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What I've seen in happy marriages

My brother and sister-in-law were married in 2006. Since that time, they have welcomed two wonderful children, my niece and nephew. Their family life is pretty much what one might expect for a couple with two young kids. There is school for both children with a variety of extracurricular activities. Their mom and dad both have demanding careers and are doing what I consider to be a good job of balancing the kids’ needs with the variety of other responsibilities that are part of family life. The miles are quickly adding onto their minivan’s odometer. From my perspective, they seem like a “normal” family.

One thing I have noticed over the last several years is that every few months, my brother and sister-in-law make arrangements for the kids to spend a couple of days with their grandparents. This is to the delight of both grandchildren and grandparents. With the children safely cared for, my brother and sister-in-law go away for a few days of time alone. Sometimes they head up north, other times they stay near home. The point is they make time just for themselves as a couple. They have realized that while they have daunting responsibilities as parents, they also have the awesome responsibility of being husband and wife – and encouraging the growth of their marriage requires time and effort apart from their children. I hope and pray this pattern continues as my niece and nephew grow up.

It breaks my heart when I have to visit a husband or wife who has just learned his or her spouse wants a divorce, sometimes after 20 or 25 years of marriage. My experience tells me that this is an increasingly common experience for too many couples. They pour huge amounts of time, effort and energy into raising their children. Then, one day, after the youngest child is off to college or has moved out of the house, they wake up, look at one another and wonder to whom they are married.

Our culture puts a great deal of emphasis on time spent by parents raising their children. Too often, it seems to me, parents pour so much energy and time into their children and their careers that they can too easily forget to purposefully take time for one another as spouses. Don’t get me wrong – parents have a responsibility to care for their children and to help them grow to become the people God calls them to become. I also firmly believe every married couple has the equally important responsibility to purposefully nurture and nourish their marriage throughout its lifespan – from the time of engagement until a ripe old age. Our parish communities can be places that support and foster this growth.

It turns out I’m not alone in this way of thinking. The bishops of the United States penned a very challenging document about marriage in 1988 titled Faithful to Each Other Forever. In that document, the bishops outline a lifelong process of spiritual formation for marriage, marriage preparation, and follow-up care for married couples of all ages. The pastoral challenge of assisting couples to continue to grow in love for one another after they are married is an opportunity for ministry that is filled with possibility and potential. It also can be as simple as making sure each couple regularly takes the time to have a date night, helping one another to continue to grow in the depth and breadth of the married love they share. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.

Father Dwight Ezop is editor of FAITH Magazine and pastor of the Catholic Community of St. Jude. E-mail: [email protected].