Healthy, fun, mutually supportive, respectful, and loving marriages are possible. These are not just the realities of your great grandparents’ generation and a few rare couples. No, it is a possibility for all married couples. In fact, it is within reach of even the most dysfunctional relationships. Unlike most of the other aspects of our lives, in this domain we have more control than we think. How we chose to respond, communicate with one another, and forgive can make a huge difference. I have expounded on a few basics which a surprisingly large number of married couples have forgotten or never knew. The good news is that you can start making a difference today.
Marriage First. Place your spouse in their rightful place as first in your life (after God). Our spouse should be our best friend, and closest ally who always has our back. Marriage is about a “partnership for life.” Are we respectful? Are we kind? Do we assume the best? Do we act in unity or autonomy? Our spouse comes before the kids, before the job, before the other activities and people in our life. “Before,” not to the exclusion.
Marriage is a total self-gift, a complete self-offering not only for our benefit, but for our spouse, and the marriage. This requires a willingness to die to our own wants and desires. “We before I.” Friction occurs when other people, situations, and circumstances take a priority in our hearts and lives. The quickest way to break those down is to refocus our attention, time, and love on our spouse. Practicing authentic love is sacrificial. St. Paul outlines what love looks like in 1 Cor.13:1-13. It is a wonderful passage to ponder what adjustments need to be made. Sacramental confession is the next place to unload all of the hurt, failures, unkindness. Forgive your spouse as you have been forgiven. Our wonderful priests are so gentle, and the necessary healing will bring peace.
“What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.” Do we totally share ourselves, our finances, our hearts? The more we keep separate, the more that separates us. It is easy from there to plant seeds of distrust, division, and discord. Either you are all in, everything and every part of your life- or you have placed those things before the marriage relationship…and they will not be there when you most need them.
Practicing a shared faith really does make a difference. It is one more thing that unites, and one less thing to fight about. After forty years of marriage and countless conversations with married couples, it is the thing that binds more than any other effort you can make for your marriage. Seeking the Author of Love to learn how to properly love one another is a noble thing.
We cannot survive without help from above. There are so many forces that want your marriage to fail; “You can do better. You deserve to be happy.”
Marriage is about making each other holy, not happy. Happiness is a byproduct, not the priority. Even if you are the only one willing right now, do it. Pray for your spouse. Practice your faith. Give your heart, marriage, and family over to God to make it new. Too many times I have seen the so-called faithful Christian be such a hypocritical source of frustration for the non-Christian that they are pushed further from God. If practicing our faith is not attractive in the sense of how we love, live out our day, and interact with our spouse, then it is futile. A living faith changes us. It seeks to place others first, to be loving and Christlike.
I proposed that placing our marriage first changes everything, I meant everything including our children, family life and those we encounter. Think of your marriage as the foundation for your home. If it is shaky, broken, or unstable, the whole family is affected negatively. It follows that it will also affect your job performance, friendships, leisure time and how you view life in general.
Is it possible to have obedient, respectful, helpful, and happy children? Yes. It just takes time like a marathon. Stay the course with your marriage and respect for one another and it will rub off on the children. Your home is the preparation for their adult life. What are they learning from observing your marriage?
Do they have basic chores in which they contribute towards the good of the family? They need not be paid for these but there should also be some opportunities for earning money too. This flows into the lesson of the value of money? Life is not about attempting to fill their every want when they demand it? What that teaches them is how to be spoiled, ungrateful and intensifies their inability to be satisfied. They learn nothing of the value and purpose of money.
Who is in charge? Do you parent which takes patience, respect, and cooperation from your spouse, or are you trying to be their friends? They have friends. They need parents to do their job of preparing them for all that life will throw at them. Their success depends on your help and encouragement, support and love, and consistent fair discipline. Of course, it is difficult to consistently do the hard stuff, but when we do, they have a grasp of reality and of right and wrong. Teach them about the necessity to obey and respect legitimate authority which is not contingent upon their liking of the person.
It is important to help foster a concern and desire to assist the downtrodden, sick, aged, poor, and disabled. An empathetic compassionate heart is a good thing. Your whole family can volunteer from time to time at various organizations. They need us to survive, and we need them to get to heaven. Acknowledge your blessings and be mindful of others less fortunate. It feels good to be able to make a difference in someone’s life, to lift them up from their situation even for a moment in time. Let your children experience this and expand their capacity for caring.
Finally, and I could go on and on. Our earthly life is only the journey, whether you chose to believe it or not. We are not immortal; we will come to the end of our days when we least expect it. When we as spouses live in a manner that points to heaven, and teach our children about the God who created them, loves them beyond all measure, and will never abandon them; we give them the greatest gift to weather any storm in life. They are never alone and can call on supernatural help in the gravest of situations. We are God’s delight, even when we are a hot mess, in over our heads, or haven’t so much as acknowledged Him ever. We are His. He desires that we share in His heavenly kingdom and was willing to die on a cross to prove it and make it possible. It is up to us to say yes. Both parents must be willing to introduce them to God and model an active faith life. Otherwise, children are truly deprived and we would have failed at one the most critical tasks of being their parents.
Do everything you can to make your marriage a beautiful reflection of love. Treat your spouse with respect and great care and your kids will follow your lead in their dealings with each other. St. Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
Go and do the same.