8 Ways to Build Unity in Marriage

8 Ways to Build Unity in Marriage

Summer happens to be anniversary season in our family. We just celebrated my parents’ 34th wedding anniversary last Friday and my husband’s and mine on Saturday, plus other anniversaries take place later this summer. I asked my parents about their thoughts on what helps one have a lasting marriage, and from the fruits of that discussion, I have been thinking a lot about the elements that make up a good and happy marriage.

One summer, when my husband and I were dating, he spent break walking with the Crossroads Pro-Life walk from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. and I took summer courses in philosophy. We both read A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, which left a deep impression on us. We admired the goals of Sheldon and his wife, Davy, to preserve their “inloveness” through the many years of their relationship, which they began planning from the very beginning. Inspired by them, Mark and I sought to create a similar foundation, in which we had shared interests, activities, and most of all our shared faith. We did not just share our faith. We went to Mass, adoration, and prayed from the office together daily. We did homework together, and made meals together. The only things we really did not do together were some of our classes and I lived in a house full of women while he lived in a house full of men. Our common activities transitioned easily into our marriage. Since we have had children, and he has been the one working and I have been the homemaker, we have had to work to keep the unity in our marriage.

It has been an evolving time for us, going from no children to three in six years, living in two different states and four different homes, and the shift from graduate student living to employed professor living. Yet, certain things have been key to maintaining our unity and togetherness, and we found that when we failed to do them, instead of growing closer and more loving, we become more separate and bicker more frequently. Besides the obvious physical aspect of unity, these are the things we have found to be essential:

1) Daily prayer together. We always say at least one prayer together for our children, but most days we also take quiet prayer time together. Gone are the days when we can head on over to adoration together (cough, cough, three small children), but we can pray at home. When we pray together, we remember that the final end of our lives and marriage is unity with God, and that should be our focus day to day.

2) Regular Confession on the same day. During different points in our marriage this has become complicated, but usually on Saturdays we have been able to find a time that we can both go. Lately, we all get in line as a family. What is nice about going on the same day is that we discuss with each other when we had arguments and how intense they were. Doing so, we are creating a space for forgiveness again and letting go of any lasting resentment. We are acknowledging that we are not perfect and that we need God.

3) Going to Mass together on Sundays and during the week. Once again, we are putting God first in our lives. When we make it a priority to go to Mass together, we are helping each other be open to grace, hear scripture, and receive God into our very beings. If you and your spouse just consumed Jesus together, you are doubly unified as a married couple and in the Body of Christ.

4) Family/Couple Meals together. My husband and I, on the mornings we wake up for Mass together, eat breakfast together, alone. We wake up before the kids, get dressed, eat breakfast, and drink our hot coffee in our breakfast nook over our breviaries (because it is okay to pray while eating, right?). Also, we have family dinner every night (unless my husband is at the occasional professorial dinner thing).

5) Recreation time together. During this season of our life, most of our recreation is done either out with the whole family or as a couple after bedtime. Sometimes our recreation happens when my husband is available to help me put together dinner, and then we work side by side in the kitchen, excited by whatever meal we are cooking. In the evenings we normally read, write our separate articles, or watch shows or movies. (We had a lot of discussion early in our marriage about whether or not watching movies and shows should be a regular part of our recreation, and decided that if we are going to watch, it is going to be purposeful. We choose in advance what we will watch, and get most of our movies from the library so that we do not just watch some random movie that happens to be available online.)

6) Family fun times. Since our older children are actually talking, sometimes reasonable people, we have been adding more family fun times lately. Sundays are set aside for walks in beautiful places when it is nice and games when it is gloomy or freezing. Often we do both! We fit in fun times with our kids whenever we can during the week as well. When we enjoy our children together, we are building our relationship.

7) Talk about what you need and anticipate your spouses needs. Sometimes your spouse is not having his/her needs met. I know several couples, where the husband is very introverted, and needs to spend time by himself unwinding everyday. My husband is more extroverted, so when he is not working, he likes to talk and discuss things. I do best when I get time alone to exercise, without having to worry about the children. When spouses understand what helps each other thrive, they can have a more unified relationship.

8) Understand each others’ temperaments and personality. There is a great book on temperaments written by Catholics called The Temperament God Gave You and another called The Temperament God Gave your Spouse. If you and your spouse have trouble understanding each others’ personality traits, this is a great place to get an understanding of yourself and your spouse, so that you can help each other grow in virtue and be more understanding.

There are plenty of other ways to build unity in marriage that I have not mentioned here. When a married couple works to preserve their unity, they are united when they face life’s challenges. Those very challenges, when faced together in Christ, are the very foundation for even greater unity. They will have built their marriage on rock and not sand, and their marriage will stand strong:

“Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

 And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”

-Matthew 7:24-27

3 Comments

  1. It seems to me that I am the only half of a whole who is seeing a unified marriage in Christ. My husband, as good and kind as he is and as good as his intentions are, has left all the efforts of so many things in my hands and takes no part in them. It was not this way when we were budding our relationship in preparation for marriage, and it has been the greatest heartache of my life. Things which fall completely to my lot are:
    - making sure the whole family goes to Mass (if I don’t get up and ready for Mass and we miss, he will sleep in and hang around the house all day not even mentioning Mass)

    - while I ask sometimes if he wants to join me for my holy half-hour in the morning, he ignores the request

    - financial responsibility and planning

    - time responsibility

    - he has not asked me out on a date since we were married nearly 5 years ago, but I may say, “would you like to get a babysitter and go eat out with me on Friday?” if we haven’t been away from our children in several months

    I am so heartbroken, and hurting, and when I have brought this up with him he just said, “This is married life, it’s just the way it is.” As a Catholic marriage and family scholar, my hopes and expectations of my spouse have made me fully realize that only Christ fulfills. But I still more than anything in this world, next to the salvation of my family and looking forward to heaven myself, desire a unified team marriage. My husband goes to work, comes home, helps put the kids to bed, then sits on the computer until midnight every night, and oh does it hurt that the beautiful joy of the vocation of marriage is for someone else, and not for us.

    • In the first sentence, I meant seeking, not seeing.

      • Jennifer, I am so sorry to hear this about your marriage. Marriage is hard with both spouses working together to make it better, and I imagine it is so much harder when you feel like you are the only one. I know you already know this, but I hope that you are praying for him and your marriage and giving it to God. I pray that you have the graces of perseverance, long suffering, and wisdom to know how to engage your husband in uniting your marriage. The feast of Blesseds Louis and Zelie Martin (parents of St. Therese of Lisuex) is on July 12. They had a very holy and beautiful marriage; maybe a novena to them would be a good way to pray for your marriage?

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