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 CatholicCounselors.com

Four Ways to Keep Your Relationship Afloat In Tough Times

Husbands and wives pledge to love each other through good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty. On the day of the wedding, these promises feel comforting. But when bad times come through the door, love often flies out the window.  How can a couple stick together even when the going gets tough?

Decades of research have revealed the following four habits to be essential for staying close through difficult times. They are like four pontoons that keep your relationship afloat (see what I did there?), especially when the storms of life lead you into choppy waters.

1.Meaningful Couple Prayer—Turns out, the Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC. was right. The couple that prays together really does stay together.  Research by Baylor University found that couples who engage in meaningful couple-prayer are significantly more likely to think positively about each other and feel closer to each other, especially through hard times.

Meaningful couple prayer isn’t just about “saying words at God.”  It requires you and your spouse to take a little time every day—even just five minutes—to talk to God about your life, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and your feelings.  Sit down together and speak to God as if he were the person who knew you best and loved you most.  In addition to the graces we receive from prayer, couple-prayer “works” on a human level because it gives couples a safe, quasi-indirect way to reveal our hearts to one another.  We talk to God while our spouse listens in.  Then, as our spouse prays, we ask God to help us really hear what our spouse is trying to say.  What are their needs, their fears, their wants and concerns?  How do these fit with our own needs, fears, wants and concerns?  By listening to each other in prayer, the Holy Spirit can guide you toward graceful solutions.

2.Talk Together—Create a daily talk ritual; a time where you intentionally discuss topics that don’t natually come up.  Specifically, focus on three questions.  1) How are each of you holding up?  Be honest.  What do you feel like you’re handling well?  Where do you feel like you’re struggling?  When were you at your best today?  When were you at your worst?  2)  When did you feel closest to your spouse/most grateful for your spouse’s support today?  First of all, discussing this question daily makes you more conscious of the need to do things to support each other.  Second, acknowledging the ways you have shown up for each other throughout the day reminds you that you aren’t alone. You have a friend who really wants to be there for you. 3) What could you do to help make each other’s day a little easier/more pleasant?  Is there a project you need some help with?  Is there something you need prayer for?  Are there little things that your spouse sometimes does that mean a lot?  Take this time to ask each other to do those little things that say, “Even when life is falling apart, you can count on me to be here and to take care of you.”

3.Work Together—Your household chores aren’t just something to get through.  They’re actually opportunities to build a sense of solidarity and team spirit.  It’s a funny thing.  You might not know how to weather the latest crisis, but doing something as simple as making the bed together, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner together, or picking up the family room together before you turn in sends a powerful unconscious message that says, “I’m not just here for the fun.  I’m here for the hard stuff and the boring stuff too.  Somehow, we can get through this. Together.”

Research shows that couples who make a daily habit of cultivating simple caretaking behaviors like doing chores side-by-side develop better cooperation, communication and problem-solving skills. It turns out that the way you work together to avoid bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s toes while you clean up the kitchen becomes the unconscious template for how you work together to handle that health crisis, financial problem, or other unexpected challenge.

4. Play Together—When you’re going through tough times, you don’t want to play.  We just want to isolate and hide.  Resist that temptation as best you can. Make a little time every day to do something pleasant together. Think about the simple pleasures you enjoy in happier times and make yourselves do them–even if you’re not really feeling it.  It might not be all laughs and giggles, but worst case scenario?  You might help each other remember that life isn’t completely horrible and you’ll have each other to thank for that little moment of joy.  Psychology reminds us that humor and play are two the most sophisticated defense mechanisms.  They help us stubbornly resolve to make beautiful moments even when life is anything but.  The couple that learns how to gently play together even the face of trials are true masters at life and love.

Life can be hard, but cultivating a love that “endures all things” (1Cor 13:7), isn’t complicated. By remembering to Pray, Talk, Work, and Play together, you can build a relationship that can stand up to whatever life throws at you.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including Just Married. Learn more at CatholicCounselors.com

To Cohabitate, or Not to Cohabitate. That is The Question

Celebrity couples live together, regular couples live together, if everyone’s cohabiting, that means there has to be some benefit to it, right? Not so fast…

A new study published by the Institute for Family Studies found that cohabitation is rapidly becoming more popular than marriage, even “shotgun cohabitations” are statically more common than “shotgun marriages.” However, research released by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University has reveled that married couples report three key differences in the quality of their relationships than couples who are cohabiting. 

According to the results of this research, the first statistically significant difference in these relationships revels that married couples are more likely to report relationship satisfaction than couples who are cohabiting. After controlling for factors such as age, education, and relationship duration, it was found that 54% of married women report higher levels of satisfaction while married men report 49% relationship satisfaction. When compared to their counterparts of cohabiting women and men, these individuals reported 40% and 35% satisfaction rates, respectively. 

Next it was found that married couples report greater levels of commitment in their relationship than couples who are cohabiting. As the top three reasons for couples to cohabit include convenience, financial benefits, and “to test a relationship,” it should be no surprise that 46% of married couples report higher levels of commitment in their relationship, compared to approximately only 30% of cohabiting couples. 

Finally, research has found that married couples are more likely to report relationship stability than cohabiting couples. When respondents were asked how likely they were to say that their relationship would continue, 54% of married adults reported relationship stability and continuation, while only 28% of cohabiting adults reported stability and a future for their relationship—this includes cohabiting relationships that include children. 

This and further research reveals that cohabitation fundamentally changes the way that couples view marriage. Couples who cohabitate naturally develop the mindset of, “What if it doesn’t work out?” This thought pattern that a cohabiting couple can simply move out and move on with someone else distresses these three important factors of relationship satisfaction, commitment, and stability that are essential to a successful and thriving marriage. 

When discussing these results, the Institute for Family Studies reports, “despite prevailing myths about cohabitation being similar to marriage, when it comes to the relationship quality measures that count—like commitment, satisfaction, and stability—research continues to show that marriage is still the best choice for a strong and stable union.”

For information on how to have a successful and thriving marriage, check out Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five years of Marriage, and find more resources by visiting us at CatholicCounselors.com!

It Gets Better With Age

“My spouse and I bicker all the time! What do we do?” Of course it depends on the severity of the bickering between a couple to determine the answer to this question, but a new study from UC Berckley says, maybe just give it time.

Researchers evaluated conversations and exchanges between 87 middle to older aged couples who had been married for 15 to 37 years and tracked these couples over the course of 13 years. 

The results of this study showed that couples experienced an increase of positive behaviors such as affection and humor while the presence of defensiveness, criticism, and other negative behaviors decreased. The researchers also found a decrease in anxiety and depression stating, “Marriage has been good for their mental health.”

Overall, this study revealed that middle-aged and older couples experience increases in positive emotional behaviors, regardless of their satisfaction with their relationship. 

One researcher stated, “These results provide behavioral evidence that is consistent with research suggesting that, as we age, we become more focused on the positives in our lives.”

This study suggests that just because the honeymoon is over, doesn’t mean that there aren’t good times ahead. 

This is not to say that all difficulties can be solved with time. If you and your spouse are having difficulties and would like to discover practical and faith-filled answers, the Catholic Counselors at Pastoral Solutions Institute are here to help. For more information or to schedule an appointment, give us a call at 740-266-6461 or visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Maintaining Your Marriage Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maintaining Your Marriage Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Cola Wars Killing YOUR Marriage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Dreading Disagreements

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

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

Here are a few tips on cultivating care in conflict:

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

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

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

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