Keeping God at the center of a couple’s marriage is a tip agreed on by local Catholic marriage experts. In honor of National Marriage Week Feb. 7-14, Today’s Catholic asked local clergy and family life leaders for more ideas to strengthen and add vibrancy to the sacramental union.
Father Polycarp Fernando, parochial vicar at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Wayne, said a happy marriage starts before the wedding ceremony.
“People getting married need to have an understanding of what marriage is,” he said. “Many think it’s a romantic thing.”
But Father Fernando said it starts with Jesus’ response to the disciples regarding divorce. He said once married, a couple is “no longer two, but one flesh and what God has joined together no man should separate.”
He said marriage is not like a job or a career. Those things can be changed. “Marriage is a total union for life — the coming life and now.”
The sacrament of marriage as covenant is so important that many things — the potential challenges as well as the joys — should be considered during courtship so that the marriage can be lived to its fullest and the couple completes one another.
“The danger time of courtship is that the couple see each other at their best. Money is not yet a problem and there are no children, so it’s like a rose garden. During marriage they see each other not at their best.”
To give their marriage a good chance of success he advises long acquaintanceships. This way, the couple really gets to know each other.
“Know your partner well — their family background, values, how they handle money. All are important,” he said.
He shared that during marriage preparation classes he asks the couple, “Why do you love him or her?” He likes all of the answers he receives, he said, because they all reveal knowledge of who the person is.
“God loves us not because we’re good or bad. He loves us unconditionally. We also have to love God back. All Christian marriages are between three parties: husband, wife and God. God calls us to married life so, He must be in the center.”
To keep marriages strong Father Fernando recommends remembering and pondering the Scriptures chosen for the marriage ceremony. Also, couples must find time and learn to pray together and with children when they come.
“More than just Sunday Mass — praying together at home is a must.”
He added that while mixed-faith marriages can be successful, it’s an easier path when both members share the same religion. When that’s not the case, respecting one another’s faith is best.
Prioritize a relationship with the Eucharist
Deacon Dave Elchert, St. John the Evangelist, Goshen, has been married for 58 years to his spouse, Donna. “First and foremost and most importantly, stay close to Christ and the Eucharist,” was his advice for an enduring marriage.
Secondly, being considerate of one another and anticipating and filling the desires of your spouse goes a long way. Get to know your spouse inside and out, he recommended.
Being generous with the Church — time, talent and treasure — goes a long way as well.
“The more you share with others, the happier you are with those around you. When you give, especially when you give to God, you can’t outdo Him. He’ll always pay you back greater.”
Deacon Elchert said it pays to stay affectionate. Hug, hold hands and kiss a lot. “You raise your children by teaching them to love God by setting the example.”
“Keep Christ in the center of your marriage and family and realize you need the help of the Holy Spirit to guide your marriage,” he added. “Pray and talk to Him every day. Pray daily and to the extent you can, pray together as a couple.”
Deacon Elchert said the overriding reason for he and Donna’s marital success is that they truly love each other.
“That starts in courtship. Look for a person you think will be a good wife and mother. If you have marriage in your heart, get serious about your mate.” It’s not enough that “they’re cute or make you laugh,” he warned.
He also advises couples should “keep the faith.”
“Don’t give up when times are tough. Keep the faith and pray.”
Tools and exercises
Deacon Frederick Everett, secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship, and his wife, Lisa, director for Marriage and Family Ministry, have been married more than 34 years.
Lisa said there are four things to keep in mind so that communication with one’s spouse is clear. They’re also the four things Pope Francis talks about as ways to speak to God, and they encourage intentionality in communication.
1. Give him or her praise and be specific and sincere.
2. Express gratitude and give thanks. It’s easy to start to take a spouse for granted.
3. Ask for forgiveness for the things you’ve done and for the missed opportunities, the things you failed to do.
4. Ask for what you need. Don’t assume your spouse can read your mind or should know by now. Honestly and charitably ask for what you need; your spouse may not be aware of it.
Deacon Frederick said one of the benefits of these four suggestions is that they get couples out of the mindset of thinking negatively about their spouse. Instead, they’re actively looking for opportunities to thank and praise the other person.
He also said he and Lisa have found it helpful when couples determine and understand the five love languages, from the book by therapist Gary Chapman.
“Sometimes we make a mistake thinking that something that is meaningful for me is also meaningful for another person,” Deacon Frederick said.
Based on his years of notes of couples misunderstanding how love is expressed, Chapman classifies five areas he calls the “love languages”:
1. Words of affirmation
2. Acts of service and kindness
3. Quality time spent together
4. Giving gifts — which don’t have to be huge or expensive
5. Physical touch — including sexuality but also hand-holding, hugs, acts of affection.
The deacon mentioned a colleague whose husband wanted to take her out to celebrate their anniversary; but a better gift for her was acts of service, and she wanted him to clean out the garage. So, he did that for her and then they went out dancing for him.
“Learning those different ways to meet the expectations of the other is important,” he said.
Lisa suggested couples take the free, 10-minute profile online. They can score the profile and exchange results with their spouse to start an interesting conversation.
“It can be a game changer,” she said. “We were raised with the Golden Rule — do unto others as you’d have them do unto you — but if you approach marriage that way you could be missing the mark.”
Resources to explore further:
Find out primary and secondary love languages at
The next opportunity to participate in The Marriage Course online is in April.
For couples who are seriously struggling, the next Retrouvaille weekend will be a virtual weekend via Zoom March 4-7. Go to www.helpourmarriage.org or call coordinators Jerry and MaryKaye Wells at 317-748-6520.
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