I used to think that happy couples didn’t have to work on their marriages. True love is free and easy, right?
The happiest of couples are those who make their marriage a priority and are committed to improving their relationship, in big and small ways, day in and day out. A happy marriage takes work. Lots of work. And a healthy dose of sacrifice too.
Pope Francis recently tweeted:
“How to live a good marriage? United to the Lord, who always renews our love and strengthens it to overcome every difficulty.”
That sounds very nice, but how exactly are we to unite ourselves and our marriages to the Lord? Well, Lent is all about uniting ourselves to the Lord, growing closer to Christ, and, in some small ways, sharing in our Lord’s redemptive suffering. Why not make a commitment to unite yourself to the Lord by making some changes and small sacrifices to improve your marriage this Lent? Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Give up negativity.
Do you whine and complain to your spouse? Do you criticize and judge too harshly and too quickly? It’s okay to admit. Many of us do become comfortable in long-term, committed relationships and fall into the easy habit of venting regular negativity to our spouse. Some of this kind of venting can be a normal part of a healthy relationship, but negative words and attitudes tend to feed, grow, spiral downward, and rob you of joy.
For Lent, resolve: I will avoid making negative comments and observations to my spouse. I will seek out positive things to say and foster encouraging conversations we can enjoy together.
2. Be active together.
What do you and your spouse do after the kids have gone to bed or whenever you have downtime together? Do you silently stare at a flickering television screen? Do you retreat to separate corners of the house, each pursuing your own activities?
There is nothing inherently wrong with television or independent projects, but Lent offers a unique opportunity to replace these things with shared activity that will feed your marriage and nurture your relationship.
Shared goals and common activities bring you closer and foster a cooperative spirit in your marriage. Think of something the two of you can actively participate in together. You might exercise together—taking a daily walk is an easy way to connect and engage. You might play board games, plan a summer garden, tackle a home improvement project, or take a class together. The key is to find something you will both enjoy doing together.
For Lent, resolve: I will replace some of our daily passivity and separation with an activity my spouse and I both enjoy. I will commit to spending regular time together, focused on common goals, and enjoying one another’s company.
3. Do more than your share.
Do you nitpick and keep track of who does what around the house and how often? Do you feel like you are the only one who ever changes the toilet paper roll/empties the dishwasher/takes out the trash/fill in this blank with your own pet peeve?
When you share living space with another grown up, it’s only human to feel unappreciated on occasion and get annoyed with what sometimes feels like an unfair division of household chores. But this Lent offers a challenge for you to be better than that. Stop nitpicking. Stop keeping score. Cheerfully aim to do “more than your share” of household tasks and daily drudgery. Looking for small ways to do “more than your share” is a small sacrifice you can offer up as a Lenten sacrifice, but also a practical means of letting go of the pettiness, selfishness, and bitterness that threaten to poison your married relationship.
For Lent, resolve: I will stop keeping track of my spouse’s daily contributions to household chores. Instead, I will look for ways to do extra work myself and take on tasks that are “not my job” with a spirit of cheerful generosity and out of love for our Lord.
4. Pay more compliments.
Can you think of a time when someone said something critical of you and it cut you to the core? Can you think of a time when someone complimented you and you felt over the moon? Words have real power and are an important tool we can use build up those we love … or tear them down.
Lent presents a challenge for you to use the positive marriage-building power of words. Find something complimentary to say to your spouse every day. Is she worried about her aging appearance? What can you say to make her know just how beautiful you think she is? Is he stressed about work? What words can you say to let him know how much you notice and appreciate his dedication and hard work on behalf of your family?
For Lent, resolve: I will pay my spouse a sincere and specific compliment at least once every day. I will look for ways to affirm my spouse as a parent, as a friend, as a worker, and as the most important person in my life.
5. Pray together.
Some couples avoid praying together because it makes them feel awkward or embarrassed. Others see it as too much of a time commitment. But there is no better way to unite yourself and your marriage to the Lord than by putting yourselves in his presence, together.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. You might like to pray extemporaneously together, but if that’s not your style, simply praying a Hail Mary together before going to sleep at night, or praying the Angelus in the morning can be beautiful ways to unite your hearts in prayer. You might also try reading scripture together. Choose a Psalm or a Gospel passage to read aloud and then share what is on your hearts with each other and with God. Just this one small practice can help you not only grow closer to God, but it can help you get to know your spouse on a whole new—spiritual—level. Shared spirituality is an intimacy every couple deserves to experience.
For Lent, resolve: I will set aside time to pray with my spouse every day. I will overcome any personal reluctance I might have and commit to praying with and for my spouse on a daily basis.
6. Soak up the sacraments.
We Catholics have such a great gift in the sacraments! Because he loves us, Jesus gave us the sacraments as a means of attaining the grace we need to do God’s will every day. The sacraments feed our souls, heal us, and fill us with God’s own life.
This all sounds wonderful, but how often do we take the sacraments for granted? Do we remember that our marriages themselves are a sacrament and ask God to give us the graces we need to grow in love together? Do we receive the Eucharist unthinkingly and avoid confession?
This Lent, challenge yourself to find new ways to partake in the sacraments with your spouse. You might make time for a weekly Holy Hour together, attend an extra Mass per week, or have a “confession” date followed by dinner out. Find a way to put yourself and your spouse in God’s presence more often, and you will find yourselves growing closer to one another as you grow in love for God.
For Lent, resolve: I will find new ways to receive and appreciate the sacraments with my spouse. I will pray daily for the sacramental grace from our marriage and look for more opportunities to receive the Eucharist and sacrament of Penance together.
7. Speak healing words.
Pope Francis recently encouraged engaged couples to use the healing words “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry.”
These are everyday words we often use with others, but sometimes neglect to use enough with those we love most. Lent offers us an opportunity to think about the healing power of everyday words and use them to build our marriages and communicate love, appreciation, and humility to our spouses.
Use the word “please” to soften the everyday demands of life and the ongoing requests we all make of each other in marriage. Think of some thankless task your spouse does for you on a regular basis (making dinner? emptying the trash? doing laundry? going to work? cleaning the gutters?) and look for a way to say “thank you” for their gift of service. Be quick to notice even small offenses you may be guilty of in your relationship, and offer a genuine apology for them. We all long to hear healing words, and yet sometimes fall into the bad habit of neglecting to say them or thinking our spouse “knows that already.”
For Lent, resolve: I will use healing words (please, thank you, I’m sorry, and I love you) every day. I will look for new opportunities to love, appreciate, thank, heal, and build up my spouse through small words and phrases.
Pope Francis reminds us that, like the wedding at Cana, our marriages are meant to be a celebration of love. By making some small changes, sacrifices, and commitments to improve your marriage this Lent, you and your spouse can enjoy a celebration of love that will reward you with a stronger, happier, more satisfying, and Christ-centered marriage for Easter.