by Fr. Peter deSousa
A very practical way of sustaining a healthy, intimate relationship in marriage is be protective of your marriage and family. Give your spouse priority over all other people and let your children be your next most important priority and responsibility. This is not through selfishness or a lack of concern for others. It is God's plan that husband and wife are united in love, so that you may be his witnesses to your children and to the world. Your children need your love, your presence, your example and guidance. A parent does not merely conceive or give birth to a child. Parenting is on-going. Teenage children also need parenting, even though they may appear grown up and sophisticated. Interdependence is healthy.
We need to learn to say "No" to our job, friends, promotions, monetary benefits and individual satisfactions in order to say "Yes" to our spouse or children at times. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to discern what God wants you to choose.
We live in a world of individualism. Many marriages appear to be marriages of convenience. Each one uses the other for certain services and to fulfil his/her needs. After the novelty of marriage wears thin, most people take each other for granted. When was the last time you noticed something special in your spouse? When did you last express thanks, encouragement, or appreciation for the many little services he/she extends to you?
One has to make the time, both to share your thoughts and feelings and to listen to each other with your heart. Work is necessary but how does one prioritise the many types of work and service you render each other? No doubt you work hard to support and provide for your family. But it is also necessary to show affection and interest in the other person's work and concerns. It is so easy to become strangers to one another when you rarely or never allow the other to enter into your world and accompany you, where you are.
Everyone needs a friend and confidante and if you are not available to your spouse and children, there are others who will fill in the gap.
Gradually you are side lined and become a mere outsider with visiting rights. A spouse and parent can help you more than anyone else, if you build up and maintain an open, trusting and loving relationship with one another.
Today we hear a lot about the importance of space in family relationships. Spouses and children sometimes need time and space to be alone. Give them the freedom to be quiet and think things out of to deal with life's problems. But do not shut out your loved ones and isolate yourself for long, either. While it is good to share openly with an intimate, such sharing can never be forced.
Confidence should be maintained when a spouse or child shares something personal with you. He or she is entrusting you with a part of self, in an act of trust. Be trustworthy. Wait until the other is ready to share. Listen with your heart to the person rather than to the problem. Show them through your listening that they are important to you and that you are with them.
After all that is why God has given you to each other. He is our Emmanuel. He is our God-with-us. You are his hands and voice to each other, through which he accompanies us in our journey. But allow the other the freedom to share as and when they want.
I spoke of giving priority to your family. But this does not mean that your life should be solely centred on your family. All of us need also to reach out to share our love with others, especially with those in need. When Prince Charles and Diana married, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his homily spoke about the importance of letting their love be directed outside of their own little world. Nothing grows in the Dead Sea because there is no outlet and the waters stagnate. The same can be true of a love that is not fruitful in enriching the lives of others.
So what is best for your relationship as a couple and a family and reaching out to share with others are both important. Ask God's spirit to guide you in finding this balance.
When you open your life to God's Word and the Holy Spirit, you will find the right balance. Giving your family priority and reaching out to others, have to be balanced. God gives us the freedom to choose, to love, to use or abuse the gifts he gives us. He is a patient God who is never finished with us. He always waits with outstretched arms to embrace us when we decide to return to him. We are the apple of his eye. We should ask him to help us also to be patient and loving with each other.
Many of us allow ourselves to be programmed by what we see and hear in the media or the lives of competitors. We need to pause and ask ourselves: "Are we living as Jesus' disciples?"
Jesus came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. In John 10, Jesus tells us that he is the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but the good shepherd comes to give life to his sheep. He knows his own and his own know him as the father and Jesus know each other. How well do you know your spouse and children?
There are two cultures.one of life and the other of death. The culture of life means receiving life in the spirit so that we may share it with others in word and action. In a family, there are so many opportunities to humble ourselves, die to our selfishness and reach out in gentleness, tenderness, concern and kindness to each other. The culture of death is to be unforgiving, critical, proud, arrogant and condescending towards others. We may appear to be self- righteous and morally superior to others but will not be able to be life giving to them. We cannot know each other as long as we are in the culture of death. Others will clam up or hide. When we are ready to lose our lives and lay them down for others, we will also be open to listen and understand them.
Be responsible for each other's salvation in your family and allow God to make you channels of his life, love and grace to each other, everyday, in the ordinary interactions of your life together as a couple and as parents.
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For Better or for Worse copyright © 2004-2005 Fr. Peter deSousa. All rights reserved.