As a Catholic psychotherapist, I have worked with dozens of couples in my 25-plus years in practice. While each situation is certainly unique, there are some fundamental issues that present themselves over and over. I would like to present three issues and offer my best advice to newlyweds.
The first issue is a developmental one: know whose team you are on. This may sound ridiculous but it is a huge problem!
Before we fall in love and marry, our major affiliation is with our families of origin. These are the families we were born into, the ones we grew up in. They usually are composed of our mother, father and siblings. We are members of this home team, so to speak. Our loyalty and commitment has been to these folks all our lives.
When we marry, this situation, out of necessity, must change. When we fall in love and begin to talk seriously of marriage, we are talking of forming a new “home team.” As a member of this new team, I must switch my commitment and loyalty to my spouse.
This does not mean that I no longer love and respect my original family members. What it means is that when there is a conflict of timing or interest, my allegiance must be with my spouse. This loyalty and commitment between spouses is the foundation upon which our new family will be built. It’s biblical: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one body”(Genesis 2:24).
The second issue is confusing the ideal with the real. From the time we are children, we begin to think of what kind of life we want to have when we grow up. These fantasies are helpful in keeping us inspired to stay on track with our studies, etc. However, they can get in the way when we finally do marry.
Often these fantasies have become so important to us that we spend all our time, effort and energy trying to make them real. This is done in a way that diminishes the reality of our life. Instead of loving my spouse for who he really is, I try to turn him into the husband of my dreams.
Both men and women are guilty of this, and as you might imagine, it is extremely toxic to marriages. Instead of seeing your spouse through this idealized lens, where you focus on how he/she doesn’t quite measure up, look at him/her anew, remembering the qualities that initially attracted you. Thank God every day for the wonderful man/woman he has brought into your life. As you develop this attitude of gratitude, you will find that your love for your spouse will deepen and grow stronger.
The third issue is the absence of God in the marriage relationship. When couples trust God and seek his will for their lives, they make very different and much better choices for themselves. When God is not present, it can all too easily become a tug of war between spouses as to who will get their way.
Perhaps the biggest lie around is that we will be happy if we get what we want. Just look around – those “lucky enough” to get what they want are often the most miserable people of all. When we humble ourselves to seek God’s will for us, we get what we need. We are also brought to the place where we can live the good plan God has for our lives. Again, it’s scriptural, Jeremiah 29:11.
Humbling ourselves is so important. Pride destroys marriages because pride blocks love.
I have a prayer that I wrote for couples. I am including it here. I have couples read it together both morning and night. It invites God into their relationship and changes minds and opens hearts. (See below.)
Janice Carbon is a Catholic psychotherapist specializing in marriage and family counseling. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Prayer for Couples – Janice Carbon
Come, Lord Jesus!
Come fill our hearts with your love!
Lord, we know that our creation came through you.
We know that you are the source of all life.
We know that we are created by love, out of love, for love.
Dear Lord, we want to grow in this love.
We want to become the persons you created us to be.
Lord, we know that you know us better than we know ourselves.
You know the secret desires of our hearts.
You know the woundedness in our hearts as well.
Lord, we know that you are the Divine Physician, and all healing comes from you.
We ask that you heal our hearts, Lord.
We ask that you touch those areas of woundedness with your love so that we can be free to love one another.
Lord, send your Holy Spirit to open my eyes as well as my heart so that I may see myself and our marriage through your eyes.
Give me the courage, Lord, to receive the healing that you, in your mercy and love, wish to give me.
Help me, Lord, to become a better (husband/wife) to my (wife/husband).
Help me, Lord, to grow in my commitment to my marriage, giving it new priority in my life.
Help me, Lord, to grow in deeper understanding of my partner’s needs.
Help me, Lord, to grow in my ability to forgive my partner, and not take offense in times of disappointment.
Help me, Lord, to grow in my ability to lovingly express my sincere appreciation for all that my partner does for our family.
Lord, because we know that you will all families to grow in your love, and to prosper in all good things, I surrender my family in total trust to your holy will.