6 Lifelines for Married Couples
Here are some practical tips to help you and your spouse invest more creatively in your marriage
There are a few things in life that we will never regret spending time on — adoration, playing with our children, changing the oil in our car, exercise, and the list goes on. One that almost never makes the list is nurturing your marriage. Even as we write this, it sounds so cheesy.
“We all know we're supposed to work on our marriage. There’s not too much really wrong with our marriage. We have difficult days — everyone does. Most of the time things are good. We’re better off than a lot of people we know.”
So easily we drift into the “okay marriage” realm. But God does not call us to have an “okay marriage” — he calls us to have a marriage that reflects his love to the world! A marriage that loves, honors and cherishes. Your marriage is priceless. Period. What have you done for your marriage today?
What are some ways that you and your spouse can practically and creatively invest in your marriage?
There are six lifelines for marriages that we would like to share with you. You could even call these “relationship accelerators.” Even if you started with just one of these suggestions, it would change the course of your marriage.
Over the past 12 years, we have had incredible conversations with thousands of couples, both married and engaged. We have also visited with couples whose marriages are crumbling, and they are now considering all the ways that they did not care for their marriage. We want to share with you six key lifelines we have discovered that are vital for a healthy marriage.
1. The sacraments and spiritual direction. There’s nothing like going to confession together (not in the same confessional, of course) to reset your marriage. When the pipes are clean, the grace of the sacrament overcomes so many of our weaknesses and failures. The grace of the Sacrament of Marriage is readily available to do what it was meant to do. We cannot feed the Sacrament of Marriage on a starvation diet, so we need confession and Jesus in the Holy Eucharist to nourish us. This is not pious language — this is foundational truth! Spiritual direction (if available) is also very helpful if you are navigating difficult decisions, would like to improve your prayer life, or you just need someone to help you discern what your marriage needs. Again, do it together!
2. Read books together. One of the most intimate things a couple can do is read together. Choosing good books to read together can be hard, but we have included a list below of the top ones that we recommend to couples or ones that have been recommended to us over the years. These are absolutely amazing classics or classics in the making:
- The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse by Art and Laraine Bennett
- The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
- A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
- St. Joseph Consecration by Fr. Calloway (do it as a couple)
- Discernment of Spirits in Marriage by Fr. Gallagher
- Three to Get Married by Fulton Sheen
- Love and Responsibility by JPII
- Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love by Ed Sri
- Salt and Light: The Spiritual Journey of Élisabeth and Félix Leseur by Bernadette Chovelon
- Psalter for Married Couples by Magnificat
- BeLoved by Dr. Bob Schuchts
- Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud
Reading fiction together is wonderful too, but that is another blog post for another day.
3. Couple prayer. There is nothing that researchers have discovered that is more likely to predict future marital happiness or success than if a couple prays together or not. Nothing. If you have never prayed with your spouse before, then yes — it does feel awkward. Very awkward. Like when you unload all of your kids in the snow at the wrong person’s house kind of awkward. But once you experience praying together, it’s easier, and then you get to the point where you cannot imagine life before you prayed together. Start with something simple like, “Hun, is there anything going on this week that you are stressed about? Maybe we can just pray together for it?” Keep it simple and short until you are both comfortable. The “Couple Prayer Series” has been around for years, and it was put together by a very holy couple in Detroit. The husband is a Catholic deacon, and he and his wife put together a homemade, simple, but life-changing series for couples. They filmed it at their dinner table, and they are not “pros” at fancy, but they are pros at what really matters in life. We ran this series at our parish over 10 years ago and we are still reaping the benefits in our marriage. Pray with each other, and for each other.
4. Counseling. Counseling no longer has the stigma that it used to have, but good Catholic counselors can be difficult to find. Contact your diocese or your parish for recommendations. Sometimes you may have to Zoom with one if there isn’t one in your area. It’s important that the counselor that you choose understands Church teaching and is not going to encourage you to use pornography, for example. You also want someone who understands that marriage is for life and isn’t constantly considering a way out. Usually, by the time people decide they need counseling, one of the spouses has already decided they’re done. Couples who are considering counseling may simply need another couple to mentor them. Counseling is something that all of us need at some point in our life during particularly difficult times, or as we transition into a new phase in our lives, but mentors we need every day. Consider finding couples whom you admire to mentor you even in addition to counseling.
5. Mentoring and community. Mentors model for us what it looks like to fall down and get back up. Mentors comfort and encourage us. They are there for us, especially when they’ve been through what we’re going through. Seek out a couple whose marriage you admire and invite them to walk with you either one on one or in a small group. Community with other couples is so important! It’s one of the most important things that we stress with a couple who is engaged. Consider doing a small group series with them like “Be Light,” “Teams of Our Lady” or “Domestic Church USA.” If you're feeling alone and like there's no group to join, then start one and invite other couples. The chances are that we’re all experiencing isolation and a desire for community with other couples and families!
6. Date nights. Dating your spouse is not a chore but scheduling a date night can feel like one. It's worth it! Every couple whose marriage we admire has let us know that they are still dating each other. There will be seasons in life where you get more couple time than others, but it’s always going to be something you have to fight for. Extracurricular activities, work, children, life, sickness — everything seems to get in the way of making that space to focus on just your spouse. To focus on their hopes and their dreams and to listen to their heart. It may mean taking out your phone right now and making a dinner reservation and getting a babysitter, probably in reverse order. Or it may mean planning something special after the kids go to bed. Don’t ever stop dating and pursuing your beloved spouse.
Marriage is meant to be lived, not endured. Now send this article to your spouse and tell them that they have to read it and let them know you would like to go out with them on a date!