From the Family Foundations archives
Dr. Gregory K. Popcak
William called our radio program with a question.
“I’m getting married next month. I love Bethany, my fiancee, very much and I can’t believe how blessed I am that she said ‘yes,’ but as the wedding is getting closer I’m having a hard time sleeping at night. It’s not like I’m getting cold feet. It’s just that I have no idea how to make this work. My parents are divorced. My dad is divorced from his second wife and my mom has been living with a guy for several years. I came back to the Church in college and I want to do better than my parents did. I want to have a Catholic marriage but I really don’t know what it takes to have a marriage, much less a Catholic one. I hear you guys talking about this stuff all the time. I’ve thought of calling before but I felt silly, yet as the wedding gets closer and I’m having more sleepless nights, I just had to call. What can I do to be the kind of husband God wants me to be and my fiancee deserves?”
William isn’t alone in his concerns. More and more men and women fear marriage. Although a recent Gallup poll of Gen Y and Millenials found that 80 percent of people aged 18-34 wanted to marry “some day,” many were putting off marriage because of fears like the ones William expressed on our show. When I listen to young men talk about their concerns and fears about marriage, I am reminded of the disciples’ response to Jesus’ comments on the permanence of marriage in Matthew 19: “If this is the way it is to be, perhaps it is better not to marry.” Pope Francis recently commented in an address to the members of the Pontifical Council for the Family that, “Marriage is not easy but it is so beautiful. It’s beautiful. Tell them that.”
I’d like to share Pope Francis’ encouragement with all the grooms out there. As Lisa and I near our 25th anniversary, I can’t help but reflect back at the 21-year-old kid who got married the day after college graduation without a clue of how this was all going to work. Lisa and I share some of the lessons we learned from a lot of study and a lot of hard work over the years in our book, Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage. I hope some of those lessons will be a help to the young men who are facing their weddings with similar excitement and trepidation.
You don’t have enough love in your heart to make it on your own. Neither of you do. But God will give you the love that comes from his heart if you ask him for it, and he will teach you how to share that love in a way that is truly life-changing and beautiful.
In a recent homily, Pope Francis asked the couples and families in attendance to be sure to pray together regularly: “In the light of God’s word, I would like to ask you, dear families: Do you pray together…?” Take the lead. Ask your wife to pray with you. Bless each other before you go to work. Say Grace at mealtimes. Ask her to pray with you before you have any difficult conversations. Take a break in your arguments and ask your wife to pray with you for God’s help. Pray to celebrate the good things that happen. Even saying a simple Our Father together can help. Praying alone is fine; but marriage is not a solitary exercise. It is a partnership, so pray together. Let God teach you how to be the kinds of partners he wants you to be.
2. Learn from each other
You don’t have to know everything about marriage or even about pleasing your wife. No one does. Not even the people who come from the best backgrounds. Every marriage is different. You just have to be humble enough to admit that you don’t know what you’re doing and you have to listen to your wife’s heart speaking to you. She is going to ask a lot of things of you. Some of those things will be easy for you and some will be hard. It doesn’t matter. Real men do what needs to be done.
Treat every request as if it was an invitation from God to grow into the man he wants you to be — a man after his own heart. God chose this woman for you because he knew that by attending generously to the needs and desires of her heart you would become someone heroic. You would become a channel of his love for your bride. If you can do this, she will always love you, because she will see God’s love shining out of your eyes when you look at her — even when you don’t think you’re doing anything all that special. Listen and love.
3. Learn from others
Believe it or not, there is a mountain of research in the last 20 years that all but proves that anyone can have a great marriage. It’s all about having a willingness to learn the skills that make marriages work. Even though every person is different, all people want to be heard, to be loved, to be respected, and valued and cherished. It turns out that there are certain, basic things almost anyone humble enough to learn can do to make their marriage work. Once you master those basic skills, you can tailor them to your unique circumstances and make them your own. Whether it has to do with good communication, or problem-solving; or establishing rituals for work, play, talk and prayer; discovering ways to cherish and encourage each other; or seek shared meaning, you can learn the skills to make it work. So…learn the skills to make it work.
This is important: If you get stuck, get help early. Most couples wait four to six years from the time they first think about getting help to the time they make the call. Don’t be stupid. Seek help early and often.
4. Hang tough
When the going gets tough, marriage masters dig in. There will be days you don’t feel like there’s enough love to go around or when you feel like you’re burned out. You will have days where you’re tired of having that same argument or days when you just feel tired. It doesn’t matter what the reason is. On those days, remember the promises you made to each other. Remember the promises you made to God and before his Church. Then dig in. You will make it through.
I describe a few hundred different techniques in my various books, and there are hundreds more besides, and you can learn most of them over time if you like. But I believe that if you can even just remember what I’ve shared with you in this article — that when the times get tough you dig in deeper, listen more, pray harder, serve a little more generously — you’ll be fine.
Marriage isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you really want to be the kind of husband that makes God proud, a man after God’s own heart, and you put some sweat behind that desire, you will discover everything you need not only to make it to Happily Ever After, but also to one day carry your bride over the threshold of the Eternal Wedding Feast.
Together with his wife Lisa, Dr. Greg Popcak hosts More2Life Radio airing on the EWTN radio network. They are the authors of many books and programs, and invite you to contact them for tele-counseling and other resources at www.CatholicCounselors.com.
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