How Happy Couples Find Time to Connect

If you want a happy marriage, one of the simplest, most effective ways to get there is to spend time connecting with your spouse every day.

It’s such a simple marriage hack that many couples who come to the Pastoral Solutions Institute are initially skeptical of the recommendation, according to Dr. Greg Popcak.

“You’d be surprised by how many couples are downright disappointed to think that something as simple as having dinner together four times a week and instituting a weekly date could change so much,” he writes in his book, How to Heal Your Marriage: And Nurture Lasting Love. Just as strong bones support a healthy body, he says, regular “rituals of connection” are essential for supporting a healthy relationship.

The importance of regular rituals of connection for strengthening a relationship is well documented in more than six decades of research. Couples who find time to regularly work, talk, play, and pray together report much higher levels of satisfaction across every aspect of their lives than those who do not. They are much less likely to run into problems with their relationship, too.

That research has been backed up time and time again by the experience of the counselors at the Pastoral Solutions Institute.

“I had a couple that started counseling due to a number of communication struggles,” says Robert Taylor, MS, MSW, LCSW. “When I asked them to start small with the rituals of connection, they began with a simple, quick morning prayer ritual that eventually expanded to some brief talk time to check in with each other on the needs of the day.”

Over time, this practice helped the couple to be more in tune with one another and greatly reduced the resentment that had built up due to their lack of connection, he said.

Happy Couples Prioritize Time Together

The main reason many couples object to these rituals of connection is their perception that they don’t have the time to fit them in, said Dave McClow, M.Div., LCSW, LMFT: “Usually, the big objection or complaint is: ‘We’re too busy!’”

These couples are often trying to find “extra” time to connect in their busy schedules. But happy couples do just the opposite: they prioritize their time together, and then work out the rest of their schedule.

It doesn’t need to be complicated, McClow said. “I ask couples to break it down into a five- or ten-minute activity and tie it to something they are already doing, like meals or bedtime,” he said. “That makes it more doable, and they don’t have to create another space in the schedule.”

Don’t Divide Up the Day’s Work; Do It Together

Working on things together rather than dividing up the day’s work is often a good way for couples to spend more time together, said Judi Phillips, MS, LMHC.

She once counseled a busy couple with high-powered jobs and three small children.

“When I first suggested rituals of connection to them, they said, ‘Judi, you’re crazy, there is no way!’” she recalled. “So, I talked with them about how they could use the ways in which they were already together to be more intentional in their connections.”

Instead of taking their usual approach of dividing and conquering the work of putting the kids to bed, for instance, they did it together. Then, after the children were in bed, they made sure to have meaningful conversations not related to the logistics of the day. They shared something interesting they had seen or read during the day and shared their thoughts about it.

Those simple commitments had an almost magical effect on their relationship.

“They came back and reported to me that they felt more connected to one another than ever,” Phillips said. Instead of seeing these times of connection as one more thing to do, they actually began looking forward to them. Plus, they found themselves giving one another more leeway when one of them was irritable or defensive.

In the end, the couple became really committed to these regular opportunities to connect, Phillips said: “They said there was no way they would ever let it go because they found how it so significantly and positively influenced their relationship.”

You can learn more about marital rituals of connection in How to Heal Your Marriage: And Nurture Lasting Love. Or, if you need more one-on-one relationship counseling, reach out to the Catholic counselors of the Pastoral Solutions Institute.

The Secrets of Communication: How to Be A Better Listener

We try to be our best. We mean well, and when our efforts are misconstrued we feel like there’s nothing we can do. But there’s good news: recognizing the ways that we can grow in no way means that we’re not well intentioned and doing our best! This is one of the greatest keys to communication. Understanding that we’re well intentioned, but we always have room to learn from the other person and grow in ourselves and our relationships with others.

In order to learn from another person and learn to grow in relationship with them, it’s crucial that we learn to listen effectively.


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Research published in the Harvard Business Review describes that the typical ways we think we’re being good listeners—such as being silent, periodically nodding or acknowledging the other person, or even repeating what the other has said—aren’t as effective as we may think.

Here are a few ways to become a more effective listener:

Ask questions—while sitting in silence allows the other person to talk, it doesn’t always communicate that they’re being heard. Asking questions shows both interest and comprehension in what the other person is discussing. Likewise this allows for the dynamic of listening to understand rather than listening simply to respond.

Be a cooperative partner—research indicates that the most successful conversations are those where the individuals view one another as partners, meaning neither person gets defensive about comments made by the other. When we are partners in a conversation, we work together, we care for one another, and we are certain that our responses are solution focused (rather than derogatory, competitive, or distracting from the topic at hand).

Offer reflections—A good listener keeps the conversation going by gently offering reflections that open up new lines of inquiry. Complaints often occur when someone feels as though the other just “jumped in and try to solve the problem.” Good listening, however, requires that the suggestions/solutions are not the end of the conversation, they are a support to the conversation.

To learn more tips and techniques for effective communication, visit us online at

Spiritual Infidelity: A Crisis in Catholic Marriage

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

Image via shutterstock. Used with permission

New study says 83% of Catholic couples are committing ‘spiritual infidelity’.  Are YOU in a spiritual ‘open marriage’?

Over the last several weeks, infidelity has been a top story in the news after hackers released the records of 35 million users of a popular adultery website. According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, approximately 20 percent of husbands and wives will commit sexual infidelity and another 20 percent will fall prey to an emotional affair, in which they develop strong, sustained romantic feelings for someone other than a spouse.

Spiritual infidelity

These are disturbing findings, but they pale in comparison to a recent report suggesting that up to 83 percent of Catholic married couples commit what I call “spiritual infidelity.” Infidelity is the betrayal of one’s marital vows. Sexual infidelity is the betrayal of a couple’s vow to be “true” to one another. But there is another implicit vow that Catholic couples make to one another that is broken with disturbing frequency.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1661-2) tells us that, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, couples promise to become partners in Christ’s plan for each other’s sanctification. In other words, in a Catholic marriage, a couple promises, at the altar, to do everything they can to help each other get to heaven. Presumably that requires couples to actively share their faith, to worship together, to challenge each other to grow in Christian virtue in their daily lives, and to pray together so they may sit at the feet of the Author of Love himself and learn how to love.

Unfortunately, a recent study sponsored by Holy Cross Family Ministries and conducted by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that only 17 percent of Catholic couples pray together. So what? In practical terms, if a Catholic couple is not actively sharing their faith, worshipping together and praying together, they are, in effect, committing spiritual infidelity by placing something other than God and the Faith at the center of their lives together.

A spiritual open marriage

In my extensive work with Catholic couples, I find that, sadly, Catholics take spiritual infidelity for granted. It is a tremendous scandal that the majority of Catholic spouses do not assume that they should be expected to pray with their spouse, or even to expect their spouse share their faith, or at least actively support it (as opposed to passively tolerating it). I hear all the time from husbands and wives who say, “I can’t force my spouse to go to church,” or “I can’t make my spouse pray.”

It isn’t about forcing anyone to do anything. It is, however, about presenting a persistent invitation to your mate to be faithful to the promises he or she made at the altar to share more deeply in your faith journey with the clear expectation that — if for no other reason than out of respect for you — your spouse will come to Mass with you at least weekly, share a meaningful prayer time with you daily and support your moral values always. Failing to do this is to consent to a spiritual open marriage where anything — money, careers, sports, hobbies or just sheer laziness — occupies the central place that faith has a right to enjoy in Christian marriage.


It is true that you cannot “make” anyone share your faith. But, by saying “I do” in a Catholic church and promising to live marriage as the Church defines it, your mate gave you the right to expect certain things…CONTINUE READING..