By Jim and Susan Vogt
Some of the most important insights
we’ve learned about marriage have
come from those who have been
through divorce.What can those who
have divorced know about building a
lasting marriage? Sometimes the most
hard-earned knowledge can be the most
For many years, in addition to leading
marriage preparation and enrichment
programs, we were responsible for
divorce ministry in two dioceses. It’s a
humbling experience to listen to the
painful experiences of men and women
who expected to have a lasting marriage
yet saw their hopes and lives crumble.
Following are some lessons we learned
from them and from reflecting on our
The three most important things to
keep a marriage healthy are commitment,
commitment and commitment.With the
divorce rate hovering around 50%, it may
seem that commitment is out of style.
Has human nature changed that much?
Well, human nature may not have
changed, but the culture we live in has.
No longer is there as strong a cultural
support for lifelong marriage.We live
in a throwaway society; if something
breaks, our first impulse is to get a new
one rather than fix the old.
Our society also has more temptations
than previous generations.With
men and women working as colleagues,
spouses spend a lot of time in the
company of people of the opposite
sex who share common interests and
are on their best behavior. (Workplace
morals may not always be high, but at
least colleagues don’t have spit-up on
their clothes or wear raggedy t-shirts.)
Your spouse may have been alluring
and exciting during courtship, but
someone who shares your life’s work
can be a strong temptation. This reality
contributes to making commitment
harder than it used to be.
Now there is an expectation that couples
will communicate on a deep level,
share their hopes and dreams, be life
partners and best friends. This is a tall
order, but worthy of the Sacrament of
Matrimony—it just takes more effort
So how does a couple sustain commitment
amidst higher expectations for
marriage? With skill and grace.
Determination to stay
together needs to be
accompanied by the
skills of commitment—the primary skill being
communication. If a
couple is not willing to
learn the basic skills
of speaking honestly,
speaking for self, listening,
their commitment is hollow.
Another quality that supports commitment
is having common values. A couple
doesn’t always need to agree on which
restaurant to go to, but if one values a
simple lifestyle and the other wants to
accumulate wealth, there will be constant
tension. If faith and morals are important
to one and not to the other, most important
decisions will be reasons to argue.
So what does the Church say about marriage
that offers more than the conventional
wisdom of commit, communicate and
seek someone with common values? The
Church says, of course, what Jesus said:
“Love one another as I love you” (John
15:12). The bottom line is that couples
must love each other with their whole
mind, heart and soul. God promises to be
with them in this holy love.
The Church also realizes, however, how
easy it is to say “I love you” and how hard
it is to live those words. The wedding vows
take a lifetime to live out. Let’s try to unpack
the grace behind the vows.
■ Exclusivity—I, ______, take you, ______,
to be my (wife/husband). It’s significant that
the bride and groom’s names are used. It
indicates that this is an exclusive commitment
between this man and this woman.
■ Fidelity—I promise to be true to you
Fidelity often gets translated as sexual
fidelity—neither of us will commit adultery.
In healthy marriages, however, fidelity
extends to all the daily ways couples “affair-proof”
their marriage. There can be many
“mistresses” in a marriage that don’t
always take human form.Work, a hobby,
the children, even volunteer activities can
cut into romance time and the attention
a couple needs to devote to each other.
love—in good times
and in bad, in sickness
and in health. To love
unconditionally is a
promise for the future.
It has more to do with
the decision to love
than merely the feeling
of love. Can I love you
when your body has
lost its vigor and
beauty? Can I love you
through annoying habits and when you
hurt me? Not knowing what changes the
future will bring, can I love you if you
become old, ugly, fat or senile? That’s a
lot to say a blind yes to.
■ Covenant—I will love you and honor
you... A covenant is a promise that goes
deeper than a contract. Contracts are
legal documents that spell out rights
and duties. Contracts can be broken
if one party doesn’t hold up their end.
A covenant, on the other hand, goes
beyond a 50/50 agreement. Sometimes
one spouse will need to bend 75%
while the other only gives 25%. It’s not
always fair, but it’s a promise that doesn’t
count the cost.
■ Permanence—all the days of my life.
Traditionally, permanence is understood
as not getting divorced. Yet, that sells it
short, for divorce happens way before
papers are served. A commitment to
permanence means daily attentiveness to
the relationship. It might mean a nightly
walk, not just for exercise but to keep
communication flowing. It’s preventive
■ Prayer—Amen. “Amen” is a short
prayer, but it’s the couple’s way of saying
yes to each other and to God. Their
wedding celebration shouldn’t be the last
time they invite God into their marriage.
What insights have you gained
from a difficult or failed
How are you most challenged to
live the love you feel for another?
What does the statement “Love is
a decision” mean to you?
Have you truly invited God into
your love relationships? What
difference does/might this make?
Rate your communication abilities.
Commit to one action to improve
communication with a loved one.
Two for the Road
By Frank Frost
scene of the
classic,Two for the Road, sets up marriage
as an odyssey—for better or for worse,
for richer or for poorer. Apparently rich
at this point, Mark (Albert Finney) and
Joanna (Audrey Hepburn) find their way
temporarily blocked as a wedding flows
out of a church onto the narrow street
of a European town. Joanna observes
of the newlyweds, “They don’t look
very happy.”Mark rejoins, “Why should
they? They just got married.”
Two for the Road exploits the road
metaphor to examine Mark and
Joanna’s marriage by deftly intercutting
four road trips at different times in
their lives and relationship. One trip
traces their first meeting as free and
adventurous vagabonds who fall in love.
Another follows them after they are
first married, a third after they have a
child, and the fourth—in “present
time”—is when each faces the decision
to stick with the marriage or abandon it.
Revisiting the same places on their
road trips allows for clear contrasts in
their economic status and happiness
with one another. Early on, when the
young couple, fresh in love, head up
the stairs in a romantic hotel, they look
back down into the dining room where
they see an older couple sitting silently
across the table from one another.
“What kind of people just sit like that
without a word to say to each other?”
Mark asks. “Married people?” Joanna
replies. This scene recurs in different
settings and becomes a mirror held
up to their own behavior—behavior
which will include not only emotional
distance, but also infidelity and conflicts
over money, work and childcare.At one
point Mark vows, “We’re not going on
like this for the rest of our lives.” But at
movie’s end, it appears that commitment
Next time you watch Two for the
Road, ASK YOURSELF:
How do Joanna and Mark’s
expectations change over time?
What keeps them together?
An enduring union is the sum
of many individual decisions. What
decisions affect the course of Joanna
and Mark’s marriage?
Which scenes resonate most with
Dick and Mary McConn
By Judy Ball
This is a story with a happy ending
because Dick and Mary McConn of
Cincinnati, Ohio, were determined
to make it turn out that way.
It all started two decades ago, when
they had been married for 28 years. At that
point, both had their respective roles, and
both took them seriously. He was the
breadwinner; she focused on raising their
four children. On the surface, everything
was working. But at another level, theirs
was an arrangement that allowed them to
avoid one another and go separate ways.
After reading an article in St. Anthony
Messenger about Retrouvaille (retro-VIE),
a Church ministry for couples in severely
troubled marriages, Dick and Mary faced
the truth they had long avoided: Their
marriage desperately needed help.
Within a short time, they arranged to
join other couples for a Retrouvaille weekend.
They committed themselves to the
follow-up sessions as well. Retrouvaille,
named for the French word meaning
“rediscovery,” is designed by professionals,
couples and priests.
Recalling that first weekend, Mary
told Every Day Catholic: “I felt like a steel
wall had been cracked open. I got to know
Dick in a way that had been missing for
a long time.” Dick chimed in, “Until that
weekend I had never really shared my
feelings. I wasn’t even sure what they were.”
Like many Retrouvaille couples, Dick
and Mary experienced an early high until
they got down to the serious work of
rebuilding their relationship. “Marriages
don’t break down or heal in a weekend,”
Mary explained. Over time, at the follow-up
sessions, she let go of her initial desire
to change Dick, while he worked on his
lack of trust.
Now, both retired—he from the insurance
business, she from the social service
field—the McConns serve as a “presenting
couple” for Retrouvaille retreat weekends.
It’s a peer ministry that allows them to
help other couples who need to address
their at-risk marriages; working alongside
them is a priest. In the follow-up sessions,
Dick and Mary address such issues as forgiveness,
humility, communication and
listening. (They also serve as Cincinnati
“Retrouvaille works only if the
participating couple is open to the
process,” said Dick. “The man and the
woman both have to work on the marriage.”
Meanwhile, the presenting couple
simply invites them to tackle the concrete
issues confronting that relationship. If
needed, “we encourage them at the end of
the weekend to go to or continue to see a
counselor,” Mary said.
Retrouvaille offers a path to recovery,
Dick and Mary agree. “Frankly,” said Dick,
“I think it’s the only thing on the horizon
that has the success that it does.” A recent
survey the McConns conducted of 1,000
couples who have gone through the program
revealed that 73% are still together.
Even some couples who reported being
separated or divorced “said they would
still recommend Retrouvaille,” Dick added.
In just a few years, Dick and Mary
McConn will be celebrating their 50th
wedding anniversary with their children
and grandchildren. Some happy ending.
By Jeanne Hunt
Grace and John are finally
married. After a painful divorce
and a long annulment process,
John was free to marry Grace. They
were “meant for each other,” and the
promise of a long and sacred marriage
lies before them. But there are scars from
John’s first marriage that both of them
carry: John’s three sons need him and
struggle with Grace’s presence in their
lives, the divorce settlement left John
financially burdened, and Grace is
“haunted” by the presence of John’s first
wife in their home. How can these scars
be healed to allow John and Grace to
unite in a healthy marriage—for themselves
and the children?
The days of Ozzie and Harriet and the
Cleavers have been replaced by remarried
and blended families. It can take a player’s
list to figure out who is who. These
complex relationships require extra care.
We cannot assume that a marriage will
prosper without real work. It is vital
that a couple starting a second marriage
begin their journey by dealing with
what went wrong the first time.
I received some advice from couples
who are in second marriages:
■ “Put your partner’s needs before your
own.” Love prospers when the happiness
and wellness of another means as much
as one’s own. Marriages endure when
they are formed in mutual care, respect,
awareness and the intention to act
■ “At all costs, keep talking.” No matter
how tough the conversation, honesty
will bring resolution and reconciliation.
This communication must be grounded
in a desire to forgive and be forgiven.
A good marriage teaches us that failure
is human and forgiveness comes in love.
■ “Be patient and begin again.” Every
day is a chance to start fresh. Nothing
is set in stone, and a couple can have a
fresh start whenever they need it. It
takes a long time to create a good relationship.
A loving relationship is a work
in progress, and we simply cannot
presume the masterpiece is complete
until “death do us part.”
■ “Accept things that you can’t change.”
Second marriages and blended families
require adapting to many factors that
are beyond one’s control. Being flexible
and looking for solutions outside of the
norm can offer peace in trying situations,
especially when dealing with the stresses
of children and extended family.