The 10 Commandments of Marriage

Not sure how I found my way to Bridal Guide magazine, but I did, in searchman and woman of something suitable for this site now that my regular second job is on hiatus, leaving some time to work on marriage issues. The article from which these ideas are stolen is one of those multi-page things that most of us hate, but I encourage you to stick with it and read them all. Very sound secular advice.

1. Thou shalt be fun.
2. Thou shalt be sexy.
3. Thou shalt be financially honest.
4. Thou shalt be grateful.
5. Thou shalt keep confidences.
6. Thou shalt keep thine own lives.
7. Thou shalt be an extended family.
8. Thou shalt let bygones be bygones.
9. Thou shalt be faithful in every way.
10. Thou shalt live a healthy lifestyle.

Had this article been prepared with a more spiritual outlook, it probably would have dropped a couple of these in favor of, say, “practicing thine faith together” or “thou shalt respect the sanctity of the marital bed.” Actually, it’s not too hard to imagine a Catholic magazine publishing this same article and replacing items #1 and 2 with these two directives.

Cute-Romantic-Love-CoupleWhich, in my opinion, would be a mistake. The first two items on the list deserve their place of prominence not just because they apply to young brides and grooms, but moreover because they enable couples to navigate the waters from “newlywed” to “golden anniversary.” Being fun, or funny, is one of the failsafe techniques for keeping relationships blooming. I like to think that my wife of 40 years has laugh lines around her eyes partially due to me; lacking any number of social graces, I’ve always tried to at least keep her smiling, if not laughing out loud.

Item #2 is, likewise, important during the entire course of our marriages. old-couple in loveAs we age, our sexual abilities, wants and desires change.   However, these changes do nothing to our ability to be interesting, perhaps playful, to show interest, to initiate intimacy, to be clean, shaved and fresh, to put clean sheets on the bed, light a few candles, put on some music, etc. Sexual encounters, once a couple is empty nesters, are fairly simple to arrange, but sometimes difficult to execute in the conventional way, or ways. With young kids in the house, it takes real commitment to intimacy to find time—or even a place—to enjoy each other’s presence. There’s some frustration built into each scenario—having the ability and not the time, or having the time with diminished skills—but it remains important to keep fun and physical intimacy in your relationship, else couples risk ending up living together as brother and sister, polite and considerate with nothing resembling passion ar mutual engagement. This is NOT how to keep a marriage strong and healthy.

I think items #3-10 are pretty intuitive. Gratitude, forgiveness, faith, maintenance of self are all qualities that we easily maintain with our friends, but not always so easily with our spouses. The one commandment that is REALLY missing, the one that is more important than perhaps any of the others, goes something like this:

Thou shalt be friends first, foremost and forever.

holding handsAs we have remarked often in this space, couples have a much better chance to make it to their golden anniversary—roughly 2-3% of married couples accomplish this—if they are friends as well as lovers. Friends don’t cash in their relationship because of a fight or disagreement. Friends tend to usually fight fairly with their friends; spouses perhaps not so much. John Gottman, in his book we have virtually worn the cover off of in this blog, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, states unequivocally that friendship before and during marriage is one of the great predictors of a couple’s likelihood of staying together, happy and content.

God bless all married couples during this busy and exhausting season of joy.

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Do You and Your Spouse Do These Five Things?

CBurrowsphoto #1Huffington Post strikes again, this time in Facebook survey results compiled by staff writer Yagana Shah, who tallied responses from a FB survey that asked married couples what they believe helps them maintain lively, enriching marriages.  Ms. Shah’s interests include, presumably among other things, “health news, bucket lists, and the British royal family.” Not sure where this particular article fits within all that, but there are some suggestions in here that are worth your time.  If these are old news, it means you spend too much time on Facebook.  My guess is that if you read this blog regularly you’re already doing a number of them.  If not, it’s never too late.

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1.  Travel together.  I remember vividly when we were first married and Nancy was flexing her New Jerseyism she told me she thought we ought to take separate vacations. This was back in the day when “open marriage” was a very hip concept and married couples were exploring all sorts of ways to do the same things they did when they were single.  (She also told me she like the idea of deer hunting, which shocks me to this day.)  But couples active on Facebook say traveling together is one of the joys of marriage, and both Nancy and I agree.

Though we do occasionally take separate vacations (she went to Africa with two of our ???????????????????????????????kids and their husbands back in 2013, and I went to Malaysia on a junket last fall) we generally travel together.  If you believe that the only difference between you today and you a year from now is the books you read, the people you meet and the places you go, traveling together is a third of the whole trip.  We have pretty indelible memories of our trips to Ireland, Alaska and Spain, and look forward to more such jaunts in the years to come.  Day trips and weekend getaways have much the same restorative effect, though you may need to take some pictures to capture those memories.

Man-Laughing2.  Laugh together.  I make a conscious effort to give Nancy a good laugh or two every day, as I believe this is one thing that keeps her looking young and, well, beautiful.  She has an active sense of humor too, although I’m not sure why I look so beat up and worn out.  For most couples, the funniest jokes are the inside jokes that only the two of them get.  Our parents had expressions we repeat on a regular basis that make us smile and help us remember them, and they’ve become part of the fabric in our marriage as well as our relationships with our kids.  If your marriage is in good shape it is probably easier to look back over the years and recall the funny episodes than it is the not-so-funny ones.

3.  Keep dating.  This is somewhat trickier than it sounds, based on whether you’re a husband or a wife.  Most husbands, I suspect, equate date night with sex, while fewer wives make the same connection.  One book I read suggested that couples pursue several varieties of date nights:  a) sex dates, b) outings that don’t include sex, and c) the Swiss army knife of dates, a fun outing that includes sex.Wedding

The important point here is that getting married doesn’t/cannot signal the end of dating.  Nor is it necessary that a date be expensive; a bowl of popcorn and a movie after the kids are in bed counts.  For whatever reason, guys are still, I suspect, expected to do the heavy lifting when it comes to arranging non-lame dates, so guys, turn off the TV and gather some fun ideas.  Play your cards right and you may end up enjoying a Swiss army knife.

Couple-planting-tree4. Work toward a goal together.  Not as easy as dialing up dinner and a movie, but the possibilities are virtually endless.  Growing your faith together by taking up a ministry at your church, taking on a project like landscaping the backyard, finding common items on your bucket lists and checking them off together, these things can contribute to a sense of common purpose, especially during the empty nest years.

Certainly, parents with young children have some built-in common goals, i.e., get them kids raised and out of the house. Once they’re gone, though, couples have the freedom, if not the responsibility, to find some common activities that provide a healthy sense of pursuing shared objectives.  HINT:  Our experience shows that taking up tennis, paddling canoes and wallpapering a small room together can have negative outcomes.

5. Hold hands. Always.  Although neither of us are prone to much in the way of PDAs, this is a healthy practice, as it provides a physical connection in a world in which they are increasingly hard to come by.  There’s no way a healthy emotional/spiritual relationship cannot be enhanced by increased physical contact.holding hands

Recall when you were 13 and held someone’s hand for the first time, the jolt of electricity that traveled through you.  25 years later, the physical jolt may be long gone, but the value of the touch itself remains.  This is especially true for spouses whose “receiving” love language is physical touch.  So, when you’re out together, hold hands.  Keep in mind that if some teenager sneers and tells you to “get a room,” you can, without having to tell him to “get a girlfriend.”

The common thread in all of this, I suppose, is that each of these five activities releases endorphins, to a greater or lesser degree.  For married couples in committed relationships, endorphins are rocket fuel–you can’t get too much of them.  If you have additional ideas for releasing endorphins, please comment and share.

God bless you.

Love Cycles

5stagesThe title of this post is the title of another “how to” book on marriage I just read, this one by therapist  Linda Carroll.  She discusses the five stages of loving relationships around which she has built a 35 year practice in couples counseling.  (I’m beginning to think that everything on earth has five stages, but that’s just me.)  Before getting into the content of the book itself, I wanted to share the most powerful statement contained therein, a quote from poet Rainier Maria Rilke:  “For one human being to love another human being; that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been given to us, the ultimate, the final problem and proof, the work for which all other work is mere preparation.”  Wish I’d written that, or had the emotional depth to even have come close to writing it.  Beautiful thought.

So, the five stages of loving relationships, pretty straightforward stuff:  The Merge.  Doubt Busy-Parentsand Denial.  Disillusionment.  Decision.  And, finally, Wholehearted Loving.  Carroll takes multiple examples from couples with whom she has worked, and the anecdotal evidence allows the reader to recognize stages in which he/she currently resides or has passed through.  The liner notes claim the book offers “a clear strategy for how to stay happy and committed, even in difficult times,” with which I might argue.  Nancy and I have weathered some serious storms over the course of 40 years, and I’m not sure I would have been open to many of the suggestions the author makes for dealing with those stages beginning with the letter D, all of which were painful, difficult and exhausting.  I admit to not being overly open-minded about most things, and also admit that Nancy’s abilities to understand and coach me are what saved our relationship more than once.

The book is a pretty quick read, and perhaps you might want to check it out of your library.  I think the following list–Carroll’s Six C’s–does a nice job of hitting the high points of the book if you’re pressed for time or grooving in the “happily ever after” stage of your relationship:

  • Choice.  Pretty much everything we do as individuals or half of a committed couple involves making choices.  Even we feel helpless, we are making, and living with the consequences, of our own choices.  We are writing our own stories.
  • Commitment.  Part and parcel of sacramental marriage.  We must burn our own boats.  We must make this relationship the most important single fact of our lives and move beyond our fears and our periodic urge to flee, turning toward our partner in difficult times and, if necessary, seeking help to make our relationship work. Remembering how we felt in those first few weeks and months is a useful exercise, along with finding the way to a mature form of those electric sensations.  No, they don’t last forever.  Yes, they can remind us of what we felt early in the relationship, and motivate us to  move away from  thinking, as Carroll describes, “Why aren’t you ME?”
  • Celebration.  As Nancy has observed more than once, for every Jack there’s a Jill. Having found one another, you need to take time to celebrate the grace, the confluence of circumstances, that brought you together.  As humans, we are called to discover who we are as individuals and to fulfill our purpose on earth, making use of our gifts.  To share this journey, the experience of becoming ourselves, with another person on the same trip, calls for celebrations, even small ones, as often as possible.  We need to count our blessings and give thanks for each one, no matter how small or cleverly disguised.
  • Compassion.  In relationships, it is synonymous with forgiveness.  Scripture tells us we are to forgive even those who mean to harm us.  Doesn’t it follow, then, that we need to be fountains of forgiveness with our spouse or partner?  We’ve discussed in this space conditions and behaviors outside the realm of forgiveness–violence, abuse, etc.–but in the absence of pure malice, it is incumbent upon us to not only forgive our partners for their shortcomings, but to forgive ourselves for our own.
  • Cocreation.  A clever term for finding effective ways to manage conflict, share decisions, support one another, and avoid ending up in ruts.  This is about finding and exploring common interests, about not settling for night after night of television, about engaging one another and challenging each other to find new and different things to keep the relationship blooming.  Nancy convinced me several years ago that we should commit to a monthly activity we’ve never (or only rarely) done before, which explains the terrible investment I made several years ago in a pair of tickets to Shen Yun.  But there have been a bunch of fun, memorable outings in the meantime, with more to come.  A maple syrup tour.  The glass-blowing trail in northern Indiana. A country music concert (?) at Klipsch.  So get up, get out, and get with it!
  • Courage.  The courage to confront our own faults, the issues in our relationships and the conditions of our lives in an honest, loving spirit of awareness.  Lots of this stuff is hard, but we are capable of doing hard stuff.  So many people, caught up in the daily grind, go through the motions of living, whether as individuals or half of a couple.  If we are going to find true happiness, as people and as couples, we cannot settle for taking the easy way out of this life.  We should, instead, pin a copy of Rainier Maria Rilke’s quote above our desks and on our refrigerators, to help us remain mindful of the gift of our chosen vocation.

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Contraception and Marriageability

CBurrowsphoto #2As a convert to the Catholic faith, one of the hurdles I’ve had to deal with, at least intellectually, is the Church’s position on contraception.  As one who was born in the 1950’s and came of age in the 60’s, I always thought the birth control pill was one of the great inventions of the 20th century.  From my point of view, it took away one of the two big perceived risks of sex outside marriage.  That the Catholic church was opposed to it was, I felt at the time, just another symptom of how out of touch Catholic leadership was with the realities of modern life.  As a quasi-radical free spirit in the 70’s, I was far more concerned with the economics of excessive population growth than I was with the dogmatic pronouncements of a bunch of celibate old men in Rome.

Over the years I’ve had to re-visit this opinion, having come to realize that there is so much I don’t understand about our faith that I should probably shut up about subjects on which I’m essentially ignorant.  I suffer from the sin of pride, but at least have come to understand that having an opinion on a subject is not nearly as important as being informed thereon. So I tend to keep more opinions to myself than I used to.  Still, at mass on Sunday mornings, I wonder how many women between the ages of 15 and 40 receiving the eucharist do so in a state of mortal sin.  And how many more might attend mass and receive communion were it not for the fact that they are on oral contraceptives and thus feel unwelcome, or unworthy of receiving the sacrament.

Theology of the Body & my thoughts on contraception.As it turns out, there is some biology at work in all of this.  An article in Scientific American from 2008 explains some of the perils that arise in the collision of oral contraceptives and marriage.  In basic terms, the hormones in birth control pills change a woman’s perception of the marriageability of a man based upon his MHC profile; if you want to understand what that means, you’re going to have to read the article.  The corollary for men has to do with perceptions of a woman’s overall attractiveness according to where she is in her menstrual cycle.  And while the latter is completely natural, the former is synthetic, and the risks it poses far greater.  After all, if a couple has been dating for six months, the man has likely been around the woman during every phase of her cycle.  The risks of the former, however, can go unrecognized for years, as the following true story illustrates.

One of my wife’s friends growing up was in a live-in relationship with her boyfriend for, literally, 15 years.  Then, in rapid succession, they got married, had a child, and got divorced.  This amazing sequence, I think, demonstrates the power of the MHC profile thing.  Before she was ready to commit to having children with him and on the pill, she found him attractive and desirable.  When they decided to have a child, she went off the pill, and soon he wasn’t nearly as attractive or desirable.  In fact, her perception of him changed so much that they ended the relationship, making an unintended victim of their daughter, who would grow up in a single parent home.Stained Glass

So, are we to think that the Church’s position on oral contraceptives is based upon some science that Catholic thinkers were aware of centuries before modern science proved them right?  No.  Are we to think that a number of the Church’s teachings with which we disagree or fail to understand could possibly have some merit?  Yes.  Is there a lesson in all of this for couples considering marriage?  I think so.  If the woman has been on birth control pills since before they met, it would probably be a good idea for her to go off the pill for several months before stepping up to the marriage altar.  Doing so might be inconvenient, or messy, or a drag, but it might also save both the woman and the man years of unhappiness and disappointment.

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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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Pillow Talk

In 2008, when we were first discussing the creation of a ministry at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel dedicated to fostering a community that supports married couples in our parish, I recall commenting to Denise McGonigal that this could not simply be about “the theory of marriage.”  That, in order to be successful, grow, and attract married couples from every demographic in the parish, it needed to focus on real-life issues, and to include concrete examples of how happily married couples make marriage work.  This stance would be leavened with a strong dose of Catholic spirituality, keeping in mind our mission to celebrate the joy of sacramental marriage, as eloquently expressed in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

So, here we are on Valentine’s Day, preparing for our monthly Marriage on Tap event tonight at which over 60 couples will be receiving eucharist, renewing their marriage vows, enjoying a date night meal together, and sharing thoughts and ideas around Denise’s presentation about marriages made in Heaven.  An intimate, non-commercial celebration of what marriage CAN be when spouses allow the Holy Spirit to enter their relationship and commit to each other to be the best husbands, wives and parents they can be.

As one of the more secular voices on this blog, I’m always searching mainstream media online for articles and ideas I can steal borrow to share with our readers.  Today I discovered a cheat sheet useful for facilitating conversation in the marital bed.  Why many of us are more comfortable conducting these conversations in our living rooms than in our bedrooms is a mystery.  My own theory, what Nancy would call “the story I’m telling myself,” is that these conversations will either lead to sex or NOT lead to sex, depending on which spouse is more inclined in which direction, comprising one of the worst sentences ever to grace these pages.  She, I suspect, would say it has nothing to do with any of that, that it’s probably due to more practical considerations; in our case, I wear a CPAP mask, which makes it practically impossible to talk, and works, for her, like talking with an astronaut.

Enough.  Here is the Pillow Talk piece borrowed from TheDatingDivas.com:

PIllow Talk

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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