Get Connected – Turn Toward Your Partner to Create Intimacy

Cute-Romantic-Love-CoupleHere’s another nugget from John Gottman, courtesy of the Alabama Healthy Marriage Initiative.  This piece discusses the specific types of connections we make with our spouses, how some are positive and some are negative.  Mastering the art of opening positive connections–leaning in versus leaning away–with your spouse invites a warm, open relationship in which conflicts heal quickly and intimacy is part of everyday life.

Get Connected – Turn Toward Your Partner to Create Intimacy

The story many of us tell ourselves is that our marriages are imperfect, that they are what they are, and there’s no point in trying to re-build them.  But what we also see are research reports, by Gottman and others, that suggest practical techniques for improving our relationships.  That yours, and mine, is imperfect is due to the fact that each of us is imperfect. We are all sinners.   And, therefore, it’s not so much about finding the right person as it is being the right person.  If our marriage appears to be failing, we will be taking some of the reason for that with us in the pursuit of a new, improved marriage.  Logic dictates that even in the unlikely event that Spouse #2 were, in fact, perfect, it would bode poorly for the success of the relationship.marriage-vs-money

Marriage literature suggests that most marriages go through three distinct stages.  Euphoria, that unmatched feeling early in the relationship when it seems the sun, the moon and the stars rotate around your intended spouse.  Disillusionment, when you realize the natural order of the universe and where exactly you and your spouse, and probably children, fit in it.  And, finally, That Third Stage, in which the partners either don’t work it out, manage some kind of peaceful coexistence, or, at best, feed and maintain a relationship built upon respect, trust and intimacy, both emotional and physical, and thank God for that person, for the loaning of your partner’s spirit, if only for a short time, that is at the core of sacramental marriage.

The practice of leaning into your spouse when discussing important issues is what the Masters of Marriage do.  It allows couples to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise in marriage quickly and without any need for retribution.  It is a skill, and can be developed by anyone ready and willing to try to improve their marriage.  The story we need to be telling ourselves is that we can improve our marriage if we want to and if we enlist the help of The Holy Spirit.  As Nancy constantly reminds me, “The door is open.”

old-couple in love

Beatitudes for Young Mothers

Of the eight beatitudes from The Sermon on the Mount, several can be applied to our marriages and to each of us in our roles as parents.  When we fail to respond to Christ’s calls to these heavenly blessings, we not only tarnish our hopes of seeing heaven, but we can damage our relationships with our families.  When we turn some of our worries over to God, we are better able to handle those that remain. 

Busy-ParentsI am going to assume that, all other things being equal, in the early part of the 21st century, American women, young and not-so-young, do more parenting than their men.  That WAY more of the burdens of caring, planning, packing, arranging, scheduling, and doctoring, are borne by our wives, no matter how liberated we husbands claim to be.  (As for playing with our kids, that may be a draw.)  I infer, then, that way more of the pressures of parenthood end up on the moms.  This vestige of the days when we lived in caves seems almost universal.  Therefore, I suggest that two of the three Beatitudes discussed here are more relevant for mothers.  (Men are welcome to shoulder the other five, and will probably become better fathers in the process.)

As I see it, from the perspective of 38 years of marriage and three children, the most important of the Beatitudes for young parents tells us that the merciful will be shown mercy.  As the speed of life increases, as our families grow, and as the demands upon us from one another, our children, our parents and our siblings continue to build, we often reach a point at which we must release pressure.  How we release this pressure is important.

Although I routinely confess to having cursed A LOT when I go to reconciliation, I do everything I can to avoid cursing at Nancy.  In the worst of our arguments, over almost four decades we have used next to NO profanity.  If cursing one another is a regular feature of your lives, whether you’re fighting or not, you are chipping away at the foundation of trust, respect and intimacy at the core of your marriage.  And over long periods of time, a damaged foundation will be prone to collapse when under stress.  Agree not to curse at one another.  Ever.  It’s not that hard.

To me, it’s not surprising that so many working mothers are stressed out.  To me, the wonder is that not ALL working mothers are stressed out, followed in short order by mothers, period.  (Heck, maybe they are, and I’m just too old and out of touch to realize it.)  Raising children takes more out of people than almost anything else I can think of.  I applaud our readers who are doing everything they can to be good parents.  During Lent especially, I pray that mothers everywhere can find it in themselves to show their children, and their defective, fallen husbands, mercy.  Even when they don’t deserve it.  For the fathers, I pray that you fully grasp the mental and physical challenges involved in being a mother, and that you not only appreciate her efforts, but do all you can to lighten them.

Earlier, Christ tells us that the meek shall inherit the earth.  Today, for many of us, the meek are, in fact, our own children.  They are the ones depending upon us for all of their needs–physical, emotional, intellectual.  When we release our pressure on them, we probably cause harm.  We may instill doubt in their hearts, doubt that we truly love them, and this can be a corrosive concern for a kid growing up.  Our children need have no doubts that they are loved by their parents, even on the worst of days.  Shielding them from our impatience is a grace from God, received through prayer.  Short, momentary bursts of prayer during the day, staying in touch with God, staying cool, staying in tune with the universe.  🙂

Most of us know people, women generally, who like the idea of being surrounded all day by five kids under the age of six.  At our bible study last fall, one of the young women at my table, working as a nanny to put herself through school, asked God for forgiveness for having had all three of her charges in tears that day at the same time.  This latter person is, I believe, far more common than the former, although most of us know women like this, and some of us have been blessed to have them look after our own kids at times.  But if this isn’t you, it doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective and loving mother. It just means you need to pray harder.  You’re already doing all you can.  So get help–invite the Holy Spirit to lend a hand when doing it all alone seems to be too much.

I wrote a witness for bible study this week in which I observed that I never really got along very well with my own mother.  She was something of a perfectionist, I was anything but perfect, and an only child, to boot, and her continuous disappointment with me colored our relationship until the day she died.  If you’re a young mother, and you’re struggling, you may want to pray about how your child will remember his or her childhood.  If, during times of stress, you remember that we are called by God to be gentle, that the meek shall inherit the earth, it may be easier to maintain your composure and allow the rough moments to pass, so that they easily recall good times growing up.

Finally, it is the peacemakers who shall be called children of GodThis, thankfully, applies to husbands and wives, mothers and fathers.  If our children grow up amidst chaos, they will seek it as adults, and will find themselves in tumultuous relationships.  Our home should be our refuge, and all of us crave the comfort and security that comes from a home that is one of warmth, love, understanding and acceptance.

Sure, things get wild, maybe every day, and hopefully on purpose; our homes are not meant to be tombs.  But they are, at some point, and on some level, where we rest our heads and our hearts.  Couples willing to spend half an hour together after the kids are in bed putting their homes back together for the next day’s festivities are, again, sharing God’s grace.

There will be more basketball games on TV.  There will be more IMs on Facebook.  But there will never again be a time when you can have this much positive influence over your kids and the adults they will one day become; their peers are gaining on you.  The world is filled with people who regret not having been more engaged parents.  There are relatively few people out there who, looking back over their lives, regret not having watched more basketball.

God in skySo, during this Lent, let us all promise to do more to promote peace, love and understanding in our own homes.  Husbands, fathers, let us support our wives in their roles as mothers, and let us all show mercy to our own families first, and the rest of the world in its turn.  While it’s not as good as having been there for The Sermon on the Mount, we will be integrating the word of God into our daily lives.  He will be pleased with us.

Be Prepared

fighting_couplesMatthew 25:13: Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. 

As married couples playing the back nine of life, it becomes easy to take each other for granted.  She’s been here for thirty-some years, she’ll probably stay. We find ourselves living in what might be called a state of peaceful co-existence, sharing tasks, drama-free.  Connected emotionally and physically in a global sense, but not always on a daily basis.  This is risky business, when you live with someone you love, because, as St. Matthew warns us, you never know…

Think about how you and your spouse said goodbye to one another today, or yesterday.  Would you want that exchange to be the last one the two of you ever had?  One that you could sit and reflect upon for the next few decades.  Those of you who may have lost someone close to you without getting a chance to say goodbye know what I mean.  The rest of you need to pray you don’t find out, and take steps to avoid finding out sooner rather than later.

1 John 2:28And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 

How you practice is how you play; this is what sports coaches have been telling kids for centuries.  When it comes to marriage, to executing the finer points of marriage, we are called to engage in daily behaviors that will help us avoid years of regret, and which could possibly cost us a trip to salvation.

We must be prepared.

We must make an effort every day to tell our spouse he or she is loved and safe and appreciated.  We must make it a daily habit to kiss our spouses at least twice.  Like we mean it, none of these air kisses or little annoying pecks.  Real kisses.  As if you might never see one another again.

We must have a clean heart and a clear conscience, with the sacrament of reconciliation still within its use-by date.  We need to take care of business when it comes to finances, in the event we are called unexpectedly.  If your retirement plan falls apart if someone dies, it’s not a retirement plan.  The idea is to let the surviving partner “stay in his or her world.” financially.  If you don’t know how to do this, make an appointment with someone who does.  Today.

We must be prepared. Creation of Adam

1 Corinthians 15:52:  In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 

If you believe in the second coming, and if you didn’t you probably wouldn’t be reading this, you know it will arrive with no warning.  There will be no do-overs.  For me, one of the frightening aspects of all this is the fear of leaving things unsaid with Nancy and my family.  I, we, must resolve to have those conversations, to write those letters, to leave nothing unsaid.  Men, especially, need to pray about this, in that we generally don’t discuss our feelings as readily as do our wives.

The events of September 11, 2001 played a part in my conversion story.  If you’re having trouble understanding this ‘ be prepared” stuff, just think about the sensations experienced by the husbands, wives, children and parents, and brothers and sisters of the men and women who lost their lives that day.  Out of a clear, crystal blue sky.  On a day like any other.  With little or no warning.  Think of the husbands and wives who failed to kiss each other goodbye that morning, or who went to bed mad the night before and he was gone before she awoke in the morning, and so on.

We must be prepared.  To avoid a life of regret on earth, and an eternity of anguish.

HJohn 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 

We know that what awaits us will be, assuming things work out, infinitely better than the short, generally brutish life most people experience during our time on earth.  With the gift of free will, we can choose to ensure that things do, in fact, work out.  By consciously and conscientiously practicing our faith.  By consciously trying to remain as affectionate as possible with our spouse, in celebration of the fine old wine you’ve become.   By giving to the poor and sharing with those less fortunate than ourselves.  By counting our blessings.  And by leaving nothing unsaid with the people we love.

Because you never know.

What We Mean by “Sacred Embrace”

Posted by Christine Burrows

Contrary to popular belief, modern Catholics do not think of sex as bad, shameful, or sinful. In its proper context, Catholics love sex, so much that we regard it as sacred. Ours is a counter-cultural faith, and this is Exhibit A.  For those of you unfamiliar with The Theology of the Body, this is a brief primer to whet your appetite.

It may help to begin by stating clearly what Theology of the Body is NOT.  It is not about the casual, recreational, self-focused sexual encounters portrayed in contemporary media.  It is not about the objectification of women that fuels the pornography industry.  It is not about “scoring”, “getting off” or any of the other vulgar measures of our cultural self-degradation.

The Theology of the Body is the fundamental Catholic teaching on human sexuality, borne of the writings of Pope John Paul II.  The Pope began this work in 1979 and devoted five years of his pontificate to helping us understand God’s word as it relates to sex within sacramental marriage between a man and a woman.  Few Catholics are aware of it or can claim to any real understanding of it. (Not surprisingly, even fewer people outside the church have even heard of it.)  Which is a shame, because it is a beautiful, intensely intimate portrait of what God intended for us before The Fall.

  • Christopher West is a contemporary expert on Theology of the Body, having spent years unpacking it and presenting it in everyday English to those of us who don’t have the time or talent to fully understand John Paul II’s words.  Check out his videos and books at
  • At the core of Theology of the Body is the truth that God gave men and women complementary bodies, and that “our bodies tell a story, the most beautiful story imaginable.” (Christopher West). Our bodies are uniquely designed and have special characteristics which give us the ability to unite physically and to procreate.
  • A second important premise to Theology of the Body is that we are all searching, longing for something. As Catholics, we believe this longing is to understand and embrace our God-given purpose: to know, love and serve God on Earth and to live happily with him forever in Heaven.
  • When we put together these two basic premises, we see that sex (so intimate, intense, and with the miraculous potential for new life) may actually be a way to quench that longing. The problem with lots of the sex that’s happening today is that it’s distorted, selfish, and incomplete – and has little to do with living out our purpose on Earth. It may satisfy a physical longing, but it doesn’t come close to satisfying our deepest longing to know, love and serve God.
  • Theology of the Body teaches us that sexual intercourse (the marital embrace) is a unifying act between a man, a woman AND God. It is an act of faith, open to God’s will and intervention. Not simply an opportunity to feel good in one another’s physical company, nor the means to getting pregnant. It is a sacred bond that gives us a glimpse of heaven, the uniting of our bodies in accordance with God’s word and his plan for us. It requires trust, submission, the love of one another and the love of God. It is a spiritual encounter of the highest order.

WOW!! That’s heavy stuff, and truly just a teaser. There’s more, much more. Stay tuned here, and dig deeper elsewhere. I dare say that once you “get” Theology of the Body, you will begin to change your entire worldview.  Moral issues will become clearer. Relationships will become more important. And selflessness will become a daily goal. Just imagine if… when… we ALL get it!

Can I have an “AMEN!”

The Politics of Family.

I’m a self-proclaimed political junkie – especially now that the presidential election is right (no pun intended) around the corner.  This election is certainly about the economy and foreign policy – but it really is about so much more.  This election is one of ideology.  We could talk for hours about the two conflicting ideologies at play here, but for purposes of this blog, there is no doubt that we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a war on religion.  Not to mention a war on traditional family values.

So where does politics get involved.  That’s complicated and I question whether it’s not simply politics, but rather “power” that is truly the key here.  The powerful control the dialogue and the message.  There is no question that the leaders of our country today lack a respect for traditional family values that, as Catholics, we know is sacred to understanding and attempting to live God’s will in our lives.

Monsignor Moran, my Pastor growing up, had a homily he would give on the Feast of the Holy Family.  He told the story of a father who had made a puzzle for his little boy by tearing up a picture of the world.  The little boy put the puzzle back together very quickly and his father asked how he was able to finish the puzzle so fast.  The boy responded, “there was a picture of a family on the back of the puzzle and I knew that if I put the family back together the world would be ok too.”  So simple.  So powerful.  So true.

God Bless!