An examination of conscience for spouses

By Dr. Jim Langley

Dr. Jim Langley is a licensed clinical psychologist and the director of St. Raphael Counseling under Catholic Charities of Denver. Visit straphaelcounseling.com.

For many of us, marriage is the messy battleground where holiness must be forged, broken, and then re-forged again. But because it takes place amid the daily grind of doing dishes, picking up kids from school, and remembering that we said we’d give our spouse a back-rub Wednesday night, it is easy to forget that an epic war for your soul (and your spouse’s) takes place each and every day during the mundane moments of life.

One practice that I train the couples I work with to do is a spousal examination of conscience (and to be clear, this means that you explore your conscience, not your spouse’s!). When you think about why things are going wrong in your relationship, it is easy to blame the other person, but years of marriage will teach you that if there is anything in life you don’t have control over, it is your spouse. When we try to control things that we can’t, we end up feeling frustrated and helpless.

A good question to ask yourself in marriage is: “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?” The spouse who wants to be right is convinced that he is the “better one” in the relationship. The spouse who wants to be happy places his spouse and the marriage as a whole above his own personal pride. If you focus on controlling yourself rather than others, and if you would be joyful rather than right, you are beginning to live out a covenantal marriage. If you take this practice up, real changes will begin to happen because you are being more intentional about improving your own weaknesses with the help of God’s grace and insight from the Holy Spirit. And who knows, you may even be right … once in a while!

Reflect on these points during Lent and see just how things can improve when you focus on fixing yourself, and not your spouse.

  1. Did I make my spouse the highest priority in my life after God today? How so? How can I improve upon this tomorrow?
  2. Was I forgiving of my husband/wife, or did I harbor resentment towards his or her shortcomings? Did I make my home more like a confessional or a courthouse today? When my spouse made a mistake or was imperfect did I quickly and joyfully offer forgiveness?
  3. When I fell short today, even in small matters, did I seek forgiveness from my spouse?
  4. Did I work hard today to show my spouse just how much God loves him/her? How so?
  5. Did I truly listen to my spouse today? Did I take the time to communicate clearly and openly?
  6. When things went wrong, did I focus on how I contributed to the problem, or on how my spouse “messed up?”
  7. Did I serve my spouse today in both big and small ways?
  8. Have I prayed for my spouse today? Have I prayed with him/her today?
  9. Did I prefer to be “right” today, or did I prefer to be “happy?”
  10. Have I given my spouse the benefit of the doubt today, trusting that he/she also wants to have the best marriage possible?
  11. Did I treat my spouse like my best friend today, or simply as a partner or roommate?
  12. How have I fallen short in helping him/her get to heaven?

COMING UP: From the wilderness to the Promised Land: Learn your faith in the SJV Lay Division

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One of the famous episodes in the Old Testament is the wandering of Israel in the wilderness. The descendants of Abraham, whom God promised land to come to his descendants, wander for 40 years before they enter that land. A time of great miracles, to be certain – the manna in the wilderness, the rock that gushed forth water. But also a time of hardship and death – many battles that were lost, plagues that come up on the people. All of which is why the wilderness is associated with a time of great testing in the Scriptures.

We may seem like we are in our own wilderness today, aimlessly wandering without a sense of where life is going. Know that we, too, at the Lay Division of the Seminary, particularly our Biblical and Catechetical School instructors, intimately felt this great testing this past academic year. For the first time ever, we had classes online, by sheer force of circumstance in a world of coronavirus restrictions. In many ways, we felt our own desert wondering – unable to see students in person, unable to have normal interactions with students, lecturing to a little dot on a computer screen, seeing black screens with everybody muted, with no idea if students were smiling, laughing, crying, sleeping, or whatever else may be! This was, in many respects, wandering in the wilderness institutionally. Thankfully, the one thing that we can say for certain is that all of our lives fall under God’s infinitely wise, lovingly providential hand. It’s not merely cliché to say that God will bring good out of evil, but a true statement. And so we trust. God knows, and God takes care of all those who are faithful. And God works all things for good for those who trust in Him.

This upcoming academic year will be the start of a slow reintegration of our classes into parishes. However, we will still keep an online presence, with half of our classes returning to in-person locations throughout the Archdiocese of Denver and half remaining online. Certainly one of the positives about teaching classes online, and perhaps the good that God will bring for us institutionally out of our wilderness of this past year, is that it allows for expansion to reach potential students who otherwise aren’t capable of attending our in-person classes. Given that, taking a class with us will never be easier! It doesn’t matter what part of Colorado you live in — you can take a class online with us!

If you’ve never heard of who we are, then let me briefly introduce our institution: we are the Lay Division at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary for the Archdiocese of Denver. This makes our seminary unique: not just the formation of future clerics, but also a division dedicated to the formation of the laity. Our mission is to put people in contact and communion with Jesus, who alone leads us to the heart of the Father in the Spirit. We do this through various offerings which study God’s call to each and every person to have a personal relationship with him in the Church that he established with the Precious Blood of Jesus. Our two flagship programs are the Denver Catholic Biblical School, a four year study of the Sacred Scriptures, and the Denver Catholic Catechetical School, a two year study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We also offer various other programs of study – year long “Enrichment Courses” in different topics of the faith, short courses throughout the year, lecture series throughout the liturgical seasons, and day-long workshops. Wherever you’re at in your faith, we have something for everybody!

Classes for this upcoming year begin on Monday, Sept. 13. Visit sjvlaydivision.org to see all of the options for classes, locations/online times, information sessions, and to register. Make the choice to study with us to learn your faith and come to know and love Jesus Christ!