Changing Direction

As of September 2017, this blog is no longer formally associated with Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Carmel, Indiana. The Love’s Sacred Embrace ministry has been discontinued at the parish in favor of other efforts directed toward celebrating Catholic marriage.

The focus of the blog will, at the same time, change from ideas about how to joyfully achieve 42 years of marriage to how 42 years of marriage helps hold couples together when one of them receives a serious medical diagnosis.

Without examining any data, I suspect the typical reader is younger than me, as I am in my mid-60’s. If so, the posts to come may be of help in thinking about stuff going on with your parents. I think about images of Nancy and me from the 80’s, and look at young couples with small kids today oblivious, as we were then, to the trials awaiting them in their futures, to the crosses they will be asked to bear together, if they’re blessed enough to stay together for the duration.

This is my promise not to violate Nancy’s privacy as this goes along. I will share thoughts and lessons learned along the way, mostly for my own benefit, as I tend to work things out as I type. I have a weekly conversation with Jesus in the prayer chapel at OLMC to try to get him to see things my way which is generally fruitless.

Obviously, the reason I choose to undertake this now is because we’re finally in one of those life trajectory-altering situations I’ve always been thankful that we, as a family, have managed to avoid up until the summer of 2016. I have been “on hiatus” since then dealing with the changes going on and yet to come in my life as husband and caregiver. I feel I’ve covered enough ground mentally and spiritually that I can engage with people about these things and help others approach peace, to seek and accept God’s will.
If you are interested in updates concerning Nancy’s health specifically, please visit her CaringBridge page.

 

 

 

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Accept One Another

Once again, we’ve turned to Huffington Post for some great advice on making marriage work.  In a culture that seemingly wishes to see the institution of marriage torn down to the ground, HuffPost occasionally stokes the fires of dissolution.  Yet, it also clears the bases every now and again with a thoughtful post about building stronger marriages.. This piece was written by Ravid Yosef, a California “Dating/Relationship Coach.”  We reproduce it in its entirety as it is short, concise and in need of no embellishment.  God bless you all.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Love in fact, does not conquer all. It’s a common misconception that if you love someone, everything else will work itself out, but love alone is not enough.

Acceptance is what will get you through to the other side. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that you can choose it for exactly what it is. Because when you do choose it for what it is and what it isn’t, it brings something entirely new into your world.

Once there is acceptance, you bring peace and change to your energy, and from there anything you create with the person you love is possible.

That’s not to say that you must accept everything in your relationship. You shouldn’t accept any abuse, physically or emotionally, and you must establish your deal-breakers along with making sure you are compatible, have similar core values and a vision for your future.

However, there are things you must accept in the one you love and in your relationshipCBurrowsphoto #1 in order to bring peace into your life.

Here are 20 things you must accept for your relationship to succeed:

1. Accept the things you cannot change.
2. Accept that you cannot fix your partner.
3. Accept that your partner is not perfect.
4. Accept that not everyone will behave as you do.
5. Accept that just because they don’t behave like you, it doesn’t make them wrong.
6. Accept their flaws.
7. Accept love as they are able to give it to you.
8. Accept that you love them.
9. Accept that we all experience things (including love) differently.
10. Accept that sometimes they can be a bit of a mess.
11. Accept the mess in the sink.
12. Accept that they are human and will make mistakes.
13. Accept their apology.
14. Accept your differences.
15. Accept that everyone has a past.
16. Accept that they cannot read your mind.
17. Accept that they can’t live up to an expectation you don’t communicate.
18. Accept that you are not always right.
19. Accept that there will be good and bad times.
20. Accept them.

What you resist will persist and will drive you absolutely crazy. By accepting, you are opening up a space for something completely new to happen in your relationship. Can you accept the challenge?

Ravid Yosef works with clients in Los Angeles and virtually around the world. Download her free eBook “Is He Realtionship Material?” from YourTango.com to learn all the signs to look for before you commit.

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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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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.

Winning

Today I find myself thinking about the differences between boys and girls, men and women, husbands and wives.  This, as a way of understanding how men’s orientation toward the concept of marriage is shaped by genetics and socialization, and why this basic—ingrained?—orientation may need to evolve if the marriage is to be built on a solid foundation.

I heard a story on NPR recently that examined the differences in infant boys and infant girls.  In the experiment, a Plexiglas barrier was placed between the baby and its mother, so that the baby could see mom, but could not reach or touch her.  As expected, the girls, more mature at this age, figured out quickly that they were upset, and began to cry.  The boys, after a while, discovered they were frustrated, and began seeking ways around and over the barrier, becoming angry when they were unable to do so.

Backs up what I used to observe when our kids would encounter adversity on the sports field:  Girls get sad, boys get mad.  This is not me being a chauvinist; it’s an academic study that happens to support my own bias, and which I therefore endorse. Lorenzo winning

Here’s what boys are NOT taught by their peers growing up:

Colossians 3:12   12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

For most boys, our orientation toward the world typically becomes one of competition—for the parents’ attention versus siblings, in sports, in school, for the ability to impress the girls.  Not surprisingly, this, along with our genetic predisposition to action, causes many of us to approach the institution of marriage with the idea of winning.  Seeking out the ideal girl or woman, crushing the competition for her affections, convincing her of the indescribable joy in store for her as your mate for life, and getting interest-free financing on the ring.

Anyone see anything in here about kindness, humility, meekness or patience?

Once we’ve landed her, and have had a few years to get adjusted to the reality of living together, this male orientation easily produces a mindset in which the relationship is seen as a zero sum game wherein fun is set against responsibility.  And, typically, he sets about winning, having as much fun as he can get away with, and doing as little as possible to keep the family unit intact without incurring the absolute wrath of his spouse.  Winning.

His spouse, by the way, came up learning how to nurture and communicate with those around her, probably has a predisposition to understanding our natures, for better or worse, and generally is not surprised to get the short end of the transactional straw.  In Iris Krasnow’s book The Secret Lives of Wives, a number of wives share stories of how they found happiness with the smaller share.  I joke with Nancy about arm-wrestling her for the last piece of her peach pie.  For many couples, their marriage IS the pie.  They do “arm-wrestle.”  And the men “win.”

Matthew 20:26  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.

One of the lessons I’ve learned along the way of my own relatively short spiritual journey is that my language of love, acts of service, is in fact one of the behaviors Jesus insists we adopt as members of the Body of Christ and, on a smaller scale, as husbands.  (Talk about a lucky break.)  It took me years to appreciate this, during which I feel I slacked on Nancy, notably while our children were growing up. I was out of town too much of the time, trying to pack a week’s worth of living into a two day weekend.  I was very transactional.  I was trying to win.

In the early 2000’s, Nancy’s career path and mine crossed.  Hers was on the way up, after 13 years at home with the kids.  Mine was trending downward. Eventually, I adopted the attitude that I would focus on taking care of a few more tasks of running the house than before, which included grocery shopping and most of the cooking.  This was what I could contribute to the marriage while I was having career issues.  This was also about the time I began my conversion, after 50 years of having been intentionally un-churched, which may or may not be a coincidence.

Mark 10:43-45  43 Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The over-arching lesson of all of this for me:  if we as men adopt a posture of service to God, our spouses, and our children, early in our marriages, it will produce more aggregate happiness, and God will smile on us for having seen the wisdom of His Son’s many lessons, quoted here in Mark’s gospel.  In my case, the language of love was there, but I was unwilling of or unable to acknowledge the Holy Spirit, urging me to be a better husband.  I think it must be a rare marriage, indeed, in which the husband is committed as Jesus prescribed, and the wife (and relationship) is not happy, content, and aligned with the Word of God.  Gentlemen, it is so NOT about winning.

H

The Four Major Hurdles to Marital Happiness, Part One

For most couples married any length of time, it’s not unusual to have disagreements or fights.  We’ve been told and taught for centuries that God’s plan for humanity is that women and men will seek and find completeness in one another, that the various parts weren’t designed by accident, and so forth. Doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have fights.

Regardless of where you stand in this search, the fact that spouses fight is not terribly important.  HOW we fight IS important, and there are scores of books on that subject.  Suffice it to say for this moment that there IS such a thing as fighting fair, and that learning how is one of the important early lessons in young marriages.  Learning to avoid John Gottman’s Four Horses of the Apocalypse—criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling—is a good place to start.

My view, again, is that regardless of how frequently or how actively couples fight, they tend NOT to fight about a dozen different subjects.  They tend to have the same fight, again and again.  It may come in different disguises, with different backdrops, but it’s typically the same fight.  And, unless I miss my bet, the root cause falls into one of four categories:

Children

Money

Sex

Division of Labor 

These, I believe, are the big issues, the potential deal-breakers, the stumbling blocks that keep many couples from thriving through the difficult first decade of marriage and children.   Within sacramental marriage, then, how are we to deal with these issues in a successful way, i.e., one that keeps us connected spiritually, physically and emotionally with our spouse in a world that moves at light speed?

This post will focus on the first two.  The next post will look at the last two, and offer some final thoughts.

Children

The decision to have children is perhaps the largest question we as humans face as we enter adulthood.  Having kids changes everything, is twice as hard as you expect, twice as expensive, and infinitely more rewarding.  Until and unless a couple is on the same page concerning whether to have children, when, how many, etc., they are setting themselves up for difficulty down the road.  Couples who get married with the intention of finding common ground on this subject at some later date may find it impossible.  Too, the notion that having a child, or another child, is the prescription for a troubled marriage is bad reasoning.

Children will test your marriage in fairly direct proportion to their eventual number.  Couples determined to survive and enjoy these years will usually reap immeasurable rewards in their later years.  As my wife points out in the discussion over religious freedom and healthcare, being pregnant is not a disease.  But the commitment, in terms of things foregone, pleasures deferred, lifestyles altered, is critical.  We believe it is not our choice as to whether or when God chooses to bless our lives with children, but within sacramental marriage we hope that the husband and wife understand relevant scripture, as well as their own feelings on these issues, and respect the feelings of their spouse.

Money

Money has been called the root of all evil, and it is certainly at the heart of a lot of marital discord.  For many of us, money has become our god, and we consume ourselves in its pursuit.  Recognizing this in ourselves and agreeing on how to handle money before getting married will head off many troubles in the years afterward.  Not all, but many.

Nancy and I struggled financially for years, raising three children while I pursued what would kindly be characterized as a lackluster career.  I was on straight commission for 20 years, and my income, in addition to being insufficient, was unpredictable.  I put off Nancy’s entreaties to make and live on a budget literally for decades.  During those years, I wasted a lot of time worrying about money, and I expect someday to be held accountable for all of that wasted time.

OLMC offers several financial workshops, as well as a host of books on the topic in the church library.  If you and your spouse are arguing over money all the time, it couldn’t hurt to sign up for a workshop—together—and start working this thing out. Nancy and I have been on a fairly rigorous budget now for roughly three years, and it has improved our marriage.  The process of making the budget and then living (more or less) within it, for me, has been virtually painless.  And to think I resisted for 25 years.

One more thing about money.  Make sure there is a Charitable Giving line in your budget, and remember Jesus’ words in St. Matthew’s gospel about first fruits.

Next time, we’ll examine the topics of Sex and The Division of Labor.

Where is the Love?

I remember a guy I knew in college (in the mid ’80s) saying very cavalierly that the last thing he thought about when he was having sex was love. At this time, the sexual revolution was in full swing: The Pill was more common than a multi-vitamin and virginity was becoming a derogatory term. Women were encouraged to be assertive and open with their sexuality. And men were enjoying readily available sexual encounters.

What happened to the love and sex connection?

My thought is that the connection between love and sex was more frequently present before the sexual revolution (and the increased availability of contraception) mostly because there was vulnerability and risk involved in having sex with someone. Birth control minimized this risk, and enabled men and women to hook up without the worry of getting pregnant – or without the openness to it. But, did the vulnerability really disappear? Isn’t being naked in the presence of another a vulnerable experience? Doesn’t working out the awkwardness of sexual intimacy involve being vulnerable? What about communicating about fears, desires, and anxieties? Sadly, these feelings have been dismissed in the name of “free sex”. Often couples enter into sexual relations without ever communicating about these feelings and concerns – and without feeling love – because they CAN. By that, I mean that they can because they don’t have to worry about getting pregnant (even if they do still have to worry about other things such as STDs and simple awkwardness.). What happens then is that all those feelings go untended, and the sex can be more alienating than unifying.

Sacramental marriage reconnects sex and love. It reserves sexual intercourse to marriage, and calls couples to be open, vulnerable, and submissive to one another and to God. This kind of trust in God’s plan involves an intimacy that requires deep, open love. These couples who are open to God’s plan for their marriage don’t fret about risks and vulnerability because they trust God.  While love for another can exist outside of marriage, the fullness of marital love can only be realized when husbands and wives consummate their marriage with openness to life.

As the sexual revolution devolves into commonplace, we need a counter-revolution to restore the relationship between sex and love. I say we start one marriage at a time. Are you with me?

Posted by Christine Burrows