M. Regina Cram
I was a senior in college, 20 years old and madly in love. He was 22 and just starting his first real job several hundred miles away. We saw each other on occasional weekends when he made the trek to rural Pennsylvania. Between visits, we wrote letters. Lots of letters.
Eventually, we grew tired of love by mail. We’d known each other for several years and were certain that we wanted to marry, so at Thanksgiving he surprised me with an engagement ring.
I was raised Catholic and so we enrolled in marriage preparation classes. These consisted of an afternoon in a cavernous church basement with 100 strangers. No meetings with a priest or deacon. No personality inventory or discussions of compatibility. Just a few questions about who was providing the wedding music and whether the promise to “love, honor and obey” could be amended to “love, honor and cherish.”
It’s been nearly 30 years and I’m happy to report that we’re still thoroughly in love. But it’s no thanks to almost nonexistent formal preparation. I received more instruction on using my Beetle’s convertible top than I did on how to build a healthy marriage.
Nowadays, most couples participate in substantial preparation. The Archdiocese of Hartford uses the FOCUS Premarital Inventory to help couples identify and address possible areas of conflict. The archdiocesan Family Life Office also provides programs for couples entering a second marriage or a mixed marriage, and for Spanish-speaking couples.
Here’s what I wish we’d been taught:
* Contrary to popular wisdom, the most powerful words in marriage are not “I love you.” They are “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
* Never go to bed angry. The apostle Paul wrote this centuries ago and it’s brilliant advice. No matter how late you have to stay up, do it. It’s worth it.
* Set aside “couple time” every week. Peter and I enjoy Date Night every Saturday evening. Others go out for breakfast once a week or spend “couch time” after dinner. The harder it is to arrange the time, the more likely it is that you need it. Couple time is not something you outgrow after the honeymoon, or after children arrive, or after retirement.
* Divide household labor in a way that is a comfortable fit for your marriage, not according to societal norms. My sister does all the construction in their home because she’s good at it. My father-in-law does the cooking because he enjoys it. Women can mow the lawn. Men can change diapers. Do what works best for the two of you.
* Never hold grudges. Never. After an argument has been resolved, toss the resentments to the bottom of the deepest ocean, then post a “No Fishing” sign. God does this for us in the sacrament of reconciliation; should we do any less?
* Speaking of reconciliation, go to confession often. If every Catholic went to confession every month, a lot of marital problems would be healed – or prevented altogether.
* If your marriage is in serious trouble, attend a Retrouvaille conference. It’s a highly confidential program for couples in troubled marriages, and it’s excellent. Call 1-800-470-2230 or check www.retrouvaille.org for details.
* Sometimes arguments can be good for marriage. When I hear someone brag that she and her husband never argue, I wonder which spouse is the bulldozer who always gets his or her way, and which is the meek mouse who always capitulates. Healthy conflict can bring about healthy results. Just fight fairly and respectfully.
* Don’t recall old hurts. When you quarrel, stick to the issue at hand, resist name-calling, and don’t argue when you’re really angry. Instead, take a time-out and resume the discussion when you’ve cooled off.
* Romance each other from the day you are married until the day you are parted by death. Hide secret love notes in her jacket pocket; slip a card in his briefcase. We do these things during courtship; why stop just because we’re married?
* Marital intimacy softens hardships and mends tensions between spouses. It’s an incredible gift from God, meant to be freely offered. I firmly believe that, apart from extraordinary circumstances, one should never refuse the other. Yup, you read that right. But wait until you’re married. Couples who are chaste before marriage are far more likely to enjoy a successful marriage than those who are not.
* Go to church together. Don’t fall into the habit of skipping Mass or going to church separately. Worshiping as a couple binds together the marriage.
* If you run into problems that you cannot resolve, GET HELP. Your marriage is worth every minute and every penny you spend on it. We don’t hesitate to pay for piano lessons for our kids, so why not help for our marriages?
* It IS possible to be totally, passionately in love for a lifetime. God designed marriage, and all of God’s gifts are good. Very good.
Next month, I’ll take a look at weddings. Have we missed the boat?
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer