How to Find Marriage Counseling That Really Works—and Why You Shouldn’t Wait

Nearly half of all first marriages in the United States end in divorce, yet couples typically wait four to six years from the onset of problems before seeking professional help. That’s too bad, because numerous research studies have shown that marriage counseling can be effective at significantly improving relationship satisfaction and preventing divorce.

Why do couples wait so long to seek professional help? Many couples steer clear of marriage counseling because they are afraid it won’t work, or because they view it as admitting failure. In the meantime, they usually turn to the sources of support that are most conveniently at hand: friends, family, pastors, and so on.

But these sources of help usually fail to address the deeper issues in a troubled relationship. Worse, well-meaning friends can offer advice that actually causes more problems.

“No one sets out to destroy their relationship, but I cannot tell you the number of hours I have had to spend with couples cleaning up messes that were made from bad advice they had received,” Dr. Greg Popcak writes in his book How to Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love. “Often, my clients will spend weeks undoing the problems caused by bad advice or poor support before we can even get to the original problem.”

When is it appropriate to lean on friends, family, and faith leaders for support, and when is it time to seek the help of a licensed marriage and family therapist? And how do you find a competent therapist—one who has training and experience in marriage counseling, and who is actually committed to helping you heal your marriage?

Dr. Popcak addresses all of these questions in chapter 11 of How to Heal Your Marriage, but we’ll summarize his advice below.


Family, Friends, Faith: The Limits of Common Marital Supports

Couples who encounter problems in their marriage often begin by seeking support from family and friends, and sometimes their pastor or another faith leader. Seeking emotional support and encouragement from family and friends can be a perfectly good first step, Dr. Popcak writes, when those people are able to provide informed peer support.

“The key words here are informed and peer,” he says. Peers are people who are on the same social level as you—not people who are emotionally or materially dependent on you. And an informed peer is someone who has demonstrated maturity, virtue, and good character. This is someone who is capable of lovingly challenging your outlook and assumptions rather than simply affirming everything you say.

While certain friends and family members can provide much-needed support, they are rarely a good source of practical advice for couples experiencing significant marital problems. That’s because friends and family are not usually in the best position to provide objective advice. Moreover, they usually lack the professional training and experience necessary to provide strategies that are research-tested and proven to work. Finally, Dr. Popcak says, in a culture where divorce is common, “most people intuitively know much more about what it takes to end a marriage than how to save it.”

What about your pastor? Your pastor may be able to offer you the spiritual support you need to tackle your marriage problems, but unless he has a professional degree in counseling, he is no more qualified to offer you marriage counseling than he is to treat your medical problems. That is not to say that you shouldn’t reach out to your pastor, but depending on the severity of your problems, most pastors will likely point you in the direction of marriage-friendly counseling.


Why Good Marriage Counseling Works

Human relationships, even between two people who love one another, are complicated, and the keys to a healthy relationship are not always obvious or intuitive. This is where a licensed marriage therapist can help. Drawing on decades of research, a competent marriage therapist can help couples learn the habits and practices that make for a happy, fulfilling relationship.

Dr. Popcak, for example, lists eight habits of happy couples:

  1. Regularly connecting through daily rituals of working, playing, praying, and talking together.
  2. Practicing emotional rapport and benevolence.
  3. Practicing emotional self-control, especially during times of stress and conflict.
  4. Practicing a “positive intention frame”—that is, assuming the best about your spouse even when they are at their worst.
  5. Taking care of one another as you work through conflicts.
  6. Practicing mutual respect, accountability, and boundaries.
  7. Learning from mistakes and learning to talk about “perpetual problems.”
  8. Finding good support for their marriage.

Couples who are struggling often think that the key is to solve the conflict between them. In fact, research shows that both happy and unhappy couples have about the same amount of conflict; the difference is that happy couples have the skills to handle those conflicts in ways that draw them together rather than pushing them apart.

A good marriage therapist serves as a sort of coach, helping couples learn these and other skills that will enable them to have a happy marriage. It is this long-term, expert guidance that makes marriage counseling so effective.

But how do you find a good marriage therapist?


Choosing a Competent, Marriage-Friendly Therapist

To find a good therapist, start by looking for someone whose training has prepared them to specialize in marriage counseling. Research by Gottman (2011) shows that therapists with specific training in marriage and family therapy have significantly higher success rates with marital therapy clients (over 90%) compared to general practice therapists (as low as 30%).

Ask about the potential therapist’s specific training and supervised experience in marital therapy. A qualified therapist should be able to describe their graduate coursework and practical experience in detail. If a therapist gives vague responses, they might not be the right fit.

Next, ask whether the therapist is marriage friendly. What is a “marriage-friendly” therapist? According to the National Registry of Marriage-Friendly Therapists, this is a therapist who believes it is preferable to help couples restore their marriage to health, if that is possible.

It might seem that most marriage and family therapists would hold this belief, but according to one national survey of 1,000 therapists, more than 60% said they are “neutral” on marriage versus divorce for their clients, according to the Registry.

For many Catholic couples, finding a therapist who understands and supports their faith tradition is also crucial. Research indicates that faithful Catholics prefer therapists with competencies in moral theology and other areas specific to their faith. Different faith traditions have unique perspectives on marriage, and working with a therapist unfamiliar with or unsupportive of these views can make counseling challenging.


The Path to a Happier Marriage

So, while many couples delay seeking professional help for their marriage because of fears or misperceptions about what it involves, the reality is that good marriage counseling is no different from the sort of help you would get from a coach, financial advisor, or a medical professional.

Throughout the Bible and two thousand years of tradition, the Christian faith acknowledges that good relationships don’t come naturally to us humans. We all need the help of God—and one another—to nurture happy, healthy relationships. Marriage counseling that respects clients’ faith and works from research-proven methods can provide the support couples need to fulfill God’s plan for their marriage.

For more advice about finding professional help for your marriage, see chapter 11 of How to Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love by Dr. Greg Popcak. The National Registry of Marriage-Friendly Therapists can direct you to marriage-friendly therapists in your area. And you can always get tele-counseling marriage therapy from the many Catholic therapists right here at

The Importance of Argument Aftercare

We have a disagreement, it escalates into an argument, and whether or not things are resolved, we sweep it under the rug and move on with our day. As the days and weeks go on, we find ourselves dealing with resentment bubbling up under the surface, and sometimes coming out in some not-so-pretty ways. 

While this may not happen quite as much if the conflict was resolved, after a disagreement we are often left feeling as though we have emotional rug burn. It may not be an open wound, but we certainly still feel fairly tender. 

This is why something I like to call “argument aftercare” is so important. Argument aftercare occurs when we follow the conflict by saying something like, “Hey, I know we had a disagreement, but I want you to know that I love you. What can I do to help you feel taken care of and loved?” 

Some examples of simple ways to take care of one another include:
– Offering to get the other person a drink or snack

– Hugging one another for 6+ seconds

– Going for a walk with one another to enjoy a change of scenery 

– Offering apologies to one another for anything you did or anything that happened during the conversation that may have hurt the other person

– Taking a few minutes to plan extra time together that afternoon/evening/week so that you can enjoy one another and even do something fun

Take cues from each other and communicate about what will help each of you feel loved and taken care of. It may be the same thing for both of you or it may be different. Either way is okay, just be attentive to one another and be intentional about caring for each other.

Instead of each person feeling vulnerable, frustrated, and disconnected, taking the time for “argument aftercare” helps to reestablish connection and teamwork—creating an opportunity to remind one another that you are partners, working together to achieve a common goal, even when you disagree. 

If you would like additional support to work through challenging conversations or to reconnect with your partner, check out our resources at


Quick Links:
How To Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love 

Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations With Your Adult Sons & Daughters

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People



Tending The Garden—Practical Tips to Building Healthy Relationships

Do you want more from your relationships? Are you feeling drained in some way by your relationships? It’s easy to fall into patterns that cause us to feel like our relationships are lacking—whether it’s friends, family, or significant others—but thankfully there we don’t have to get stuck in this place. 

The theology of the body reminds us that building the Kingdom of God is mostly about doing everything we can to make our relationships as healthy, holy, and intimate as possible. That means committing to living out the Christian vision of love in all of our relationships. While the world believes that loving someone means putting up with however they decide they want to treat us, the Christian vision of love insists that we have an obligation to always work for the ultimate good of others and to expect others to work for our ultimate good as well.

Because of sin, we often fail in that mission to work for each other’s good. People who say they love each other hurt each other all the time. When this happens, the loving thing to do is to gently call each other on to do better, to repent of the ways we have betrayed our mission to work for the good of those we love, and support each other in cooperating with God’s grace so we don’t commit that offense again.  When someone refuses to do this, we have a moral obligation–rooted in both our basic right to self-defense and the divine call to work for the ultimate good of others–to set limits and boundaries that make it more difficult (if not impossible) for the person who hurt us to hurt us the same way again. Practicing sacrificial love doesn’t mean being a doormat, or allowing others to treat us in a manner that is beneath our dignity as children of God. It means being willing to make the sacrifices necessary to work for each other’s ultimate good, even when it is hard, inconvenient, uncomfortable, or costly–those are the sacrifices that lead to our sanctification and call others to healthier, holier lives.


Do you want to help your marriage flourish?
Check out:
How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love!



Here are three ways to build healthier, holier relationships:

Pull the Relationship Weeds–Healthy relationships allow you to be real and not hide important parts of yourself. Relationships are often a source of stress because we feel like we have to hide important aspects of who we are for the sake of “keeping peace.” That’s backwards. Relationships aren’t an end in themselves, Theology of The Body reminds us that God intends for our relationships to serve the mutual good of the people in those relationships–to help each person in those relationships be more of what God created them to be, not less. To build the kingdom of God in your relationships, be who you are. The people God wants you to create communion with will stick around, support you, and ask for your support. The people that can’t handle the “you” God created you to be will drift away.  Let them go. Pulling the weeds in your relationship garden will allow all your relationships to flourish and bear more fruit as you spend time with the people who are really capable of building you up!

Speak Up Sooner Rather Than Later–When people act in ways we find hurtful or offensive, we often let it go, telling ourselves it isn’t worth the trouble to address these issues and create potential conflict. While there is something to be said for choosing our battles, if you find that an offense continues to gnaw at you, speaking up sooner rather than later is always best. In the words of Pope St Gregory the Great, “Thoughts seethe all the more when corralled by the violent guard of an indiscreet silence.” The best way to address an offense? Don’t assume they intended to offend you and ask a clarifying question. Something simple like, “Hey, when you did thus-and-such, I wasn’t sure what to make of that (or it kind of hurt) what did you mean by that?”  Once the other person explains their intention, you can either decide that it was all just a misunderstanding and let it go, or suggest other, more palatable ways the other person can express themselves in the future. Anyone who is interested in a healthy relationship will not be put off by this at all and, in fact, will be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy smoother sailing in the future!

Good Fences…Good Neighbors–Each person we know is good at offering a different kind of support. The key to less stressful relationships is not trying to make a person give you a kind of support they just aren’t capable of. Some people are great at being kindred spirits. Others are good sources of support or companionship around particular topics or areas of interest. Others still, are fine to hang out with occasionally, but aren’t really capable of offering anything more personal support. Enjoy each relationship for what it is, not for what you think it should be. Base the level of trust and intimacy you expect from a relationship on a person’s behavior, not their title or role in our lives. Sure, we “should” be able to be closer to, and have greater trust in, a parent or sibling or than a friend or a cousin, but in reality people are only capable of giving what they can. Having good relationship fences means knowing what each person in your life is capable of giving–and receiving–from you, and refusing to try to force more than this from them. Focus on enjoying the ways each person can be there for you and you’ll feel less frustrated by the ways they aren’t.


For more support and resources for strengthening your relationships, visit us online at!

Taming The Beast—3 Ways to Understand and Overcome Anxiety

Anxiety often feels like a terrible beast that runs roughshod over our lives. It can cause us to feel scared, hopeless, or worn down. It can even feel like something that becomes more of who we are rather than something we can manage or get rid of.

So how do we manage something that can become such a large presence in our lives?


Do you want more information on overcoming anxiety?

Check Out:
Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety


Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) reminds us that anxiety is not God’s will for us.  Before the Fall, even though Adam and Eve were completely vulnerable, they were confident in God’s care and their love for one another. They were completely at peace.  Only after the Fall, when they were separated from God, each other, and their best selves did they feel exposed, ashamed, and anxious.  Confronted by the bigness of the world and their own sense of smallness and insufficiency when separated from God they hid, cowering behind the bushes. How often do we feel that way?  TOB tells us that while worry and anxiety are common enough experiences in the modern world, the answer to our worries is to recenter ourselves in the loving arms of ABBA, daddy, the Father who loves us, cares for us, and shelters us from the storms of life–especially when we feel alone, scared, and helpless.  That’s why Pope JPII, was constantly reminding us, “Be Not Afraid!” Yes, the task before us is great, but God’s love and providence is greater.  In the face of life’s battles, let our battle cry be, “ Jesus I trust in You!”


Here are three ways to win your battle with anxiety:

1. Focus on the Right Target–Resist the temptation to think that your anxiety is caused by all the things going on around you or happening to you–the overwhelming amount of work that has to be done, the weight of all your responsibilities, the problems that you face.  Yes, these are serious things that need to be taken seriously, but they can’t cause anxiety in and of themselves.  Anxiety is created in us when we let external events distract us from the need to maintain our internal sense of wellbeing.  If you are feeling anxious, it is not because you have too much to do or too many problems to face. It is because you are forgetting to take care of yourself in the face of those responsibilities and problems.  Instead of focusing exclusively on all the external things that need to be addressed, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself while I handle these situations?  How will I pace myself?  How can I approach these challenges in a way that will allow me to stay reasonably cheerful and connected to the people that I love? How will I face all the things I have to deal with in a way that allows me to be my best self–mentally, physically and spiritually?”

Don’t brush these questions aside and say, “I can’t worry about that. I have too much to do!”  It is exactly that tendency that causes anxiety.  Remember, you can’t solve any problem or accomplish any task well if you are allowing yourself to get rattled, sick, hostile, and stressed.  The MOST important job you have to do is make sure you are keeping your head and health about you even while you handle all the things life is throwing at you.

2.  Tame the Tornado–When we’re worried and anxious, our mind spins between “I have to get control of this!” and “There’s nothing I can do!”  Tame this mental tornado not by focusing on the ultimate solution to the situation that is upsetting you, but rather by focusing on the next step. What is the next tiny step you can take that nudges you toward a satisfying resolution, gathers new resources,  enlists more support, or at least makes you feel a little more taken care of while you think about what else you can do?  If you can refocus enough to identify the next step, then the next, and the next, God will help you tame the tornado in your mind and help you find the answers–and the peace–you seek.  Don’t try to solve the whole problem at once.  Focus your mind on addressing the next tiny step in front of you and then celebrating that small success.  The more you concentrate on breaking big problems down into bite-sized pieces and celebrating the little successes you achieve along the way, the more your peace will increase.

3. Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for.  Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it.  Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through.  In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different.  God loves you.  He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into this latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace.  The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.


For additional resources and support for overcoming your anxiety, visit us online at

3 Steps to Conquering Obstacles and Achieving Your Goals

In a constantly changing world it’s important to grow and strive to be the best version of ourselves. This way, we can adapt to the challenges we encounter and, ultimately, use them become the person that God created us to be.
Even so, most of us are all too aware of how difficult this can be, as well as the obstacles we may face in pursuing personal growth.



If you want to learn more about how to take control of your life,

Check Out:
The Life God Wants You To Live



While there are many effective techniques we can use to supercharge our pursuit of excellence, one in particular has been especially helpful to both me and the clients I work with. I call it, “The Most/Least Technique.”

Start by identifying the strength or quality that would help you be more effective in achieving your goal. For instance, you might want to focus on creating connection, being more assertive,  displaying more empathy, etc.

Once you identify the quality you want/need to focus on, ask yourself the following questions:


  1. At what point today was I MOST fill in the blank (i.e. Most connected to others, most assertive, most empathetic)?
  1. At what point today was I LEAST fill in the blank (i.e. Least connected to others, least assertive, least empathetic)?
  1. What is ONE, CONCRETE, TANGIBLE thing I can do tomorrow to help me be MORE fill in the blank (i.e. More connected to others, more assertive, more empathetic).


This exercise is a simple way to make conscious use of the events of each day to become the person we were created to be.

It’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of everyday life, or to focus on the things we didn’t get done or wish we could do better. However that type of thinking causes us to deviate from our success. Working through The Most/Least technique every day helps us take charge of our growth and more consciously work toward becoming the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we were created to be.

If you would like additional resources on becoming the person God created you to be, visit us online at

“Maternal hostility” may predict whether one mistreats their adult romantic partners

*This post is included in a series of posts dedicated to Catholic HŌM Family Discipleship. Join the conversation on Facebook.

“Maternal hostility” may predict whether one mistreats their adult romantic partners

-Practices 2, 3, and 4
-(2. Extravagant affection, 3. Prompt, consistent, generous and cheerful response to needs, 4. Discipleship Discipline)

I’m not posting this to freak anyone out, to shame anyone who is struggling with anger from time-to-time (every parent has a bad day once in a while), or even to single-out moms (because this finding applies to dads too).

I am posting this to underscore the assertion of the Rite of Christian Relationships that the way we treat each other in the home directly relates to our kids’ ability Christ’s love in their adult relationships. We cannot effectively raise kids to live their faith if we are not raising them in a warm, loving, generous environment.

Family spirituality is not just about family prayer. The warmth we foster in our homes through practices like extravagant affection, prompt, generous, consistent, and cheerful attention to needs, and gentle, Discipleship Discipline represent a catechism in sharing Christ’s love.

Kids can be frustrating. And it’s ok to feel frustrated. But before you act on that feeling, take a breath. Ask God to help you be as patient with your kids as he is with you. Then, call your kids over. Give them a hug. ONLY THEN should you offer whatever correction or redirection you need to offer gently and clearly.

Doing this won’t just make you a better parent. It will help you experience incredible grace as you invite Christ into the most frustrating moments of your day and consecrate them to him so that he can love you through them.

What have you done to show your kids you love them today (even if they were being obnoxious)? Tell us about it in the comments below and join the conversation on Facebook at Catholic HŌM Family Discipleship

Are You A Catholic Therapist? Join Our Team!

The Pastoral Solutions Institute ( is pleased to announce that we are  seeking a new Catholic therapist to join our team.  If you are interested, please read the following carefully.

About the Institute

Founded by Dr. Greg Popcak in 1999, the Pastoral Solutions Institute is a Catholic behavioral tele-health practice providing over 15,000 hours/year of ongoing pastoral tele counseling services to Catholic couples, families and individuals worldwide.

About the Position

The Pastoral Solutions Institute has an immediate FULL-TIME opening (due to our high level of commitment to ongoing training/formation of our staff we are NOT accepting part time applications) for a new therapist to join our team of telephone-based pastoral counselors.

After a comprehensive, initial training period, the new clinician would work from home but serve as part of our integrated team of professional counselors and spiritual directors.  In addition to carrying a full case load, the clinician would be expected to participate in weekly staffings/trainings and other activities that support professional development and the mission of the Institute.

The applicant MUST…

-Have at least a masters degree in a mental health related discipline (counseling, clinical soc.wrk, marriage and family therapy, etc)

-Be licensed to practice INDEPENDENTLY in his or her state of residence.   PLEASE NOTE:  Applicants who do not hold a current, valid state license for independent practice WILL NOT be considered.

-Be a faithful, practicing Catholic in good standing in the Church and agree with the Magisterial teachings of the Church especially as related to marriage and family issues, including sexuality and natural family planning.

The Following Additional Qualifications are a PLUS but not specifically required…

-A degree,  formal training, and/or advanced independent study in Catholic theology

-Formal training (or advanced independent study) in the Theology of the Body

-Formal training (0r advanced, independent study) in attachment theory (relating to both children and adults)

-Familiarity with Dr. Greg Popcak’s books in general and marriage and family life in particular.

The Application

Interested parties should please send the following to

1. Current CV

2. Brief 1000 word reflection on your faith development, current prayer life (including marriage and family prayer life if applicable) and a brief reflection on how the Church’s teaching on marriage, family and sexuality impacts your life and relationships.

3. List of 3 references that could speak to both your professional and faith development (e.g, professional colleague, supervisor, pastor)  You DO NOT need to include reference letters.  ONLY names of references and contact information.

“I’m Just Not Affectionate” A Wound God Wants To Heal

The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group:  CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.
“Extravagant affection” is one of the recommended practices in the Rite of Christian Relationships, the first of three rites that makes up the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life. The practice of “extravagant affection” in the Rite of Christian Relationship isn’t just something that’s good to do for your kids. It’s a way to reclaim the natural inheritance of love that sin tries to steal from us.

Created for Love
The fact is, we were all created to be affectionate and enjoy receiving affection. Biologically speaking, affection is an even more basic need than the need for food. It isn’t that some of us are born with a greater or lesser need for affection. We all need it. The absence of affection tends to trigger our inflammatory response (causing aches and pains and diseases related to inflammation) and causes problems with our immune response (making us both more susceptible to infection and more reactive to normally harmless input–i.e., food sensitivities and allergies. Note. I am not saying these disorders are caused by a lack of affection. I am saying that the lack of affection stresses the systems of our body that normally protect us from these problems making us more susceptible to them). In the extreme, people can die from a lack of affection. Babies, in particular, are susceptible to the condition known as “Failure to Thrive” which is the refusal of even food for want of affection.
Theologically speaking, in Heaven, we will spend eternity dwelling in God’s loving embrace. We are literally destined to spend eternity being held in God’s arms. Sin (not necessarily personal sin, but certainly cultural, familial, and institutional sin) wants to take the joy of this reality away from us.
The theology of the body reminds us that biology is theology. We can understand God’s plan for creating abundant lives and relationships by reflecting on how he designed out bodies to function. Because we know–biologically speaking–that we need affection to thrive on every level, we can say that recovering the ability to be affectionate is something that God wants facilitate in his children. As physical beings, we need affection to feel his love through the bodies he gave us and that are an intimate part of us.
In short, we should never make the mistake of thinking that being unaffectionate is just the way we are. In fact, it represents the way we were hurt. We were born–as all babies are–to revel in affection. Under normal circumstances, the enjoyment of affection is a lifelong, universal, human pleasure. If we don’t enjoy affection as adults, it means someone took that joy away from us along the way. They may have done so by hurting us, or neglecting us, or shaming us, or lying to us, or abandoning us, or letting us down. But they took it away nevertheless. God wants to give us back this inheritance. Through the Rite of Christian Relationship, the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life seeks to heal this wound (what psychologists call an “attachment wound”) so that we can fully experience and share in human and divine love–in this life and the next.
Facilitating Healing
 So how to do we heal the attachment wound that makes it hard to fully enjoy giving and receiving affection?  One step at a time.  Here are a few suggestions to get started.

1.Realize this is a Physical Process--The reason affection feels uncomfortable for some people is that their social brain is literally overloaded by it.  Like an extension cord running too much power through a thin gauge electrical wire, if the desire for affection is not fed in our families-of-origin, the neurons that make up the social brain get shorted out by “too much” affection. The good news?  Just like exercise can grow new blood vessels and muscle tissue, actively working to become more affectionate can “beef up” the neural connections in the social brain, enabling you to process more affectionate input and find it pleasurable rather than painful (or at least uncomfortable).  That said, like exercise, you can only do so much at one go before you wear out.  But like exercise, if you keep it up, the more your body becomes accommodated to it and more you will benefit from it.  Be patient with yourself but keep it up.  It takes time and effort to grow new neural connections in your social brain but it will happen with consistent effort.

2.Start with your Baseline--Identify how much affection comes naturally to you.  Make a point of doing at least that much PLUS a little more every day. Do you normally hug for a second?  Hold the hug for 3.  Do you normally give 1 or two hugs a day?  Give 3 or 4. Build from there. A little more every day. Be patient with yourself.  You are working to make physical changes in your social brain.  Like any other exercise designed to create bodily change you have to start with where you’re at, and then just do a little bit more every day until it comes more naturally to you.  Then repeat.
3. Remember Why–Unaffectionate people literally don’t know what they’re missing. They will tell themselves that they feel perfectly happy not being affectionate. They really don’t understand what the big deal is.  At best, they mostly try to force themselves to be more affectionate for the benefit of others or because someone told them they have to try.  This just breeds resentment.  If you find yourself in this place, it’s important that you remind yourself that you are not doing this for anyone else–even when it feels like you are.  Remind yourself that God wants to give you a new and wonderful gift so that you can be happier and healthier and help the people around you be healthier and happier too.  Challenge the tendency to give in to self-talk that breeds resentment and undermines your efforts to heal the damage that the Enemy wants to do to you and your relationships by preventing you from feeling God’s love in your body and communicating that love to others through your body.
4. Don’t Go It Alone–Openly share your struggle to be more affectionate with someone you love and trust.  Ask them to gently help you to stay on course.  If you need more support than this, seek professional help from a counselor trained in attachment theory.  By doing the hard work necessary to stimulate the growth of the affection network in your social brain, you can develop what psychologists call “earned secure attachment.” Get the help and support you need to experience both God and other’s love for you fully and share that love with others in kind.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the director of a Catholic Tele-Counseling practice that provides faith-filled solutions to tough marriage, family and personal problems.

Your Family: On A Mission From God

The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group:  CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

Every Christian family is on a mission from God.  I want to walk through some simple steps every family can take to discern their mission. But first, where does this idea of a mission even come from?

The Roots of Your Family Mission

The Sacrament of Marriage is founded on the idea that God, himself, has called a particular couple together–not only for their mutual benefit–but as a visible sign of his free, total, faithful, and fruitful love in the world.  Christian couples and families don’t just live for themselves.  God means to use your marriage and family life to be an outpost of grace.

As a vocation, marriage–like Holy Orders–represents a particular way that a couple has been called by God to live out their three-fold baptismal mission of priest (blessing the world by modeling Christ’s sacrificial love), prophet (being a witness of how God’s children are meant to live), and royal, (using their gifts to be a blessing to others).

Likewise, in Familiaris Consortio, St John Paul said that every family serves three important tasks in build the Kingdom of God.
1) To create an intimate communion.
2) To serve life by being open to children and forming those children to be Christian disciples.
3) To be a force for good in their communities. (i..e, “participate in the development of society.”)
4) To be an outpost of grace in the world. (i.e, “to share in the life and mission of the church.”)

Likewise, a Christian household is called a “domestic church.” That means that Christian households are meant to be little branches of the larger church, bringing God’s love and grace out to the world.  Like the larger church, your domestic church is charged with building the Kingdom of God.

These various calls and tasks serve as the roots of both your personal and family mission.

It’s Not What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It

A “mission” represents the specific way a particular person or community lives out a more general call. So, while all Christians are called to be priests, prophets and royals, and all couples are called to witness to Christ’s free, total, faithful, and fruitful love in the world, and all families are called to live out the four tasks in their lives, what living that out looks like for you and your house is going to vary widely from what that looks like for every other family.

Developing a family mission represents your effort to discern the specific way God is asking you and your household to live out these various calls in the unique circumstances of your lives. It’s as simple as that.

How Do You Create A Family Mission?

There isn’t one way to create a family mission but there are some general suggestions.  We walk through the following steps in more detail in my book, Parenting with Grace, but this will get you started.

  1. Pray Together (in general)–You can’t develop a family mission unless you are going to God together as a family ask asking him why he called you together and how he wants you to live.  Every day, get in the habit of asking God to help you be the family he wants you to be and to understand how to live out your call in the unique circumstances of your life.
  2. Pray Together (About Your Mission)–Pray as a family about the particular virtues or qualities God is calling your family to exhibit so that you could face the challenges you need to face more effectively and live more abundantly. Would you like to be more joyful, loving, responsible, faithful, generous, respectful, and so on?  Obviously we all want to grow in all the virtues, and you will.  But for the purposes of discerning your mission, you want to focus on the specific virtues or qualities you need to live more abundantly in the circumstances God has placed you.  Identify the top 2-4 (max) qualities or virtues that would help you take the life you are currently living to the next level.  That is, what qualities would enable you to celebrate the joys in your particular life and rise to the struggles in your particular life in a more graceful, godly way?  Write them down.
  3. Discuss–Next, take each of the virtues you identified one-at-a-time. Each person in the family (starting with Dad and Mom and then down from the oldest child) should suggest one or two ways you could use that quality to be a better parent or brother or sister and at least one example of how that particular quality might help your family handle a specific situation better than it currently does.  For instance, if you were discussing joy, you might say, “If I were going to be a more joyful dad, I would make a point of playing a more active role in planning family activities, instead of leaving that to mom so much.  And to be a more joyful family, I think we need to put regular family time on the schedule so that we aren’t just trying to squeeze each other in whenever other stuff wasn’t happening.”

    This part of the discussion should focus on the particular action steps you want to try to focus on to help you do a better job of living out the virtues that make up your family mission.

  4. Reflect/Revise–Discuss your mission on a regular basis.  Over dinner at least once-a-week, ask each other to reflect on each of the virtues in your mission.  How are you doing?  What’s working well?  What are the challenges?  How can you do a better job supporting each other as a family to overcome those challenges?  What choices do you need to make (i.e., activities to be involved in, priorities that need to be set, rituals that need to be created) to help you live out those qualities more effectively? Use your mission to help challenge each other to be better living, breathing examples of the virtues that make up your mission and to help you make decisions for your family that enable you to live out those virtues more effectively in your daily life together.

These are some basic steps of creating a mission. For more ideas, check out Parenting with Grace and join the discussion at our FB Group CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.



The Point of Family Prayer Is “Love” Not “Getting it Right”

The following article is part of our ongoing series on the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.  To learn more, join our Facebook discussion group:  CatholicHŌM (Households on Mission)–Family Discipleship.

Family prayer isn’t supposed to be stressful.  If that comes as a surprise, keep reading.  Help is on the way.

Image: Shutterstock

In my work with families, I find that the more concerned you are with “getting prayer right” (being in the “right” position, staying still for the “right” amount of time, saying the “right” words the “right” way) the more miserable the experience is going to be for you and your kids.

My heart often breaks for families who take this approach because they obviously care deeply about their faith and they are working really, really hard to get their kids to love God too. Unfortunately, as the years go by, more often than not, children raised in households that adopt this approach fall away from the faith.  Why? Because for these kids, prayer was never really about encountering a loving God who was the source of the warmth in their home (and their own lives).  It was just another way to disappoint mom and dad and  trigger family fights.  Who needs that? What kid in his right mind wouldn’t leave that behind the first second he had the chance?

The families who have success with family prayer are the ones who realize that the point is creating connection–with each other and God. These families don’t worry about getting the words right. They’re more interested in keeping it real.

There are lots of different ways to do family prayer and all of them are “correct” if the family keeps in mind that the most important thing is coming out of the experience feeling closer than you did going into it.  Prayer should involve both vertical and horizontal dimensions.  That is, it should connect us to God and each other. Parents who make family prayer work–whatever prayer form they use (e.g, spontaneous prayer, family rosary, chaplet, reading bible stories, kid-friendly praise and worship, etc)–go into the experience asking themselves three questions;

“How can we make this accessible and d0-able?

“How can make it pleasant for everyone?”

“How can we make sure we come out of this time feeling more connected than we did going into it?”

Families who aren’t stressed by family prayer don’t dictate what family prayer is going to look like. They let the kind of prayer they do emerge naturally out the ages and stages of their kids.  They might start by asking, “What do my kids like to do and how can we do that with God?”  For instance, “Do my kids like to read stories?  Great, let’s read a bible story.”  “Do my kids like to sing?  Great!  Let’s sing some praise songs.”  “Do my kids like to color? Great! They can color a picture of the mystery while the rest of us pray that decade our loud.”  “Do my kids like to talk and get my attention?  Great! Let’s all take turns sharing our thoughts about how God has blessed us today and what we need God’s help with, and then I’ll teach them how to tell God directly.”

Of course there are times when kids need to behave. We have other strategies for helpful kids make it through mass.  But when it comes to watching mass at home, or doing any regular kind of family prayer, parents can’t be so focused on “getting it right” that they forget that the real point is creating a loving connection with God and each other.  

Want a more rewarding family prayer experience?  Stop worrying about “getting it right” or doing it “just so.”  Instead, think of family prayer time as time to cuddle up in your Heavenly Father’s lap while your kids cuddle up in yours. Play together in God’s presence.  Share with each other.  Make a joyful noise. And above all, remember that the real point of family prayer is letting God stoke the fire of love that you feel in your hearts for him and your family.

Want more tips for making the faith the source of the warmth in your home?  Check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.