our spouses bear the brunt of our addictions and faults in the world.  For you, there may be a lengthy list of folks behind the first two, but it is important to start at the top.  For me, the next five names on the list are my children and my parents, for all of them have undoubtedly suffered at my hands, in my thoughts and in my words.

9.  Apologize to everyone you’ve harmed, except when to do so will injure them.  For the living people on your list, including your spouse, this is rather straightforward, but must be approached in an almost spiritual sincerity.  As for God and the deceased persons on your list, it is only through prayer that you will be able to communicate your regret and apology.  Doing so, whether speaking to the living or praying to those others, is a cleansing act, one which should not be dreaded, but rather embraced.  How can we not feel better after having sincerely apologized to those people we’ve hurt?  As a young man, I went to my parents house one day and apologized for every single word that had come out of my mouth for the previous four years.  The three of us shared a toast–several in fact–in celebration of how good we all felt afterwards.  That was over 40 years ago, and I remember it as if it was yesterday.

10.  Commit to a daily examination of conscience.  If we are committed to living in the moment–give us this day our daily bread–we should regularly ask ourselves, “How did I do today?”  Some days will be better than others.  The point is that healing is a process, not a silver bullet, and we must commit to examining our conscience every day.  As addicts, we are capable of falling off our own particular wagon on any given day, and it is alleged to take 21 days to form new habits.  If we are to be healed, there can be no place to run to, no place to hide.  Examine your actions, words and thoughts every day.  If possible, share this process with your spouse; you can help keep each other on track.  After all, in marriage we are not called to achieve Heaven for ourselves, but to help our spouses find their way to Heaven.

11.  Pray and meditate to increase contact with God.  This, again, is a daily activity, as befits human nature.  Most of us don’t suddenly fall off a wagon we’ve been on for months or years; typically, we gradually backslide into our old ways.  This, I believe, is true for people such as myself with food issues.  I need to weigh myself every day in order to avoid waking up one day six months from now and being at the weight I was when I started taking better care of myself.  For others–especially those with alcohol and drug addictions–the world can tilt off its axis almost without warning.  In either case, by increasing our contact with God we are in a better position to enlist his help.  For those of us who find prayer difficult, saying the words of The Serenity Prayer is a fine place to start.

12.  Practice these principals in everything we do.  One of my best friends, who used to have issues around alcohol, once told me that the difference between drunks and alcoholics is that alcoholics go to meetings.  Practicing these techniques in our marriages does not require us to commit to any kind of formal 12 step program.  But it does require us to thoughtfully approach each other in humility, with forgiveness in our hearts, in as honest a manner as possible.   We must be convinced that we ourselves are, in most cases, the problem, and we must share this spirit.  With God’s grace, we will find happiness and peace in our marriages, create loving homes for our children, and model the behaviors that will, in turn, make them good parents to their own kids someday.

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Marriage Secrets Of Highly Successful Couples

This is the first, and perhaps last, link to an article on Huffington Post you’ll ever find on this blog.  The majority of articles in Arianna’s rag that discuss popular culture are not suitable for a Catholic/Christian site.  The fact that Denise McGonigal and I tripped over the same article could be a coincidence.  If you don’t believe in coincidences, then it must be The Holy Spirit continuing to work in mysterious ways.

Of course, many of these 10 Secrets are familiar to followers of this blog.  The one that struck me as new and refreshing is No. 9 – Successful couples adhere to the 60/40 rule.  This argues that, contrary to popular belief, healthy marriages are not a 50/50 proposition.  Instead, we are called to commit to a 60-40 posture, in which we give 60 and look for 40 in return.  The secret is for both spouses to adopt this posture.  When we are both happy to give a little more than we receive in return, the rough patches get smoothed out more easily, and occur less frequently.

Our friend John Gottman gets a shout out in here, as does the poet Robert Browning, who observed, “Success in marriage is more than finding the right person: It is being the right person.”  I’m sure there are a lot of divorcees out there who learned this last lesson the hard way.  In other words, wherever you go, there you are.

Check out the next Marriage on Tap tab at the top of the page.  God bless you and your spouse.

Fr. Robert Barron on Sex, Love and God

We bring you a YouTube video featuring one of our favorite pastors, Fr. Robert Barron, who offers his counter-cultural thoughts on three of our favorite topics.  Here is a little about Fr. Barron from his Word on Fire site, for those of you who have not experienced him:

Father Barron is the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, award winning documentary series about the Catholic Faith. The series has aired across the country on PBS and EWTN (and here at OLMC) and has been seen and broadcast in parishes, universities, schools and media outlets throughout the world. The documentary received a Christopher Award for excellence. Father Barron and Word on Fire will be releasing a highly anticipated new documentary “CATHOLICISM: The New Evangelization” in 2013.

Father Barron currently serves as the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary University of St. Mary of the Lake. He was appointed to the theological faculty of Mundelein Seminary in 1992, and has also served as a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame and at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. He was twice scholar in residence at the Pontifical North American College at the Vatican.

Take nine minutes out of your life to appreciate the video.  And God bless you.