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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Marriage Martina Relatable Series Vocations

How I Love My Spouse Well Enough

RELATABLE-LoveActually

Welcome to this installment of RELATABLE: LOVE, ACTUALLY. In this series, guest authors* share about all the challenging realities of marriage.

Marriage today is rarely presented realistically or positively. Hollywood and the media promote Disney fairytales where couples “live happily ever after.” Or marriage is demonized as an unnecessary complication when hooking up and cohabitation will do just as well.

But what about the Catholic who still believes in the sanctity of marriage, including its permanence? Is it even possible for couples to remain connected to one another through all of life’s struggles and suffering? YES. In RELATABLE: LOVE, ACTUALLY, we will feature authentic, honest, and hopeful stories by real Catholic women about the journey of marriage. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage, after all, and we want to give a voice to those couples struggling with infertility, infidelity, miscarriage, mental illness, addiction, and financial stress. We want to give hope by sharing stories of those who have weathered those crosses and come out stronger for them. These stories will reassure strugglings wives that you are not alone. And that with God’s help, there is a way forward, even if you just take baby steps, one day at a time.

*While some authors may post anonymously for privacy reasons, we assure you that each story is authentic and reflects the journey of a real person.


Expecting #8 in December, I thought now might be a good time to reflect on my marriage and, in particular, the man I married (because duh, right?). It also helps that today, September 23, is our anniversary. 

Padre Pio knew exactly what he was getting into with the two of us when we chose that day.

The thing is, neither of us was really entrenched in the Faith at the time we married. That would change over the years, as children so often challenge us to do, but one thing we had going for us then still works in our favor even to this day. And the one thing that was our biggest stumbling block would prove to be our single biggest challenge time and again.

THE TEST THAT WOULD SET THE MARITAL TONE

You see, our wedding prep classes involved a very lengthy test that covered several areas of our lives. The goal was to highlight the important things we’d discussed together as a couple as well as uncover areas we still needed to…dig into. Our results were scored like any regular test, 0-100% and of all our tests, our lowest scored test was still pretty dang good – 86% if I am recalling correctly. We scored 100% in communication and 86% in domestic responsibilities.

What that resulted in was the ease of communicating about the one thing we both disagreed about – who would do the dishes and take out the trash?

Through the years, our communication method would became dated. What once seemed sufficient enough to convey wants and needs became a source of stalemates and cold wars. Or hot wars and too many unnecessary words were said. Though we often talked about finding outside help to assist us in healthier ways to communicate, opportunities never materialized.

It was too expensive.

We didn’t have sitters for the weekend away.

It didn’t fit into our already busy schedules.

The desire to better ourselves as spouses and as a united couple remained in spite of those obstacles, so we just kept chipping away at it.

We weren’t professionals. We didn’t really know what we were doing. But we knew what the end goal was and that laser focus was what helped and continues to help guide and shape our marriage goals.

We aren’t perfect. Far from it. And there are a lot of days when we get it 100% all wrong and have to regroup. And were it not for the knowledge that we have the same end goal regardless of current frustrations and life to work through, we might have given up.

But giving up has never been an option, though there have certainly been moments and hours where the next steps were unknown. And giving up will never be an option. Though we are not the same people who stood on that altar, making a vow to God, self, and spouse, we have continued to travel in the same direction – sometimes hand in hand and sometimes separate paths side by side, but always within view of each other. Not only has sacramental marriage left an indelible mark on each of us, so has life as we’ve each faced challenges through the years. I wouldn’t want to be the young lady at the altar anymore. She wouldn’t be able to handle all of life’s challenges as I do. And the love I feel for my husband today is very different from all those years ago. Like a fine wine, it’s aged and the enhanced by all the years. Our experiences and challenges have caused that love to grow in ways we couldn’t have foreseen.

So, just how exactly are we loving each other this many years into marriage? And how are we guarding and protecting our marriage from spiritual attack? It’s all ebb and flow over the years, but this is where we are now.

  • Pray. And pray well. Whatever you do for the day, make sure you have built in time for that touchpoint with God. Individual, of course, but also as a couple. There is nothing more eye opening – and keeps your intentions more grounded – than to know your spouse’s needs and gratitudes. At a loss for what to do? There’s a plethora of options – off the cuff prayers, rote prayers (rosary, novenas), Lectio Divina using daily Scripture, contemplative prayer, spending time in Adoration or in front of the Tabernacle in the church, turning off the radio and letting your mind float toward God, videos and podcasts…anything that gets the wheels turning toward prayer. 
  • Go to Mass…together. Think about your witness in the pews to those around you. I get it, kids get sick, spouses travel, we have events and things that come up, we get sick ourselves, too, but make the default be to go to Mass together as a couple and family. I invite you to compare and contrast the experience of going to Mass with and without your spouse.
  • Keep the stagnant at bay. Though we are both introverts and homebodies drawn to relaxing evenings at home with nothing more than some store bought steaks (usually a filet or ribeye), mashed or baked potatoes, jalapeño poppers, and a beer or Mike’s in hand…where was I going with this? Now I’m hungry, lol. Oh yeah, connect with your spouse through simplistic activities that can be done in the home.
  • Daily check ins. This took some time to cultivate with intention, but it is something we now do on the daily. No more being self absorbed or thinking the other doesn’t care. We each share how our day went and since we are both problem solvers by nature (I’m weird, I’m not the typical gal who just needs to vent to be heard or validated first…I like solutions and I like to give solutions), we end up problem solving and trouble shooting things as they come up.
  • Affection – lotsa affection. One of us has affection as our love language. And one of us struggled for years trying to be that affectionate, loving tender spouse. But you know what? After lots of prayer and Come to Jesus internal talks, it finally happened. The one of us who craves that touch is now met by a spouse who actually wants to receive and initiate those hand holdings and random hugs. 
  • The little things that say I love you. Knowing each other’s love language is gold. It’s not to say the execution is perfect, but the end goal is clear. If you are someone for whom service is important, then perhaps your spouse getting you coffee in the morning is like the CAT’S MEOW. That would be me. And I tend to speak in that same love language. I am forever asking the kids and my husband what they need from the store when I put my curbside grocery list together. It’s not so much that I don’t want them to be without as it is making sure they don’t have that added stress of not having the things they need to get through the day – like deodorant or toothpaste, lol. Or creamer for the coffee…oof! 
  • Talk about money. And talk about it often. Even if only one of you directly handles the finances, both spouses really should be on the same page and in the know about finances and financial goals. Try opening up a discussion ON payday. See what bills are coming up and, if you are dealing with debt, come up with a game plan to obliterate that debt. The more you talk about money, the more freeing it is, even when there’s too much month at the end of your money. 
  • Go OUT on dates. It doesn’t even have to be fancy, like a dinner out or a movie! Go to Costco, to the outlet mall to walk and window shop, even to a furniture store to think about the next piece of furniture you are considering, just having that time together is valuable. The last two don’t cost anything…the trip to Costco might be a serious temptation for you – I know it is for us, lol. Go in for one thing, yeah RIGHT.
  • Remember, you are a TEAM. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in all the mom things and all the dad things. We are first and foremost a COUPLE and everything flows from that. When you care for your marriage, only good things flow from that love. The current push in society is to put the kids first, but I’m here to gently, but firmly remind you that you married your husband/wife, not your children. Taking care of yourself, your marriage, and spouse – spiritually and otherwise, is putting the oxygen mask on FIRST. Children are not harmed by two parents who truly love and sacrifice for each other.

And there you have it. These are but a few of the ways that we currently nourish and love each other well. It’s what I call a rolling discernment to assess how best we can love the other. What are some things that work for you, dear friend? I would love to read your suggestions and tips in the comments.


SPIRITUAL RESOURCES AND HEALING

WHERE TO START?

RETROUVAILLE – A Lifeline for Married Couples

THE ALEXANDER HOUSE – Offering Hope & Healing for Marriage, Family & Relationships

BELOVED: FINDING HAPPINESS IN MARRIAGE – offered through FORMED.ORG (ask your parish for the code to access this program for free)

PODCASTS
BOOKS/WEBSITES
CLASSES

In the privacy of your own home, you can begin to heal your marriage. CLICK HERE to start the process.

PRAYER

Novenas

Prayers

How I Love My Spouse Well Enough

 

Categories
Addie Marriage Matrimony Sacraments Vocations

In Sickness and In Health, As Long As You Both Shall Live

It was a perfect wedding.  Dressed in their finest, family and friends of the couple crowded into the church.  A string quartet played as the bridesmaids processed, and each looked more lovely than the one before.  At last, the bride entered on her father’s arm.  Truly, she was the most radiant bride I have ever seen.  She positively floated down the aisle, as her adoring groom gazed upon her. 

I began to cry, and I didn’t stop for rest of the ceremony.  Not an sobbing “ugly cry,” but a persistent teary, drippy-nose situation.  I asked myself, what on earth is wrong with me?  I’m not really a crier, and I rarely get emotional at weddings.  Then I realized, I wasn’t crying for the couple; I was weeping tears of thankfulness for my own marriage.

My husband and I had been through a lot the few weeks prior to this couple’s wedding.  I had gone through major surgery just three weeks earlier.*  This wedding was the first outing my husband and I had been on since my surgery – besides doctor’s appointments – and I was determined to go.  In hindsight, perhaps I wasn’t quite up to it yet, but I…WAS…GOING.

As I listened to the Bible readings and the minister’s sermon, I reflected on our own wedding day nearly thirteen years ago.  It, too, was beautiful.  Like this couple, we were married in our early twenties, ambitious and starry-eyed about what our future would hold.  I remember pledging that we would remain together “in sickness and in health,” but I just assumed that would come much later; I never dreamed I would develop an autoimmune disease and have complex joint replacement surgery in my thirties.

One of the readings was 1 Corinthians 13.  This passage is so commonly read at weddings, that I tend not to pay close enough attention to it.  This time, I listened from the depths of my soul.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, 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. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Upon hearing this, I wept more grateful tears.  My husband has lived this passage.  This was a scary surgery, and for the 10 hours I was in the operating room, he had to “bear, believe, hope, and endure.”  Self-employed, he took two weeks off work to care for me.   While I was in the hospital, he slept every night in a chair by my bedside, helping the nurses feed me through a syringe and care for my personal hygiene.  His love for me has been “patient and kind.” 

The minister spoke of the holiness of marriage, and how a three-strand cord – husband, wife, and the Lord – is not easily broken.  I wanted to jump up from the pew and shout to the couple, “Please, listen!  Hard times will come someday, and they will be totally unexpected.  You must rely on God and each other, and you have to start TODAY!” 

Since I’m not totally crazy, I kept my mouth shut.  This couple will make it; they are both people of faith, who love each other and the Lord.  As they greeted their guests, I simply hugged them both, remarked on their lovely wedding, and wished them the best.

To all who are reading this, I have a request.  Be a little kinder to your spouse today, more present.  Hold your wife a little longer, tell your husband how much you appreciate him.  And please, remember to include Jesus as the third – and strongest – strand of your cord.

*I underwent a complex jaw and facial surgery, including bilateral total joint replacement, upper and lower jaw advancement, and nasal turbinectomies.

Categories
Ink Slingers Marriage Matrimony Sacraments Shiela Vocations

Dear June Bride: A Love Letter to the Catholic Brides of Summer

…And Fall, Winter, and Spring brides,too. For various reasons, June is known as the month of weddings. Wedded bliss has been on my mind during this nuptial month because my son was asked to be the ring bearer for his cousin’s wedding. I am thrilled! And I am equally over the moon that my nephew and his bride-to-be have chosen to have a sacramental marriage. This means that they are entering into a sacred bond. They have done so mindfully and courageously.   And, so have you.

As you probably learned in marriage preparation classes, a Sacramental marriage is a union filled with God’s grace. It is a unique bond between a man and a woman. You bring to the covenant two distinct life experiences that when brought together have the power to create new life. You have allowed God to be an integral part of your unity. Keep your unity candle in a prominent place in your bedroom to remind you of His providential care of your love.

You entered into this bond willing to submit to the great unknown: you are open to life. This truth is one of the most daunting facets of Catholic married life. It is unique to the Catholic experience. For my husband and I, it is the most exhilarating. If ever I am taking a leap of faith, it is when I agree to be completely open to God’s plan for our family. I believe this openness strengthens our faith and our bond as husband and wife. Never before have we felt more lifted and carried through life. As a reminder to always trust in God, put little notes around your home that say, “Be not afraid!”

By entering into a sacramental marriage, you also agree that divorce is not an option. And, believe me, you will be tested. There will be weeks, months, and perhaps a year or two where you will question your choice. Your spouse may disappoint you. Your passionate feelings may wane. You may face death of a family member, miscarriage, infertility, financial failure, and you may feel like you have fallen into a hole with no way out. Just remember: this, too, shall pass. And, I find that when you weather these setbacks by staying close to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist, you experience a constant renewal. The passion returns in ebbs and flows, in even greater waves. The confidence in your choice of a mate triumphs. And, you experience an overwhelming feeling of joy and gratefulness.

That’s not to say that all sacramental marriages will flourish. Some will falter, others will fail. But, if you have both entered into this union honestly, completely open to life and God’s plan for life, then you have a statistically good chance of surviving. The divorce rate for couples practicing Natural Family Planning is less than 5%. That is well below the national divorce rate which is 50%. I believe that the reason for this success rate is that NFP requires you to communicate on a most intimate level. If you can have these conversations, then you can pretty much talk about anything.

Pray together. Start early. Keep it simple. Up to this point, you have done everything together. You have gone to church together but have you ever sat quietly, alone and prayed together? It may seem awkward at first. But, just by praying the Lord’s Prayer right before you fall asleep together, you will experience spiritual intimacy unlike any other experience. And, you will be less likely to drift apart when you practice this simple act of faith, hope, and love.

Most of all, have fun! You have married your best friend. How awesome is that?! Enjoy him, encourage him, and be a joyful light in his life.

Congratulations and Best Wishes for an amazing adventure!

Sincerely,

A thankful Catholic bride of nearly 17 years

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

~ 1 John 4:18

Categories
Fatherhood Ink Slingers Marriage Matrimony Misty Motherhood Parenting Sacraments Vocations

Why We’re NOT Saving for College

One of the first things people used to say to us when we told them we wanted a large family was, “But how do you plan to pay for college for all those kids?” My answer was simple and usually shocked them: “We don’t.”

It’s hard to argue that we don’t encourage an extended adolescence for our children these days. In addition to providing the right clothes and expensive, popular electronics during childhood, we’re now also expected to:

  • buy our children’s first car (at age 16, of course),
  • replace that car when they wreck it,
  • pay for college (of their choice),
  • pay for at least one semester abroad,
  • help them get their first job and apartment,
  • pay their credit card bills if they can’t,
  • pay for their wedding,
  • let them move back in as an adult (indefinitely and rent-free), and
  • help raise our grandchildren.

In fact, adults moving back in with mom and dad has become so common we have a name for them: boomerang kids.

It goes without saying that we’re not going to feed into the clothing and electronics competition so many parents fall prey to today, mostly because we can’t afford it. But we’re also not going to subsidize my adult children’s lifestyles, either. And that starts with paying for college.

First, it’s not our job to pay for college. As parents, we’re morally obligated to provide the material needs of food, shelter, and clothing, along with basic secular and religious education. Beyond that, my children are not entitled to a new car, a college education, or a big wedding. They’re not entitled to a certain standard of living, either. They’re only entitled to having their basic needs met by me and their father until they’re capable of providing for their own needs.

Second, we’re not going to compromise our family’s quality of life now to save for something our kids may not even need in the future. We have no idea what vocation God will call our children to; to follow Him, they may not even need a college education or a wedding. If they’re unsure of their vocational calling as young adults, they can go into the workforce or military. Too many young people go to college with no clear vocational direction, spending their parents’ money or racking up debt for themselves unnecessarily.

If God does call our children to a professional career that requires college or to married life, they can 1) worry about it once they discern that call, and 2) trust that God will provide what they need THEN to follow His will. Jesus tells us over and over that we’re to trust God to provide what we need, when we need it.

And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (Luke 12)

Obviously, we have to work and do our part, too. We also have to be good stewards of His financial gifts and part of that is saving money when we can. Even then, though, like everything else, we must consider the reason we save and its impact on our spiritual lives and families. It’s hard to argue that saving to afford another child, for a sterilization reversal, for emergencies, or for retirement is the same as saving to buy your teenager a car or a lavish wedding day. “What’s the highest good we can achieve by using God’s money?” we’re required to ask. Rarely is the answer, “To pay for things my adult child may want in the future.”

My three older kids actually fight over who’s going to play with and take care of our 2-year-old toddler. What a loss if we’d stopped having children to save for the older ones to go to college.

One of the saddest outcomes I’ve seen among couples who believe they’re obligated to pay for college is that they limit their family size to do so. I simply can’t imagine God wanting us to deprive our children of more siblings so we can save for the day when one or two of them might need to go to college. A sibling is a friend given to you by God to accompany and support you on the journey of life. My youngest sister, Darlene, is priceless to me. I’m the oldest and she’s the fourth child; I shudder to imagine the richness my life would have lost without her in it, if our parents had decided to stop at two kids to save for my college or wedding. A sibling is an incomparable gift infinitely more valuable to our children than any future financial benefit we can offer them.

Finally, paying your own way builds character and we don’t serve our children when we pay for things that are actually their responsibility to earn. I’ve seen so many middle-aged couples who’ve taken out a second mortgage, dipped into retirement savings, or even taken on a second job to pay for their child’s college or wedding. No matter how extravagant, selfish, or unnecessary the child’s wedding wish, the parents bend over backwards to provide it because it’s their baby’s “special day.” They forfeit their own financial security to cater to their adult children, spending money they don’t have because they can’t bear to say those terrifying four words: “We can’t afford that.” Or better yet, “Pay for it yourself.”

If my kids want a big wedding, they can work, save, and pay for it. If they want a new car, they can work, save, and pay for it. If they want to go to college, they can apply for scholarships and grants, work part-time, and take out loans to pay for it. They can decide whether wracking up $120,000 in student loans to earn $30,000 a year as a teacher is prudent, or whether half that time at community college and the rest at a cheaper state college would achieve the same goal. Let them learn to assess the true value of things and decide whether the sacrifices to obtain it are worth it. It’s amazing how frugal young people become when they’re bankrolling the venture, not mom and dad.

I also want my children to become caring adults who consider others’ needs before their own. Which is why they won’t see me or their father taking out an extra mortgage or working overtime in our 50s or 60s to provide things they ought to be earning themselves. I attended a reputable liberal arts college in the mid-1990s, and saw countless young adults disregard the financial sacrifices their parents made to pay for their education. I’ll never forget my roommate calling her parents and screaming at them because they hadn’t sent enough spending money in the latest care package. (Never mind that her middle-class parents had taken out personal loans to put both her and her sister through college at the same time.) Most whose parents were footing the bill for college expected their parents to pay for spring break vacations to a tropical locale, too. My peers’ lack of gratitude was disgusting. And that was 20 years ago; young people today have an even stronger sense of entitlement toward their parents.

I’m sure by now my husband and I sound like stingy, selfish ogres. We’re really not. Like all parents, we want our children to lead happy and productive lives and to the extent we’re able, we’ll help them financially–when they NEED it. But the fact is, our family is solidly middle class and we have five children (so far). Whatever financial help we’re able to provide will necessarily be limited to what we can spare without compromising more important goals like having more children, providing for our younger children’s needs, and saving for retirement.

Even if we got a huge windfall tomorrow, however, and became fabulously wealthy, we still would not be financially supporting our adult children. We’d still expect them pay for the majority of their college education. We’d expect them pay their dues, which means making their own sacrifices to reach their goals. And be grateful for whatever we can contribute to their goals, without feeling entitled to spending our money as if it’s their own.

Yeah, it’s tough love. And I expect plenty of folks to disagree…especially our children! Oh, well. They’ll just have to thank us in hindsight.