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Archives Called to Marriage
Can love really last a lifetime?

March 27, 2019

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Contributing Writer

“Almost every newly married couple has two things in common,” says marriage and family therapist/author/speaker Dr. Gregory Popcak. “First, they are deeply in love and excited about the lives they are building together…But second, underneath the love, joy, and hope, almost every newly married couple is also a little terrified: ‘Do we have what it takes to make it to ‘happily ever after’?”

Yes, absolutely yes, Dr. Popcak assures us. “God wants great things for your marriage! He wants to fill that ache in your heart for love that lasts. He wants you to have an intimate and passionate marriage, and he wants to use your marriage to change the world. And you don’t have to be perfect. Anyone willing to do the necessary work and cooperate with God’s grace can have a wonderful marriage!”

That belief is based on decades of experience, which have affirmed for this therapist that, while it is very different from most contemporary ideas about marriage, God’s way really does work. “Catholic marriage doesn’t let you define the terms of your relationship. This is not because the Church wants to control you, but because the Catholic vision of marriage is that it is a discipleship relationship. As disciples, we say to the Church: ‘Teach me to love this person. Teach me to take the feelings I have for this person and apply them in a way that glorifies God and helps us to become everything we were created to be’.”

In Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage, Dr. Popcak and his wife Lisa walk newlyweds through the steps that lead to lasting happiness. It is necessary, they say, “to have an unwavering commitment to four things that will help you and your spouse to become ‘marriage masters’.” The first commitment is to individual and couple prayer. “You need to be absolutely committed to your prayer life and be willing to let God teach you to love each other with his love. Your human love will simply dry up on some days...on those days when you feel your own ability to love running dry, you need something to lean on to jump-start your heart and start loving each other again. Your own experience of God’s love via an active prayer life is the most reliable way to restart your loving actions.”

And couples are never alone: God wishes to be a true partner in every marriage. The authors call attention to Ecclesiastes 4,12: “Where a lone man can be easily overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not easily broken.” In other words, they write, “ You might not have the strength to create a great marriage on your own, but if both of you are committed to leaning on God (the third braid in the three-ply cord of Christian marriage), you will be unbreakable no matter what weight life asks you to carry.” In addition to individual prayer, the authors point out the importance of establishing habits of couple prayer time, faithful Mass attendance and regular confession. These practices provide the grace needed to love one another “as you confront each other’s weaknesses head-on.”

The second step in building a lasting marriage is the commitment to nurture your love, since “loving feelings follow loving actions.” Married love does not just happen but requires constant attention and effort. The couple note that they were blessed to know this early on. “Even when we were tired, stressed, or scared, we worked hard to remember to make that call to say, ‘I love you,’ to say that prayer together, to do that dreaded chore for the other, to give that thoughtful or silly gift that would bring a smile to the other’s face, to write that note that said we couldn’t stop thinking about each other….and a million other little things that made our marriage a safe shelter from the storm.”

The third foundational commitment for lasting marriage may sound odd: even more important than the commitment to each other is a firm commitment to your vows. Research from the Relationship Institute at UCLA reinforces this point: couples who make an additional commitment to the relationship itself are much more likely to be happy and to stay married. The Popcaks further note: “Even when staying committed to your marriage doesn’t make emotional sense, your long-term success, not to mention your personal integrity, depends on your ability to keep the marital promises you made to God and yourself even when you feel as if your spouse doesn’t deserve your commitment…[one couple] when asked how they stayed together for 65 years, replied, ‘We come from a time where if something is broken, you fix it, not throw it away’.”

The fourth essential commitment speaks to this very point: the firm intention to “learn new skills when new challenges come, instead of giving into a tendency to blame your marriage or spouse for being ‘broken’.”

Whatever their backgrounds, the Popcaks point out, no newly married couple knows what they are doing when it comes to marriage. “When you hit hard times and begin feeling the urge to turn against each other, you must remember that it is not because your marriage is flawed. It is simply that you don’t know what you are doing, and you need new skills. We want you to remember four little words that will help you get through these times: NEVER BLAME YOUR MARRIAGE. Marriages do not have lives of their own, but only the life a husband and wife give it. If your marriage is dying on the vine, it isn’t because it is broken. It is simply that you don’t currently have the skills to nurture it under the pressures you are currently facing. Get those skills! Read good books; go on a marriage retreat; join a support group! Marriages fail when couples are too prideful to admit that they need to acquire new skills.” Acquiring those skills can help you succeed!


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