The neighbor across the breakfast table

Recently my husband Bill and I were on a rare getaway weekend together. On Saturday morning after a leisurely breakfast—where I was not asked to cut anyone’s waffles—we went for a walk and stopped at a rummage sale. (Not necessarily the most romantic event of the weekend, but we both enjoy a good bargain.) The 60-something lady who was running the sale asked if we lived in the neighborhood. When we explained that we were on a weekend away together, she clapped her hands.  

“That is wonderful,” she said with a thick German accent. “That is good for your marriage. I never wanted to leave my children, even for one night. I never thought anyone could do it as well as I could. My husband wanted me to go away with him, but I said there would be plenty of time for that when the kids are grown. Well, you know what? The kids grew up, and my husband left me for a younger woman. So you two are right in spending time together. I wish I would have.” 

Jesus’ commandment to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matt. 39:22), propels people into action in many ways: reaching out to the poor, being kind to those around us, being a Good Samaritan. Rarely, however, is the commandment spoken of in the context of loving the person who is our closest neighbor—our spouse. Yet loving and being loved by our spouse is a prerequisite for having the strength to reach out to others. Our first neighbor is next to us in the bed. And may even be snoring.  

Teach children that the marriage comes first. Patty and John, friends who have five girls, take 20 uninterrupted minutes together each evening after work. They sit in the living room together with a glass of wine and talk about their day. The girls are not allowed to enter the room “unless someone is bleeding.”  

While Patty reports that it took some practice to get the girls to respect the time, they are now used to it and wait until their parents are done talking to start their own nightly barrage of needs. Studies repeatedly show that when a couple is content in their marriage, their children are more secure and confident.  

Say something nice (or don’t say anything at all). In a healthy relationship, positive comments should outnumber negative ones by a ratio of five to one, according to Legionary Father Michael Ryan, author of The Last Straw: Ways to Overcome the Stumbling Blocks in Communication Toward a Stronger and Happier Marriage (Circle Press, 2005). When a negative subject must be addressed, Ryan stresses that within the discussion there must be no doubt of the spouses’ love for each other—that the love must be a safety net underneath the discussion. Like most experts on marriage, he also advises couples to concentrate on one issue at a time within a discussion rather than bringing up past hurts.  

Ch-ch-ch-changes. Longtime happily married couples note that relationships change and evolve over time. When Bill and I got married, a friend who was about 20 years into her own marriage said to me, “Now you love him for all these little idiosyncrasies and quirks. In about five years, those same idiosyncrasies and quirks are going to drive you crazy, but hang in there. Later on, you’ll find them endearing again.” 

I have to say, 15 years into my marriage, she was right. We’ve cycled through enough in our relationship for me to see the rhythm, to recognize a period of stress and difficulty as a passing phase rather than an ominous turn.  

In her book Closer: Musings on Intimacy, Marriage, and God (Ave Maria Press, 2008), Valerie Schulz makes this observation: “On the surface, we view marriage as a one-time sacrament, like Confirmation or Baptism. . . . Yet, in reality, if this crazy scheme of two-becoming-one is going to work, the sacrament of Marriage must function more like the Eucharist, in which we are encouraged to participate as often as possible. Daily even. We must honor each day of marriage as a sacramental day.” 

by Annemarie Scobey from At Home with Our Faith newsletter.  

Take a look at At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home—read a sample issue.   We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out  monthly discussion guides. And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

One Response

  1. My husband and I have been married 29 years and have 4 children ages 25-12. For the past 16 years we have had “date night” every Wednesday night. Not only has this strengthened our own marriage, but it has been a powerful example to our children, family, and friends…even our babysitters who are now grown, married and having their own “date nights.”

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