Experts Offer Tips to Promote a Strong Marriage
“God is with you. He’ll give you the grace you need through the sacraments.”
With the coming of World Marriage Day, Feb. 10, 2019, and National Marriage Week USA, the seven days leading up to Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2019, I asked three Catholic leaders involved in helping others with their marriages to share their thoughts on marriage and to offer tips for a good marriage.
Ed Hopfner, Director of Marriage & Family Life, Archdiocese of San Francisco
What elements make for a good marriage?
When couples put the other person first. Some people go into marriage thinking, “This is going to make me happy.” Hopefully it does, but like all Christian endeavors, Catholic marriage must be about putting the other person first.
When I work with couples, I like to see them making an effort to listen to their spouses, understanding them, and putting their needs before their own. When I see this, I feel like the marriage is going to work. It is a good indication that the marriage is healthy.
What tips would you offer to promote a strong marriage?
As Pope St. John Paul II said, love is about making a gift of yourself to another. This is something we can teach our children.
We must order our love in the right way: to God, our spouse, family and then work. It can be hard for men especially to put work last; a lot of times we tend to reverse the order.
As far as secular advice, I suggest they read the book The 5 Love Languages. I know people whose marriages have been changed after reading this book.
And, at men’s conferences, I encourage men to be spiritual leaders in the home. Leadership can be misinterpreted, and mean “I get to tell you what to do,” rather than a leadership of service.
I also encourage couples to learn Natural Family Planning. It can be challenging to do, but offers many benefits.
Mike and Alicia Hernon, co-founders of The Messy Family (www.MessyFamilyProject.org)
What are some common traits you see in healthy marriages?
Mike: Humility and a willingness to change. Humility, because we must recognize that we’re both weak, and marriage is about growth. We have to want to grow in the relationship. And, we must be willing to work on ourselves and our marriage.
Alicia: We must realize that the vocation of being a married person is a path to holiness. There is a universal call to holiness. We have to recognize that if we are called to married life, through marriage we are refined, and can change to be the person God wants us to be.
The married person must have a willingness to change and be refined. You won’t lose yourself, but can become who you were created to be.
A married person has to have respect for the other person. We have to respect that they are different from us, that they have a different approach to things, a different temperament. That respect enables you to learn and be changed by the other person.
What are some harmful traits you’ve observed which can destroy marriages?
Alicia: A marriage can survive an affair more easily than it can if one person has contempt for the other. This means looking down on the other, and being indifferent toward them. It can be one of the most harmful things.
I think this happens most often when the woman has contempt for her husband. A man needs to be respected more than he needs to be loved. It can be very difficult for a marriage to come back from this contempt.
We tell people that the devil hates you. He wants to destroy you and your marriage. If you start to say, “I don’t have to work on my marriage,” that’s the beginning of a crack that can form in your relationship. The best defense is a good offense. You should be working to grow your marriage.
We’ve seen the marriages of devout Catholics fall apart. It is something you have to work on your whole life.
What are some tips you’d offer to promote a strong marriage?
Mike: Leave the children and get out at least once a month. Go away for a weekend once a year and rekindle your love.
Grow in your shared love. Do things together: hobbies, activities, interests. That will deepen your relationship.
Alicia: It is easy to get distracted from your marriage. But, it is the foundation of your family. If it cracks, everything else will fall apart.
After our spiritual life, our marriage has to come before anything else. It has to be strong. Get to know each other, communicate. Take the time that many couples don’t.
What help can the Church provide?
Mike: If you want your marriage to last, you need a relationship with God. Your spouse is a creature, and can never supply everything you need. Being active in the Church is good and healthy for marriage.
Alicia: In recent years, due to the pro-life movement, we have many crisis pregnancy centers. I think we need to have crisis marriage centers. If a couple is in crisis, the people of God should have a SWAT team come in and help with counseling, financial planning and so forth, with a goal of saving these marriages.
Mike: There’s a wonderful priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Fr. Jay Donahue, who observed that the time he devoted to marriage was either in marriage preparation or for the tribunal as they were heading for an annulment. So, he founded the Renew the “I Do” Foundation. Its purpose is to help couples renew the love between them. It is something Alicia and I very much support.
Your marriage is important, and worth the investment of your time.
Any other thoughts?
Alicia: God is with you. He’ll give you the grace you need through the sacraments. Sometimes your spouse may not want to cooperate with you in improving your marriage. I’d suggest you focus on what you can control. Do your best. God is faithful.
Mike: Pray individually and as a couple. Seek a relationship with God.