Four little words to make your marriage last

Matt and Mindy Dalton

Seven years ago, I was having the worst thoughts about the one I was supposed to love the most, Matt. We were headed for a weekend away to watch our older girls’ volleyball matches. A discussion took place on what time we needed to head to the airport. I was up, showered, packed and ready to go.

Matt was so looking forward to a weekend away, he was already in “relaxation mode” just taking his time (whistling, in fact), not aware he was running a bit behind with packing and being ready to go.

We headed out, 20 minutes later than planned, and as we drove to the airport, I started feeling anxious; having an interior battle inside.

Matt started to have somewhat of a sense that I wasn’t thrilled with him when he notified me that the car needed gas—which meant an even later arrival. I surrendered my pride and said: “Matt, I need to ask for forgiveness.”

“For what?” he asked. “For the negative thoughts that have been exploding in my head all morning long. Will you forgive me?”

“Yes, I forgive you.”

Then he proceeded to ask forgiveness for his selfishness.

If I hadn’t asked for forgiveness, our entire weekend might have been spent arguing and growing distant from one another. The foundation of our marriage coaching process is built on forgiveness—stating what we are sorry for and saying the words, “Will you forgive me?”

As one another’s authentic helpmate, we are saying, “Will you help me when I am weak? Will you help me be a better husband/father or wife/mother?”

Unfortunately, with a lot of the couples we meet, their hearts are so hardened, they come in pointing the finger at their spouse, never taking a look at themselves and how they have contributed to the disagreements. Some couples carry around resentment and hurt and pain for years.

The important piece is to take an interior look and ask ourselves: “How did I contribute to that argument? Could I have spoken in a more charitable manner? Was I stuffing my feelings, not sharing my heart?” (“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” Mt 7:3)

God, give me the grace to ask for forgiveness so that I can grant my spouse forgiveness.

Pope Francis says it well, “The perfect family doesn’t exist, nor is there a perfect husband or a perfect wife, and let’s not talk about the perfect mother-in-law! It’s just us sinners. If we learn to say we’re sorry and ask forgiveness, the marriage will last.”

You want your marriage to last? Go seek forgiveness from your spouse and grant them forgiveness as well.

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.