Keep God at the heart of your marriage. Keep growing spiritually as individuals and as a couple.
Don’t make your spouse your god (you’ll crush them)–to quote Christopher West, “Do not hang your hat on a hook that cannot bear the weight”.
Keep the perspective that the purpose of your vocation of marriage is for you to help each other grow in holiness–to help each other get to Heaven and take as many other people along with you as possible (especially your children!). Every other concern is secondary.
Model your marriage on the love Christ has for His Church, in dying for Her in order to make Her holy, and on the Church’s love for Christ in being receptive and responsive to His Love (see Ephesians 5:21-33). How similar is your love to this?
Through the Sacrament of Matrimony, the Holy Spirit–the Love of the Holy Trinity Personified–entered your relationship. He gives you the supernatural love you need to make your relationship grow and deepen. Pray to Him and welcome Him by avoiding sin and pursuing holiness.
Marriage is a supernatural vocation. You need supernatural help and abilities to live up to this high calling. God has provided both by making marriage a sacrament (a source of grace). Take Him at His Word and draw on that supernatural help!
Welcome children as the crown of your union. They are your love made visible. In bearing and raising children, you participate in God’s plan to raise up saints for the joys Heaven: “Behold, children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward.” -Psalm 127:3
Study the virtues and strive to grow in them through prayer and practise. The opposite of “virtuous” is “vicious” (“vice-ious”), and a vicious person is hard to love! Pray especially for the virtue of humility for yourself and your spouse. It’s foundational to all the other virtues you will need for a happy, holy marriage. Another critical virtue is cheerfulness (coupled with prudence, of course!). It’s disheartening to live with a wet blanket.
Ask the Holy Family and the other saints (especially your patrons & guardian angels) to pray for you, for your spouse & for your family.
Study the biblical Song of Songs and quote it to each other.
Go to Confession regularly (at least monthly) so that sin doesn’t block the graces of the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Renew your vows frequently. The marital embrace is a physical expression of your vows–it’s a good time to renew your vows verbally as well, and to mull over what they mean to you now.
Your wedding ring is a sacramental (it was blessed at your wedding). It’s a source of grace. When you need marital help, finger your ring and ask God to answer the prayer the priest prayed–that you and your spouse will have faith in each other, and live together in peace, good will and love.
When you have to take off your wedding ring, invite your spouse put it back on your finger with the same words they used at your wedding (“N. take this ring…”). It’s a romantic way to keep the memory of your covenant fresh in your mind.
The family is defined as a “domestic Church”, that is, in every Christian family the different aspects and functions of the life of the entire Church may be reflected: mission; catechesis; witness; prayer etc. (General Directory for Catechesis, p. 255). Pope John Paul II calls us as families to “become what we are”. Make your home a refuge, a place where God is honored, where He is “at home”. Furnish and decorate your home in a way that draws the mind and heart to God and to holy things. Make it a place of prayer, peace, holiness, spiritual growth, generosity and hospitality.
Give your relationship priority. God is first, your spouse is second, your children are third, and everything else falls in line after those three. If you don’t intentionally choose these priorities, other things/people/activities will push their way to the top.
Be prepared to learn a foreign language. Don’t assume that your spouse understands the same things the same way you do. Different families have different ways of seeing the world, saying things & doing things. Your spouse may take your compliment as an insult because your phrasing had a different connotation in his/her family than it did in yours. This can come as a real shock! If one of you has upset the other, assume the best and talk about it to figure out what the other meant and what it meant to you.
Learn as much as you can about your spouse’s personality–how he/she sees things. The princess is more touch-oriented, while the prince is more hearing-oriented. The princess has learned to express her love for him in words more often, even though her natural instinct is to express her love through touch. He’s learned that a good hug can speak more love to her than a whole day full of the spoken words “I love you”, even though the latter come more naturally to him. You may need to adjust to differences in ambition (go-getter vs. laid back), sensitivity (cries at the drop of a hat vs. thick-skinned), social life (introvert vs. extrovert), responses to change (likes routine vs. likes variety), etc. Knowing your own tendencies can help you know where to focus in learning to adapt to your spouse.
Keep studying marriage. Even the best marriage has room for growth. For us, studying Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (Christopher West helps make it easier to understand) has been the single most important factor in revolutionizing our marriage. The more this message sinks in, the better our relationship gets!
(Caution: be very careful about using non-Catholic–or even heterodox Catholic–sources of marriage information. Despite the best of intentions, they cannot help but spread the misconceptions they’ve inherited–some of which can range from unproductive to downright disastrous! Some examples include: the myths that promote pleasure–physical or emotional–as being the main focus of sexual union, ignorance of the Sacraments and their vital graces which should be the lifeblood of your marriage, etc. We’ve had direct and unpleasant personal experience with some of these pitfalls, and we’ve had to “un-learn” a great many of those myths)
Learn Natural Family Planning (if you haven’t already). Not only is it good for your soul, it’s good for your marriage & good for your health. NFP couples break the stereotype of “he only wants one thing” & “she always has a headache”. Their marriages continue to grow in love and intimacy long after contracepting couples have grown cynical & jaded. NFP couples also have a 98% chance of having their marriage last. Most forms of contraception are hazardous to your physical health. NFP, on the other hand, can help identify potential health problems before they become serious.
Beware the temptation to use each other. It can be awfully subtle. Love seeks the good of the other. Use seeks your own pleasure. “…the mere appetite for pleasure…is not a sufficient motive for any action.” -T.G. Wayne, Morals and Marriage
Ask your spouse what makes him/her feel loved & incorporate their suggestions into your routine (and don’t be too crushed if what you thought made them feel loved isn’t on the list). It helps if you each make a list for the other so you don’t have to rely on your memory. Some little things we’ve done are to write “I love you” on the steps with sidewalk chalk, leave love notes in a lunch box or car (plastic Easter eggs are fun for this in May & dry-erase markers work well on mirrors), call to say “I love you”, and warm the other person’s towel in the dryer while they’re showering. The prince calls when he’s going to be late, so the princess don’t worry about him. She used to read to the prince while he did the dishes (it was a way of passing on things she’d read that she wanted to share with him). Periodically we’ll randomly comment on things the other has done that we appreciated, often because we’ve recently experienced a situation that made us realize how much we’ve been taking for granted (the prince says often, “I love my sensible Sweetie!”).
Study male-female differences and discuss what you’re learning. They may help you come to terms with things that baffle and/or frustrate you about your spouse. The better you understand your differences, the more you can make them work for you instead of against you. One difference is that men are wired for leadership, which means laying down their lives in service to their brides (see Eph 5:25-27). In order to be able to do this effectively, they need wives who are receptive to this leadership–who allow, nay more, inspire their husbands to serve them (which is what submission is meant to be) through their loving respect and encouragement of their husband’s leadership and masculinity. Wives need love that’s expressed in affection, provision and protection.
A wife needs to know that her husband is willing to lay down his life for her to protect her and provide for her (translated, “Do you love me?”). A husband needs to know that his wife values the sacrifices he makes for her enough to be receptive to them (translated, “Do you respect me?”). He will be inclined to offer her the encouragement he himself wants; to say, “I admire you”. That will leave her fundamental question unanswered, leaving her insecure. Likewise, she will be inclined to say, “I love you”, leaving his fundamental question unanswered, and leaving him insecure. He needs to learn to express love
(giving) for her, and she needs to learn to express respect (receptivity) for him in order for both to complement each other.
There’s a tremendous and fundamental difference between a worldview based on “power” and a worldview based on “authority”; the former is a type of “conquest by force” which has no real legitimacy, while the latter is a God-given position of responsibility coupled with the “clout” necessary to carry out His Will in some specific matter. Power is an attempt to “rule without yourself being accountable to anyone”, while authority only makes sense if you are under authority, yourself. The “battle of the sexes” (and any complaints, jokes, etc., to that effect) is a symptom of being infected with the “power” disease; whereas a man’s legitimate authority in the family only makes sense if: (a) he is himself under God’s direct authority, and is willingly accountable to Him; and (b) the man uses that authority in the service of God, his wife, his children, and others (in that order of priority!). I (The prince) can testify to the truth of this; when I willingly placed myself under the authority of our Blessed Mother, Mary, my own true authority blossomed (and found its true meaning in service and sacrifice for God, and for the princess)–even in cases where the princess and I had a true difference of opinion, coupled with unpleasant feelings; so long as I used my authority in God’s and in the princess’ service, I had all the needed strength and clarity needed to lead my family in the needed direction.
Women tend to express their love through involvement, including giving advice. Men may experience involvement (especially during a project) as getting in the way (it breaks their focus, among other things) and may experience advice as criticism. Talking through this difference in a time of peace & finding out how it applies to you may minimize your chances of accidentally irritating or hurting each other when you’re trying to help.
Ask your spouse what foods they like best in restaurants & figure out how to make them at home (there are various take-off recipe books & websites available).
Find out what your spouse likes–foods, colors, styles, critters, activities, etc. & use that information for gifts, special occasions & just generally making home a pleasant place to be. Ask your mother-in-law for recipes for your spouse’s favorite foods & learn to make them.
Make time to grow as a person, especially as marriage brings your own shortcomings to light. Encourage your spouse to grow as a person and offer to help (without pushing them!). Marriage works best between two mature people and maturity requires personal growth.
Have a date night every week. Never stop courting…but don’t let your dates become stale. Even if you stay home, dress up for each other and make it a special event. Take turns planning what you’ll do (otherwise you may end up just sitting around asking, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do.”)
Share your spiritual insights with each other.
Do a “little something” for your anniversary every month. We at least say “happy anniversary” & try to make it a special day, but sometimes we also exchange inexpensive gifts ($5 or less).
Learn how to pray with and for each other. Praying together is incredibly intimate. If praying together is uncomfortable (it usually is at first), start small, maybe with a pre-written meal prayer. Build from there.
Express your love by making sacrifices for each other (sacrifice beads can be helpful for this!). Fast & pray for each other’s needs, give up things the other finds irritating, go out of your way to serve your beloved, etc.
Bless each other each time you part & say “I love you” no matter how you feel. This reminds you of your decision to love, to seek the best for the other, especially when you’re at odds. Besides, you never know if those are the last words you’ll ever say to each other.
Ask your priest for blessings. There are official blessings for a married couple, for the family, for anniversaries, for a home; blessings to be given before and after childbirth, blessings for children, for those who’ve suffered miscarriage, a blessing for adoption, etc.
When you have to separate, wave to each other. We blow kisses too & say “I love you” in sign language.
Welcome each other home warmly. Stop what you’re doing if at all possible & go to meet your sweetheart at the door with a hug & kiss.
Never say “I told you so.” The satisfaction isn’t worth putting your spouse down.
Eat together as a family at least one meal a day–without the TV or radio on in the background. Use that time to talk and enjoy each others’ company.
Seriously consider getting rid of the TV entirely. It’s more likely to pull you apart than draw you together.
Cut the apron strings. Parents are still important, but your spouse takes priority. If you don’t make a point of putting your spouse first, a parent may unintentionally continue to claim first place in your life, which is hazardous to your marital health.
Nurture common interests. This is part of becoming one. Separate interests are fine, but you need to cultivate having things in common too.
Building intimacy is key in marriage. The word “intimacy” comes from root words that literally mean “innermost”. Intimacy is an openness to each other, a vulnerability with each other, that develops in an atmosphere of trust, of not having to be afraid. Building intimacy means trusting, being trustworthy, and learning how to avoid hurting your spouse. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because it’s very easy to hurt someone without intending to, without even realizing what you’ve done, especially when they have different sensitive spots than you (and everyone does).
Eliminate ridicule. Ridicule, however humorous, undermines intimacy by adding an element of fear to your relationship.
Guard your intimacy. If you start to feel distance developing between you, ask yourself and ask your spouse what’s wrong (be sensitive). Don’t let that distance become “normal”. Have the courage to work toward restoring closeness between you by finding out what’s causing the fear between you and addressing it.
Foster mutual respect. Respect builds trust, which builds intimacy.
Compliment each other often (reruns are fine!). Be as specific as possible. Your spouse gets torn down enough by other people. Be his/her cheerleader.
Always speak well of each other to other people (don’t air your “dirty laundry” in public!). Let other people tell your spouse how much you value him/her. It builds trust and intimacy.
Make a list of what you like about your spouse & read it often, especially when they’ve gotten under your skin. Make sure your spouse knows what’s on the list. This helps you keep perspective. There’s usually a lot of good, even when things feel really bad.
Consider making coupons (given as Christmas gifts, monthly anniversary gifts, etc.) to ease areas of friction. We’ve used “snack attack”, “one night of dishes done”, “have it your way” coupons & others. This is a way of giving yourself, not just giving things.
Play together & foster a sense of humor. Marriage does involve hard work, but fun makes the work less bothersome!
Eat by candlelight now & then. Make romance a regular part of your life to highlight how special this relationship is.
Blow out candles together & celebrate with a hug & kiss
Figure out what facilitates conversation between you & do it regularly. We found that we talk best while rolling a ball back & forth to each other across the floor. The “Ungame” is also a good conversation starter. We tend to talk on walks too.
When you walk together, keep in step with each other.
Never ever let divorce even cross your mind. Chase away the very thought as if it were a mortal enemy. It is.
Take a timeout to pray together in the midst of an argument to ask God to help you work out the problem together, rather than to try to defeat one another.
Learn redemptive suffering
Study forgiveness (arm yourself against seeing your spouse as a monster).
Seven Rules For A Good Clean Fight (can’t recall the source)
1. Before we begin, we must both agree that the time is right. Don’t let irritations build too far, but don’t try to solve an issue when you’re already overtaxed or overheated.
2. We will remember that our only battle aim is a deeper understanding of each other and a solution that satisfies both of us. We will fight the problem, not each other.
3. We will check our weapons often to be sure they’re not deadly.
4. We will lower our voices instead of raising them.
5. We will never quarrel in public nor reveal private matters.
6. We will discuss an armistice whenever either of us calls “halt”.
7. When we have come to terms we will put it away until we both agree it needs more discussing.
Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Many disagreements are the result of misunderstanding. Try mirroring back what you “heard” your spouse say, putting it in your own words. Give him/her a chance to correct you if you didn’t hear what they meant. The princess has found that when the prince does something that upsets her, chances are good that he actually meant to please her. Either he misunderstood what she wanted, or her desires had changed in the meantime.
If a disagreement is a matter of preference, make your point & then drop it. Your spouse can then decide what to do without feeling like they’re “knuckling under”. I’ve done this a lot! If it’s something God wants my husband to change, I need to let God draw him to change. If not, I have no business pushing him to change anyway.
When disagreements get particularly intense or when we reach a point where we’re just not getting anywhere, we’ve found that writing to each other can help (consider using email or a mutual journal). Writing can help you think through what’s really at the root of your disagreement, a chance to not be “on the spot” and a chance to edit (so you don’t say something hurtful that you really don’t mean).
Try to figure out why you got upset in the first place. What did the situation mean to you (it may’ve meant something completely different to your spouse)? The real reasons for emotional reactions aren’t always as obvious as they seem. Your spouse may be unintentionally triggering a painful memory. You can make that a point of prayer for healing, and let your spouse know that’s a vulnerable spot so they can be more sensitive to it.
Avoid “what if” when thinking about the past. It’s a deadly trap that’s ruined marriages. Thank God for what is and trust Him to bring good out of it.
Learn the optimal closeness for your marriage–not so close as to be engulfed, nor so far as to feel left out. Sometimes an unconscious need for space can lead to fights over “nothing”. If you’ve been particularly close for a while you might be ripe for a spat. If you’re aware of this possibility, sometimes you can head it off.
Thank each other often for little things as well as big things, even if what they did was “their job” anyway. Gratitude builds your spouse up and helps them learn what’s meaningful and/or helpful to you. Think of it as “marital lubrication”.
Develop a spending plan & live within it. Start by keeping track of expenses for a couple months (we used our computer for this) & factor in bills you only pay a few times a year–including car repair!
Eliminate debt as soon as possible, and include tithing in your budget. As strange as it may sound, giving 10% of your income to God makes it easier to eliminate debt! (you can’t out-give God) This eliminates a lot of stress.
Seriously consider arranging your finances to allow the wife to stay home, even before you have children. Calculate the cost of working–the commute, work clothes, eating out, etc. Chances are good that if you stay home, you can save much of the money you would actually bring home from a job by having time to do things yourself, make things yourself, shop more carefully, etc. As a bonus, these things will have your personal touch. We only have one car, which is a huge savings. Unhurried time together in a home that you’ve developed as a place of refuge (that doesn’t just happen–it’s a full-time job all by itself) is extremely valuable for building your relationship. In addition, a wife who works outside the home has to split her receptivity to servant-leadership between her boss & her husband, often at her husband’s expense. The princess looks at their contribution to society as the equivalent of an active religious order (the prince’s teaching) with a contemplative backup (the princess’ prayer, spiritual reading & taking care of domestic details so he can focus on teaching).
Woman’s intuition, while not infallible, can be a valuable source of information. If the wife feels something is wrong and just can’t shake the feeling, check it out carefully even if it “doesn’t make sense”.
Wives, your husband is an extremely valuable source of information about modesty. Ask him to help you learn how men think so you don’t accidentally lead other men into temptation. Husbands, express your desire to have other men treat your wife with the dignity she deserves, and share with her your observations about how some clothing tempts men to see women as objects of lust. We women really don’t know how men see us and it can come as a shock!