February is the perfect month to write about the importance of Christian marriage. After 20 years of marriage and seven children, I have learned through the good times and difficult times that my marriage is not only a blessing but a gift worth cherishing!
In a fast-paced culture where the divorce rate is estimated at 40 to 50 percent and is even higher for subsequent marriages, according to American Psychological Association, it is an appropriate time to focus on how we treat our spouses.
To put these statistics in perspective in the 1970s, 79 percent of adults were married and in 2013 only 57 percent were married, according to NationalMarriageWeekUSA.org.
With Valentine’s Day and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Marriage Week approaching, let us take time out to consider how to grow in our love as husband and wife. No matter how long you have been married, there is always room for growth in your relationship.
Make your marriage a priority
In this society, it is easy to live as “married singles.” As Catholic couples, we need to focus on our “coupleness” and spend time together. It is easy to “divide and conquer, ” but “couple time” is just as valuable. Consider taking time out to go on dates (even weekly). It might seem like a lot of work to get away for a few hours if your children are still young, but investing in your “couple power” is essential and trains the children to appreciate that you need time together.
Focus on growing in your communication skills and deepen your love through reading marriage books or just focusing on listening and sharing your thoughts and feelings. For many of us, our monthly calendar is full of events for work and other commitments. Can we really not spare a night for the one to whom we pledged our entire life?
Are your children still young?
Consider doing a “babysitter swap” with another couple who also would love a date night. Recently, I was talking to a couple who swaps a few times a month, and they take turns going out for appetizers and early bird specials, so no one needs to put kids to bed. No matter your stage of life, date night and couple time is essential. Is there a new hobby the two of you want to learn together? Recently, my parents started to go to the gym for the first time in their married life, and they have been married over 45 years!
The right attitude is essential
St. Francis de Sales once said, “You attract more bees with honey than 100 barrels of vinegar.” How often does our negative attitude ruin a moment? How we share our thoughts and feelings can greatly impact the other person. When we are negative and sour like vinegar, it sure doesn’t attract anyone! Often times this “vinegar-“based attitude might be coming from exhaustion and stress so take some time to evaluate your life and how it affects your mood.
Changing your opinion, especially when talking about topics that are sensitive like finances, difficult children, or hurtful experiences, can be a great way to blow some fresh air into the marriage. Hold each other accountable to this desire for a new attitude. Recently, I have come to realize that my view was becoming a bit stale after 20 years of parenting so I resolved to change my attitude toward many of my daily tasks. This has been the best solution to a more peaceful me, which in turn has made me much more pleasant to be around.
Take time to reflect on your own family
It is easy to get overwhelmed with life, especially if you are parents. Consider looking at where you are and where you want to be in life in the future. Focus on living and enjoying life at the moment but always keeping your eyes on the horizon, much like driving a car. When we look to the future, we can better plan for what life will be coming down the road and at the same time when we focus on the now we can better enjoy the people and places we are at! Ask the Holy Spirit to help you grow in the areas that need growth and reveal where change is needed!
In life, it is vital that we do not allow fear to prevent us from trying new experiences such as switching schools or education options for children, trying new jobs, or participating in new activities. Over the years my husband and I have learned that life is better when we are open to the Holy Spirit, and he directs the family! Making sure to take time to pray and evaluate and set goals for the year is a great way to help strengthen your marriage and get both of you on the same page of life!
Seek out the right mentors
Often times we encourage engaged couples to seek mentors and assist with the marriage preparation, but rarely do we take time out in the midst of married life to seek out couples to help with mentoring and growth. In life, mentors can make a significant impact on how we approach life and give us a broader perspective.
Consider finding a couple you both admire who might even attend your local church or live in your city. It might be a couple who has already raised their children or endured similar life challenges like yourself. Having a couple to whom you can both speak is a great way to strengthen your marriage. This is especially true if you are going through a tough time with a child, enduring unemployment, or just need to better develop a road map for your stage in life.
How do you seek out a mentor? Consider inviting this couple you admire over for a meal a few times a year and share with them your thoughts and concerns based on what you are experiencing. When we bring our difficulties in our marriage out into the light, it can be a great way to grow and strengthen your relationship. This is also true with the role of counseling. Godly-advice can be life changing at critical moments!
We read in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (4–7)
Recently, our local priest made a great point. He asked, what if you replaced the word “love” in the passage above with your own name? What if you asked the simple question: Am I patient, kind, jealous, pompous, inflated or rude? Examining these questions can be a great way to decide if you are being the spouse you desire to be!
With the help of Christ, we can grow in our ability to love the people God has put in our life. When we set Christ as our standard for love, he can not only help us to grow in Christian love but seek out new graces to practice it. Let us not spend our life tearing our loved ones apart for what they are lacking but, rather, seek to be filled with a greater desire to be more loving.
When we invest in our marriage, we not only strengthen the bonds of our commitment and love but hold dear the great gift of the very person God has given us to be our companion in life. No one is perfect, so in every good marriage there are times when forgiveness and healing need to prevail in order for growth to take place! At the same time, don’t forget to laugh, pray together, and create fun memories with your spouse, especially during the month of February.