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Every Day Catholic - June 2012

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Marriage in the Middle
By: Susan Hines-Brigger

Recently my husband and I went on a date ... to the grocery store ... without our four kids. Exciting, right? For us it was. It was wonderful and exciting because it was the closest thing we’ve had to a date night in a long time. Welcome to life in the second stage of marriage.

Almost 20 years ago, Mark and I stood before our family and friends and promised to love, honor, and cherish one another in good times and bad, in sickness and health. Now, looking back, I can confidently say we really had no idea what those vows actually meant.

In the first years of our marriage, we struggled to adapt to life with one another and our quirks. This became clear when we had our first major fight over my discovery that he stored the peanut butter in the refrigerator. And he quickly learned my habit of leaving my clothes on the floor. But luckily we had the luxury of all the time in the world to focus on us and work those issues out.

But then our first child, Maddie, came along and everything changed—especially our marriage. I am often reminded of a quote from my favorite movie, Hope Floats: “Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most.”

Suddenly life in this middle stage of marriage meant we were faced with a whole new set of challenges brought on by parenting. And all those support systems we had in place when we started out in our marriage did not seem quite as readily available. Lack of sleep, differing parenting styles, hectic schedules, and career goals seemed to push our relationship to the edge at times. Time together as a couple took a backseat. We became quickly aware that these are the years when the rubber meets the road when it comes to marriage; the time when we put the flesh on our vows.

We would commiserate with friends—many of whom found themselves in the same situation—about things like nearly nonexistent sex lives, financial struggles, house repairs, and a complete lack of a social life.

The subsequent births of each of our next three children over the next ten years brought more and new challenges to our marriage—and meant less time for us grownups to spend together. My role as bad cop to Mark’s good cop has caused more than its share of arguments. But we ride out the ebbs and flows, knowing full well that we are in this for the long haul. That’s not to say it is always easy, though.

Over the years, our growing family has not been the only challenging thing in Mark and my relationship. In fact, perhaps the biggest hurdle has been when, months after the birth of our son, Alex, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. To say it turned our lives and our marriage upside down is an understatement. Suddenly, everything we knew about ourselves, each other, and our marriage was thrown out the window. In many ways, we found ourselves back at square one—newlyweds of sorts.

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Then, just as we began regaining our footing, my dad suffered a stroke, introducing us to the realities of caring for aging parents alongside a family. And as the kids continue to grow, Mark and I find ourselves being pulled in different directions thanks to their activities.

It’s easy to see how so many couples drift apart during this stage of their marriage. Adding to the challenge is what seems to be a lack of support for those couples in the second stage of their marriage journey. Suddenly, the support systems that help couples prepare and get to the altar slowly fade away.

Being married can be relatively easy when things are going well. It’s when couples hit those potholes in life that their commitment is put to the test.

A Change in Perspective
Relationships can and will change from day to day, month to month, year to year. But for all its challenges, life in this stage of marriage can also be an exciting experience filled with blessings, discoveries, and adventures. Traveling that journey with your spouse has the potential to bring the two of you closer if you work together.

So, yes, date nights might now consist of a rented movie after the kids have gone to bed or Friday night at the grocery. And while lunch dates may have replaced dinner dates, the important thing is that we’re together. And now that Maddie is of babysitting age, we are slowly starting to rediscover date nights and more time alone—thus the exciting grocery store adventure. It’s not much, but we’ll take what we can get.

The most important thing is to stay connected and remember that we are on the same team. That is as true in this stage of marriage as it was in the beginning and will continue to be on into the next stage. Sometimes the best you can do is grocery shopping on a Friday night.

Mark and I have tried to stay connected in little ways and work together to head off any potential trouble spots. We try to have conversations that are not dominated by the kids’ schedules or activities, the next home project, or our budget. But it’s not always easy. And while circumstances may have changed from that day almost twenty years ago when we were married, the vows and love remain the same.

Before we know it, our kids will be grown and once again our marriage will move into a new phase. Who knows what that stage will hold for us? Whatever it is, though, I’m sure that Mark and I are up for the challenge.

Imprimatur: Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 2/23/2012

Susan Hines-Brigger is the managing editor of St. Anthony Messenger magazine. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Making Connections

■ What are some of the struggles you have faced as a couple?

How do you keep your marriage a priority?

How do children change the dynamic of your marriage?

Movie Moments

By: Frank Frost

It’s safe to say that any marriage that’s lasted a long time has seen periods of stress. The movie Iris, based on the life of author Iris Murdoch (played by Judi Dench in old age, and by Kate Winslet in her youth) and her husband, John Bayley (Jim Broadbent/Hugh Bonneville), offers a moving example. The movie intercuts flashbacks of the famous writer’s early life with her husband with their last years together, during which Bayley stuck with his wife as she declined into Alzheimer’s.

The Murdoch-Bayley union seemed unlikely at first. He was an awkward academic, she a spirited extrovert. Yet the movie depicts a deep love and commitment between them that lasted a lifetime, although she was unfaithful to him, and in their youth he seems uncertain of her love. But many years later, as she begins to “sail into the darkness” of her disease, he remains tender and caring for her as she loses the mental agility they both treasured, and retreats to private worlds that Bayley cannot share.

Lest we think, however, that their deep attachment in old age did not require working at, we find a deeply moving scene toward the end. Their life has descended into chaos, and Iris is totally out of reach mentally. Lying by her side, Bayley recalls a youthful infidelity by Iris that hurt him deeply. It wells up again now, and as he looks across at her empty features he asks aloud, “Who are you with now, Iris?”  He rages in frustration, “I hate you! I bloody loathe you. All your friends are finished with you. I’ve got you now and I don’t want you!”

The moment passes, and we know his love and caring will last forever. But this burst of honesty suggests his loyalty—and hers—required real effort.

Next time you watch Iris, ASK YOURSELF:

■ How did the meaning of love change for Iris and Bayley between their youth and their old age?

What are some of the subtle ways the movie suggests that the relationship between Iris and Bayley needed working at?

How did they show their commitment?

Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Greg and Jennifer Willits
By: Judy Zarick and Christopher Heffron

Any couple can attest to the fact that marriage, although a beautiful institution, can be messy. With bills, careers, and children on top of it all, sometimes just staying afloat can be a daily struggle. Putting that glorious mess on display in various formats, however, takes real guts. Meet Greg and Jennifer Willits.

Listeners of SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel know full well that the Willitses, hosts of “The Catholics Next Door,” aren’t at all shy about displaying/celebrating their family’s highs and lows. Greg and Jennifer, who have been married since 1995, are the proud parents of four sons (Sam, Walter, Ben, and Tommy) and one daughter (Lily). They are also the authors of The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living (Servant Books).

Imperfect is right. Longtime fans of the couple know their platform of marriage, child-rearing, and finding time for God in between can be inspiring, funny, and very real. It’s a balancing act to which many couples relate.

“We feel we’ve nailed down the imperfections perfectly,” Jennifer says with a laugh. “We struggle. And then as soon as we find the balance, something will change in the dynamic of the family that we’ll have to create a new balance.”

Jennifer, in particular, finds comfort in reaching out to other mothers who wrestle daily with the messes of everyday life.

“We can grow together, we can confide in each other, lift each other up, and pray with each other. And all of this occurs in between Mass. You don’t stop being a Catholic when you leave the parking lot on that Sunday afternoon. You’re a Catholic 24/7.”

That desire to lead Catholic lives and deepen their understanding of the faith is a bond Jennifer and Greg share. It’s also a de-sire they hope to pass on to their children.

“As we’ve started having children, as we’ve started to take on new careers we began to realize the importance of our faith. We want to know more about it. And if we’re going to live it, we’re living it out to the fullest,” Greg says.

What the Willitses embrace is that they are a work in progress. As they say in their book, “We’re not the best, but we want to get there.” And so they continue to try. Because as Greg says, “Striving for holiness: that’s the whole purpose of being Catholic—to be a saint here on this earth.”

Passing On the Faith

Marriage Matters
By: Jennifer Scroggins

Q. My wife and I will celebrate our one-year anniversary this June. Married life so far has been great but stressful at times. What steps can we take to make sure our marriage goes the distance?
A. It’s important to see your marriage for what it truly is: a lifelong process. Just as you’re on a journey through life, so is your relationship with your spouse. Each of you will grow and change as individuals, and in turn your couplehood will evolve. By embracing that, you give yourself and your loved one permission to become your best, most genuine selves.

Communication is probably the most important facet in dealing constructively with change. It seems like that should be obvious, right? But in the scheme of the daily grind, authentic, life-giving communication can be the first casualty. When the two of you talk, make sure it’s not always about bills, cutting the lawn, or whose family is hosting which holidays. When you open up and share all of yourself without fear, you make room for your spouse to plant her love more deeply in your heart.

Q. With three children (ages 15, 12, and 8) and two full-time jobs, our marriage often takes a backseat. What can my husband and I do to keep our relationship a priority?

A. Rather than focus on what your routine and responsibilities prevent you from doing, flip the script and look for ways all those seemingly mundane tasks can become opportunities to spend time with your spouse. Need to run errands? Ask your oldest child to watch the younger ones, and turn that errand into a mini-date, complete with an ice cream or coffee run before heading home.
Setting aside even 10-15 minutes a day for just the two of you can make a huge difference. Laugh together, pray together, and enjoy the silence of sleeping kids. Whatever you do, just savor the moment.

Q. Divorce rates continue to rise. What can my parish do to curb this problem in our own community?

A. Marriage mentorship programs are a terrific way to strengthen couples and build a greater sense of community in your parish.

Ask for married couples to volunteer two hours a month to spend with an engaged or newly married couple. The duos can get together for a meal, go bowling, grab a coffee—you name it. The point is just the interaction and the chance for the more experienced marrieds to share their knowledge through conversation, example or both. The young couples then graduate to serve as mentors down the road, creating a legacy of love at your church.


Marriage Prayer
By: John Feister

Heavenly Father,
You called us together in love.
We promised, one to another,
To be faithful to your call,
To have, to hold,
To love, to cherish,
In good times and bad,
In sickness and health,
Always to be faithful.
Give us a “marriage shower” of your love.
Help us, again, to open our hearts to grace,
To that love you show us most deeply
in the eyes of our beloved,
Across the coffee table,
On the next pillow,
Down the bleacher—
Wherever you bring us
On our journey of faith, together

Alphonsus Rodriguez: Tragedy and challenge beset today’s saint early in life, but Alphonsus Rodriguez found happiness and contentment through simple service and prayer. 
<p>Born in Spain in 1533, Alphonsus inherited the family textile business at 23. Within the space of three years, his wife, daughter and mother died; meanwhile, business was poor. Alphonsus stepped back and reassessed his life. He sold the business and, with his young son, moved into his sisters’ home. There he learned the discipline of prayer and meditation. </p><p>Years later, at the death of his son, Alphonsus, almost 40 by then, sought to join the Jesuits. He was not helped by his poor education. He applied twice before being admitted. For 45 years he served as doorkeeper at the Jesuits’ college in Majorca. When not at his post, he was almost always at prayer, though he often encountered difficulties and temptations. </p><p>His holiness and prayerfulness attracted many to him, including St. Peter Claver, then a Jesuit seminarian. Alphonsus’s life as doorkeeper may have been humdrum, but he caught the attention of poet and fellow-Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, who made him the subject of one of his poems. </p><p>Alphonsus died in 1617. He is the patron saint of Majorca.</p> American Catholic Blog People mess up, and it’s especially hard to watch as our children and other young people go down paths we know are likely to lead to heartbreak. Providing gentle guidance when it’s needed, and love even when that guidance isn’t followed, helps them to start fresh.

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