Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reflections On 28 Years of Marriage

I'm going to do the old, "listen to my wisdom" thing, so if that is going to bother you, read anyway... you still need it!

Twenty-eight years of marriage long? Our great-grandparents would wink at us as if we were just getting started. But according to my calculations-- that is about 140 in today's cultural years. Okay, here goes with the wisdom:

Honestly, how many marriages do you see today that are successful? Not just people living together because of the kids, but people who have been together with grown children who are happy, who have fun-who love to be with each other, who treat each other with kindness and respect. I know one....

My husband and my marriage!

We have three very successful grown children. One worked with President George Bush at the White House and was a political appointee. Two are going to med school and all three are wonderful, noble Christians with extremely high morals. (Successful parenting?... just ask me how!)

Yes, I consider my marriage and my family a great success story. But it didn't come naturally. And I can tell you it didn't come without a lot of struggle and sacrifice. I didn't just allow things to "happen" and hope for the best. I thought and planned about how I was going to be a mother and wife. I planned before I got married!

First, both my husband and I were virgins when we got married. That has saved us an enormous amount of sexual grief and fears. Don't make excuses, don't say we were somehow blessed with libidos that could handle it. Stop. Don't go there. For five years we sweated and took cold showers and prayed and fled temptation. For the year before we got married I had to live in a different STATE to prevent temptation. My mother made all our wedding plans because I had to move back home and get married immediately, to prevent ..... Anyway, we made it a priority and we disciplined ourselves and it was hard, hard, hard insanely hard.

To this day, we are so glad we have never slept with anyone but each other. It is the best gift we could ever give each other. And I can tell you that it took enormous, pain and suffering but with God's grace we remained strong, not perfect, but strong. Thank you God for giving us the grace to give each other this gift.

If you have failed already. Repent. Go to confession and make the commitment starting now. And yes, I do indeed know what exactly what continence feels like after you are used to having regular sex. Don't ask... but I do.... Stop making excuses and make that commitment to stay pure from this moment on until you are legally married. It IS important. You may not think it is now, but just believe me on this one.

And if you are way too late on this one and are already married, perhaps divorced. Take my advice for the next time.

Prepare for marriage. Read good Christian books. Then put them into practice. They may give you the directions but they won't get you up and make you walk down the right road.

When you are married, treat your spouse like a superstar, even when they don't deserve it. Absorb pain without lashing out at them. Keep as a daily mantra and motto: "Treat my spouse BETTER than he/she deserves."

After marriage, don't have anyone of the opposite sex as your confidant and be careful who you complain about your husband to. There are people out there who think divorce is the best option. As a Catholic--you are married for life. Period. Never entertain thoughts of divorce for any reason. I know that is hard, I know it is hard, but it is worth it!!

Never, ever put your spouse down in public. If you just had the fight of your life and you feel like your spouse is the most horrible person who ever lived, if you have to say something in public, say something nice.

It's actually healthy to allow your children to see you fight and reconcile--as long as they don't have to hear it constantly. Kids sense tension between parents and often they might over dramatize it and think the world is coming to an end--so make sure you reconcile where they can see it! But never air dirty laundry in front of them. Always speak positively about marriage and the other parent in front of your children. Admit mistakes but always end with the fact that you and your spouse are good people and are always trying to do better.

One thing men need to realize is that words mean different things to men and women. Begin having the patience to ask your wife what she means by certain words (or even a wife could ask her husband--but he won't naturally know--you gotta coax these things out of a man). Why do certain words have such an emotional context to her (or him)? Words hurt women and you need to listen and understand why.

Men want to fix a woman's problems--women need to learn to gracefully let them. However, women have this curious addition to each and every problem. My suggestion to men is to learn a guaranteed absolute formula to be able to really fix things for your wife. Nothing is ever repaired until your wife's heart is repaired. The emotions (sigh) must be dealt with. Always assume that your wife needs a hug and an emotional reconnection with you after every tiny happening. If you forgot to put the toilet seat back down.... not only does she need you to remember to put the toilet seat down, but she also needs a hug and a kiss about it to. That's the way we were made--sorry men.

Marriage takes courage. Don't keep any secrets. Confess to each other and don't expect that what you say will be received with grace like you are married to a saint. No, the fact that you are going to fight and cry and deal with problems and stick together through thick and thin is what is going to a make you both saints. Fight, fight, fight FOR each other, not with each other. Don't fear confrontation. Learn to fight it out, speak words of repentance, speak words of reconciliation. Seek to understand how your spouse sees a situation. Don't assume they are wrong without really seeing it from their perspective.

Know that it is going to take years and years of refighting the same topics to understand just why you both are having the same argument over and over. Sometimes it takes years to get to the maturity point where we know why we do things. It's okay to cycle through but try to make each cycle of fighting productive and learn more about yourself and each other. When you and your spouse are in their mid forties--you will begin having all these "aha!" moments of self-understanding. Keep talking at least until then...

If you are a Christian. Sorry this is going to hurt, but I can tell you that it is the right thing. Gulp...

Wives submit to your husbands. Do it without complaint. Of all things this will endear you to heaven and you will begin to glow in radiant purity. Pray that all the rage building up inside for suffering from stupid decisions your husband makes will be poured out to Christ for healing, because a man can make some really immature decisions.

And husbands must love your wives. Listen to them and know they are there to keep you from making some very immature decisions. Women are really quite intuitive and bright. They can see things from a totally different way and often can see things you can't. Always try to make your wife's life happier by your decisions. Or if you can't do that... make sure your decision is the right thing, and then try and make her happy some other way.

Daily pray and read scripture together--or even better still go to daily mass. Make God the first priority in your lives and in your marriage. Obey Him... Love Him by keeping His commandments.

Remember that chaos (divorce, strife, adultery, financial ruin) is the default position in life and in marriage. You cannot ever just put life on auto pilot. Always be thinking and putting plans into action to improve your marriage. Just like you have to shave everyday, bathe everyday, exercise everyday, eat everyday to keep your body from turning into chaos-- it is the same with the relationship with your spouse.

And in my opinion, for Christian marriages, this is the most important thing. Learn to absorb hurt. You can do two things when someone hurts you: react in a way that hurt your spouse--that is the most natural reaction. But don't do it. Take the punch and lift it up to Christ as an offering of love. Turning the other cheek is God's miracle to keep a marriage together.

Don't think your marriage will be perfect for the first twenty years--or twenty-five years. Those are the busy, working things out years with kids and business.... But you will have lots of fun, lots of learning, lots of becoming a saint. It is hard work, of course, but you are building a kingdom of Heaven on earth and it is going to only get better and better and better.

Then, when you have sent the kiddos off to college and you can sit down and sip coffee with your spouse in the morning with no distractions, you can look at each other deeply in the eyes and know that you have done something wonderful--something epic and eternal. You and your spouse have created something that is so much more than the sum of its parts. You have fought the odds and have conquered.

I could indeed tell you why my husband should be considered for sainthood. I have watched him grow from a 17 year-old boy to a man of God. I have felt his sweat to do what is right. I have held him close while both of our hearts were breaking. We have had the temptation to divorce and give up. But God's love and grace held us strong and gave us the guts to stand back up when we fell. You too have that same opportunity. NEVER give in to divorce. NEVER give in to hopelessness in marriage. Become a saint. Help your spouse become a saint.

Victory is sweet, very, very sweet and those roses you get for your 28th anniversary?

Let me tell you each bloom tells me that I am loved in a way that no rose ever did when we were first married, or on our tenth anniversary, or even on our twentieth. We know things, he and I. We've survived the trenches together. We have a corporate memory that we have built together. We know things that no one else can possibly know and it is... wonderful.

And to my husband who is at work today taking care of ICU patients--you are God's gift to me. Your love is wrapped up and held tightly in my heart, forever.....

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