“The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: ‘so that they are no longer two, but one flesh.’ They are called to grow continually in their communion through day to day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.” CCC 1644
In the past, I’ve avoided writing too much about marriage on my blog , Invisible Woman, for fear of ye ole chestnut, “Well, easy for YOU to say . . .” followed by innumerable permutations of the multifarious ways a spouse can be so unbearable as to surely nullify the commands of Scripture and Tradition.
Today I’m taking my observations from the marriages of others and my own experiences with my husband Tom, to try to lay out a very basic outline of what to do and what NOT EVER EVER to do if you want a successful, fulfilling marriage that is pleasing to God. This is not comprehensive, so please don’t write me that I’ve left out the very major issue of ____________________ (insert your pet issue here.) As I said, this is culled from my own observations of married folk, Catholic and otherwise, in my forty-six years on the planet. NOTE: my marriage is NOT perfect, but it is perfect FOR ME. I hope you can say the same and I bet you can if you keep a few things in mind.
1. You both need to be present in the spiritual life of your home and family
Tired, overworked, frazzled, bothered, hormonal, hungover, whatever you are, be present and reverent at Mass anyway. Be active in prayer. Not all spouses feel comfortable praying together, and that’s a personal decision, but certainly you both should be praying FOR each other and for your children if you have been blessed with any. Remember that your spouse may be going through a period of spiritual acedia and not telling you about it – in this case, your example can do so much toward pulling her out of it. Your spouse isn’t the only one watching your example: your children are watching and listening, filtering and judging constantly. They notice if you engage in spiritual reading, if you are watching EWTN or if you are watching something that would make an employee of EWTN blush. Look, there is nothing more important than becoming saints. Direct everything in your marriage to that goal and you have won more than half of the battle. Try to hang around couples who, even if they aren’t super Catholics (iron sharpens iron, so it’s a good thing if you do), are at least not a hindrance to you both expressing your faith openly.
2. Never, ever insult, embarrass, or call out your spouse in front of others
I remember when I was dating my husband, we were having a dinner party with a mixed group of couples, some married and some not. One fiancé at the table patted her groom to be on his stomach and remarked with raucous laughter at how tubby he already was before chowing down on this dinner. The man almost shriveled up before my eyes. I was utterly embarrassed for him, and I had to bite my tongue not to interfere. Since that night, I have noticed time and time again husbands and wives, even good Christian ones, slamming each other verbally in public. Not cool. If you have a gripe with your spouse, take it up in private. Ladies, I’m talking to you here: if your husband has done something to irritate you, go to HIM, don’t announce it in front of your friends. It’s emasculating to him and it will almost guarantee that he will NOT be inspired to correct what it is that peeved you in the first place!
3. Listening Ears, Inside Voices
This is a solid rule not just for the schoolroom, but also for the domestic church, your home. We spouses have to listen, really listen to what our wives and husbands are saying or have said. Don’t make your spouse repeat a need or problem over and over again before you take it seriously. Every person in your home bears the Imago Dei, and deserves to be treated with a certain level of dignity. That includes listening when someone is speaking to you. Related to this, please remember that your spouse will be much more amenable to listening to you if you are not shouting like a wild woman. Yelling is unattractive, unproductive, and signals to those around you that you have lost control of yourself and you are not confident in your position. It scares and alienates children and often, wives. It causes husbands to tune you OUT completely if you are shouting like a car horn. If you live without yelling for a while, you will be amazed at the results. Trust me on this. It is low effort and high yield.
4. Get him, don’t “let” him
Gal friends, I’m talking to you here. Your husband may have come to you with some habits, hobbies, or interests that seemed mysterious and even slightly annoying to you before you were married. You may have told yourself that he would cease and desist after the vows were spoken. If he hasn’t, you accuse him of immaturity or lack of priorities. I tell you today: YOU are in the wrong, ladies. You have to “get” your man. Maybe he collects shot glasses, bear pelts, golf pencils, shark teeth, or comic books. Maybe he plays video games. Maybe he likes to golf. None of this is sinful. If you “get” what he is about, then you will respect that this is something he does, not something that you are now as a wife called upon to either “let” him or not “let” him do. You aren’t his mother. And you’re not his boss, either. If you think that stripping him of all of his pre-marriage recreational activities will somehow make him more devoted to you, you are mistaken. All you are doing is creating a frustrated and kinda sad husband. And if you love him, why would you want to take away something (harmless) that he enjoys? Guys, I guess this applies to you, too. Do you think it’s odd that your wife owns ten pairs of what seem to you to be identical black leggings? Do you wonder how on earth she could listen to Taylor Dane? Don’t make fun of her. Buy her a Taylor Dane tee. And leggings to match. You’ll be the hero.
5. No lying, delaying or omitting
There is a reason Billy Joel sang about honesty. It’s of major importance in a marriage. I cannot stress this enough: once you delay telling your spouse about something, or omit a detail, even one that seems unimportant to you, you immediately attach a level of intrigue or suspicion to it that it may not even organically or inherently have. Example for hubbies: you are invited out to lunch by two co-workers, one a female and one a male. The female is single and known at the office for being ready to mingle. At the last minute, the male lunch attendee falls ill and cancels and you are stuck at lunch, through NO fault of your own, with the female flirtatious co-worker. The time to tell your wife about this is IMMEDIATELY if not sooner. Your wife trusts you, and she knows that you wouldn’t cheat on her in two million years. But if you delay at all, or avoid telling her about this luncheon gaffe, then guess what you’ve done? You’ve created an aura of sneakiness, subterfuge, inappropriateness, and even licentiousness around the activity. If you think I’m wrong about this, you’re off in space. Honesty is the best policy. The more years that pass that you are a fib-free spouse, the more credibility you build up with your spouse. Trust is a very fragile thing. Once broken, it is almost impossible to fix. Only through God’s grace and much work can trust be restored in a marriage. Please don’t blow it because of something that was innocuous to begin with!
6. Neither a wuss nor a bully be
That’s for the hubsters. For the wifeys, neither a doormat nor a witch be. So many spouses think that in their marriage they must maintain some kind of “upper hand.” This is ridiculous and juvenile thinking, and it’s certainly not in line with the Catholic view of marriage. Don’t bully your wife, and don’t be a nagging witch to your husband. Conversely, don’t wear a “kick me” sign on your back. If your spouse has hurt you, crossed a line, or simply put a rock in your shoe in some way, talk to him or her about it. Be clear and firm. NOT aggressive and NOT babyish. Just talk to your best friend, your spouse, as you would want to be addressed. And hey, Catholic men, you need to respect women, all women, as if they were under the protection of the Blessed Mother. Because they are. Don’t have pictures of the Virgin Mary all over your Facebook wall and then act like a rude jerk to women in theological discussions. Don’t say anything to a female that you wouldn’t want said to your daughter. And don’t tell me “Feminism did this; they got what they wanted.” No. The feminist movement is not my fault, so don’t talk to me like I’m driving shotgun in a beer truck with you. I’m not. I’m a lady, and a mother. Additionally, men, you are called to DEFEND women. Your wife, daughters, cousins, co-workers, all women. Their dignity is in your charge. It’s a big job, but you can handle it or God wouldn’t have issued it to you.
7. Remember the beginning
When Tom and I were first dating, before I ever saw him without his shirt on, I remember having a dream about him shirtless! I know! Okay, why am I revealing this private tidbit? To make a point. Ladies, there may be days in your marriage when you may feel like coming up behind your spouse and hitting him with a frying pan. Or a lead pipe. Like a scene from Clue. Men, there may be nights when you are driving home from work, and you contemplate for a moment that you may could just keep on driving, all the way to the airport and then get on a plane to Tahiti. During these times, remember when you first fell in love with that spouse of yours. What was it that attracted you, kept you coming back, and made you fall in love? Remember that you chose this person to pursue and you won the prize. You won! You have him! You won! She’s yours! Don’t ever lose sight of what an epic goal you scored there. When I look at my husband across a crowded restaurant walkingback to our table, I flash back to the first time I saw that smile, that walk, those eyes. I wanted him for my own, to never share him with anyone else, to make a home with, and to get old with. And I have that! So why would I hit him with a frying pan? He’s that same guy whom I fell so hard for – the only difference is all we have been through since, all we have seen each other through. The good, the bad, and the downright unspeakably ugly. My mother’s cancer, my infertility, health issues, money problems, work problems, days and days apart from each other while he traveled on business to provide for our kids. Yes, time has changed us. We are no longer as fresh and shiny and new. We are better than that. We are time tested. I bet you and your spouse have similar stories, don’t you?
Day to day, you have the opportunity to sanctify each other in the shared vocation of marriage. Don’t fritter away that opportunity out of pride or laziness. Look at your spouse with tenderness and awe: this person is a creation of God that has been entrusted to you, not unlike your children have, and the understanding and nurturing you give to your kids, you actually first owe to your spouse. No, your marriage is not perfect, I know that. No one’s marriage is perfect. But look at that person in your wedding picture next to you: that person is perfect for YOU, right? You knew it that day. Remember it today, then – act, react, and live accordingly.