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What Have You Done for Your Marriage Today?
By Susan Hines-Brigger
To be successful, marriages need constant nurturing from both spouses.

Q U I C K S C A N

A Daily Commitment
A Renewed Focus on Marriage
An Evolving Sacrament
Resources


PHOTO BY KAREN CALLAWAY, CATHOLIC NEW WORLD

MY HUSBAND, Mark, and I have been married for 14 years—newlyweds to some and well along our way to others. Some days I love him, others not so much. I’m pretty sure he feels the same way, but one of the things I’ve learned in 14 years is not to assume I know what he’s thinking. It can only cause problems.

Luckily, Mark and I have some good examples. My own parents have been married for 50 years; my in-laws for 43. On the flip side, like everyone else, I’ve also watched marriages fall apart and end in divorce. There is no magic formula.

I’ve learned that being married is not for the faint of heart. It’s tough work—and a daily commitment. Marriages are made up of a thousand “I do’s” and an equal number of “I’m sorry’s.”

And the thing I’ve learned most clearly is that none of the pre-marriage prep Mark and I went through could have possibly prepared us for the joys and challenges of three kids, illnesses, job losses and the thousand other things that come along with married life. The bottom line is that marriage takes a lot of work.

That is why I was more than happy to take on this topic for our special issue. I was even happier a few years ago when the U.S. bishops launched their ‘For Your Marriage’ campaign devoted to helping couples sustain their marriages.

A Daily Commitment

Chances are, if you ask someone about their wedding day, he or she will regale you with details about dresses, cakes, dancing, and on and on. Ask what they did for their marriage today, and the answers probably won’t come as easily.

As part of their multi-year initiative on marriage (see box), the U.S. bishops asked people to reflect on the very basic question: “What have you done for your marriage today?” Last fall, we decided to ask married couples for ourselves. I e-mailed and talked to friends, family and even our readers. Many posted their stories online.

Answers ranged from the little things—as my friend Lisa said, “I have learned to appreciate those little moments that happen throughout the day: a short phone conversation, making dinner together, arrivals and departures from each other”—to the more profound, “I kept silent, and instead of speaking, I loved,” from Tom of Cincinnati. Some reflected on the particular day they were writing us, while others went broader and talked about what has sustained them in the years since they walked down the aisle.

My husband’s aunt, Donna, told me, “Eating our evening meal as a family has always been a priority for us. Although our children are no longer living with us, Jim and I sit down for dinner together at home (most nights of the week).

“I enjoy cooking and fixing a healthy meal that we can enjoy together while catching up with one another.”

My sister-in-law, Jeannie, talked about the importance of stopping to greet her husband, Chris, when he comes home from work. “It’s usually a hectic time with the kids, dinner, etc., and it’s very easy to just be so grateful that ‘reinforcements’ are home that I forget to appreciate that person walking in the door. So I try to make an effort to put everything down and really greet and welcome him home. You know, the same basic courtesy we’d show to visitors knocking at our door or someone calling. A way of saying, ‘Hey, our lives are a bit nutty right now, but you’re important to me, and that needs to be acknowledged.’”

So, what have you done for your marriage today? Here’s what some of you had to say:

SPONSORED LINKS

Thankful for the Gift of Marriage

“My Jewish husband and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary on December 8, 2008. We have known each other for nearly 32 years and our faiths have never been a source of conflict. On the contrary, our Catholic and Jewish faiths respectively have only served to enrich our lives. We have embraced each other’s traditions and have shared them with our daughter, Hope, who was born shortly after our 17th anniversary. Our faith truly made way for our Hope, who personifies our love.

“What have we done for our marriage today? Well, I would answer that with...What has our marriage done for us today and the last 25 years? The answer is easy: Everything. We are fortunate to have each other. God is the Supreme Good! He has blessed us with this gift and we are thankful and filled with joy.”

Angela, New York

Helping Others

“My husband and I have become an outward sign of grace for others in the way we give ourselves to marriage ministries. We are on the Marriage Prep team at our parish and lead the Marriage Enrichment program for the parish as well. We are also in a leadership role for the local Worldwide Marriage Encounter group. And in the process of sharing our sacramental love with others, we build our own relationship.

“It is wonderful to do ministry work with my spouse and lover. And in our preparation for these events we become more intimate ourselves. We also surround ourselves with other couples who are devoted to building their relationship as well and it is a wonderful support network.”

Cathy, Illinois

Vatican II calls for this rite to symbolize more clearly the grace of the sacrament and to emphasize the spouses’ duties (Liturgy, #77). Conferences of bishops begin to authorize local adaptations and then submit them to the Holy See. The Church’s official witness must always ask and obtain the consent of the bride and groom.

Different options are introduced according to the age of the bride and groom. Both mutual support and procreation are referred to during the rite.

For two Catholics, the marriage rite is normally celebrated during Mass. If it is celebrated outside Mass, the Epistle and Gospel from the Nuptial Mass are read.

The revised rite influences marriage preparation, with emphasis on the human maturity needed for the bride and groom as well as their understanding of this sacrament’s spiritual basis. Many parishes enlist married couples to help prepare the bride and groom for their new responsibilities. Permanent deacons begin to officiate more often at weddings. This sacrament’s revised rite is introduced in 1969.

—P.M.

Bumps in the Road

“My husband and I have been married for 12 years now. In truth, we separated due to infidelity a few years ago. But we managed to try again, and I thank God for that opportunity of forgiveness every day. Most recently, we have brought God into our lives, family and marriage.

“What have I done for my marriage? I asked for another chance to make it right. It’s a two-way street. I listen to my husband, I nurture him the way he needs to be to fill his “love tank.” In return, he fills mine. We communicate better and have grown closer together. Without God, I don’t think we would have bothered.”

Blanca, Texas

A Helping Hand

“When we originally did a weekend with Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME), we were amazed at how much it helped our communication skills, especially since our personalities are often so different! But what has really sustained us since then has been our participation in a ‘circle’ of dear friends who have also completed a weekend.

“Each month we end up with a scheduled date night—something that, with three small kids, we might not otherwise take the time to do. Meetings give us a place to have fellowship with others who value the sacrament. We share ideas on how to further strengthen our marriages through prayer, better communication, problem solving and laughter. Our WWME circle recently held a home Mass and a renewal of everyone’s wedding vows, a wonderful way to start out the new year!”

Jenny, Ohio

Setting a Good Example

“My story begins on St. Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1953, when the Lord led me to meet Dolores, my future wife. I knew right away that she was the one for me. On May 24, 1954, I was drafted into the Army and we were married in August after my basic training. She was 19 and I was 21—two young people starting life together with the blessings of the Church.

“This August, we will celebrate our 55th anniversary. For our 50th, we had a special Mass and our family and friends were there with us. Marriage is very special to us and we are honored to be a marriage-preparation sponsor couple for our church. We hope we give new couples strength to face any challenges to marriage in this secular world and hope we can be a good example for them.”

John, Maryland

'A Lifetime Commitment'

“My wife, Peggy, and I absolutely believe that a marriage is a lifetime commitment. As a lifestyles teacher, I constantly enforce that with my students as we talk about the Sacrament of Marriage.

“As far as my personal life, there are two things Peggy and I try very hard to do each day and we did it this morning. Before going to work, we sat on the couch and prayed together for our family, ourselves and the thankfulness for our home. Then we told each other that we love each other and sealed it with a kiss. This is an important ritual that we do daily for each other.”

Don, Ohio

A Second Chance

“Every day I am provided with opportunities to enjoy the presence of my husband—whether it is during a time that I am in one room helping our daughters with homework and him in another fixing something in the house or us finally getting a moment to sit on the couch together. Our moments are filled with great love and excitement. I thank God every day for allowing us to be so lucky. I thank God for the opportunity for our family to be together again.

“We were not always so happy, as a few years back we were not so lucky. We had been plagued by serious troubles in our marriage. We were drowning and had even filed for divorce. Although it took a few years to find our way back to each other, piece by piece we were able to rebuild what had been seriously damaged.

“Although at our most challenging times, I never thought that it would be possible, I can now say that we have a stronger and more loving marriage than we ever had before. It is even more loving than when we were in the romance stage at the start of our relationship. We have seen an improvement in our children’s attitude and emotional well-being as a reflection of our commitment to our marriage.

www.foryourmarriage.org
U.S. bishops’ National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage

www.wwme.org
Worldwide Marriage Encounter

www.thethirdoption.com
an ongoing program to build better marriages

www.retrouvaille.org
a program to help couples heal and renew their marriages

“Marriage: Forgiving and Being Forgiven,” by Carol Luebering

 

“For those couples in trouble, my advice to you: Ask God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for help, go to Retrouvaille, remember the vows of your marriage ‘for better or for worse’ and do not give up! You can be capable of celebrating the Sacrament of Matrimony and being happy every day of your life.”

Laura, California

Facing Life's Rough Spots Together

“I don’t think it’s what we do daily that keeps our marriage ‘fresh’; but more what we have been through. Stephanie and I met while I was serving on active duty with the United States Air Force. We were married two years later in 2002. The first year of our marriage was pretty much full of more tragedy than anyone really wants to go through in one lifetime, let alone the first 12 months of your marriage.

“Stephanie became very close to my mom, who was suffering with breast cancer. Approximately six months after we were married, my mom passed away, the day before my birthday. It was hard on both of us. To compound that, Stephanie’s grandfather, who was very close to her, passed away on the 4th of July after a bout with cancer. The rest of the year was marred with three more funerals.

“As we both spent a lot of the following year questioning our faith and God, we became closer. Mostly we would keep asking questions like Why us? to ourselves, but we’d take the time to talk about the good times and learn more about us as a couple. We relied on each other through that tragic year and it brought us closer.

“As a member of the Ohio Air Guard, one weekend a month I make the trip to Toledo, Ohio, while Stephanie takes care of the house. One thing that we are sure to do is that I call at 4:45 p.m. when I get out of work and we talk for about 20-30 minutes. As two busy adults, it’s hard to find the time to talk about what’s going on. We understand it’s not the ideal situation, but we make it work.

“In 2007, I spent three months in Iraq, further testing our relationship. Being in Iraq means several things—you have the stress of the environment, the stress of not knowing what is going on at home and worrying about family and friends back home. But, all of those things must go out of your mind 23 hours and 59 minutes of the day, because the second you stop thinking about what is going on around you is the second something adverse happens. While in country you are allotted 30 minutes a week to call home—two 15-minute phone calls a week.

“While your day-to-day doesn’t change, it’s hard talking to family, realizing so much is changing for them. Stephanie was my link to reality; she’d let me know she and our puppies were O.K. and that I was missed dearly. She’d comfort me if the days were going rough and I was overstressed, and we’d try not to talk about the 10 weeks that were still ahead of us. I understood that her days were going rough as well, but she wouldn’t say it; I’d do the little things like send a cookie bouquet to her office to let her know that I know this is hard.

“While it may seem we don’t do the little things like eat dinner together at a specific time, or walk every afternoon, our relationship is strong. It’s more in the shy smile while walking by each other or the hug at the end of a long week or day at work. We often take five minutes to take a deep breath and think. We can look at each other and understand that things aren’t always perfect and we’ve become stronger for what we’ve been through. We look forward to the next day, understanding that there has to be some good that will come out of our endured tragedy.”

Paul, Ohio

Relying on God

“Having enjoyed 33 years of marriage, we thought we understood the most important elements of making this vocation successful. In all those years, I guess we took for granted that the real success lies as much in God’s blessing of that union, as it does on the efforts of the two partners. We appreciate and realize that all along the blessings in our married life have been guided by this understanding.

“But to sum up the success for this vocation into one special thought, it would have to be to put the presence of God in the center of it all.”

Zoe, Indiana

Setting a Good Example

“When you asked the question, ‘What have you done for your marriage today?’ I was a little taken aback. Married for almost 29 years, I tend to take my marriage for granted. It just seems as if we’re going through the motions sometimes. It seems as though my husband will always be there, and that our conversations will always center on our children.

“But of course, that’s a false assumption. Already some of our children are away at college. The empty nest is looming closer. So I realize that our lives as hands-on parents are coming to a close—and who are we then?

“Maybe being married is all about job descriptions. At first we were young newlyweds, each with our jobs and hobbies. We did lots of things together, but we each had our own activities that we did solo. We were defined by where we worked and what we did in our spare time.

“Then we had children, and our job description narrowed: We were parents first and foremost. Every decision—from where to send the kids to school to where to live to what to have for supper tonight—revolved around the kids: their likes, their dislikes, their schedules.

“As our children grew, our job descriptions morphed into coach, cheerleader, chauffeur, chaperone—whatever the circumstances of our children’s lives dictated.

“And now, as they all start to leave home—for college, jobs, lives—our job description is changing again. We’re still cheerleaders, but we’re way off to the sidelines. We’ll soon be on our own more than we’re with our kids.

“I know we’ll need to rediscover each other. It’s rather like meeting someone at a class reunion—I know who the person used to be, and I know about the intervening years, but I need to figure out just who this person is now.

“As to what I’ve done today, I guess I’ve started looking at our marriage with new eyes. Today in church I took particular notice of the empty-nest parents there. I wondered how they are traveling that road. The fact that they were at church reinforced my belief that the core values don’t change, even though family circumstances are ever-changing. I think we’ll need that bedrock of faith as we take on this new dimension of being a couple again.”

Sandy, Ohio

A Renewed Focus on Marriage

IN NOVEMBER 2004, the U.S. bishops decided to embark on an all-out effort to help strengthen marriages. They launched “For Your Marriage,” a multiyear initiative that runs through 2011. The purpose is to communicate “the meaning and value of married life for the Church and society.”

The initiative is composed of three stages. The first, which occurred from 2005 to 2007, was research and consultation. As part of this stage, the bishops conducted 200 focus groups in 64 dioceses where they consulted married couples in every stage of married life. Summaries of these groups can be found at www.usccb.org/npim.

The second phase took place from 2007 to 2008 and focused on communication. In 2007, a series of TV ads, billboards and the Web site www.foryourmarriage.org were launched. A pastoral letter is currently being written.

The final stage of the initiative focuses on implementation, development of pastoral resources and evaluation of the program. That phase runs from 2008 to 2011.

 

 

Susan Hines-Brigger is an assistant editor of this magazine. She and her husband, Mark, have three children.


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