My husband Manuel P. Santos M.D. and I had an awesome time last weekend giving a presentation to around 40 couples in the Archdiocese of Newark on how to live God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage. This great pre-Cana program covers the topics of sacramentality and sexuality, and it’s chock full of quotes from Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and his book Love and Responsibility. I gave the talk on the Wedding at Cana (one of my favorite Bible stories), and Manny gave the talk on the Church’s definition of marriage, annulments and impediments to marriage.
As is true in any large group, there was a wide range of knowledge and interest. Not everyone had heard the story of the Wedding at Cana, and some people were more familiar with the fictitious marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalen than the mystical marriage between Jesus and the Church. It was truly a privilege to be the first ones to introduce some of these people to the beautiful theology of Catholic marriage.
The Joy-Filled Marriage program is given several times a year, and attendees are always given the opportunity to place anonymous questions in a question box. Here are some of the most common issues and our top tips for dealing with them.
1. The “Inter-Faith” Question
My fiance and are are of different faiths. What problems might we encounter, and how do we have a successful inter-faith marriage?
- The biggest problems that many inter-faith couples face are celebrating holidays and passing their faith on to their children.
- Religious holidays can be celebrated at home as well as in church (or at temple). Customize your at-home celebrations to reflect aspects of both faith traditions.
- When couples get married in the Church, the Catholic spouse needs to promise to raise the children in the Catholic faith. Discuss before the wedding how that promise affects church attendance, school attendance, and participation in religious milestones like First Communion or Confirmation. Don’t sweep the issue under the rug.
2. The “Communication” Question
What are the best ways to improve our communication?
- Don’t roll your eyes or slam doors.
- If you can’t talk about it calmly, write it down instead.
- Never let the sun go down on your anger. Give your spouse a hug or kiss of forgiveness before bedtime, and tomorrow begin again!
3. The “First Year” Question
What was the toughest part of the first year of marriage?
- Sometimes couples with the best relationships encounter severe crises in the first year (we faced fears of infertility, death of a close family member, and the diagnosis of Manny’s first brain tumor). Don’t let it get you down.
- Friends might complain that you spend less time with them than before. Make it clear that your top priority is your spouse.
- You might be tempted to spend less time at work. Give in!
4. The “Sexual Frustration” Question
If we choose to save sex for marriage, how do we deal with the unmet physical desire?
- Amp up the romance. Channel the frustration into loving, non-physical demonstrations of affection.
- Stay far away from temptation — don’t play with fire!
- If you give in, go to confession. If you give in again, go to confession again.
5. The “In-Law” Question
My fiance has family that get into our personal business and I feel like they influence him/her more than I do sometimes. Am I wrong to be upset? What can be done?
- Let your fiance know how much this bothers you. Agree to set firm but loving boundaries between you and both of your families.
- You and your fiance can listen respectfully and thank family members for their advice, while making it clear that the final decision is between the two of you as a couple.
- Realize that what your in-laws really want in most cases is for you and your fiance to be happy.
Does your diocese use God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage? If you work in marriage ministry or adult faith formation, what are the most common questions you hear? Please let me know in the comments.