Over the Long Haul

I was blessed last month to be invited by our morning and evening MOM’s Groups to speak about marriage. At the time, I wondered what a man in his late 40s could offer a group of mostly young mothers in their first several years of marriage. Then I recalled a conversation with our oldest son Brendan and his wife Becky when they were discerning marriage. Specifically, I remember telling them, “We promise for better or for worse without really knowing what that means.”

It’s best that we can’t see the future. Maybe an unforeseen struggle will derail all our plans. Maybe it’s a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a child, a broken past or hidden addiction. Or maybe it’s the slow-building weight of sarcasm or unsolicited advice, the accumulated slights of day-to-day living in close quarters, or the endless routine of raising a family. Whatever our cross, when it comes, we can either carry it as a burden or swing it as a bludgeon. For better, or for worse.

After 26 years of marriage, I’ve learned that I’m still the same guy. Certainly I’ve changed a bit: I’ve kicked a few really bad habits, praise God, and gained some gray in my hair and beard. But I still have all the same buttons in all the same places, and Jodi still pushes them—for better or for worse.

And my default settings haven’t changed. I’m still quick-tempered and sharp-tongued, especially when stressed; still ungentle with my bride, my children, and myself; still tempted to the same self-righteousness, vainglory, and desire for comfort and affection.

Learning to love my bride in spite of all this is the work of marriage—the work of a lifetime. Early on in our relationship, I thought I could make Jodi happy: We were going to get married, and I was going to be good at it.

Not long after we exchanged vows, I began to realize I didn’t have the first clue how to make her happy.

Then I rationalized that if I were happy, she would be happy. I tried to handle my own needs in such a way that I wouldn’t burden her. This seemed noble at first, but quickly turned to self-absorption. I wasn’t unburdening her; I was serving myself.

We had been married several years before I understood that I needed to learn to love my wife. Jodi and I receive love best in very different ways, and we tend to express love in the ways we like to receive it. As a result, my caresses and “I love yous” were received as window-dressing—what she really wanted was to spend time together as a family and that I finish a project or two around the house. Meanwhile homemade pizzas and Family Game Night left me feeling tired and neglected.

It’s hard to step outside yourself: to strive to love another as they want to be loved, and to receive and be grateful for their efforts to love you back. That, to me, is marriage in a nutshell.

It’s a tall order, which brings me to the best marriage advice I’ve heard in a long time. Jeremy and Cindy Rohr, who lead the Joy-Filled Marriage ministry in our parish, share it at every engaged couples retreat: Pray for the grace of marriage.

Sacraments are real and effective—they accomplish what they signify. This means that Holy Matrimony provides the grace we need to live as husband and wife and to love each other more perfectly.

How rarely Jodi and I have asked God for the grace of marriage to help us love each other better. After 26 years, you’d think we’d know better…

The Lord wants great things for you in your marriage, and His grace is infinite. It is not diminished by our asking and receiving. So ask for the grace of marriage. Ask as a couple. Ask big—for the long haul.

The post appear in the Sunday, November 20, 2022, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

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