About six months ago I got a telephone call from a man I’ve known for over 15 years. He and his wife have been married over 20 years. They have a large family with children in college, high school, and grade school. The man told me he had recently moved out of his house and into an apartment and was going to file for divorce. He had consulted with a family law attorney and didn’t like him, so he wanted to know if there was anyone I could recommend.
I asked him several questions about his situation. What happened? Why did he move out? Was she involved with another man? (Answer was “No.”) Did they try counseling? (“No.”) Did he make a serious effort to reconcile with her after he moved out? (“No”)
He really didn’t want to answer my questions; he just wanted me to give him some of my time (for no charge) so I could answer his questions. It didn’t take me very long to realize that he was extremely angry with his wife and he had already made up his mind to follow through with the divorce.
The telephone call came as a surprise to me. I had represented him and his wife in a real estate transaction several years ago and they were (and to the best of my knowledge still are) solid Catholics.
About 20 years ago, a distant relative of mine who was a devout Catholic, divorced his wife (after being married to her for over 35 years). At the time of his divorce, he was in his 60’s. He told me that he “just couldn’t take it anymore” and “we still love each other, but all we do is fight when we’re together.” After his divorce, he filed for and was granted an annulment. He then went out and found a woman he could get along with and married her.
Last week I heard that a Catholic couple who formerly participated in our adoration program were in the middle of a bitter divorce. Both the husband and the wife are good people who I always thought were very much in love with each other.
I don’t claim to be a marriage or relationship expert – far from it – but based upon what I’ve learned in my own marriage and from observing my parents, grandparents, friends, and relatives, I have some suggestions for couples who are serious about keeping their marriage young and “evergreen”:
• First the obvious. Regardless of what popular culture says about marriage, the truth of the matter is that a valid marriage is a sacrament – a holy union between a man, a woman, and their Creator. A marriage cannot (and will not) flourish without the grace of God, which is the glue that holds the marriage together. When a Catholic couple fails to abide by the teachings of the Church, they cut off the grace of God in their marriage. Once that happens, the invisible navigation system that was in place to steer the couple, short-circuits and the marriage is thrown off course, ever so slightly. Like a ship that starts out slightly off course, years later the marriage ends up crashing and burning.
• From the beginning of a marriage to the point where they are no longer physically capable of doing so, a married couple should go out on a date together alone for a minimum of at least one hour every week (for a drive, a walk, out to eat, etc). Alone means that no one else can be present – no friends, no children, nobody. The couple started their marriage together alone and unless there’s a premature death, will end up the same way, so they need to have time together alone at least once a week to continue to nurture and strengthen their relationship.
• Usually when you hear about a couple getting a divorce, there’s talk about the fact that they had “irreconcilable differences.” I have news for you. ALL couples have irreconcilable differences! My wife and I have irreconcilable differences. My parents have irreconcilable differences. My grandparents had irreconcilable differences. When St. Joseph found out that the Blessed Virgin Mary was pregnant, they had a major irreconcilable difference. Accept the fact that your spouse is different than you. If he (or she) wasn’t that way, you wouldn’t have married him (or her). Grow up and celebrate the fact that you’re going to have differences because you are, in fact, different from each other. Stop being so offended that your spouse is not like you and doesn’t view life the same way that you do.
• Accept and embrace the fact that marriage often gets harder as time goes by (instead of getting easier). Depending on the number of children a couple has, during the first 10 to 15 years of marriage it seems as though most of their time and energy is invested in dealing with the challenges of raising their young children; however, as the children grow older and begin exercising independence from their parents, the parents frequently find out that they no longer have anything in common with each other. The wife no longer feels loved by the husband and the husband no longer believes that his wife respects him. So instead of working at re-igniting the love and respect they once had for each other, they start lashing out at each other.
√ A note to the men: Treat her like you treated her when you were first married. Do you remember how you treated her when your love was young and new? You dropped everything to be with her. You patiently listened to her when she had something to say. You made her feel like she was the most important person in your life (because she was). You made it fun for her to be with you. Maybe if you start treating her like that again, she’ll reciprocate with the respect and affection she once showed you.
√ A note to the women: Treat him like you treated him when you were first married. Do you remember how you treated him when your love was young and new? You were his best friend. You were playful. You were fun to be with. You were his lover. You overlooked his faults. You respected him for who he was, not for what you thought he should be. Maybe if you start treating him like that again, he’ll reciprocate with the love and affection he once showed you.
• Pray a Rosary every day (while doing your best to meditate on the mysteries). There is a special grace that is reserved by the Mother of God exclusively for couples who pray the Rosary. Not only does that special grace help to strengthen a marriage, but it also “trickles down” to the children.
Being a devout Catholic doesn’t guarantee that a person is going to automatically have a successful and happy marriage. Because of our fallen human nature, all of us have a tendency to become victims when we don’t get along with our spouses. Then, instead of taking personal responsibility, we play the “blame game.”
We have a lot of happily married couples in our adoration program. I’d like for some of you to share your ideas and suggestions for a happy and long-lasting marriage. Please post your comment below. If you offer a suggestion, please indicate how many years you have been married. Thanks!