What’s the #1 Reason Marriages Fail?

People always ask me that question.  They expect me to say, “poor communication” or “infidelity” or “addiction” or some such.  Although these are all challenges, the real problem  is something deeper.  Here’s an article from Together for Life taken from Lisa and my latest book, Just Married:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage.

In fact, the most common reason for marital break-ups actually cause all of these problems and more.

The biggest contributor to marital problems and, eventually, marital breakdown is that husbands and wives tend to love their own comfort zones more than they love each other. This leads to no end of opportunities to feel rejected, resentful, and angry.

Some people ask us what we mean when we talk about “comfort zones.”

Your comfort zone represents the range of experiences, relationships, and ways of being that are familiar, common, and preferred. A comfort zone represents the way you like to live your life, dress, behave, and organize your day. Your comfort zone includes those things you know how to do well and things you enjoy doing in your free time—for instance, your hobbies, interests, and skills.

It represents the way you prefer to act around people. For example, are you the life of the party, or do you like to keep to yourself?

Likewise, your comfort zone represents the ways (and the degree to which) you like to give and receive affection. For example, do you like to display a lot of affection, or are you more reserved? Do you like exploring lots of different ways to show your love for each other (in and out of the bedroom), or are there certain things that are more comfortable and meaningful than others?

In short, your comfort zone represents most of the preferences you may tend to think makes you “you.” 

The fact that marriage is a sacrament means, at least in part, that marriage is all about getting you and your spouse out of your comfort zones in order to create a unified couple. Why?   READ MORE…

The Secrets of Exceptional Couples Revealed!

The Christophers website shares some thoughts from my book on what it takes to have an exceptional marriage.

For any marriage to work, spouses have to step into it with one absolute in mind: no matter what, we stay together. From that place of certainty and security, couples can navigate the rough spots and know that they will come out safely on the other side.

So what’s the secret to a truly happy marriage? Therapist Gregory Popcak set out to answer that question in his book “The Exceptional Seven Percent: Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples.”

“Every couple’s marriage revolves around a theme, that thing to which a couple gives most of their time and emotional energy. For example, most conventional couples build their lives and marriages around either securing their basic needs, maintaining companionship and security, or finding each other’s place in the world, investing heavily in careers and social roles,” writes Popcak.

“Exceptional couples, on the other hand, while concerned with all of these to some degree, spend most of their energy working together to pursue the development of…. READ MORE

“Marketing” Catholic Marriage in a Post-Marriage World–FREE WEBINAR TODAY!

Join us in this webinar today and learn how to share the Catholic vision of love & marriage more effectively!

Webinar Registration

Everyone uses the word “marriage” but it seems to mean a million different things to a million different people. Today it seems that many couples don’t believe marriage means anything anymore.  In this marriage-hostile environment, how can the Church effectively promote what makes Catholic marriage both different and more desirable than any other kind of relationship out there?  

In this provocative and eye-opening webinar, Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak (POP-chak) offer a side-by-side “product comparison” of  the five types of marriage and marriage-like relationships from which most couples choose. More importantly, they also explore what makes Catholic marriage unique above all other relationships.  

This webinar will enable parish ministers and married couples to discover effective ways of communicating the value of Catholic marriage to engaged and dating couples. Participants will be able to share concrete examples of the benefits of entering into an authentic, Christian marriage rooted in a free, total, faithful, and fruitful love.    FREE REGIASTRATION HERE!

The Ave Maria Press Professional Webinar Series is presented in partnership with the National Association for Lay Ministry, the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, and the National Federation of Priests’ Councils.

You Deplete Me: 5 Ways to Know You’re In a Toxic Relationship

There are some relationships we shouldn’t try to save.  Oddly, sometimes the least healthy relationships are the ones we’re most anxious about letting go!  This article can help you discern whether you’re in a toxic relationship with a poisonous person.

1. It seems like you can’t do anything right – The other person constantly puts you down as not good enough. They mock your personality, and you feel ashamed most of the time. You only feel pardoned when you take on the traits of the person doing the condemning or judging.

2. Everything is about them and never about you – You have feelings too, but the other person won’t hear them. You’re unable to have a two-sided conversation where your opinion is heard, considered, and respected. Instead of acknowledging your feelings, they battle with you until they get the last word.

3. You find yourself unable to enjoy good moments with this person – Every day brings another challenge. It seems as though they are always raising gripes about you. Their attempt to control your behavior is an attempt to control your happiness.

4. You’re uncomfortable being yourself around that person – You don’t feel free to speak your mind. You have to put on a different face just to be accepted by that person. You realize you don’t even recognize yourself anymore.

5. You’re not allowed to grow and change – Whenever you aim to grow and improve yourself, the other person responds with mockery and disbelief. There is no encouragement or support for your efforts. Instead, they keep you stuck in old judgments insisting that you will never be any different than you are now.

If you’re experiencing even just one of these signs, check in with yourself to see if the relationship is doing more damage than good.  READ MORE

For more ideas on effectively dealing with the Toxic People in your life, check out God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts!  Making Peace with Difficult People

Great Tip for Celebrating Family Life

Today on More2Life Radio, we had a Family Fiesta, celebrating all the good things about our listener’s families and working through the struggles that stop them from enjoying family life as much as they’d like.   A big part of the conversation were the importance of family traditions, opportunities to gather together and celebrate everything that makes your family a treasure

Here’s a great article from the Art of Manliness about the importance of traditions.  It offers some great ideas for beefing up your connection with those traditions that make you an even stronger more loving family.  Sometimes traditions are the things we look forward to, sometimes their the things we loathe, but they always represent ties that bind.  Here’s a sample of what I mean from the article.

To celebrate our family’s Mexican heritage, on Christmas Eve we would eat tamales, enchiladas, sopapillas, and pozole. Both my brother Larry and I eagerly devoured everything on the menu except for the pozole, which we despised. (For those of you who don’t know, pozole is a traditional Mexican maize stew that usually includes chilies and some sort of meat, like pork or cow tripe. I don’t know why we didn’t like it. I actually find the dish quite delicious nowadays).

Our bellyaching about pozole would begin in the morning….  READ MORE

To learn more about how your family can become everything it was created to be, pick up your copy of Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids!

Well, Shucks. Y’All Are Makin’ Us Blush.

I had to post this truly touching review from the Snoring Scholar of Lisa and my new book Just Married:  A Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First 5 Years of Marriage.

oh, the things I would’ve missed if I hadn’t read Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage, by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak (who’ve written about 100 other books, and are professional marriage people, and have a radio show, and all sorts of credibility stuff).

This book wasn’t necessarily written for me: I’ve been married ten years this year. Honestly, I intended to skim through it and pull together a general review.

But I couldn’t.

I got sucked in, just as surely as the dog hair gets into the toothpaste container. (Don’t ask.) I was intrigued and nodding and (dare I suggest it?) making notes of things and learning a thing or three…

We want you to remember four little words that will help you get through these times. Ready?


Write it down. Tattoo it on the back of your hand. Memorize it. Chant it. Say it until you can dance to it. Marriages do not have lives of their own. A marriage only has the life a husband and wife give it. People say things such as, “It just didn’t work.” or “It just didn’t make sense anymore.” “It just died.” Remember this. There is no it. There is just you, your spouse, and God. If your marriage is dying on the vine, it isn’t because it (your marriage) is broken. It is simply that you don’t currently have the skills to nurture it under the pressures you are currently facing. Get those skills. Read good self-help books; go on a marriage retreat; join a support group; get therapy.

I’m pretty sure that these are some kick-donkey people, here, and I’d like to meet them someday. This book put words to things that I’ve felt at a gut level and have struggled to articulate (not that I needed to articulate anything, mind you, but as a word person, I sometimes just want to have the words for things).

Many people believe that in order to be “true to themselves” they are obliged to say what they are feeling in the middle of feeling it, but the truth is, feelings are God’s gift to you, not anyone else. Your feelings are God’s way of calling your attention to a potential problem. Having received the emotional message, you need to go to God to figure out whether the emotional message was a glitch (because you were tired, or underfed, or overwrought, or otherwise not functioning properly) or whether it was intended to point out some real issue that needed to be addressed. Having sought God’s counsel and calmed down a bit, now it’s time to raise the issue. Instead of leading with your emotions, leading with possible solutions gives you a way to discuss possible ways to prevent the situation from occurring in the future without letting the conversation devolve into “I feel so awful about who did what to whom.”

I agree wholeheartedly with the plug on the front of the book by Christopher West: “Every married couple—newly married or otherwise—will benefit from this book.” Yeah. What he said.

 You’re very kind.  Lisa and I hope many couples are similarly blessed.


Pope Francis Calls Extraordinary Synod on the Family

HUGE NEWS!   Here’s reporter, John Thavis,  on the announcement.

Pope Francis has decided to devote the next Synod of Bishops to family pastoral issues, setting the stage for a far-ranging discussion that is likely to touch on questions concerning divorced and remarried Catholics, cohabitation and annulments.

The synod will take place in October of 2014, and by then we may see other changes in the synod’s format that give its deliberations more weight.

Here is the report from the Official Vatican News Site.

“It is very important that an extraordinary Synod has been convoked on the theme of the pastoral of the family”, said the director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. “This is the way in which the Pope intends to promote reflection and to guide the path of the community of the Church, with the responsible participation of the episcopate from different parts of the world”.
“It is right”, he added, “that the Church should move as a community in reflection and prayer, and that she takes common pastoral directions in relation to the most important points – such as the pastoral of the family – under the guidance of the Pope and the bishops. The convocation of the extraordinary Synod clearly indicates this path. In this context, the proposal of particular pastoral solutions by local persons or offices carries the risk of engendering confusion. It is opportune to emphasise the importance of following a path in full communion with the ecclesial community”.

This sounds like a profoundly exciting development. More as it comes in!



Speaking of NFP, The Atlantic Discovers Something Faithful Catholics Have Known All Along

There was a terrific article in The Atlantic last week on the growing awareness and promotion of Natural Family Planning by secular medical professionals (who prefer to refer to it as Fertility Awareness Based Methods–FABM).  Really good piece.

 …surveys  conducted by physicians at the University of Utah show that when natural fertility-awareness methods are described to women, 25 percent say they would strongly consider using one as their means of birth control. But thanks to its glaring image problem and a set of just-as-formidable infrastructural hindrances, ignorance of fertility awareness-based methods is widespread. If more women looking for a non-hormonal, non-barrier, non-surgical form of birth control knew about FABM, then more of them could be practicing it to its utmost effectiveness—rather than doing it in the dark.

These fertility awareness models actually can work, and work well. A recent 20-year German study asked 900 women to track their fertility every day by monitoring their body temperature and cervical mucus, and use that information to avoid pregnancy. The study’s researchers found this to be 98.2 percent effective—comparable with the pill, and a far cry from the 82 percent effectiveness rate of the withdrawal method.

In January, a group of physicians organized through the Family Medicine Education Consortium published a review looking into the efficacy of various FABMs. They combed through all the relevant research published since 1980, and concluded that “when correctly used to avoid pregnancy, modern fertility awareness-based methods have unintended pregnancy rates of less than five (per 100 women years).” (A woman year is one year in the reproductive life of a woman.)  Their effectiveness levels, in other words, are “comparable to those of commonly used contraceptives,” the study’s authors add.   READ THE REST OF THIS EXCELLENT PIECE HERE.

If you’d like more information on how the Catholic vision of love and sex can make your marriage more passionate, joyful, and intimate, check out Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind Blowing, Infallible Loving.

Real Catholic Love and Sex Takes on the Ultra-Traditionalists on NFP So I Don’t Have To

Really good piece over at Real Catholic Love and Sex on the struggle of ultra-traditionalists to accept Natural Family Planning.   Here’s a taste.

Ultra-traditionalist Catholics don’t get a pass on this any more than “Catholics for Choice”. “More Catholic than the Pope” is simply another form of protest and yet another way of being “Protestant”.

Taking a closer look at the critiques, those who think promotion of NFP is a deviation from “traditional” Catholic teaching have often misunderstood the actual traditional teaching by reading older documents anachronistically and out of context.

Likewise, just because someone has misunderstood Catholic teaching, past or present, doesn’t make it controversial either. That is why we have pastors, bishops, and the entire magisterium of the Church to help us on our journey of faith. Unlike other traditions, we do not have the burden of every person having to define his or her own doctrines and his or her own understanding of the faith.

Finally, if you are looking for genuine controversy in this area—as in where priests, bishops, and theologians have actual disagreements—it was never over whether NFP is licit, it was over whether contraception is licit. The question of the licitness of NFP was settled by a brief statement from the Holy Office. The question of whether contraception remained illicit given social changes and advancements in scientific knowledge required a Papal Commission that lasted several years. Furthermore, promotion of NFP has always been associated with the more conservative and faithful elements of Catholicism, not the more liberal and dissident ones.   GO READ THE REST HERE.

And if you’d like more information on how the Catholic vision of love and sex can make your marriage more passionate, joyful, and intimate, check out Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind Blowing, Infallible Loving.

Popcak in WaPo on the Pope, “Catholicism is a love story.”

I was interviewed, earlier today, by Michelle Boorstein, a religion writer for the Washington Post.  We chatted about the challenge many people were having with Pope Francis style and my own journey from confusion and mild frustration to greater understanding and appreciation for what he is trying to do and say.  I appreciated her thoughtful and considerate approach and I hope we have other chances to speak in the future.

My comments centered on two themes (and since I’m not sure how much will make it in to the article I figured I’d blog it here); (1) The need to understand the Hierarchy of Truths and, (2) the need to appreciate the two conversations that are currently ongoing in the Church.

Hierarchy of Truths

When Francis speaks of the importance of having conversations about abortion, contraception, and gay marriage “in a context,”  I believe he is making reference to the hierarchy of truths.    In the Church, as in math and the sciences, there are certain things you need to be able to understand before you can effectively learn other things.  For instance, algebra makes no sense before you can do basic math (of course, for math-impaired arts and letters types like me, basic math didn’t help my algebra much).  Similarly, it is hard to expect someone to appreciate the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death until someone can accept the personal  significance of the Jesus’ love for humankind (and for them, personally).

That’s not to say that the truth regarding life issues is less important.  It is to say that the ability to see those truths tends to depend upon the acceptance of other, more basic, truths (e.g., the love and Lordship of Jesus Christ).  Pope Francis is not so much saying that we shouldn’t be talking about the important moral issues of the day as he is saying that we have to be careful not to let Catholicism be reduced to a group of ethical rules that must be obeyed.  At it’s heart, and I shared this with Ms. Boorstein, Catholicism is a love story not a rule book.   Through the Eucharist, especially, God seeks to be united with his beloved in a profound and personal way.

We cannot let the fact that our Catholic faith is the love story between the Bridegroom and His bride be obscured by the truth of–for instance–canon laws on marriage.  Both are important, but one is more primary.

As for questions about Pope Francis’ style, Let’s extend the marriage analogy further. Which is a more compelling message?  “Marriage means saying ‘no’ to the million other people you could be sleeping with instead”  or “Marriage means you have found the one person whom God has chosen to be your helpmate; the person who will devote his or her life to you, help you become everything God created you to be, and get you ready to spend Eternity with Him”?  Again, both messages are true, and if there is some confusion about the nature of marital fidelity the former is an important conversation to have.  But the latter message  is more compelling insofar as it is a more accurate portrayal of what Catholics actually believe about marriage.

Pope Francis is reminding the world of the love story that stands at the heart of our Catholic faith.

The Two Conversations

The second point I hope I was able to make in my interview had to do with the two conversations the Church has been, and still is, having.

In the years after Vatican II, there was a great deal of confusion regarding what it meant to respond to God’s call to love in the 20th century.  Pope Paul VI, JPII, and B16 focused the conversation on “What does our ‘yes’ to God’s question, ‘will you let me love you?’ look like today?”   They established that our response has to do with the way we express our love for others, the way we work to promote the dignity of every person from birth to natural death, and the right of every person to have everything necessary to live a full and godly life.    The parameters of that conversation have been established, perhaps not as securely as some of us might like, but nevertheless,  the parameters are set.

In light of those parameters having been established by his predecessors, Pope Francis seems (to me) to be saying that there is another message that needs to be proclaimed; specifically, that “Jesus Christ is Lord and he loves you.”  Both conversations are important, but it does little good to talk about the proper response to God’s love with people who haven’t yet experienced his love for themselves.  Pope Francis, I think, is asking us to focus on this other, more primary conversation. I do not believe he is saying that the moral conversation is no longer relevant, but rather that we need to keep these two conversations going in our heads–and in the world–at the same time.  We must proclaim that “Jesus Christ is Lord and He loves you”  at the same time we teach what it means to say, “yes” to that invitation to respond to his love.    If Pope Francis appears to be favoring one conversation over the other–and I’m not convinced he is–then he is only doing so because the world has become so fixated on the moral conversation it has lost the thread of the love story and he intends to remind people of that greatest story every told.

I hope I was able to communicate that effectively in the interview, and I hope my observations might bring some clarity to the frustration, confusion, and (in some cases) misplaced proclamations of the death of orthodoxy, that so many are speaking about in the pew.