When Deacon Pat Hayes preached on marriage at Mary Immaculate Church in Farmers Branch, Texas, his material created so much buzz that he expanded it into Top Ten Ways to Build a Wonderful Marriage (Bezalel Books, 2008). He spoke about the timely book and its timeless subject matter with Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen.

How did your book come about?

It started with preparation for a homily on Proverbs 31 — “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls,” and so on. As soon as I read that, I turned to my wife, Susanne, and told her I was going to do my homily on marriage. Then the thought came to do a Top 10 list.

When I gave the homily, I got tremendous feedback. People were asking for copies. I knew there was a need for this. I really believe the list was inspired and what God wanted. I thought, “I’m the empty vessel he’s going to use to present this material.”

Can you share one or two of the 10 ways to build a successful marriage?

One of my favorites is to decide divorce is not an option. Even though that’s the teaching of the Catholic Church, we still have a high divorce rate. If a couple makes a conscious decision they are never going to get a divorce, they will work to resolve their differences rather than run away. The relationship has a whole different flavor because they know nothing is going to cause them to get a divorce.

And the most important is: If there is anyone in your life who you feel closer to than your spouse, back away from that relationship. Until your spouse is your most intimate relationship, the rest of these ways are not going to work.

How do you illustrate these ways in the book?

I use a lot of stories related to each of the 10 ways. One is from when we bought a house while we lived in Phoenix. It had one tall, thin tree in the backyard. Guy wires were holding it up. They had to go because we had little children. Without the guy wires, the tree swayed in the wind and bent in half. It couldn’t support itself. I pulled on this 15-foot tree, and it popped out of the ground. The tap root was circled around itself because the tree wasn’t properly planted and nourished.

Then I properly planted and nourished two small new trees. A few years later, I was able to put a hammock between them. That’s what a marital relationship is also about. You have to properly strengthen and nourish each other.

What part does faith play?

The couple needs to have a shared faith. There are three people in a marriage: the husband, the wife and God. That is necessary to have a whole and complete relationship. If God is not in the marriage, something is going to be missing, and it’s never going to be a fulfilling relationship.

In his divine way, God brings a couple together and we say Yes to one another. Then, with God’s help, every couple is called to develop their marriage into a wonderful and holy relationship.

This came out of my years of experience as a cradle Catholic and with other couples — and the experiences my wife and I had when we were involved for many years in Marriage Encounter. Our Marriage Encounter in 1979 started our relationship into something deeper and more intimate. It led to me becoming a deacon, then writing this book. It all started from Marriage Encounter.

Why did you particularly want to get an imprimatur for the book?

So that family-life coordinators working in marriage preparation could give this book to couples, knowing it doesn’t contradict Church teachings. I can see it being used for engaged couples to give them a head start on building a great marriage.

What is the age range of your target audience?

No matter how long a couple is married, there is always room for improvement in the relationship. A single person can read it, too, because when they meet that one special person they will have some things to discuss. They can begin right away to build their wonderful marriage.

If a husband and wife work together and make their marriage a positive experience, the whole family experience is going to be better. If the children can look at their parents and say my mom and dad have a great marriage, I don’t have to worry about them getting a divorce, the family will be stronger and happier.

It’s not a really long book, and I don’t use technical language. You can read it cover to cover in about an hour and a half. But most people read a chapter and then think about it.

The Top 10 list must relate to your own marriage, too?

All 10 of these ways came from our experience. This is the way we live our life. And we have had a successful marriage for nearly 36 years now.

After writing each chapter, I took it to Susanne. It became a love letter from me to her. Our relationship grew to the point where I can write a book like this and there’s still room for improvement. A marriage can always be worked on to make it better.

Can you give a personal example?

We have to keep constantly working on spending quality time together. It’s so easy to get started and then slip away. We don’t have kids at home anymore, so we sit on the couch and just talk — light conversation about what we did during the day, sometimes deeper things that concern us, like the effect the economy could have on my job. Quality time is the only way you will come to realize and appreciate that your spouse is a very special gift from God to you.

The subject is timely, especially considering the attacks on traditional marriage. Did that figure into your thinking?

There is such a strong assault on marriage now, but we can’t sit back and say that’s the way it is. I’m a firm believer that God is still in control of this world and still has a plan for us. It’s up to us to listen and do the work. He wants all marriages to survive.

Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding, which says Jesus is a strong supporter of marriage. He started his ministry by supporting a newly wed couple.

We can all make a difference in little ways. I see this book as one of the little ways in which couples will strengthen their marriage, which will strengthen their family, which will strengthen our Catholic Church.

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.

INFORmation Ten Ways to Build a Successful Marriage is available at BezalelBooks.com, DeaconPat.com and through online retailers.