5 keys of a holy, happy and healthy marriage

Categories: Around the Diocese

Unlocking the power of the sacrament

February 14, 2014, edition
By Jim and Maureen Otremba
For The Visitor

Think of it as a Valentine you and your spouse give each other.

No, it’s not chocolate or flowers, or even dinner at a fancy restaurant.


Jim and Maureen Otremba

We will be so bold as to claim, however, that its effect will be much longer lasting and, in the end, more beneficial for your marriage.

So what is this Valentine?

It’s a set of five “keys” to a happy, holy and healthy marriage. Based on a national survey of 50,000 couples and contained in the book “The Couple Checkup: Find Your Relationship Strengths” by David H. Olson, Amy Olson-Sigg, and Peter J. Larson, these keys can be inserted into our Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage.

We shared these keys with 64 couples last weekend at St. Michael Parish in St. Cloud at the diocesan marriage enrichment workshop. Here’s a look at what we offered:

Key #1: Communication

Reflecting on John’s Gospel, where we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), we can appreciate the priority God places on communicating his love to us in the person of Jesus.

For married couples, true and loving communication is lived prayer. It requires commitment, patience and humor. But good communication, even 20 minutes of talk time each day, can mean the difference between a healthy marriage and one that is headed for divorce.

Good communication skills are based upon attentive and compassionate listening, validating your spouse’s words and feelings and avoiding the urge to fix. It also helps if you recognize that men’s and women’s brains are wired differently, with varying capacities for memory (women generally have more vivid memories than men do).

Key #2: Conflict Redemption

Whereas “The Couple Checkup” names conflict resolution as one of the traits of healthy marriages, we prefer to speak of “conflict redemption.” All couples experience conflict at one time or another. The goal is not only to resolve the conflict, but also to allow God to bring new life through it.

Central to this notion of conflict redemption is the way in which couples engage in the process. We encourage couples to “make the problem the problem; don’t make the spouse the problem.” In other words, identify the problem and face it together, instead of facing one another in opposition.

Other practices that cultivate conflict redemption are to disagree with grace (that is, respect), understand that you and your spouse may have been taught differently how to deal with conflict, use “adult time outs” to cool off so you can maintain a logical and charitable approach, and enlist outside help, in the person of a pastor, counselor or coach, when you need it.

When approached using these practices, conflict can be a source of new understanding and growth in your marriage. We trust that “all things work for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The marriage vows contain the compelling promise, “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” This commitment to “throw in your lot” with your spouse for the long haul requires determination but also flexibility. We see them as two sides of the same coin.

Key #3: Commitment and Flexibility

Commitment involves a fundamental stance of loyalty to one’s spouse. We should speak well of our husband or wife to others, considering carefully what details we share. The primary concern should be to represent our spouses in the best possible light and to reserve primacy of place in our lives for each other.

Flexibility enhances commitment by opening the door to continual growth. We see flexibility as the willingness to learn new things about each other, to try new ways of doing things, and to recognize that neither spouse has all the answers.

Resources like “StrengthsFinder 2.0” by Tom Rath and “Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate” by Gary Chapman invite couples to discover differences in themselves and their spouse and so to grow in appreciation of God’s creative design.

Key #4: Friendship/Couple Closeness

When we consider how our culture uses the word “friend,” it becomes apparent that the word has undergone a sea change in meaning. Where once a friend was a person you spent quality time with, now the word has become a verb to denote connecting with someone on Facebook (as in, “to friend” or even “un-friend” someone).

For spouses, spending quality time in person is critical to healthy marriage. Our friendship and closeness relies on real presence, being truly attentive to and unhurried with each other.

Key #5: Prayer

In the marriage workshops we give, one of our favorite lines is, “The Eucharist is weekly marriage enrichment.” Jesus’ promise that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst,” means that prayer fosters a Christ-centered marriage.

So there’s the Valentine you can share with your spouse: a set of keys to unlock the joy and holiness of your marriage. Just be sure to hang them in a visible place, so you’ll be able to use the keys when you need them!

Contact Jim Otremba at the Center for Family Counseling in St. Cloud by calling 320-253-3540 or visit his website at www.coachinginchrist.com.