Leaven columnist Bill Scholl and his wife Bethanne share what they learned at one of the recent retreats sponsored by the family life office during this Year of Faith.
by Bill Scholl
Ever put off tuning up your car until you finally just do it? The ride gets smooth and you ask yourself, “What took me so long?”
That’s how I felt after doing a Living in Love retreat with my wife — and she is so much more important to me than my car.
Turns out there were a few simple fixes we didn’t even know we needed that overnight made our marriage a much better place to be. As a guy, I had some reservations that it was going to be touchy-feely or some kind of conflict management workshop — both of which I did not have time for.
But because of the encouragement of a few friends, I was willing to take the risk of giving a weekend to my marriage. I am so glad I did that I’m telling all my married friends.
Living in Love is a fun, jampacked weekend retreat that enables you to sleep in your own bed. It goes all-day Saturday and starts up again Sunday morning and goes through the afternoon. It includes dinner and Sunday Mass. So, you still have a bit of weekend to spend with your family when you’re done.
Plus, with the Year of Faith discount, it only costs $30, much less than a good dinner out. After doing the weekend, I’d be willing to pay much more because I got so much out of it.
The retreat is a package deal where each talk is presented in an engaging way that builds upon the previous teaching, so I don’t want to give too much away.
However, for me the basic concept was a game changer: Being married when you and your wife are in love with each other makes the marriage much better and easier, and God wants to help you with that.
Living in Love then coaches you to help make that “in love” happen. If I can work first on being in love with my wife, everything else will fall into place.
Some of the coaching I got was challenging. We were shown how our family life and the culture influence our understanding of our roles as husband and wife. Realizing many of these influences was profound for me, but also flying way below my radar. It was great to have a platform that was clear and time-limited to talk to my wife about these things. Conversations like that, while important, can also open a big can of worms, so it was nice to have a way to talk about them without it getting out of control.
Living in Love helped me have talks with my wife about my feelings that I actually enjoyed.
To my guy friends, I wish I could tell them more about why they really want to do this retreat, but that would be a spoiler. So I just say, “Dude, trust me. You really want to do this retreat. If you go and don’t like it, I will buy you lunch.”
Living in Love was a simple way for my wife and me to make some big fixes in our marriage. We are happier. Our kids are happier.
And I think God is happier because we are now bringing him into the relationship through really powerful prayer. We took time to tune up our marriage and Jesus has given it turbo.
By Bethanne Scholl
What ambition do I have for my marriage? Huh? Do I even think about that?
This was one of the first exercises in the Living in Love weekend my husband and I attended at a local parish. We were to dream big about how we would be with each other if we had no constraints. Presenters Ron and Kathy Fehrer talked about being in love with your spouse. Not only that, they stressed that it was possible to be in love every day. Frankly, I was stumped.
In the midst of the laundry and kids and bills and planning meals, I was everything but “in love.” I’m busy. I’m tired. And I know we’re not unusual.
What couple isn’t busy and tired? And we have a good marriage. But as I thought about what our marriage could be, I was convicted. We love each other, sure. But we’re not in love.
Being in love seemed like the stuff of newlyweds, not 40-somethings outnumbered by their children. I regarded the whole idea as interesting, but not realistic on a daily basis.
Through a series of exercises and talks, we looked at what might be barriers to living in love. We focused on how the culture views sex — as recreation or an activity to be done, not as an intimate conversation we have with our spouse.
We delved into how our families trained us to think about marriage. As the day progressed, it became clear that being daily in love was a conscious choice. And one made infinitely easier through the grace God wants to shower on us to make that happen.
So, we decided to press the reset button on our marriage. We decided to stop criticizing one another. Neither of us is ever motivated to change behavior through criticism anyway. We decided instead to lift one another up every day and to think of the other before ourselves. We decided to be in love.
The Scriptures at Mass that morning confirmed our decision: “Behold I make all things new” and “I have given you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” To decide to start fresh, to put my first focus on my husband and his happiness, to make that the goal of each day gave me peace and hope. It reminded me of how I felt when we first wed.
It may sound silly, but I was so excited to see our parish envelopes, because they were addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Scholl. We were together and everything was new and seemed like a gift. Somewhere along the line, I had forgotten.
I know we’re all called to be saints, but it seemed out of my reach. Maybe after the kids are gone, I’ve mused. It was only through this weekend that I realized the vehicle for sanctity is right in front of my face.
When I married, I was called to mirror the church’s love for Christ. I’ve got the opportunity to make my husband know without a shadow of a doubt that he is loved and lovable — to give him the love of Christ through our marriage. This can only bring good things for him and for my children, to see their mom and dad happy and joyous and loving one another.
And the beauty of it is that all the graces I need to succeed are there for the taking. I just have to ask through prayer.
But being in love with my husband does more than just improve our marriage and our family. We are a sign to the church and to the world. That’s the greater vision of the Living in Love weekend — that married couples would mirror Christ’s love and joy to the world. That young and old alike would say,
“Look at that Catholic couple having fun and being so in love. And they’re married! I want what they’ve got.”
If we were madly in love with each other every day, people could see it. Through God’s grace, people might come into the church because of it. People might come back to the church because of it. It’s bigger than just me and Bill. It’s the important thing for the church and God that I’ve been longing to do. And most importantly, it’s doable.
I was once at a Mass when a couple was congratulated for having been married for 50 years. The priest encouraged the husband to kiss his bride. He took her in his arms and gave her a big, passionate smooch. No peck on the cheek for them. It was better than any romantic movie. It was a testimony of their passion and joy for one another — and it was real.
We can all have that, whether we’ve been married a week or half a century. It’s just a matter of daring to have ambition for your marriage.
A husband’s tips for husbands
1. Pray with and for your wife. Praying to God for her and with her is a powerful way to make her feel loved and protected, preferably while you are holding her.
2. Watch out for irresponsibility! Sure, she is willing to pay the bills or do the grocery shopping, but no one should have to do these things alone. Be actively involved in all the affairs of the home.
3. Duh! Women respond to beauty. Respect that you wife needs beauty in her life and don’t dismiss her because it doesn’t seem practical or necessary.
4. You’re not God’s gift to women, but you are God’s gift to her. Take time every day to praise your wife for her feminine virtues. It’s your job to make her feel the love that God has for her through you. Affirm her daily.
A wife’s tips for wives
1. Put your marriage first. Pray for the grace of passion to invest in your husband daily, before anyone or anything else, including the kids.
2. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Let him know all the reasons daily you married him and make sure to give him specifics.
3. Let go of control. As women, we sometimes deal with our anxiety by trying to control things. Make an effort to trust that your husband will take care of you and love you. Men can find it easy to be irresponsible because their wives do it all. Let him know you trust his strength and gifts. Your trust will help him step up to the plate.
4. Get rid of criticism. It is said that criticism is the cancer the kills marriages.