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Catholic experts offer 8 tips to improve marriages

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At a time when Americans are waiting longer to marry, or choosing not to marry at all, many dioceses and parishes nationwide are working to promote and strengthen marriage.

Our Sunday Visitor interviewed a variety of experts in the area of marriage and family life and identified eight tips for couples to help strengthen their marriages.

1) Be more intentional

Jason Angelette is co-director of Faith & Marriage apostolate, working in conjunction with the Archdiocese of New Orleans to offer retreats and enrichment programs to married couples. He believes there is a greater need for couples to be “intentional” in their marriages, focusing on the “mission of marriage,” rather than seeing it as merely an arrangement dictated by feelings.

“They must consider what God’s plan is for marriage, and that they need to be closely united to Christ,” Angelette said.

2) Embrace committment

Deacon Stephen Bowling is director of the Office of Family Ministries for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, where he helps to prepare couples for marriage and also counsels them. He believes that couples in successful marriages realize the seriousness of their commitment and that it is lifelong.

3) Spend time together

Greg Schutte, a Catholic therapist who is director of Marriage Works! Ohio, suggests that couples make an effort to spend time together, as he believes “the biggest problem with couples is not falling out of love, but of not knowing one another.”

Much time is spent in courtship getting to know a prospective marriage partner, but in a busy married life that process can stop.

He noted that when he comes home from work in the evening, “my seven kids bombard me with everything. The first thing I do is find my wife, check in with her, and ask, ‘How was your day?'”

4) Build a spiritual foundation

Angelette believes that good marriages “must be built on a foundation, not a tool box.” Echoing an address of Pope St. John Paul II to married couples, he explained that the foundation for Catholics should include regular prayer, reception of the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

While the tools a married couple may learn at a workshop may be of value, he believes that a solid spiritual foundation must come first.

“Bishop Fulton Sheen noted that Christ’s first word in public ministry was ‘come,’ and his last word was ‘go,'” Angelette said. “We must continue to come to Christ for that grace we need and then go and love.”

5) Be attentive to the little things

Socorro Truchan, who offers retreats and marriage enrichment programs for the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan, believes couples should “pray with and bless each other daily (as the day begins and ends, if possible), listen to each other ‘with the heart,’ laugh together, hug and hold hands and do spontaneous acts of love. … It is in these little acts of love that we truly express how we value the other.”

These acts can be simple, she explained, such as when her husband takes out the heavy trash containers for her on pick-up days.

6) Ask the help of a diocese

The Church has much to offer couples in troubled marriages, believes Deacon Bowling. He suggests they first reach out to their pastor, and then to their diocese for help.

“We can put you in touch with a psychologist or medical professional to help you in your needs,” Deacon Bowling said. “We’ve made it our business since the time of Christ to help those in need.”

7) Seek out marriage enrichment programs

Schutte believes that parishes and dioceses should make available marriage enrichment programs, and he even authored one for Catholic couples, “Discovering Our Deepest Desire.”

The program is in use in Kalamazoo, Truchan noted, and has been used “very successfully in our diocese.”

Schutte also hosts a weekly podcast and offers videos on marriage on his website, which can be found at ourdeepestdesire.com.

8) Be faithful to Church teaching

In addition to relying on the help of prayer and the sacraments to bolster married life, Angelette insists that couples also must commit to being faithful to Church teaching, even on such difficult issues as contraception.

Jim Graves writes from California.

The Call of Married Life
In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, Pope St. John Paul II explained how the married state is designed to lead toward the mutual sanctification of both husband and wife:

The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and original means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families. It takes up again and makes specific the sanctifying grace of Baptism. By virtue of the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Christ, of which the spouses are made part in a new way by marriage, conjugal love is purified and made holy: “This love the Lord has judged worthy of special gifts, healing, perfecting and exalting gifts of grace and of charity.”

The gift of Jesus Christ is not exhausted in the actual celebration of the sacrament of marriage, but rather accompanies the married couple throughout their lives. This fact is explicitly recalled by the Second Vatican Council when it says that Jesus Christ “abides with them so that, just as He loved the Church and handed Himself over on her behalf, the spouses may love each other with perpetual fidelity through mutual self-bestowal. …. For this reason, Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state. By virtue of this sacrament, as spouses fulfill their conjugal and family obligations, they are penetrated with the Spirit of Christ, who fills their whole lives with faith, hope and charity. Thus they increasingly advance towards their own perfection, as well as towards their mutual sanctification, and hence contribute jointly to the glory of God.” (No. 56)

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