Welcome to Catholic Engagement Advice: Part 2. If you are engaged: congratulations!
If you missed part one, feel free to catch up here: Engagement Advice for Catholic Couples: Part 1
A young woman was once asked at what age she would like to be married. Her reply was 35. At this time, she was 25 years old and was living a party life free of concern. A young man asked another question:
“What if you find love before 35?”
She replied, “Not interested?”
He pushed back, “Love does not come around very often; would you turn down love if it crossed your path?”
The woman responded, “Well, maybe not, but I’ll worry about it then.”
What this woman did not realize was that good relationships do not just happen. They are made! She was not preparing herself to have a great relationship.
It is the same for marriage. Great marriages do not just happen. They are made! Of note, most of the work needed to create a happy, long-lasting marriage is done beforehand. It happens in our single life by working on ourselves, and it happens in our relationships and in engagement.
In this article, we will look at some more Catholic engagement advice that will help you to thrive in your marriage.
Catholic Engagement Advice #4: Do not fight!
My wife and I have often heard the statement: “Everyone should have at least one big fight before they get married.”
There may be some truth to this. In times when you vehemently disagree, you may see things in the other person that you were not aware of: abuse, a violent temper, an inability to listen or compromise, and so on. In addition, you will see if the relationship is capable of working through the difficulties or if it just keeps leading to more difficulties.
With that being said, fighting is not a good thing. Catholic psychotherapist Gregory Popcak says in his book, For Better Forever: A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage: “Just as war is a failure of diplomacy, so fighting is a failure of problem solving.” One side or both are not communicating effectively or not listening to each other well enough.
Naturally, there are going to be times when you disagree and even have mildly heated discussions. However, this should not lead to fighting. Fighting is a sign that something is wrong.
In a healthy disagreement (not fighting), the goal of the couple is to work together to solve a problem. The goal is not to be right or to prove the other person wrong. Rather, it works toward figuring out a common solution that works for both parties and where both people feel heard, edified, and validated.
Unfortunately, we all have a lot of emotional baggage, fears, and insecurities that rear their ugly head during these times. The sign of a healthy relationship is not that you don’t ever disagree (that’s unhealthy too), but rather that if problems arise, you can work through them together and draw closer to each other in the process.
Healthy disagreements stay focused on the other person’s good, but the goal is to somehow work it out and grow stronger together. Fighting goes downhill fast and almost always leads to more fighting, to feelings being hurt, and to persons being attacked personally.
Fighting is more about control and being right. It’s about beating down the other person’s wrong statements to show that you are correct. It often leads to screaming, name calling, accusing, possibly threatening, being out of control, walking out/hanging up on the other, and so on. It involves blowing up and saying things we will regret later. It hurts the other person and the relationship rather than making it better.
Working through problems is good. Fighting is toxic. So, look at your relationships past and present and evaluate them accordingly.
The time of engagement and the first year of marriage are of critical importance because this is the time that will form the habits (good or bad) that you will cultivate for the rest of your lives. It is important to practice patience, kindness, understanding, gentleness, love, self-control, and deep listening. The more we form a solid foundation in these things, the stronger and more unshakeable your future marriage will be.
Gregory Popcak also writes, “If you want to fight, take a karate class, buy an exercise dummy, or better yet, call the IRS tax help line, but, if you want to be married, you are going to have to learn problem solving.
Catholic Engagement Advice #5: Grow! And practice good habits!
Would you like a happily-ever-after? Then commit to working on the toxic things which can destroy your future marriage. This will take some self-reflection, or perhaps, even asking people around you what you may need to work on. This self-growth is a life-long commitment – before and after the wedding day.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m Italian, so I’m going to have a temper,” or “I’m German, so therefore, I’m thickheaded,” or “I’m Irish, so I drink a lot. It’s just what I do,” or “I’m a man, I have those needs.”
The problem with the above statements is that these people are accepting behaviors which are not good, and justifying them. At its core, it’s a refusal to work on the parts of ourselves that need to change, develop, and grow. Without this, kiss a great marriage goodbye.
God calls everyone to become the best person they can be, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. The last thing you want is marry someone – or be someone – who refuses to change, who will not admit they’re wrong, or will not work on changing for better. Sadly, that is a recipe for divorce.
Failing in marriage and messing up happens almost daily, and it is too easy to be prideful and stubborn – two marital sins which close you off to your spouse and shut down love.
Therefore, it’s vital to do some self-reflection, to work on humility, to admit when you are wrong, to apologize quickly, and to work on those aspects in which you fail. The more you do this before marriage, the better habits you will take into your marriage and the far better it will be!
Catholic Engagement Advice #6: Learn to sacrifice!
If someone knew how much selflessness and sacrifice were needed for a happy and successful marriage, many people would run screaming into the night. This is why our love cannot be emotionally driven but must be mature, strong, and ready to do what is needed no matter how difficult.
It may be possible to feel like you’re losing yourself sometimes, especially if you are used to having things your way. What can we do to become more selfless? After all, selflessness is a key ingredient for true love.
The answer is to get used to being uncomfortable! Get in the habit now of doings that you do not feel like doing.
Choose to perform one or two acts daily that you really do not feel like doing. For example, if you come home from a long day at work, and the last thing you wish to do is wash dishes, then that is exactly what you should do – quickly and with intention.
If you desire to relax and watch TV but you left the dinner table a mess, make haste to clean the table first. Perhaps your boyfriend or girlfriend suggests a restaurant that you are not in the mood for. From time to time, make the sacrifice joyfully and without regret. There is always one difficult thing we can do every day that will help us to grow and make sacrificing much easier.
You probably won’t like it at first, and it will not be fun. However, neither is changing a baby’s blown out diaper at 2 a.m. or getting awakened to go buy emergency medicine for your wife at 3 a.m., or having to stuff your pride during an argument for the sake of the relationship. These are difficult and there are thousands of them in marriage. Do it right though and marriage becomes a beautiful flower that blooms and pours out its beauty over every aspect of your marriage.
These little daily sacrifices will make you more selfless, build character, and form a necessary discipline that will enable you to give generously in the future without much effort at all. The more you perform these things without delay, the less difficult they become, and serving in the future becomes easier and more satisfying for love.
Remember: selfishness is the great destroyer of love and marriage. It is necessary to love our spouse and to give of ourselves daily, even when we do not feel like it and even if they do not deserve it. That is the recipe for true love!
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