Q.

When we were first married, I hoped that we'd spur each other on to holiness — to help each other become better people. But my husband views my attempts as mere nagging, and I'm disappointed that we're not progressing.

A.

Caroline: Never give up on anything having to do with your marriage, but perhaps you do need to redirect your focus. It's true that marriage is a path to sanctification and salvation, but we're called to lead — not drag — each other to heaven.

Think of some of our greatest saints, like Thérèse of Lisieux or Francis of Assisi, who may not have been eloquent preachers or writers. They inspired holiness in those around them simply through their examples of prayer, service, joy and self-sacrifice. That's the method we need to adopt in our marriages: to inspire holiness in our spouses by becoming holier ourselves. Goodness is contagious. When I try to be more patient, generous or loving toward my husband and children, it unfailingly encourages the same in them. And of course the opposite is true: When I am self-centered, grouchy or nagging — even if, like you, I think I'm pointing out legitimate faults — I bring the entire family down.

Another truth that has taken me years of marriage to learn is that my efforts in noting Tom's flaws are much better spent praying for and affirming him. Let's face it: We all know our own failings and weaknesses. I know that I need to shed excess baby weight and be more faithful to a daily prayer time.

I've confessed these shortcomings — more than once. If Tom continually pointed them out, even in a loving way, it would serve only to make me resentful (and depressed about the weight!). What helps is when Tom affirms the feeble attempts I do make to improve. A few simple words of praise about my good weigh-in at a prenatal checkup, for example, can keep me smiling and motivated to stay disciplined. And I have definitely seen the results when I devote myself to praying for Tom's needs and struggles.

Tom:

Another pitfall to avoid in dealing with each other's failings is what a favorite Catholic author of ours, Gregory Popcak, terms “marital chicken.” (For a great book on marriage, see his For Better … Forever! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.)

It's easy to be trapped in a marital pity party, where we whine about our spouse's flaws and make excuses for our own: “Why should I bother to keep my clothes off the floor when everything else is on the floor when I come home from work?” or “If only he weren't so grouchy, then maybe I could be more affectionate.” And on and on. Don't fall into this rut! Remember that on our wedding day we promised to be true to each other in good times and bad, for better or worse, whether thin or fat, cheerful or cranky … until death. I persist in doing good for Caroline because I'm called to love her as Christ loves, unconditionally, without reserve, holding nothing back. What she is doing or not doing isn't the issue. Let's love each other into heaven.

The McDonalds are the Family Life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.