Several weeks ago, we started a series on “living” the Sacraments. The series was prompted by the oft-repeated question being raised during this pandemic: “how can we possibly survive without the Sacraments of the Church?” One of the answers to that question is this: we are not trying to survive without the Sacraments! In fact, the very nature of the Sacraments allows us to receive the grace God has given (in the outward signs) and then let (or make) that grace grow each day by how we foster it and put into practice what we have received. Today: Marriage.
- Recommit yourself to your marriage every single day. If you want to “live” your Sacramental Marriage and continue to cultivate a strong and happy union, start each morning by making a renewed personal commitment to keeping your relationship healthy and rewarding. Start by remembering what you said you’d do in your wedding vows: Love your spouse. Honor her (or him!) Cherish her. Comfort her. Remain faithful to her. Do these things in good times and bad, in sickness and in health — every day of your marriage.
- Take responsibility and stop trying to fix your partner. It’s always best to look at how your own behavior could improve before you try to change your spouse’s.
- Evaluate where your self-worth comes from. Oftentimes, the happiest couples draw a lot of their self-worth from their relationships with each other. Ask yourself whether or not you’re consistently relying on something other than your marriage, like your job, to make you feel good about yourself. Yes, it’s okay to proudly say, “I’m the manager of my division at work,” but you should also be able to say, “I am the world’s most fortunate man to be married to my wife,” with the same sense of accomplishment.
- Consistently verbalize to your spouse the things you love and appreciate about him or her. Complimenting your partner will make him or her feel great in the moment, and doing so consistently is the single greatest long-term “vitamin” you can give your marriage. Start by reminding yourself of all of the reasons why you fell in love with him or her in the first place, and then list how much more wonderful your partner has gotten since then. Also, tell her (or him) how much she means to you, how much you love her, and how beautiful she is ten times a day. We can’t count on hearing compliments from our kids, our coworkers, or even our friends, and we’re harder on ourselves than anyone else ever could be. Over time, this lack of positive reinforcement makes us feel small and unhappy. Make it your personal mission to ensure that your spouse feels as valued and appreciated as possible.
- Acknowledge the little things your spouse does and return the favor. In addition to complimenting your spouse, perform small but meaningful acts of kindness. For example, if your wife hates unloading the dishwasher, make a point to get into the kitchen and put away the dishes first. Acts like this don’t take much time or energy, but they show your spouse that you are paying attention and that you care — and that is truly priceless! And when you’re on the receiving end, be sure to say thank you. You’ll perpetuate a positive cycle of giving and getting in which neither party feels ignored or taken for granted.
- Learn — and then do — what makes your spouse feel most loved. While any expression of love is, of course, a good thing, we all feel loved in different ways. Even if you feel most valued when your spouse gives you a hug, the same might not be true for him/her. It’s important to ask your spouse, “What have I done in the past that made you feel the most special?” Whatever your spouse’s response is, be sure to include those actions or words into your regular repertoire.
- Don’t let resentment build. When you live in fairly close quarters with another human being, it’s inevitable that sooner or later you’re going to annoy and anger each other. While it’s not a good idea to nit-pick, don’t let negative feelings build up and fester. Even if you have to go for a walk to first clear your head, be sure to express your frustrations in a calm, constructive way — preferably before you go to bed angry. Also, remember that this is a two-way street. When your spouse is upset with you, make every effort not to fly off the handle and to fairly consider what you’re hearing. Marriage does involve compromising and modifying your behavior for another’s well-being — and your mutual happiness is worth it. If you and your spouse reach a point where you’re unable to address problems without raised voices and heated emotions, marriage counseling may be a good option because each person has the opportunity to voice dissatisfactions without being interrupted. Remember, seeking out help does not mean that you are weak or that you have failed — it means that you are acting wisely and responsibly for the good of your marriage and your future.
- Take responsibility and stop trying to fix your partner. It’s always best to look at how your own behavior could improve before you try to change your spouse’s. When we begin to take responsibility for areas in which we may have been dropping the ball, the dynamic of the marriage will change. Perhaps your spouse has been trapped in a cycle of negativity that has been fed by your own less-than-helpful attitude. Plus, when you begin to behave more positively, there’s a good chance your partner will begin to mirror your behavior.
- Figure out what your strengths are and play to them. You and your spouse should each play to your strengths within your marriage and back away from your weaknesses. If, for example, you’re great with words but don’t have much of a math brain, don’t take on the task of making sure the bills are paid and the accounts are balanced each month. Instead, take the lead in dealing with teachers, repairmen, etc. When you force yourself to do something for which you have little aptitude, you only frustrate yourself and, by extension, the people with whom you live.
- Put your Marriage in the hands of the Lord each week: Go to Mass (or participate in the livestream Mass) every Sunday with your spouse/family, pay attention to everything that takes place as it occurs, and before Mass ends…ask yourself…. what is the one thing that stood out the most for me. Then go to breakfast, and talk about it with your spouse/family. Never underestimate the importance of celebrating, respecting, loving, and prioritizing your spouse each and every day. And pray, pray, pray!
Thanks to The International Catholic Stewardship Council for providing these inspirational thoughts and suggestions on how to live the Sacrament of Marriage.