Maintaining Your Marriage Connection

It’s easy to tell when someone is happy. People often express outward signs when they are feeling good, such as smiling, using an upbeat tone, or having a bounce in their step. But it can be harder to tell what someone is thinking when they are feeling down, tired, or upset. These emotions are often masked or do not come with as markedly definitive expressions. While you may think you know all of your partners’ “tell tale signs” of their emotions, new research suggests otherwise. Psychologist Chrystyna Kouros states “We found that when it comes to the normal ebb and flow of daily emotions, couples aren’t picking up on those occasional changes in ‘soft negative’ emotions like sadness or feeling down…They might be missing important emotional clues.” Because of this, there are a few things that we must keep in mind to maintain the connection in our relationships.

Theology of the Body reminds us that we were created for communion, but of course, sin ruptures that communion.  Because of sin, instead of coming naturally to us, making connection to others takes effort.  It requires us to be intentional about asking questions, scheduling dates, praying, reflecting and planning in order to create the kind of closeness and intimacy we were created to enjoy naturally. The sense that great relationships should “just happen” hints at the time before the fall, where Adam and Eve enjoyed Original Unity and it also hints at how things will be once we are united with God and the Communion of Saints in heaven. But here, in this sinful world, creating connection takes real work, and doing the work that is necessary to create loving communion–first, within our families and then in the world–is what it means to “build the kingdom.” Doing good works, serving in the parish or community, saving the world are all important things, but creating connection is the most important work a Christian can do.  Remember what St. Paul said, “If I have the faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Let’s refocus on the great work of being intentional about creating meaningful connection with the people closest to us and let God multiply our efforts to bring the world to him through our efforts to consciously connect.

Don’t Assume–Too many couples assume that things are “fine” if there isn’t any conflict.  They think that the lack of arguments is the same things as satisfaction. But there are a million reasons a couple might not be fighting that have nothing to do with intimacy. Don’t ever assume your marriage is on solid ground just because you’re not arguing. Instead, ask. Make time everyday to say to each other, “What can I do to make your day a little easier or more pleasant?”  Make sure you get meaningful answers. Don’t settle for “I don’t know” or “Nothing.” If those are the answers you get more often than not, make a point of scheduling more focused conversations–at least weekly–about how close you feel to each other, what pressures you might feel are challenging your sense of togetherness, and what you might need to do to grow closer–even if things are good. Happy couples, don’t wait for conflict to tell them they are off-course, they regularly check their course and make tiny course corrections every day so they can make sure to stay on track

Give Your Connection to God–God wants you to have a great marriage, both because he wants to fill your hearts with his love AND because he wants to show the world–through your relationship–that the love that everyone longs for is truly possible. But God doesn’t expect us to create that kind of connection on our own.  He wants to teach us, and he will, if we bring our relationship to him everyday.  Take a few minutes every day to sit down together with your spouse and say to God, “Lord, we give you our relationship.  Help us to love each other the way you want us to. Help us to really listen to each other, take care of each other, be honest about our needs, and be generous in our response to each other’s needs. Teach us to be a couple after your own heart, so that our hearts would be filled with your love and so that the world would see your life in us.” Let God teach you how to create and maintain a powerful, loving connection. Sit at The Master’s feet and learn to love each other with his love.

Connect Consciously–Most couples assume their relationship will “just happen” since they’re living under the same roof. But truly happy couples are conscientious about creating times to connect. Make a point of scheduling even 10 minutes every day to work, pray, talk and play together. Working together might mean setting the table together or cleaning up the kitchen together after dinner. Praying together just means bringing your day and your relationship to God and asking for his grace. Talking together means asking, NOT just about what happened in the day or what’s on the schedule tomorrow, but about how you’re feeling about the direction of your life and relationship and how you can better support each other. And playing together can be as simple as taking a 10 minute walk around the neighborhood, or playing a couple rounds of a favorite game. The point is, happy couples don’t assume relationship connection will “just happen.” They make mini-dates everyday to briefly maintain their ability to work, play, talk, and pray together, and then they look for bigger blocks of time to have more significant opportunities to connect across those levels as well. Being conscious about connecting daily, helps prevent you from feeling alone even though you’re always together.

For more on how to maintain the connection in your marriage, check out For Better…Forever! and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139.

Transform Your Relationship! New Online Resource Helps YOU Live The Catholic Vision of Love and Marriage

There is more to marriage than meets that eye.

That’s the message of this exciting new resource by the Pastoral Solutions Institute and the Diocese of Steubenville that promotes the Catholic Vision of Love and Marriage.

The program employs a simple web-based format and runs like a DIY online couples’ retreat.  Each of the 12 units in the course consists of a brief (7-9min), high quality video presentation, discussion questions, resources for independent study, and a simple 5 item quiz intended to highlight the most important points of the unit.  Although it is aimed at engaged couples (the program is required for engaged couples in the Diocese of Steubenville) the program can benefit any couple who wants to have a deeper appreciation of how God wants to fill their hearts with his love.  It’s also a great resource for training mentor couples to live and promote the Catholic vision of love and marriage in your parish or diocese!

The Catholic Vision of Love and Marriage explores the role of marriage in Christian discipleship and operates from the novel, but completely orthodox, POV that “marriage is a ministry” because it is an activity that is intended to communicate God’s love–first to the couple, and  then to their children (both spiritual and actual) and then the world-at-large.  Some of the topics covered include…

-How Catholic marriage is different than other marriage and marriage-type relationships (e.g., cohabitation, civil marriage, romantic marriage, etc).

-How God plans to use your marriage to change the world (and what you can do to cooperate with his plan).

-A step-by-step guide on how (and why) to pray together.

-Marriage is not a “Certificate of Adulting” but rather an invitation to become lifelong learners in the school of love.  Learn how to cherish each other with the love that flows from God’s own heart.

-How couples can experience grace and growth through marital disagreements.

-The role husbands and wives play in helping each other become everything they were created to be in this life and getting each other to heaven in the next.

-How celebrating the complementarity of the sexes helps couples overcome the “battle of the sexes.”

-How living the Church’s teachings on sexual love is the couple’s embodied “yes” to the call to Christian discipleship.

-And much, much more.

Discover how much more your marriage can be!  Check out the Catholic Vision of Love and Marriage today!

Is YOUR Marriage A Long Lent? Time for A Resurrection

This is the first time Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine’s Day have fallen on the same day since 1945.  On this auspicious occasion, perhaps it’s time to give up the bitterness, anger, and petty grievances that prevent us from experiencing the loving marriage God wants for us.   My latest column for OSV Newsweekly.

The correspondence of Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine’s Day almost writes its own joke. Sadly, for some couples, getting ashes for Valentine’s Day is not only no laughing matter, it even seems like an all-too-appropriate sign of the state of their marriage.

It’s no coincidence that March is one of the two most popular months for divorce filings. (The other is August.) Struggling couples pray for the strength to make it through the holidays, and then, start meeting with attorneys through January and February. By the time they get their affairs in order, March is upon them and they are ready to file.

If you find yourself facing this possibility, I have a not-so-simple request that I would like you to take to prayer. Namely, this Lent, don’t give up on your marriage.  CONTINUED

Tending the Fire—Hey Married Couples, Here are 3 Ways to Keep The Spark Alive!

God gave us the gift of marriage so men and women could learn to truly cherish each other and feel loved, supported and treasured in each other’s arms.  In Christian marriage, especially, passion and romance shouldn’t feel like an optional add-on. But some days, it can feel more difficult than others to cultivate that peace and romance in your relationship, especially with all the distractions and pressures of life getting in the way.

On top of this, we Christians have a rather ambivalent relationship with romance. We tend to think of it either as a Hollywood invention that we should be suspicious of, or as something that couples do in the early stages of the relationship that should just naturally fall away in a more mature love.  But the Theology of the Body reminds us that marriage is a sacrament, in part, because the world needs to be reminded that God’s love for us is a passionate love. By first dedicating the passionate and romantic dimensions of their marriage to God and then intentionally cultivating those dimensions of their love for one another, a husband and wife remind, first, each other, and then the world, that God doesn’t just love us “from a distance” or “as a group.” Rather, He cherishes us personally and passionately, loving us with a free, total, faithful, and fruitful love that never fails. Like love of the bridegroom for the bride in the Song of Songs, God’s love is an all-consuming fire that proclaims, “You are precious to me and I desire all of you.”

By keeping the following More2Life Hacks in mind, having a truly romantic, passionate marriage doesn’t have to be a daily struggle!

1.Make Your Romance a Prayer–It can be hard to love each other the way God wants us too, and that is doubly true when it comes to expressing romantic love. The first step to keeping the spark alive in a Christian marriage is making your romance a prayer. Each day, take a moment with your spouse and, in your own words, pray something like this, “Lord, I give you all the love I feel in my heart for my spouse–all my desire, all my longing. Help me to love my mate with the love that comes from your heart. Help me look for little ways throughout the day that I can make my spouse feel desired and cherished, so that my spouse will know how precious they are–both to you and to me.” Then follow up on that prayer, knowing that every time you do some little, loving, romantic act for your spouse that day, you are making your marriage a prayer, by communicating how precious your spouse is, not only to you, but to God.

2.Make Romance a Daily Event–Don’t save romance for date night. Make it an integral, intentional part of your daily lives. Tell your spouse, “I love you.” Say it, text it, leave little notes about it. No, you don’t have to be dramatic, but it’s ok to make at least a little fuss. Is your spouse special to you? Are you glad they are in your life? Find some little way to show them today. Right now. Don’t let the moment pass. Give them a meaningful hug or kiss. Make a point of sitting next to each other (instead of across the room). Make a favorite meal or a special treat.  Bring home a small token of your affection. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time. It’s really the thought that counts. Just find tiny ways throughout the day to say, “In the middle of my crazy, busy, day, I just wanted you to know that I’m still thinking about you, and I’m glad you’re mine.”

3.Guard Your Spouse’s Heart–Nothing kills romance faster than little criticisms, petty sniping, or jokes at your spouse’s expense. Guard your spouse’s heart. Be gentle when they make mistakes. When you see them struggling, instead of criticizing or poking fun, offer to help. Find things to give them sincere compliments about. Remind them what they’re good at. In a world filled with people who want to tear your spouse down, be the one person your partner can count on to make them feel safe, special, and appreciated. Research shows that the most romantic couples maintain a 20:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. They make a point of being 20 times more complimentary, encouraging, supportive, affirming, and affectionate than they are criticizing, complaining, or argumentative. It’s not as hard as it sounds. It just takes a little mindfulness. Think before you speak, and ask yourself if what you are about to say says, “I think you’re an idiot.” or, “I think you’re special–even when you aren’t perfect.”

For more information on keeping the spark alive in your marriage, check out Holy Sex! and tune in to More2Life, Monday-Friday—10am E/9am C—on EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, SiriusXM channel 139.

Fear, Men, and The Locked Doors of Our Hearts

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute

Men are more wired to assess threats than women; maybe that is partly why the disciples hid in fear behind locked doors after Jesus’ crucifixion (see John 20:19-23).  Fear perceives the other as the enemy.  Fear underlies all sin—any attack on the dignity of the human person.  It becomes a problem when we fear the wrong people—like our spouses and kids.  It is not a new problem, since it dates back to the Garden of Eden and the Fall.  In fear, Adam and Eve covered themselves when they understood they could take advantage of each other, and they hid from God in the bushes.

Because God is love, we are a religion of love, as demonstrated by the greatest commandment and a new commandment.  Fear is the opposite of love: “There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  “Be not afraid” is a thread running throughout Scripture.  And it was a motto, of sorts, of St. John Paul II.

The Locked Doors of Our Hearts

The disciples lived in fear of the Jews, having locked the doors, and it was evening…isn’t this usually when our fears come out?  When we feel fear, we often lock the doors of our hearts, even to loving people, including Jesus.  So what hides behind the locked doors of your hearts?

Jesus appears to the disciples behind those locked doors.  He starts with “Peace be with you,” showing them his hands and side.  I am sure he does this to identify himself; but beyond that, he leads with his wounds.  This is an interesting leadership style, worthy of reflection in a culture that peddles “Never let them see you sweat.”  This motto, ironically, is a perpetual prescription to live in fear of exposure and…to sweat!

Jesus never imposes himself on us.  So we must invite him behind those locked doors of our hearts, where everything is bound and loosed (CCC 2843), into the ugliness where our fears, wounds, and sins have reigned.  For many men, this ugliness is the sin of pornography.  Fear and shame keep us from inviting him in. Satan is the Accuser, but he transfers this job to us, and we tend to cooperate by accusing ourselves!  The Devil’s name means “to separate,” especially from God and others; and separation results from self-accusation.  Freedom is found only in God’s presence.

How Does Jesus Come? 

Once invited, Jesus does not come as a King to judge in power, but as the King who heals—the wounded healer who leads with his wounds.  He comes as Priest to link our fearful hearts to his Father of love, or to Love’s second name, Mercy.  He comes as Prophet not to speak harsh words in love, but to speak the truth of Love Itself to the lies of our fearful hearts.

I imagine him entering my heart, absorbing my fears, pain, and darkness into the wounds in his hands.  But it is not enough to “sweep the house clean,” leaving it vulnerable; it must be filled!  So I imagine the wound in his side that gushed forth the water and blood of our Baptism and the Eucharist, pouring forth his love and mercy, filling the empty space with the fullness of God (cf. Eph. 3:14-21)!  Sometimes I don’t even know what his wounds are absorbing; I just know I calm down and am no longer fearful, and I feel grateful.  And I rejoice as the disciples do!

Loved and Now Challenged!

But he is not done! He continues, “Peace be with you.”  Each time, I understand this more.  Then he stuns with, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  It means we must receive God’s love, as Jesus does—the Father gives himself totally, without reservation, to his Son, an echo of which is heard when the prodigal’s father tells his older son, “Everything I have is yours.”  We are loved first, now challenged.  We must work from love, never for love.

Jesus is sent as priest, prophet, and king, so we are sent as priest, prophet, and king.  We are baptized and made gods—not just adopted, but made sons of the Father through a nature change.  Then we are strengthened with other sacraments.

He is still not done! In his overwhelming generosity, Jesus breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit”—Love himself.  Of course the apostles receive a special authority to bind and loose here, but we are also given the Holy Spirit and must receive him to fulfill the challenge of love!

We fear being unlovable in our sins.  So the Father sends his Son in love as priest, prophet, and king.  We must invite him behind the locked doors of our hearts into those shame-filled rooms.  By his wounds, he leads and heals us to receive his peace.  Then he sends us out with the Holy Spirit as priest, prophet, and king to love others as spiritual fathers!  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Are Cola Wars Killing YOUR Marriage?

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We all have our preferred brands: Our favorite kind of soda, our favorite brand of ice cream, or even our favorite type of laundry detergent. But did you know that our personal brand preferences can have a serious effect on our relationships and even cause divorce? It’s not as silly as it sounds.

A new study conducted at Duke University reveals that “preferring different brands can affect our happiness in relationships more than shared interests or personality traits.” Researchers discovered that the more powerful or influential partner in the relationship usually determines what brands the couple uses, however this can have a negative effect on the happiness of the lower power, or less influential, partner. Power, in this case, is indicated by an individual’s ability to shape or influence their partners’ behavior. Because of this, the less powerful partner usually loses out on buying his or her preferred brand, which could cause increased levels of unhappiness long term.

In other words, when one partner is consistently choosing their preferred brands without considering your preferences it can lead you to feel uncared for and undervalued.  Plus, since these are such little things, no one wants to make a big fuss about it, so the petty resentments can pile up into one big mountain of, “You ALWAYS get EVERYTHING you want! When do I get MY turn?”

Take heart, however, because knowledge is power. With this information about brand influence, we have options for how to negotiate this potential problem. First, we can talk to our partner and learn to compromise. For example, one week we will buy Diet Coke and the next week we will buy Diet Pepsi. Second, we can adopt new preferred brands. For example, instead of buying either of the originally preferred brands of cereal, we can go to the store with our partner and find a cereal we both enjoy. The point is, the devil really is in the details.  Even though any one of these micro-conflicts is no big deal, a little thoughtfulness, over the long haul, goes a long way. Taking small steps like these can have a big impact on the overall health, well-being, and happiness of our relationships.

For more tips on how to have a happy and healthy relationship, check out When Divorce Is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love or contact us at Pastoral Solutions Institute on the phone (740.266.6461) or online at CatholicCounselors.com

When Sex Isn’t About Sex: 3 Things You Need to Know

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The Church’s teachings on sex and love are among most provocative and the least understood things in Catholicism.  What difference does it make what we do in the bedroom?  Does God really care about our sex lives that much?

St John Paul’s Theology of the Body reminds us that the Church’s teachings on love and sex aren’t just about sex, they are ultimately the way that lay people can give their whole selves–soul, mind, and body–to Christ.  Because of the incarnation, Christianity is an embodied spirituality that has to be expressed not just spiritually or mentally, but concretely and physically.  Just like clergy and religious practice celibacy as a way of giving themselves totally and completely to God, living the Catholic vision of love and sex is the way lay Christians can make a total loving response to Jesus giving himself to us body, blood, soul, and divinity. God holds nothing back from us, even taking on a body so that we could feel his love more concretely. How can we hold anything back from Him. God doesn’t just deserve our minds and hearts. He deserves for us to dedicate our bodies to his service. Living the Catholic vision of love isn’t always easy, but it is a privilege that lets us make an embodied response to Christ’s gift of his body to us.

Whether you’re a life-long Catholic or just learning about the faith, there are three things that you may not have known about the Church’s teaching on sex and sexuality!

1. Your Body is A Prayer–Most people tend to think that as long as they pray and go to church, what they do with their bodies doesn’t really matter.  But this belief is a heresy called gnosticism.  Gnosticism is the disembodied spirituality that grew up alongside of Christianity but has always been rejected by the Church since the beginning. God created our bodies. He pronounced them good. He loves our bodies so much that he plans to save not just our souls but our bodies too, that’s what believing in the resurrection of the body means! For the Christian, the body isn’t just something we can choose to do with as we please. It is a prayer, that allows us to be God’s physical presence in the world.  When we use our bodies in ways that God didn’t intend, its like defacing the image of God. Treat your body like the prayer it is. Dedicate yourself to learning how to use your body to love others only in the ways that respect God design of your body and the godly purpose of your body–that is, to bring his free, total, faithful, and fruitful love to the world.

2. Your Body Requires Healing–Most people recognize the value of diet and exercise.  These things are hard, and often, not a lot of fun, but we do them because we recognize that our bodies don’t always tell us what is best for them. Because of sin, our body’s desires are out of whack with reality. If we give our body whatever it says it wants when it says it wants it, we’ll become sluggish and unhealthy.  But if that’s true in the way our body’s express its appetites for food and for rest, isn’t it the same with the way our body expresses its appetite for love?  The desires for food, rest, and love aren’t bad, but sin makes the body want to express those desires in ways that are bad for us and others, and can even make us sick. Like a healthy diet and exercise, practicing Catholic teachings about love and sex bears tremendous benefits.  Maintaining a healthy diet teaches us to eat well.  Maintaining a healthy exercise schedule trains our bodies to move well.  And practicing the Catholic vision of love heals our body so that it can love well.  Our bodies require healing to be as whole and healthy as God created them to be.  Let God give you the healing you need to live and love more abundantly.

3. Your Body is a Gift–We tend to think that what we do with our body is entirely personal. That’s why so many people believe the pro-abortion statement, “My body, my choice.” But the Christian knows that our body is meant to be a gift. We were given our bodies not to do whatever WE want with them, but so that we can work for the good of other people. Each one of us is, literally, God’s gift to the world, and our bodies are the means of communicating that gift. If you wanted to give someone a gift, would you just throw it at them? Or try to shame them into accepting it at some inappropriate time? Or just leave it laying around? Of course not! You’d look for just the right way, just the right time, to give the person you loved your gift in a way that would be really meaningful. Not just once, but EVERY time you gave them a gift. Practicing the Catholic vision of love allows you to pick the right way, the right time, and the right means by which to give the gift of yourself in the most meaningful and beautiful way to the person you love. Your body is a gift. Practice the Catholic vision of love and learn to appreciate it for the gift it is.

For more information on the Church’s teaching on sex and sexuality, check out my book, Holy Sex! and discover many more resources—including information about Catholic counseling services—at www.CatholicCounselors.com

Stop Dreading Disagreements

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A lot of us dislike conflict, and because of this, we dread even the concept of facing disagreements. Often, however, disagreements are unavoidable, and sometimes even necessary. There’s good news, though! If we take a caring and loving approach to disagreements, we will have healthier, more productive conversations and less to fear about conflict!

Theology of the Body reminds us of the importance of mutual self-donation, the idea that a healthy relationship is characterized by the commitment to work for each OTHER’s good.  That applies to arguments as well.  The opposite of angry isn’t “calm.” It’s “care.”  The commitment to being mutually self-donative challenges us to actually care about the needs and POV of the person we’re arguing with.  Doing this doesn’t mean we have to surrender our own perspective or give up getting our own needs met.   It just means that we should be equally concerned about meeting their needs as we are getting our own needs met. Doing this in arguments allows two people to encourage each other through the tension and find solutions that are actually satisfying.

Here are a few tips on cultivating care in conflict:

1. Make Breaks Count–When you “take a break” in an argument, don’t just step away and distract yourself by not thinking about the disagreement.  That just sets you up to pick up the fight where you left off the next time you start addressing the issue.  Taking a break is an opportunity to think differently about the disagreement; to take some time to see the other person in a more sympathetic light so you can come back to the topic with a more caring heart.  When you take a break from a disagreement, spend some time in prayer reflecting on questions like, “What needs does the other person have that they are afraid I’m not willing to meet?”  “Why might the other person think I’m not interested in them or their concerns?”  and “How can I show them that they are important to me–even though we’re disagreeing?”  Taking some time to ask questions like this helps you make breaks from conflict count and allows you to go back to the person, confident that you can approach each other again in a more compassionate and productive wa

2. Look For the Positive Intention–If you’re struggling to feel sympathy for a person you’re disagreeing with, make sure to look for the need or the positive intention behind their words or actions.  Doing this doesn’t excuse any bad behavior.  Rather, it gives you a way to address it respectfully.  For instance, you might say something like, “When you do THIS or say THAT, can you help me understand what you’re trying to do?”  Then, when the other person explains their intention, you can brainstorm together about ways to meet that intention more respectfully and efficiently in the future.  Looking for the positive intention behind offensive words and actions gives you a way to be sympathetic without being a doormat.  It lets you work for change, respectfully.

3. Give It To God–When you’re disagreeing with someone, don’t forget to pray for them.  Not, “God, please make them see that I’m right and they’re wrong!”  But rather, “God, help me know how to express my concerns in a way they will hear and to really hear what THEY are saying so that we can both get our needs met and draw closer because of this disagreement we’re having.”   Giving your disagreement to God doesn’t mean giving up your needs or, for that matter, trusting that God will sort it out while you ignore the elephant in the room.  It means asking God to guide you in the steps of having more compassionate conflict, where the tension between you and the person you care about can lead to even greater closeness. Don’t try to pray away your needs or your feelings.  Instead, ask God to help you find ways to meet those needs and express those feelings in a manner that reflects God’s grace, honors your concerns, and respects the dignity of the other person as well. Let God show you how to master conflict instead of just avoiding it.

For more information on how to effectively handle conflict, check out When Divorce Is Not An Option and tune in to More2Life Monday-Friday, 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, SiriusXM 139.

Does My Husband Have a Right to Sex?

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On her Facebook page, Rose Sweet, who has a wonderful ministry to divorced Catholics, posted the troubling story of a woman whose husband was cheating on her.  The couple’s pastor counseled the wife that her decision to place a moratorium on her sexual relationship with her husband as long as he was cheating on him actually placed an undue burden on her cheating husband and was driving him away further in part, because sex is a “right” of marriage.

A little clarification might be in order. Yes, according to the Church, sex is a “right” of marriage. But the Church defines “right” a little differently than the world does.

To say that sex is a “right” of marriage means that marriage is the right place for people to have sex. It does not mean you have a license to demand sex no matter what.

Marriage is the normative–that is, “right”–place for sexual love to be expressed between a man and a woman. Assuming a healthy, loving respectful relationship, this is true. It is also true, as St. John Paul observed that a couple who does not love, respect and cherish each other could very well commit the sin of adultery even in marriage by using each other as objects rather than loving each other as persons.

Assuming you have a healthy, loving, cherishing relationship, marriage is the right place for sexual love to be shared. If you don’t have that kind of marriage, then you have a right to stop having sex and start learning how to actually love each other.

Older texts on moral theology and canon law tend to use words like “right” and “marital debt” when discussing sex.  These words are technical terms and taking them at face value can lead to a lot of problems.

Properly understood, referring to sex as a debt that husbands and wives owe to each other means that, in a loving marriage, loving spouses do not have a right to withhold sex from each other.  As St Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 7:5

The husband should fulfill his duty toward his wife, and likewise the wife toward her husband. A wife does not have authority over her own body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife. Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another….

All of this means that marriage is the right place for sexual love to be expressed–assuming the couple is living their marriage as the Church defines it. Namely, as an “intimate partnership.” (c.f., Gaudium et Spes).

But there is a deeper debt the married couple owes to each other that precedes sexual union. They owe each other the love, respect, cherishing that characterized their dating relationship—the relationship that continues to serve as the foundation for their marriage. Sex, if you will, is the house that sits on this foundation of love, respect, and cherishing. If the “foundation” (love, respect, and cherishing)  is bad, the “house” (sex)  is unsafe to live in. Why? Because if love, respect, and cherishing are absent, sex stops being sex and becomes mere lust and using. Marriage is no place for lust and use.

No one has a right to abuse someone else. No one owes someone else the “debt” of using them.

To discover more about how you can live the Catholic vision of love and sex in ways that are healthy and fulfilling, check out Holy Sex: The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

Becoming a Better Family

 

shutterstock_247460536When life gets busy, family time and family relationships tend to fall by the wayside. We drive our kids to extra curricular activities and run errands, and while these things are important, they often act as distractors from building up our family. When the busyness of life gets in the way of strengthening our familial relationships, we may need to take another look at where our priorities lie.

Theology of the Body reminds us that families are schools of love and virtue where we learn how to live life as a gift. Obviously that’s a very different vision of family life than the world has, which tends to define“family” as just any group of people that lives under the same roof and shares a data plan. God wants more for His families. He wants to use your family to satisfy the longing in your heart for a love that is honest, strong, joyful, warm and deep.

Here are three More2Life hacks for becoming a better family:

1. Create Sacred Moments–Want to celebrate the family life God wants for you? Then ask him to teach you, together. Cultivate meaningful, daily family prayer times. There are lots of different ways to pray. Just remember that prayer isn’t supposed to be about saying the right words, it’s about drawing closer to God AND each other. When you pray, however you pray, make sure to thank God for the specific ways he’s blessed your family every that day. Take turns bringing real concerns to him and asking for his help. Ask for God’s wisdom to respond well to the big questions your family is facing. Family prayer works best when you stop “SAYING” prayers and start offering your hearts to God in prayer. That’s the kind of prayer that lets grace be the source of the warmth in your home.

2. Waste Time Together–Want to enjoy a closer, more joyful family life?  As Pope Francis puts it, “Waste time with your kids.” Family life doesn’t happen when we’re busy with many things.  Family life happens in the little moments when we stop doing and start BEING together. Make time to BE together. Everyday, make it a priority to take at least 15 minutes to do something fun, to talk about something more meaningful than “what happened today”, to work side-by-side on something, and to connect to God. If you take 15 min to do those 4 things, you’re spending an hour a day learning how to love each other better, enjoy each other more, and connect a little deeper.  Wasting time with your family isn’t an obligation. It’s a blessing. Let God bless your family by prioritizing your need to work, talk, pray, and play together, even a little bit, every day.

 3. Build Your House–Want to have a stronger, more loving family? Build each other up. Most families don’t talk about their relationship unless they’re getting on each other’s nerves. God’s families deserve better. Regularly talk about ways you can take better care of each other, and get along better with each other. At dinner time, talk about virtues like patience, joy, love, respect, responsibility and ask how your family can do a better job living out those qualities out. Parenting is no fun if you’re just putting out fires all the time. But it gets a lot more enjoyable when you’re able to talk together about creating a stronger, more loving more joyful family life.  Make a point of making time to build you home together–instead of just always trying to put out fires.

For more information on how to become a stronger, better family, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids and make sure to tune in to More2Life weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, SiriusXM 139.