Fancy dinners and highend chocolates are standard fare on Valentine’s Day. But they don’t do much to really nourish a marriage.
For a little bit of meat-and-potatoes marital advice, therefore, we turned to folks right here in the archdiocese, several of whom counsel married couples and several others who are active in Worldwide Marriage Encounter. And we asked them a simple question:
“What three surprisingly simple steps can a married couple take to strengthen their marriage?”
Here are their responses.
The Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend is designed to help married couples communicate more intimately with one another in order to deepen and enrich their relationship. The next weekend will be Feb. 25-27 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kan.
For information, call Ralph and Jan Lewis at (913) 400-7173, or visit the Web site at: www. wwmeneks.com.
God is always there for us
by Karen and Kevin Mead
1. At least once every day, in word or in action, tell your spouse, “I love you.” On most days this is easy to do. On those challenging days, taking this step helps to remind you that you promised to be there for each other “until death do us part.”
2. Speaking of vows, most of those reading this right now stood before a priest, family and friends and, oh yes, God, and made promises to each other for all to hear. Staying faithful to those promises in the 21st century can be a challenge. Making and keeping God as the third member of marriage carries us through the most devastating parts of life — like losing a child 10 years ago — and makes happiness complete — like celebrating the birth of each of our grandchildren. God is always there for us.
3. What really drove home the first two thoughts and much more was attending a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. Marriage is a service sacrament and, as such, we are called to be of service — not only to each other, but as instruments of God for others. If we live the love God calls us to, we can live “happily, until death do us part.”
Karen and Kevin Mead are members of of Mater Dei Parish in Topeka. They’ve been married 39 years, are the parents of three sons, and have been very active in Marriage Encounter for many years.
Eat, pray, love
by Mary Vorsten
A popular movie of the past year was “Eat, Pray, Love,” a divorced woman’s search for deeper meaning in her life. These three words, however, also speak of behaviors rooted deep in our Catholic traditions and can guide couples in the process of strengthening their marriage.
Eat: Share in the Eucharist, share meals together, and seek nourishment as a couple physically and spiritually. Have a date night, a romantic meal together as a couple once a month. Talk to each other with your eyes and from your heart as you eat together.
Pray: Take a walk together holding hands and pray silently for each other, pray for God’s wisdom to guide you as life partners and parents. Pray to deepen your commitment to one another. Ask God to remove any resentments that threaten the marriage.
Love: Love as Christ loved us in a selfgiving love. Allow your love to grow as you build on the foundation of Christ’s love in your lives. Observe and learn from the love patterns of those in long-term marriages. Surprise one another with small tokens of your love — notes, cards, and gifts.
Christ shared a meal with those he loved. Christ modeled prayer for us. Christ gave freely of his love. Mary Vorsten, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, can be contacted, via e-mail, at: mytherapist firstname.lastname@example.org or at (913) 909-2002.
Love is a decision you make every day
by Jan and Ralph Lewis
He says: The most important thing Jan and I ever did for our marriage was to attend a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. I am not exaggerating when I say that everything we are today has come as a result of our weekend. I encourage every married couple to attend the weekend and strengthen their marriage.
Another step married couples can take is to make the decision daily to love each other. The kind of love required for a lifelong covenant marriage is not a feeling. It is a decision. Couples need to make the decision to love each other in spite of their faults, remembering that we all have our own faults. The romantic feeling of love may come and go, but the decision to love can, and should, be made every day.
Another important step is to work on couple spirituality. The saying — “Couples that pray together, stay together” — is more than just a tired cliché. Some options to consider are: couple prayer, for and with each other, attending Mass as a couple, and sharing spiritual readings or reflections daily. Deeper couple spirituality will lead to a stronger marriage.
She says: For Ralph and I, we discovered the best tool to keep our marriage strong while on our Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. That tool is a short, daily communication exercise that we call “daily dialogue.” We take 20 minutes each day for focused, face-to-face, time together, talking about what is going on inside of us — not about the details of the day, but rather about how the day has affected us. We often view this time as being in the “eye of the hurricane,” a few minutes of peace in an otherwise chaotic life.
Like most couples, our arguments flow out of ego, pride and a desire for control. We have learned that no matter what the issue is that we are facing, the most important thing is for our relationship to win. If he wins, or I win, we both lose.
Finally, we have chosen to surround ourselves with other couples who share our belief in the sacramentality of marriage. Not only are they role models for us, they help to hold us accountable in how we live out our vocation as husband and wife.
Jan and Ralph Lewis have been married 25 years and are parishioners of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lansing. Jan is the director of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and both are active in Marriage Encounter.
Third person in every marriage
by Father Mike Stubbs
Many couples talk every day, but only on a superficial level — about household chores, about the weather, about day-today concerns. Real communication goes to a deeper level, when the spouses share their hopes and dreams, their anxieties and pains. That communication can strengthen their relationship and make their love grow. It gives them a firm foundation on which to build their life together.
Going on a Marriage Encounter weekend can help a couple to communicate better. The weekend not only provides the couple the time and encouragement to share with each other, it also teaches them communication skills that they can take home and use on a daily basis. I have worked with Marriage Encounter for 30 years. During that time, I have seen wonderful results from the weekend.
It is also important that husband and wife recognize that there is a third person in their relationship. God is present in their marriage, in their lives. When the couple takes the risk to share prayer with each other, they can experience God’s presence in a life-giving way. This means going beyond rote — memorized prayer — to prayer which speaks heart-to-heart.
Father Mike Stubbs is the senior parochial vicar of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa.
Simple, Not Easy
by Dutch and Kathy tenBroek
No one ever told us that marriage would be easy or even simple. After 44-plus years of marriage, we can say that it is simple, but not easy.
Marriage is a vocation, a call to serve, and just as vital as the call to holy orders or religious life. It is so important that our church calls us a sacrament. As a sacrament, our call is to love each other as Christ loves us and be an example of his love for the world. Love is a verb — it requires action and calls us to make each other the first priority in our lives, even when we don’t “feel” very loving.
We pray together every day. We also take advantage of opportunities to deepen our faith and relationship together. We are taking a new look at St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians and are discovering a beautiful guide for couples.
He tells us to be patient, kind, never boastful or conceited, never rude or self-seeking. We should not take of – fence or rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoice with the truth. And we should make allowances, trust, hope and endure whatever comes. Most impor – tantly, he tells us that we should never stop loving.
Simple, but not easy.
The simplest thing we did to improve our marriage was to make God the center of our lives. The best thing we did for our marriage was to make a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. The weekend brought us to a new deeper level of intimacy with each other and openness to God working in our relationship.
Dutch and Kathy tenBroek are members of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park and are active in Marriage Encounter.
Nourish your life together
by Father Phil Winkelbauer
As I was preparing to preach for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, I came across a quote written by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB. Sister Joan tells us that “every spiritual master in every tradition talks about the significance of small things in a complex world. Small actions in social life, small efforts in the spiritual life, small moments in the personal life, all of them become great in the long term, the mystics say, but all of them look like little or nothing in themselves.”
With that in mind, I would like to suggest some simple steps that a married couple can take to strengthen their marriage.
First, look at your spouse and smile! Do this at least once a day. It seems to change the one looked at and the one who is smiling. Our whole outlook will change when someone smiles at us and we are lifted up. What a gift to give your spouse.
Second, eat together. This sounds simple enough but, so often with family activities going on, spouses don’t take the time to have a sandwich or a bowl of soup or a pork chop together. They are going in different directions and aren’t nourishing their lives together. And since we all need to eat, why not eat together? Those few moments of feeding the body will also, I believe, feed the marriage.
Third, find time each day to pray together. I am not talking about a long extended time. Something short will do most of the time, but, if you have the chance and opportunity, take longer. It is powerful to include God into the marriage. When we invite God to be with us, great things happen.
I believe that, though simple, these three actions will strengthen a marriage.
Father Phil Winkelbauer is the current pastor of Sacred Heart – St. Casimir Parish in Leavenworth.