G.K. Chesterton writes, “Marriage is like an adventure, like going to war.” Ha ha, indeed. You confidently commit yourself to an honorable venture, entering seemingly well-equipped, excited and hopeful (though perhaps with some nervousness at the seriousness of the matter). Inevitably the battles begin; tensions rise, shots are fired, bombs are dropped. You realize that you must be strategic if you want to survive. However, the thing you are combating is not your spouse. The Holy Spirit bound you together at the altar, and since that moment there has been a force assigned to you, plotting to tear you apart from one another, and from God.
Thankfully the devil is on a leash, and there are numerous ways to grow in consciousness, defending your marriage.
Ten tips that got us through some significant rough patches:
LEARN YOUR LOVE LANGUAGES. You have likely heard of or read the book, “The Five Love Languages,” by Dr. Gary Chapman, outlining that different people have different ways of giving and receiving love: Quality Time, Touch, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, and Gift Giving. I found that in our dating relationship, all five had been met at the appropriate level, but after getting married, Ante and I very clearly had different dominant love languages. Ante is high in acts of service; if the house is clean with dinner on the table and we’ve had a productive week in ministry, he’s elated, feeling very loved. I grew up cooking and cleaning, accomplishing the academic and work-related goals I had set, but I equated none of these things with LOVE--they are simply what we ought to do. My dominant language is quality time. Since Ante falls under acts of service, he would constantly do things to make my life easier, but would busy himself so much doing so, that he would spend little care-free time with me. I grew increasingly lonely, as he looked at me confused, thinking he is doing everything he can to make me happy. After countless battles, followed by sincere discussions, Ante and I now know what makes the other feel loved. I have spent the past 6 months trying to increase acts of service, putting myself aside. This works because he is increasingly conscious of loving me in the ways I need to be loved. A success story: One night when Ante was still working night shifts in civil engineering, he called me out of the blue to tell me that he cannot believe how blessed he is to have me as his wife. He was sitting there daydreaming, thanking God for the gift that I am--more than he could have ever imagined. I was so exhilarated after that phone call, I stayed up until 3am cleaning the house (whole other level clean). He walked in that morning to a spotless home, and thought, “Ohhh. I need to tell my wife what she means to be more often”). Yes, please!
WHAT DID YOU DO WRONG? When you fight, always think about what you have done to contribute to the situation. Though the other person may be more at fault, you have definitely done something imperfect in the days, weeks, or months that contributed to the fall-out. Find it and own it, rather than villainizing your spouse. This way you can both come to the table with an apology and better understanding of self. I got this strategy from Professor of Clinical Psychology Dr. Jordan Peterson, and once Ante and I started implementing it, conflict was resolved much more quickly. Note: Usually beneath anger is hurt and pain, but our pride keeps us from dropping our walls. This strategy helps make both partners feels safe and dignified, opening space for sincere apologies, forgiveness, and healing.
DON’T END OFF ON A SOUR NOTE. There have been times I’ve stormed out of the room frustrated and angry, thinking, “Did I do the right thing getting married? I’m too broken. He’s not getting it. We’ll never have the marriage I’ve dreamed of--it doesn’t exist, etc. I thank God each day for strengthening my faith, because it is the only thing that grounded me in times of desperation. I’d think, “How did we get here, this angry with one another? I committed myself to this man. The devil wants me angry, away from Ante with miscommunications and problems unresolved.” I would walk back into the room time and time again with the mentality, “The devil won’t win this one.” Ante thanks me for my humility. I thank him for welcoming me with open arms. It’s important to show the other person that they are not easy to walk away from (*different from taking some healthy space to think).
FOCUS ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. We won’t have the marriages that we are created for if we lose sight of the Creator. I needed to learn that my relationship with God is central; my husband WILL NOT make me happy, every day, all of the time. I need to focus on growing in holiness. Period. Women especially get caught up in, “I’ll be happy when he…” No. No you won’t. There will always be something you pine for if you are not allowing Jesus to fulfill you. Take hold of your life in Christ now, growing and pushing yourself in faith, and the rest will follow. REGULAR CONFESSION is huge. Confessing that you have not given your wife enough time and attention, or that you have been rude and snappy with your husband, will bring you to another level of consciousness and conviction.
ASK FOR SOUND ADVICE. Speaking with other trusted couples in faith helped us leaps and bounds! Sometimes you feel isolated and alone, and they can assure you that your problems aren’t terribly abnormal.
DO NOT KEEP SMALL OR BIG LIES FROM ONE ANOTHER. Never think, “It’s easier not to tell him/her; it’ll only cause more harm.” NOPE. Honesty builds trust, and we all deserve the opportunity to forgive. Trust and integrity are key, and it is what God expects of us. Note: Remember that love sees 20/20; if you are keeping something from your spouse, how can they choose to love you in all of your brokenness (which is the love we are called to, because it’s how Jesus loves us)? Strive for an authentic marriage.
LISTEN TO YOUR WIFE. While your wife can seem emotional and irrational at times, her intuition is a gift. Christopher West, Theology of the Body scholar, urges men to listen their their wives, stating that women know when something is off in the marriage, while men can be aloof.
LISTEN TO YOUR HUSBAND. Men tend to say what they mean. Nothing more. Nothing less. Take your husband at his word, and don’t always expect him to say the perfect thing.
NEITHER OF YOU ARE PERFECT. The standards that God wants you to live by are often times very different than what you may have experienced in your upbringing. Look into your past, acknowledge why you are the way you are (i.e. habits, impediments, etc.), and allow God to take you on a journey of healing. Sometimes counselling can be a great help and aid to understanding oneself, though never underestimate the power of the Blessed Sacrament, Eucharist, and Confession. If you have things to work on, start now, day by day. Ante has to remind me that things will not change radically overnight, but with patience, gentle reminders, and two people striving for a happy marriage in Christ, amazing things will happen.
PRAY FOR AND WITH YOUR SPOUSE. Ante prays novenas for me every now and then, and tells me days or weeks later. I can’t tell you how it increases my love and trust in him. I pray for him each day, blessing his head with Holy Oil every morning. In giving one another to God, He takes the pressure off, allowing us to love one another without unrealistic expectations. As Venerable Fulton Sheen points out, your marriage is a love triangle between you, your spouse, and God. Rely on Him.