(My wife Peggy and I were recently invited to submit a guest column to the Knights of Columbus outstanding website, Fathers for Good. Here is what we contributed.)
Peggy and I have been giving marriage preparation classes for the last 17 years. We enjoy the days very much — they’re a chance to meet the new, young and enthusiastic couples who are making the counter-cultural choice to get married.
They’re so filled with hope and optimism, and we try to encourage that. But we also have to tell them a truth that they may not like to hear — that the road ahead for them is not always going to be easy. We speak openly about the challenges they’ll face — and how we’ve faced similar ones — and we try to build their confidence that they can overcome these obstacles.
The most important thing we tell them is our motto — “nothing, nothing comes between us”.
We all go into marriage with a “Plan A” in mind. That’s the one where everything will be great, we won’t have any troubles, and all the breaks will go our way. In other words, it’s a totally unrealistic plan.
Every married couple is quickly confronted with the collapse of Plan A. And that’s when the true challenge kicks in — can we come up with a new plan? And another? And another?
I like to describe to the engaged couples the experience of Mary and Joseph. Talk about Plan A not working! I’m sure that Joseph had it all mapped out in his mind — marry Mary, raise a family, pass the business along to his son, and all that. Well, once the Angel Gabriel came along, and Mary said “yes”, that plan went out the window, and they had to come up with Plan B.
Of course, Plan B didn’t work very well for Joseph and Mary either — the census drove them to Bethlehem, Herod drove them to Egypt, and by the time the Infancy Narratives end, they were on to Plan E, at least. But they kept at it. What else could they do? Mary loved Joseph, and Joseph loved Mary, and they had the same motto we do — “nothing comes between us”.
Peggy and I have been married now for over 27 years. We’re on Plan Triple Z by this point. But we keep holding on to our motto.
The last couple of years have been full of everyday problems and stresses that could easily have led to problems between us.
My mother passed away last October after a ten-year battle with cancer. Peggy was her main support, and in the last year, she was her primary care-giver. Almost all of Peggy’s time and energy went into that, often leaving very little for us and our relationship.
Peggy’s been unemployed now for the last two years. The strain of reduced finances wears her down every day with concern and worry. She’s scratched together a couple of part-time jobs, but when you take into account my crazy schedule of night and weekend meetings, it’s hard to find time when we’re both awake and alert.
We’ve both had medical issues lately, and someone close to us is struggling with mental health problems. It’s exhausting.
I have a high-stress job, and I’m a workaholic — it’s hard for me to disengage from work, and focus on my life.
We have three kids, two out of college, one in high school, and all living with us. Every non-empty-nest parent knows the strain that this can produce on a marriage.
I suspect that every married couple could compile a similar list. And every married couple struggles to find the answers, just as we have. So we constantly have to come up with new plans and keep moving forwards. If something doesn’t help, we try something different. The one constant is that we’re working together.
We don’t do anything dramatic. The simple things work better: A “daily debrief” — a few minutes to share with each other what happened each day. “Date nights”, just walking down the block for a cup of tea or a drink. Shared activities, like hiking or martial arts. Volunteering together for the Red Cross disaster relief services, and a summer mission trip to West Virginia. Making room for separate activities, like my bike riding. Being attentive to our sexual relationship. Making sure that there are no “off limits” subjects we can’t talk about.
Remembering always that God is on our side. Mass together. Bedtime and mealtime prayers. Putting the strains and troubles at the foot of the Cross, so Jesus and his Mother can handle them for us.
And when things seem overwhelming, when everything is going wrong, we remind ourselves that “nothing comes between us.”