Bad Parenting: Why The Ban Against Communion for Divorced and Remarried Catholics Is Unjust and 3 Ways to Fix It.



In all the debate about what should be done to help those Catholics who have divorced and remarried without the benefit of an annulment, there is one solution I have not heard debated.

Let’s Be Honest… 

I agree that it is seriously problematic to allow those who have remarried without the benefit of an annulment to receive communion for the reasons I have mentioned elsewhere.   But let’s face it, Did the vast majority of people who are on this path choose it knowingly and consciously?  Did the vast majority of people who were struggling with the pain of divorce really one day say, “Screw it.  I am going to choose to live an adulterous life in an invalid second marriage.  I don’t care if it means that I can’t take communion again!  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

Of course not.

Bad Parenting

Most people who find themselves on this path got there because of poor formation, terrible catechesis, and simple ignorance about how the Church really thinks about marriage, why it thinks that way, and the practical significance of all this high-level thinking to their actual daily lives as Christians.  Is it really just to hold them accountable for failing to live out principles that were never communicated to them–or at least were never communicated adequately to them–in the first place?  To bar these couples from communion is a bit like a neglectful parent refusing to communicate the house rules to her children only to impose a consequences after the fact.  “You shouldn’t have been playing ball in the house.  You’re grounded for two weeks and you lose your ball!”  “But mom! You never told me I couldn’t play in the house!”  “Tough.  You should have known better.”

Such lousy parenting is unbecoming of any parent, including our Spiritual Mother, the Church.  I think many of the Synod Fathers intuit this, and their sense of guilt around the poor catechesis and formation they have given the faithful drives a desire to be lenient on the back end of the process to make up for the Church’s failures to communicate on the front end of the process.  But this too is terrible parenting.  It’s the equivalent of telling a child, “Well, you shouldn’t have been playing in the house but I never told you that so I can’t give you a consequence for it.  For that matter, I can never  ask you to refrain from playing in the house in the future.”

So what can be done?

(Spiritual) Parent Effectiveness Training

To return to our parenting analogy, in the above example, the only just solution is for the parent to go to the misbehaving child and say, “Listen, I am truly sorry for not having told you what my expectations are.  Because of that, I can’t punish you for breaking the window by playing ball in the house.  In fact, I am going to clean up this mess with you.  But moving forward, I promise to do a much better job telling you what my expectations are and why.  In return,  you will need to do a really good job of listening so that if you mess up again, you’ll understand what the consequences are all about.”

In this scenario, 95% of the responsibility falls to the parent to apologize for his or her neglect, map out a plan for the future and communicate that plan along with any future consequences that might need to be imposed to maintain a peaceful and orderly home.

What does this mean to the Church’s approach to divorced and remarried persons.  I would suggest the following.

3 Steps to Bringing Our Children Home.

1.  Share Responsibility for Cleaning Up the Mess.  Allow fast-track annulments on the (newly developed) grounds of poor catechesis/inadequate formation. A valid marriage requires consent but you can’t give full consent if you don’t know what you’re consenting to.  If a couple could demonstrate that they really were not taught by their pastors, catechists, or parents how to practically understand and live the Catholic vision of love, sex and marriage and/or they had no intention of living this Catholic difference in their own marriage then they should be granted a speedy annulment of their first marriage.   Pope Benedict XVI recommended something similar to this.  Frankly, while I am not a canonist (and at the risk of irritating those who are) I imagine that this could potentially be handled similarly to “lack of form” annulments (e.g., when a Catholic gets married in a non-Catholic church without permission f the bishop) which are typically the easiest and fastest annulments to grant. All the couple would have to do is fill out a form that describes their understanding of marriage at the time of their first wedding.  It would be pretty easy to assess their capacity to live what the Church means by marriage.  Validity wouldn’t necessarily require some theologically developed answer on the part of couples.   Something along the lines of “I understood that God chose this person for me so that we could help each other be better Christians and help each other get to heaven.”  would be sufficient to establish an ability to consent to the Church’s vision of marriage.

Following this, they would need to go through a marriage catechumenate (see #3 below) in order to have their second marriage convalidated.

As far as communion goes, to maintain both the integrity of the sacrament and to be as generous as possible to couples who were in this process, bishops could grant permission to couples to be admitted to communion even before the annulment process was complete based upon their own assessment and/or the pastor’s recommendation of the sincerity of the couple and the veracity  and validity of their response to the initial assessment.  The determination by a bishop or designated pastor of a “founded hope” that the annulment would be granted  would be sufficient grounds for readmission to communion.    This places the responsibility on the Church to move the process along instead of making the faithful responsible for delays in the juridical process.

2.  Formators Called to Penance.  The fact that so many couples are completely ignorant of the Catholic vision of marriage and would not be able to articulate the basic statement I wrote above is–quite simply–the fault of our spiritual “parents”: our bishops, pastors, catechists, and family life ministers.  The church should ask all people who are responsible for marriage preparation to do  penance for failing the faithful.  They should be asked to fast and engage in other mortifications in order to make reparations for their dereliction of duty and to remind themselves that they must do better in the future.  Their penance would be an act of generosity to married couples, a display of authentic mercy, and it would communicate a commitment to do a better job forming the next generation of Catholic families.  Most importantly, it would place the responsibility for the current mess squarely where it belongs.  Not on the poorly formed faithful, but the failed formators.

3.  Initiate Marriage Catechumenate.  Marriage prep as we know it should be scrapped and replaced with a marriage catechumenate.  This is one of the best ideas I have heard coming out of the synod. NCRegister explains this idea here but the short version is that a marriage catechumenate is a longer period of preparation that emphasizes the role of marriage in living a Christian life.  This would be a HUGE gift to couples and would contribute mightily to challenging the divorce culture in and outside of the Church. It would also go a long way to helping to form “intentional disciples” that is, adults who understood how to bring their faith into their homes and out into the world so that God could both open their hearts to his grace and enable Catholic couples to be an effective witness in the world.

I don’t pretend to have the final and/or best answer to the serious challenges the Synod Fathers are facing.  But I believe that the above represents a more authentic approach to merciful pastoral care than is being presented by some of the more progressive elements in the Synod.

In the meantime, if you would like to undergo your own marriage catechumenate and learn what it takes to fully and joyfully live the Catholic difference in your marriage, check out the all new, revised and expanded edition of For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First 5 Years of Marriage, and Holy Sex!  The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.


OUTRAGE! Divorce, Remarriage and Getting Kicked Out of the Catholic Hospital.



I had a conversation with a reporter yesterday from a prominent newspaper about the ongoing Synod on the Family.  We had a great discussion and I appreciated her time.  In particular, we talked a lot about people who felt alienated from the Church (and those who are divorced and remarried in particular).  The conversation left me in a thoughtful mood. In particular, I was left reflecting on the question, “Why, exactly, do so many people feel excluded by the Church–especially those who are divorced and remarried–and what can we do about it?”

Missing the Mission.

People’s anger at the Church is real and deserves to be met with respect and compassion.  At the same time, it appears to me that a lot of the anger and pain is caused by confusion about what Church is and what it’s meant to do.  In order to appropriately address people’s hurt, I think we, as Church, need to do a better job of communicating our mission.  What does that mean?

The Church as Hospital

Pope Francis noted that the Church is a hospital.  That sounds very affirming and it is. But what people forget is that you only need to go to the hospital if you’re sick.  At the point when you think you’re healthy, you either don’t need the hospital or you have to leave it.

The problem–in our metaphor of Church as hospital–is that, these days, a lot of people come to the hospital because they think it is a nice building with a lot of interesting equipment in it and they want to explore the various rooms. Eventually, they bump into a doctor. Mistaking them for a patient, he asks what’s wrong with them.  They become offended and exclaim,  “How dare you say there is something wrong with me?!?”  The doctor stares at the erstwhile patient and, in all innocence, says, “Well then, if you aren’t sick, then what are you doing here? You’re not just trespassing are you?”  And the person screams, “How dare you try to exclude me!”

What’s Your Diagnosis?

The Church is far from perfect, but too often people who assert that they are alienated from the Church feel that way primarily because the Church necessarily insists that to be a member you have to be willing to admit that you (1) are spiritually sick, (2) that you need a diagnosis (i.e., “sinner”),  and (3) that you must be willing to participate in the treatment.  If you aren’t willing to do those things, you really have no business taking beds and food away from the patients who are lining up in the hall waiting to be admitted.  If you’re really so healthy, what are you doing playing with the IV’s?  Go, live your life! Be happy!

It isn’t that people’s anger at the Church isn’t real and doesn’t deserve to be respected, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Church is really only for people who are willing to see it as the place where they get diagnosed and treated for the spiritual diseases that are preventing them from receiving the gift of eternal life.

Marriage:  Here’s Your Sign…

As I mentioned above, much of my conversation with the reporter focused, specifically, on the fact that Catholics who have remarried after divorce feel excluded from the Church.  This is a profoundly sad and painful reality.  But to understand why these couples are not admitted to communion, you need to understand that the Church thinks of marriage differently than the world does.  While the Church certainly values the earthly benefits of marriage, the Church primarily values marriage because of what it points toward.  Marriage is meant to be an icon to the world;  a physical sign of the kind of unconditional, committed love God wants to share with each of us (Eph 5:31-32).  The fact that God wants this kind of relationship with us is a mind-blowing concept.  It’s hard to get our heads around it.  We need some kind of experience–some physical sign– that shows us this sort of love is even possible.  This is where marriage comes in.  The Church intends sacramental marriage to be a sign to the world that the kind of love God wants to share with us really is possible.

A Broken Sign

When the Church says that there is something wrong with remarriage after divorce (without the benefit of an annulment) it isn’t saying that the couple can’t somehow manage to be happy together or that there is anything (necessarily) wrong with that couple’s relationship from a worldly POV.  It is,  however,  saying that that the couples’ “sign” is broken.  That is, they cannot adequately represent to the world the faithful love that Bridegroom Christ has for the his Bride, the Church.    That really isn’t a judgment against the couple.  It is a spiritual diagnosis.  Having broken communion in their marriage, the divorced and remarried Catholic (who has not sought the benefit of an annulment) now becomes a de facto sign of the broken communion that exists when we are unfaithful to the Christ, the Bridegroom.  People who have remarried after divorce without the benefit of an annulment are still very much welcome in church, but their lives now becomes a visible sign of the alienation we experience when we are unfaithful to the Bridegroom–as we often are.  This is a very painful reality but it is not a judgment on divorced and remarried couples.  Rather, it is an acknowledgment that the sign they are attempting to live through their remarriage is, in fact, seriously broken and that they are in need of healing.  The Church is eager to do whatever is possible to facilitate that healing and so she welcomes the divorce and remarried person just like she welcomes any other patient to the hospital, not with judgment, but with a diagnosis and a treatment plan.

A Painful Course of Treatment

Because it cuts right through the heart of the primary image God uses to reveal his love for the Church, remarriage after divorce (without the benefit of an annulment) is a particularly serious spiritual disorder.  Currently, there are only two treatment options; either the couple can embrace the penance of living as brother and sister unless or until they can receive a declaration of nullity for the original and still valid marriage, or the couple can embrace the penance of being that broken sign and refrain from communion.  These are painful treatments, but as any cancer patient can tell you, treatments for serious illnesses are often quite painful.  Again, the treatment is not a judgment on the couple.  It is a recognition of the seriousness of the spiritual disorder.

Asking Important Questions

I understand that a lot of people don’t get this.  They feel judged, and that’s a very serious problem.  Frankly, the Church has done a horrible job communicating these truths and this is one thing the Synod is attempting to address.   One importnat question the Synod Fathers are asking is, “Is there a way that we can continue to do our job of diagnosing and providing treatment for spiritual disorders–such as remarriage after divorce–without making people feel judged by our diagnoses?” Another question is, “Are there treatments for this disorder (of remarriage after divorce) that could work as well but be less painful?”   These are important but challenging questions, and there aren’t an easy answers to either of them–hence all the sturm und drang around the synod.   But one thing the Church cannot do is say that a spiritual sickness is actually a sign of health, and a broken sign is, actually, not broken.

To learn more about how you can experience a more joyful, loving, passionate, grace-filled marriage, please check out the brand new, revised and expanded 2nd edition or For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

Healthy Marriage Habit #2: Emotional Rapport & Benevolence. Take the Quiz!

Each day, in celebration of the release of my latest book, When Divorce Is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love, I’ll look at one of the 8 habits that separates “marriage masters” from “marriage disasters.”  Monday, I summarized all 8 divorceoptionhabits and yesterday we looked at Rituals of Connection.  Today, I’ll describe the second habit, Cultivating Emotional Rapport & Benevolence.  After a brief explanation, you’ll have a chance to take a quiz that can help you evaluate how healthy this habit is in your marriage.

Healthy Marriage Habit #2: Emotional Rapport and Benevolence:

Why Is This important?

Galatians 6:2 says “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Happy couples do exactly this in good times and bad times. They look for ways to take care of each other and make each other’s lives a little easier or more pleasant, especially in times of stress and disagreement between them.

In the healthiest relationships, couples exhibit a 20:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in the course of their everyday interactions and conversations (Gottman, 2011). That can seem overwhelming on the face of it|—|as if the only thing happy couples do is dance around in a state of blissful merrymaking, showering each other with presents and loving words. Relax. That’s not the case at all. “Positive interactions” include simple acts like smiling at your partner when you walk into the room, acknowledging each other’s presence and looking into each other’s eyes when you talk, and brief touches as you walk past each other, as well as giving meaningful compliments, thoughtful tokens of affection, and being intentionally affectionate with one another.
Sometimes, it can be hard to convince couples of the incredible power these simple actions have on the overall well-being of a marriage. On more than one occasion, I have had couples challenge me by saying, “I feel like we’re paying you a lot of money just for you to tell us to be nice to each other!” It may feel that way, but there is a great deal more going on than meets the eye. Studies such as the Gottman article I referenced earlier show that, when it comes to marital health, the devil (and for that matter, the angel) is in the details. Saving your marriage, for the most part, is not about big, dramatic gestures. It is about becoming more aware and sensitive and intentionally making more positive the ten thousand times you interact with your spouse each day and currently don’t give a second thought to.

Simple actions such as the ones I just listed do two things. First, they help your mate feel cared for and valued in the moment, which draws you closer to each other and makes you actually want to be together instead of feeling like you want to flee the room every time your spouse makes an appearance. Second, these simple practices make you more likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt when you accidentally step on each other’s toes. It’s hard to take offense and react defensively to each other when you see that you are looking out for each other, happy to see each other, and trying to take care of each other thirty-eight times out of forty. If you’re working to make all those little interactions just a little more positive, it’s easier to let those other two out of forty times slide when you step on each other’s toes. We’ll discuss ways to develop this habit in chapter 5, but you can begin today just by doing the kinds of things I just identified. (And it’s okay to fake it if you don’t feel it just yet. As long as your intention is to feel it someday, that’s good enough.) Don’t expect your spouse to respond right away. It might even take a few weeks before your mate notices that there’s something different in the way you’re approaching him or her. I promise, though, if you stick with it, it will begin to make a difference.

Healthy-Marriage Habit #2: Emotional Rapport and Benevolence Quiz.

How important is developing this skill to YOUR marriage?

Answer true (T) or false (F) for each question.

T F  1. My spouse and I look for little ways to make each other’s life easier or more pleasant each day.

T F  2. My spouse and I know and understand each other well.

T F  3. My spouse and I know and understand each other’s needs.

T F  4. My spouse and I are thoughtful and sensitive to each other’s likes and dislikes.

T F  5. My spouse and I share frequent, meaningful, nonsexual, physical affection.

T F  6. My spouse and I look for little ways to support and encourage each other each day.

T F  7. My spouse and I know how to encourage each other when we feel down.

T F  8. My spouse and I find comfort in each other’s arms when we’re stressed.

T F  9. My spouse and I turn to each other for comfort when we are upset or frustrated.

T F  10. My spouse and I try to be gentle and caring toward each other even when we are frustrated or stressed.

Give yourself 1 point for each T.

You scored ______ out of a possible 10 points.

A score of 8 or higher means that maintaining Emotional Rapport and Benevolence is a real strength in your relationship.

A score of 4 through 7 means that you could significantly improve your marriage by giving greater attention to increasing your experience of Emotional Rapport and Benevolence.

A score of 3 or lower indicates that this is a critical area for improvement in your relationship.

How’d you do?  Even if you feel like your marriage is, in general, in good shape, if you’d like to strengthen your ability to cultivate Emotional Rapport and Benevolence in your marriage, check out When Divorce is Not An Option:  How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.  Or, for more personalized assistance, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute (740-266-6461) to learn more about our Catholic-integrated tele-counseling practice for couples, families, and individuals.  Let us help you experience all the love God has in store for you!

Healthy Marriage Habit #1: Rituals of Connection. Take the Quiz!

Each day, in celebration of the release of my latest book, When Divorce Is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love, I’ll look at one of the 8 habits that separates “marriage masters” from “marriage disasters.”  Yesterday, I listed all 8 divorceoptionhabits.  Today, I’ll describe the first habit, Rituals of Connection.  After a brief explanation, you’ll have a chance to take a quiz that can help you evaluate how healthy this habit is in your marriage.

Healthy-Marriage Habit #1: Rituals of Connection|—| Why Is This important?

One study examining fifty years of research on the effect of rituals such as eating together, praying together, and working and worshiping together found that these simple activities had an almost magical degree of power over marriage and family health (Fiese, Tomcho, Douglas, et al., 2002). Couples who regularly worked, played, discussed more than just the tasks of life, and prayed together were significantly happier and more stable than other couples and exhibited far fewer problems that negatively impact marital well-being, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse (Fiese, 2006). Research by the Baylor University Institute for the Study of Religion found that couples who prayed together were about 30 percent happier across every aspect of their relationship (e.g., sex, parenting, financial management, division of labor, and so forth) than couples who did not; and couples who prayed “a lot” were happier than couples who prayed “sometimes” (Rushnell and DuArt, 2011). Similarly, couples who enjoy “shared meaning” (i.e, similar beliefs and purpose in life) are also much happier in their marriages than couple who feel that they are unequally yoked regarding their beliefs and attitudes (Gottman, 2011).

It is easy to understand why this is so. Couples who make time to work, play, talk, and pray together at least a little bit each day and to a greater degree each week know that they need to prioritize their marriage; that marriage is an activity, not an accessory. It can be hard to have a stable, satisfying marriage if a couple tries to squeeze in time to work, play, talk, and pray together when all the work and chores are done.

Of course, as Catholics, we believe that the family is the domestic church. We know that the Catholic Faith is filled with rituals—Sunday and daily Mass, holy days, confession and other sacraments, adoration, Stations, para-liturgies, and prayers—that bind the family of God together, call us back to each other, and bring order to our lives. Taking seriously our role as domestic church means, at least in part, celebrating the power of marriage and family rituals and routines to bind us together similarly, call us back to each other, and bring order to our lives.

Take The Rituals of Connection Quiz!

Healthy-Marriage Habit #1: Rituals of Connection for Work, Play, Talk, and Prayer

How important is developing this skill to your marriage?

Answer true (T) or false (F) for each question.

T F  1. My spouse and I get at least a little time to work together almost every day (at least five days out of seven).

T F  2. My spouse and I get at least a little time to have some fun time together almost every day (at least five days out of seven).

T F  3. My spouse and I get at least a little time to talk with each other about feelings about life and our relationship (i.e., not just stuff that needs to be done) almost every day (at least five days out of seven).

T F  4. My spouse and I get at least a little time to pray together about our life and relationship (beyond Grace at meals) almost every day (at least five days out of seven).

T F  5. Once a week, my spouse and I usually spend at least an hour or two (over and above the daily time indicated in question 1) working together on some larger household project (e.g., cleaning or fixing things at home).

T F  6. Once a week, my spouse and I get at least an hour or two (over and above the daily time indicated in question 2) to do something fun (in or out of the house) just as a couple.

T F  7. Once a week, my spouse and I get at least an hour or two (over and above the daily time indicated in question 3) to talk together in greater depth about our life and relationship.

T F  8. At least once a week, my spouse and I attend church together.

T F  9. My spouse and I enjoy each other’s company.

T F  10. Even when we are not getting along, our relationship feels comfortable and familiar.

Give yourself 1 point for each T.

You scored ______ out of a possible 10 points.

A score of 8 or higher means that your rituals and routines are a real source of strength in your relationship.

A score of 4 through 7 means that you could significantly improve your marriage by giving greater attention to increasing the presence of rituals and routines in your relationship.

A score of 3 or lower indicates that this is a critical area for improvement in your relationship.


How’d you do?  Even if you feel like your marriage is, in general, in good shape, if you’d like to strengthen the rituals of connection in your marriage, check out When Divorce is Not An Option:  How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.  Or, for more personalized assistance, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute (740-266-6461) to learn more about our Catholic-integrated tele-counseling practice for couples, families, and individuals.  Let us help you experience all the love God has in store for you!

“To Forgive My Father” Children of Divorce and the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Frank Weathers has a tremendously powerful post on his blog about how he came to forgive his father for the affair that ended his parents’ marriage when he was five years old.  It is a truly inspirational story of the power of grace and the fruit of forgiveness.

In reading Frank’s reflection, I was reminded of Elizabeth Marquardt’s important research on the spiritual lives of children of divorce.  One aspect of that research is that she found that adult children of divorce often have a very different understanding of some basic stories or teachings of the faith.  A specific example that emerged from her research is the paradoxical understanding of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) that many adult children of divorce related to her.

The Prodigal Son:  The Story

As most of you recall, the parable tells the story of a son who demands his share of his inheritance while his father is still alive.  Upon receiving the money, the son retreats to a far-off land where he squanders the money on all sorts of immoral pursuits.  Running out of money, the son is forced to work as a pig farmer until he decides that it would be better to be his father’s servant than to continue where he is.  He returns home expecting to have to beg to be allowed to be an employee in his father’s household but his father sees him on the road, runs to him, forgives him, and reaffirms their relationship as father and son even to the point of throwing a party for the son who was lost and has returned.

Most people who hear that story cast themselves in the role of the prodigal son.  We imagine ourselves as the ones who left our father and who are in need of forgiveness.  We experience the story as a powerful witness of God’s mercy and love and we rejoice in knowing that nothing we could ever do could separate us from the love of our Heavenly Father.

Marquardt’s research shows that many children of divorce do not see the story this way.

How Divorce Twists the Story:

Rather, children of divorce tend to cast themselves in the role of the abandoned father.  They see their parent as the prodigal son who leaves the family because of some sin.  Children of divorce tend to hear this parable not so much as a comforting story of the abundance of God’s forgiveness and love, but as a command to forgive the prodigal parent.  As a result, children of divorce often struggle with faith because they are either not ready to forgive that parent or perhaps feel that their faith is commanding them to do something that is not safe (as in the case of an abusive parent).

It’s an eye-opening finding.

I’m glad Frank found the strength to forgive his dad and I’m glad that he also experienced the blessings that come with forgiveness.  His story is truly inspiring.  But I hope that we can do more to help children of divorce step out of the caretaking role and experience that love and forgiveness that comes without cost.

Or, better yet, perhaps we parents can work on our marriages a little harder and stop putting our kids in the role of being our emotional/spiritual caretakers.



Beverly and Jim are newly engaged.  Even though they are very much in love, they have big concerns.    As Jim explains it,  “Neither of us had the best models for marriage.  My dad was an alcoholic and Beverly’s parents are divorced.  How can we know what it takes to stay together?”

Their question got me thinking.  Is it possible to boil down the keys to a successful marriage into some basic rules of thumb?  Unfortunately, marriage isn’t quite that simple, but there are some do’s and don’t that are universally good ideas when it comes to living in love for a lifetime.  Here are some off the top of my head.  What are some of your do’s and don’ts?


 1.  Pray

St. Paul reminds us that husbands and wives are to, “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Everything a couple does must be about helping each other become the people God created them to be in this life and helping each other get ready for the next life.   Pray together every day.  When you have a disagreement, discuss it, then submit both of your wills to God’s will in prayer.  Then get more information, discuss, pray, and repeat until you achieve a successful resolution to the problem.  In the end, it doesn’t matter what you or your spouse wants, the only thing that matters is that you and your spouse are committed to helping each other more clearly discern what God wants.


2.  Prioritize your marriage.

You are the most important influence in your spouse’s life second only to his or her free will and the saving power of Jesus Christ.  As I mentioned above, your job is to help each other become who God wants you to be and to get to heaven.  There is no other work more important, and no other relationship that can compete.  You did not promise at the altar to place your mom, your dad, your, boss, your neighbor, or your Great Aunt Brunhilda first in your life, but you did promise God to place your spouse first.  You must be prepared to give your mate not only symbolic first place “in your heart,” but also first place in your schedule, your allotment energy, and your commitment of time.  If you are not doing this, then your life is disordered, your priorities are flawed, and your marriage will pay the price.  Guaranteed.  The promise to “forsake all others” does not merely apply to sexual partners, it applies to every relationship that seeks to compete with the primacy of the marriage.


3.  It’s About the Little Things.

Married couples don’t just say, “I do” to each other on their wedding day.   In fact, every day, husbands and wives have a million opportunities to say, “I do” or “I don’t” to each other and their marriage.   It really is the little things that make all the difference over time.  When you do thoughtful things without being asked, keep promises, respond positively to requests (especially requests that pull you out of your comfort zone), you say, “I do.”  When you neglect each other (even benignly), “forget” to do things you said you would, or respond grudgingly (or not at all) to requests you say, “I don’t.”   The best way to keep a marriage growing strong is being careful to make sure your “I do” pile far exceeds the “I don’ts.”  In fact, some research suggests that it can take up to 5 “I do’s” to make up for one “I don’t”  because we tend to give more weight to negative experiences. Throughout the day, ask yourself, “What’s one small thing I can do to make my spouse’s life easier or more pleasant right now.”


4.  Take time to talk.

Husbands and wives must have at least 30 minutes a day where they can talk openly, not just about what went on today and what they have to do tomorrow, but also about what is on their hearts, where their lives together are going, and what specific support they need from—or are trying to give to—each other in order to fulfill the prime directive of marriage; helping each other become who God created them to be and get ready for heaven.  (Now, where did I hear that before?)


5.  Learn new skills.

If you needed surgery, would you pick the doctor who hadn’t picked up a medical journal or been to a continuing education class in twenty years, or would you prefer the doctor who has kept current with the latest techniques and treatments?  Of course you would pick the doctor who has kept current.

But is the work of marriage any less important or challenging than the work of a doctor? (I’ve counseled many a doctor who said that marriage was harder.)   Regularly read books on Christian marriage together and discuss what does and does not apply to you (and why).  Take a marriage encounter weekend.  Once a year, go on a mini retreat together where you spend a day or a weekend thanking God for the blessings of the past year and asking for guidance in the next.  Stay current with the skills necessary for caring for each other’s heart and soul.  You’ll be glad you did


 1.  Don’t Pick on each other.

Avoid all forms of name calling and unnecessary criticism.  These things wear out your welcome in a person’s life.    When you must complain about something, make sure you do it in a charitable manner.  Learn how to express your concerns in love.  For specific tips on how to do this, check out my book,  For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

 2.  Don’t Have Emotional Affairs.

Do you share information with someone before you tell your spouse?  When something good or bad happens to you, do you think of sharing that with someone other than your spouse?  Is there someone in your life that you feel understands you better than your mate.  You may be committing emotional infidelity, and if this certain someone is of the opposite sex, then the problem is twice as bad.

If your mate isn’t your best friend, then recognize it for what it is; a marital problem.  Then get professional help to fix the problem.  Seeking a confidante in someone else, especially someone of the opposite sex, is asking for trouble.


3.  Don’t Marry a Script.

Too many couples don’t marry each other.  They marry a script.  Instead of taking the time to learn how to meet the needs of the unique person God gave us, we tell ourselves that we are being a good spouse if we do all the things our friends do for their spouse, or  all the things that our mom did for our dad, or vice-versa.   It doesn’t matter if our mate is miserable in the marriage.  As long as we are following our script, we are doing our job.  When our spouse complains, we shrug and say,   “I’m doing everything right.  It must be your problem.”

A good spouse learns the heart of the person to whom he or she is married and generously works to respond to those unique needs, even when doing so means leaving behind his or her comfort zone.  Assuming that our mate doesn’t ask us to do something that is morally offensive or personally demeaning, we are obliged to meet the request, generously and cheerfully.  If you don’t, then contrary to what you might wish to think, you are a lousy spouse.   Start doing better today or suffer the consequences tomorrow.

 4.  Don’t play marital chicken.

Spouses love to  play a game I call “marital chicken.”   Like the game played in the 1950’s where reckless teens drove toward each other at high speeds, waiting for the “chicken” to veer out of the way, couples bluff each other in their own high stakes game when they say, “I would be more communicative/romantic/sexual/ playful/responsible/etc.  if you would be more communicative/romantic/sexual/playful/ responsible/etc.  But I know you, you’ll never change.”

When we play this game, we get to avoid doing our job while getting to feel self-righteous at the same time, but we’re just fooling ourselves.  When we die and go to heaven (hopefully) and God says, “Why weren’t you the generous person I needed you to be to your spouse?”  Do you really think it’s going to cut the mustard to say, “Well, Lord, I would have been generous, if only my spouse…”

These simple do’s and don’ts might not be all it takes to have a great marriage, but if you follow them, I can guarantee that you’ll have one of the best marriages on the block.  You’ll be well on your way to living a marriage that will make the angels smile and the neighbors sick with jealousy.


WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MARRIAGE DO’S and DON’Ts?  Share in the comments…

“Dear Dr. Greg, Don’t be a bigot.” Letter from a Child of a Gay Father.

The other day, I received an email from a young woman who read my post titled, Gay Marriage: Getting the Conversation Right.  Her parents divorced when her dad came out and she wanted me to know that they were all in a good place with it–and why couldn’t I be?  I have removed any identifying details, but I thought I would share our exchange as a way of illustrating the real challenge at the heart of gay marriage and why standing for traditional marriage is not anti-gay, but rather, pro-child.

Dr. Greg,

I know you don’t know me but I saw some things you had posted on gay marriage. My mom and dad divorced when my dad came out as gay.  I love my dad and we have a great relationship.  I’m really proud of him and I think he is very brave especially because he has to face bigoted people like you every day. I’m the oldest but I know my brother and sister feel the same.

First of all you need to open your eyes and realize that you are living in the 21st century and you need to get over the fact that there is all kinds of diversity in this world. people of different ethnicities, people of different beliefs, and people of different sexual orientation. do you have a strong dislike towards someone for the mere fact that their skin color isnt the same as yours or they arent a part of the same religion you are? probably not. so why on earth would you have a dislike towards a man who prefers other men or a woman who prefers other women? it makes absolutely no sense other than the simple fact it makes you uncomfortable. let me clue you into reality: MANY THINGS IN LIFE WILL MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE, but there is nothing you can do about it. giving speeches makes me uncomfortable but i still have to do it.

Blacks are freed from slavery, women can vote, so why can’t gays have rights? they are the same as you and me- they are human beings. believe it or not, i am more than PROUD of my father for coming out to us. i have actually grown closer to him and we have a better relationship now. I can’t wait until the day he falls in love with a man and i get to be at their wedding, admiring the amazing father and person he is and has become.

the things you have said about gays, while they may be what you believe, they are out dated. go ahead and preach what you feel, but I am telling you now- you will be hearing from people about it. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church going to catholic school until i was going into 7th grade, yet I still hold no judgement against my father.

I’m not entirely sure if you are one of those people who believe homosexuality is a disease, but if you do try calling into work saying “sorry i can’t come in today, i’m queer.” yeah, i bet you won’t get very far. in my sorority there are about 50 girls counting myself, and of those girls 40 of them have gay relatives. open your eyes and accept people for who they are. while i don’t expect a response from you, i hope you at least read this.

i’m going to leave you by saying this: If Michelangelo had been straight, the Sistine Chapel would have been wallpapered.

(In closing, she attached a lovely picture of herself, her sibs, her mom, her dad and his new partner)



And here is my response….


Dear ______________

Thank you for taking the time to write me.   You are clearly an articulate and strong young woman. I have no doubt your parents are quite proud of you and that you are a credit to both of them.

I’m really not sure what things you think I’ve said about gay people. If you read my post on Gettting the Conversation Right about gay marriage, you know it has little to do with homosexuality and everything to do with the rights of children.  I can tell you that I have never said anything–or even believe anything–even remotely similar to anything you describe. If you would care to point out what you feel are my offensive statements, I would be more than happy to–privately or publicly–clarify or apologize for anything that is legitimately ignorant, bigoted or prejudiced. If you knew me, which you admit you don’t, you would know that I take a very dim view toward so-called “Christians” who define themselves by those they unjustly hate more than by the loving God they serve.

Thank you for sending your family picture.  You look like you all love each other very much. I think that’s wonderful and exactly as it should be. I also think it’s wonderful that you love your dad both for who he is and for the fact that your relationship has improved in recent years. From your letter, it sounds like there was a time when that was less true and I’m glad things have gotten better for you.  At the same time, as you suggest in your message to me, it took an awful lot of work for you to get there. You guys have obviously been through quite a lot. You should be proud that you’ve all come though as well as you have. That’s taken a lot of courage and love and strength.

That said, I am a family therapist who works with many divorced families. One of things that both my experience and all the data on children-of-divorce shows is that divorce tends to cause kids to become “parentified.”  That means that–more than young people raised in intact families–children of divorce (especially eldest children-of-divorce like yourself) tend to be too good at taking care of other people and not quite so good at letting other people take care of them. The child-of-divorce occupying your position (eldest)in the family often ends up being compelled, by circumstances, to try to hold the family together, take more care of their younger siblings than they should have to, and even take care of and defend mom and dad–both against each other’s anger as well as any critics outside the family.

Mid-divorce and post-divorce, as dad tries to figure out who the heck he is and mom is reeling from trying to sort out which end is up, the kids have to emotionally fend for themselves a whole lot more than they should ever have to. Usually, one of the kids ends up taking on the role of quasi-parent to both their siblings and even to the parents who just aren’t up to the emotional task of being there for their kids the way they ought to be. The fact that you took it upon yourself to write to me–some guy you don’t know, will probably never meet, and whom really you shouldn’t care two figs about–to defend your dad says a whole lot about both your big heart AND your degree of parentification. Your mom and dad should be defending you, not you defending them. You have your own life to live and you shouldn’t have to try to build your own future while constantly looking back over your shoulder to see if mom and dad still need your help. They’re grown-ups. Let them fight their own battles.

I know you’ll say that they didn’t put you up to writing me. I know that. I have every confidence that you reached out to me completely on your own. As I say, it is clear that you are a strong young woman with a big heart. And even though I know all of this is true, it is utterly besides the point. The mere fact that you felt compelled to write me–a total stranger– to defend him without any prompting from them is exactly what I’m talking about. Children have a right to be raised in an environment where they feel taken care of, not where they feel forced by their parents’ emotional immaturity to have to take care of themselves, or their siblings, and especially not their parents. You were deprived of that right in your home. You have borne up well under the challenges your family has faced. You are strong, but to be honest, circumstances have forced you to be stronger than you should have to be. I’m sorry for that.

See, what I’m really saying is that I don’t have any issues with your dad being gay. But I do think that marriage ought to be an institution that guarantees kids the right to be able to count on their moms and dads. I do have huge issues with your dad–or any man for that matter–making promises to someone, having children with that someone, and then failing to follow through on those promises so that they, themselves, can pursue what they have finally gotten around to deciding what makes them happy “now.” Parents owe kids better than that. Kids don’t ask to be born. Parents make them. That implies the promise, “I will always be RIGHT HERE. No matter what. You can count on me.” Not, “I’ll be here until I figure out what really makes me happy,” or “You can count on me until someone I want to sleep with more than your mom comes along.” I happen to think parents need to work that stuff out before they make promises to children by having children. You deserved an intact family, and nothing and no one had the right to rob that from you.

From your comments and the pic you sent, it looks like you guys have done an admirable job cobbling something good together after the divorce. That took guts, and good for all of you. I’m glad it’s better than it was, but that doesn’t make what you had to go through right. It just means that mom and dad couldn’t get it together enough to give you and your siblings what you deserved–what you were promised– from the get-go and so, you had to work a whole lot harder to try to get the love and happiness that was owed to you just for being born. I think you–and all kids–deserve better than that.

I do thank you for your concern for my ability to get along with a people who are different than me. You are absolutely right about the importance of that. I can assure you I am perfectly comfortable around all types of people; GLBT, straight, Christian, non-Christian, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, whatever. In fact, come to think of it, I am the proud father of an inter-racial family (although it seems weird to write that because it doesn’t often occur to me that we are. Nevertheless….) In my mind, people are just people. We’re all just trying to do our best. We’re all God’s children, and I am not threatened or uncomfortable around anyone.

But you know, it is possible to hold different opinions from someone without hating them. That’s something that can be hard to understand, but it’s true. Perhaps you and I have different opinions about things. That fact does not make me less than you, more ignorant than you, or more of a “hater” than you. Since you don’t know anything about me, it is rather presumptuous and, frankly, prejudiced, of you to suggest that is not the case with me–although I am sure you did so unconsciously and unintentionally. Still, you should be aware of your own tendencies to act out in unjustified prejudice–especially if you are going to make a hobby out of pointing out what you think to be prejudice in others.

Likewise, the truth is that while everyone is entitled to their own opinions, not every opinion is as well-informed by reason and healthy thinking as another. It’s really important to learn to evaluate the strength of an argument or an opinion based on its logic and reason, and the effects that opinion will have on other people, and not by mere sentimentality and emotion, which can often lead people to justify a whole host of unjustifiable things, including inflicting the pain on others which we, ourselves, have endured and overcome, but should have, by all rights, been spared.

Let me conclude by saying you are clearly a remarkable young woman. Good for you for speaking your mind. I truly wish you and your family all the best.