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In time for World Marriage Day, practical tips for happy, healthy, holy marriages.
BY Joseph Pronechen
What couple doesn’t want a wonderful marriage?
Marriage Day, celebrated every second Sunday of February, is a good reminder of
that goal. Launched in 1981 to celebrate marriage and honor husbands and wives,
it was vigorously promoted by Worldwide Marriage Encounter. In 1993 it received
John Paul II’s apostolic blessing.
year, World Marriage Day falls on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, and it’s a good
opportunity for married couples to go beyond Cupid’s arrows and chocolates to
consider loving ways to make and keep their marriages “happy, healthy, holy and
lasting forever,” as Father Tom Aschenbrener at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral
puts it. Experts in the field share eight ways to start:
1. “Let God be
God.” So says Jennifer Roback
Morse, wife, founder of the marriage organization Ruth Institute and author of 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage (RuthInstitute.org).
times people marry believing a spouse is going to solve all problems and meet
every need. “That’s not realistic,” she says. “You have to accept the fact your
spouse is a limited human being, as you are.” Expect limitations, don’t blame,
and work together to solve any problem.
2. Pray. “It really comes down to the importance of
praying together,” says Father Aschenbrener, co-author of the
marriage preparation program “One in Christ.” Pray as individuals, as a couple
and together at Mass with the larger community.
points out that many people take great care to eat right, nourish their bodies
with organic foods, and get enough exercise. But more importantly, “if we
deprive ourselves spiritually by not praying, receiving the sacraments or
spending quality time with our spouse,” he says, “we start to lack forgiveness
in times of trial, and we become very selfish as opposed to self-giving.”
cultivating prayer with your spouse,” he explains, “you’re bringing God into
your lives and allowing him not only to help sustain the marriage and fortify
you, but to open up yourselves to the One who brought you together in the first
place and who has sealed the covenant between you.”
their wedding day, spouses received the grace of the sacrament. “It’s not a
gift that God just gives on that day of their marriage, but a gift that keeps
on giving,” he says. “They can call upon that grace always. That’s why marriage
is not just a natural but a supernatural vocation.” Spouses must seek each
other’s holiness and salvation. That means making God part of life throughout
the day, not just for a short evening prayer. Remember him in the morning and
at meals. Other suggestions: Get a book on prayer, use short Scripture
passages, and pray the Rosary.
and Katie Watson, national board members of Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME.org), agree that prayer is indispensable. “If we don’t allow God
at the center of the relationship,” says Tom, “it has no strong foundations to
hang onto in the winds of the world that cause strife in the marriage.”
the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation. “The Eucharist is the gift of self-sacrificial
love,” observes Father Aschenbrener. “When a couple comes together to celebrate the Eucharist, they are uniting themselves to God in this act of
self-sacrifice, and it should remind them of their own call to self-sacrificial
love.” Receive the Eucharist frequently, daily if possible.
confession, too. “One of the greatest things we learn from Scripture is to
forgive and to be able to forgive someone,” he notes.
one couple told him, the more they experience the forgiveness and mercy of God,
the more they’re able to extend that to each other, their children and others.
Regular confession helps root out vices that keep them from fully living their
marriage vows. It makes it much easier to tell your spouse “I’m sorry.”
4. Forgive. Morse says forgiveness is more important than
conjugal love for building a healthy, lasting relationship. It might be hard to
admit you’re not perfect, but apologize, ask forgiveness and grant forgiveness.
helps explain why regular religious practice turns out to be a protective
factor against divorce,” says Morse. “What we’re learning in church is how to
forgive and be forgiven. People are flawed human beings — accept the fact.”
Communicate. Tom Watson notes
that Jesus’ example teaches us how to be Christian in the way we respond to
instance, he counsels couples to remember that God made us male and female with
different attributes. Empathy and understanding is needed in order to smooth
over the difference in communication style between wives and husbands. One
hint: Females tend to be more verbal, males nonverbal.
instance, develop sensitivity to each other’s nonverbal signs. For example, Bob
hardly says “I love you,” but might bring Betty coffee in the morning. Or a
surprise breakfast. That’s how he can say “I love you” in a nonverbal way. Even
if she would have preferred cocoa, she still empathetically accepts the coffee
thankfully, realizing it’s his way of saying he loves her.
have to learn what our spouse really needs and desires, particularly outside
the bedroom,” advises Tom Watson. “That’s where most couples fail in their
affirms it’s in the interest of the marriage to be receptive to what your
spouse has to say, even if your spouse gives you a hard time: What they’re
saying might have some validity.
humility. Learn to give way on
the trivial issues, advises Morse, who finds many people feel the need to win
unimportant arguments. That’s a sign of weakness, not strength.
told us that the meek shall inherit the earth,” she says. “Christian humility
is an important and significant virtue. It tells us you don’t need to
aggrandize yourself all the time. It’s not good for your or someone else’s
generous. Give to your spouse —
even something simple.
is a major virtue for married couples,” affirms Morse. “It keeps the giving
process going within the marriage. Both people should participate and respond.
It isn’t an affront to your dignity to get up and get a cup of coffee.”
means each spouse gives 100%. Frequently compliment your spouse and express
your gratitude, thanks and appreciation even for small things done every day.
generosity is a form of self-sacrifice. This extends to being open to life.
“Contraception goes against everything we believe about marriage,” stresses
Father Aschenbrener. “Couples are not only denying the gift of new life that
God could give, but closing themselves off from the gift of oneself
with others who share your values. “Surround yourself with other couples — it
doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be Catholic — who share your faith
values, people who reverence and honor marriage, our Catholic faith, the Lord
Jesus, and the dignity of life,” says Tom Watson.
everything, keep Christ at the heart of your marriage, says Father
Aschenbrener, noting that scripturally the number “8” symbolizes the new
creation God is bringing about. So will these “8” steps for happier, healthier,
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull,