Premarital Self-Knowledge & Healing for Covenant Marriages
"Trust and only trust should lead to love," St. Therese of Lisieux.
This chapter is meant to provide an opportunity for engaged couples to grow in self-knowledge by an evaluation of the major emotional and personality weaknesses that interfere with both self-giving love and marital happiness. A loving marital relationship is dependent upon the spouses having healthy personalities. The way a healthy personality is maintained amidst the many stresses of life is by engaging in the hard work of making a commitment to face humbly one's weaknesses and to grow in the habits that can resolve these conflicts.
Psychological research shows that 80% of adult psychological conflicts begin during childhood and adolescence (Kim-Cohen, J., 2003) and continue into adult life. So, we all bring many wonderful gifts into our marriages, but we can also being in weaknesses that can erupt later in the marriage, often for the first time. Our goal is to help engaged couples be loyal to the gifts from parents but to overcome any weaknesses they may acquired from them that can be a problem now or down the road in married life.
I recommend your reviewing and completing the attached form on parental legacies on yourself and on your future spouse with him or her.
The major psychological conflicts that interfere with giving and with receiving love are selfishness, excessive anger, mistrust and controlling behaviors, emotionally distant behaviors, internet pornography use, sadness, anxiety, confidence weaknesses and communication conflicts. Also, the failure to understand Catholic marriage and the reality that the sacramental bond established by the Lord helps and sustains marriages is another weakness for many couples.
We consider St. John Paul II's The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World to be the most important document that engaged couples can read to prepare themselves for Catholic marriage and family life.
Familiaris Consortio (November 22, 1981) | John Paul II
We encourage engaged couples, as well as married couples, to read the letter on marriage from the United States Bishops, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 2009. Pastoral Letter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 2009, www.usccb.org/laity/LoveandLife/MarriageFINAL.pdf.
Marital happiness is dependent upon having a good romantic relationship, marital friendship and a healthy intimate relationship. Fortunately, in spite of the high divorce rate, many couples do report marital happiness. An important research study in 2006 of what makes women happy in their marriage revealed the following factors as important:
- a husband's emotional engagement
- a bread winning husband
- a commitment to marriage
- staying at home
- shared religious attendance
- traditional sex attitudes.
(Wilcox, B. & Nock, S., 2006. What's Love Got to Do With It. Social Forces 83:3)
In our experience, many husbands would express similar views and might add that they want to be treated with respect and appreciation.
Misconceptions About Marital Love
The recognition of the common misconceptions about marital love can be helpful and these include:
- if one is not happy, it must be caused by a weakness in marital love
- it is based completely upon one's feelings
- it should make one completely happy and should heal any loneliness for parental love experience in childhood, adolescence or the present time
- it should not require hard work and sacrifice
- the loss of a romantic feeling is the fault of one's spouse
- it should be strong even if one does not work on the romantic aspect of the marriage or on the marital friendship
- when the feeling of love is not longer present, it cannot be restored
- the trust upon which marital love is based cannot be healed if it is damaged
- one has the right to intimacy even if the need for romantic love and friendship are ignored
- is not enriched by having children
- can be fulfilling even if one is selfish
- God's love does not enrich and strengthen marital love by providing another source of comfort, strength, hope and happiness.
The failure to understand the true nature of marriage
The newer, prevailing cultural view of marriage differs radically from the traditional, Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage Dr. Brad Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia has written about these contrasting views of marriage, "In the new psychological approach to marriage, one's primary obligation was not to one's family but to one's self; hence, marital success was defined not by successfully meeting obligations to one's spouse and children but by a strong sense of subjective happiness in marriage -- usually to be found in and through an intense, emotional relationship with one's spouse.
The 1970s marked the period when, for many Americans, a more institutional model of marriage gave way to the "soul- mate model" of marriage. Of course, the soul-mate model was much more likely to lead couples to divorce court than was the earlier institutional model of marriage. Now, those who felt they were in unfulfilling marriages also felt obligated to divorce in order to honor the newly widespread ethic of expressive individualism, www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-divorce.
This newer psychological view of marriage predisposes couples to selfishness, the major enemy of marital love and a lack of fulfillment and happiness that is found in self-giving. Subsequently, serious marital conflicts regularly develop.
The Catholic teaching is that marriage is a sacrament supported by the Lord's love that requires cheerful, self-giving, an openness to children according to the will of God, and sacrifice. John Paul II has enriched the understanding of marital love in Love and Responsibility in which he presents the importance of giving to romantic love, to the marital friendship and to betrothed love, which includes but is more than sexual intimacy. In betrothed love the spouse surrenders himself/herself to the other so that the spouse no longer thinks primarily “me” but “we.” This oneness and flow of love between a husband and wife is some ways is to model after the love within the heart of God, the Trinity. John Paul II wrote, "God is revealed in the communion between man and woman, for this communion images the love that God himself is." Letter to Women, 7.
Engaged couples should examine and discuss their understanding of marriage with their parish priest and with members of precana teams. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has an excellent section on marriage which can be enormously helpful to engaged couples.
Self-knowledge and Conflicts in Marital Self-Giving and Receiving
Below are the major conflicts which interfere with marital self-giving and, subsequently, marital happiness. Most of us are not aware of the emotional and personality weakness we have which can interfere with our ability to maintain a healthy loving relationship. And why is this? The primary reason is because we regularly deny our emotional pain. Men do this more often than women who tend to desire to discuss and work on their emotional lives more than men.
Also, men take the lead in denial because they are not hard wired to process their emotions on a regular basis and because they often have more to pain to deny with the parent of the same sex. Females are fortunate in that, by and large, they enjoy closer and more affirming relationships with their mothers than men do with their fathers. However, females whose mothers are controlling or selfish can deny as much as or even more than men.
Another major cause of a lack of self-knowledge is pride.
Please review the list below and see if you can identify any of these conflicts in yourself or in your fiance/fiancee?
Conflicts in self-giving include:
- Lack of self-knowledge
- Controlling behaviors
- Excessive anger
- Confidence conflicts
- Anxiety and a fear of trusting/being vulnerable
- Negative parental modeling
- Excessive sense of responsibility/worries
- Disordered self-giving
- Lack of charity
- Character weaknesses
- Poor communication patterns
- Failure to correct/be honest about difficulties
- Failure to understand the sacrament of marriage
- Use of contraceptives
- Internet pornography
- Neglect of spiritual life.
Do you recognize some of these weaknesses in yourself and in your fiance/fiancee? Please note them below.
The following checklists are meant to give one a sense of important weaknesses in self-giving in yourself and in your future spouse.
Selfishness has been described as the major enemy of married love. Pope Benedict has stated that it as having a gravitational pull upon all of us. Unless we recognize its influence and the need to fight against it, it will pull us away from a loved one and turn us in upon ourselves.
Selfishness severely damages the ability to give oneself cheerfully to the marital friendship, to romantic and affectionate love and to betrothed love which includes but is more than sexual intimacy. The person imprisoned by selfishness has great difficulty in making the move from the mind set of "me" to the "we" of married life and to the self-deinal and the sacrificial giving that is necessary in marriage.
This issue is the most important personality weakness that should be examined during the engagement period. The selfishness checklist below is meant to give you an understanding of the possible manifestation of this conflict in your relationship. Please complete the following selfishness checklist by identifying the appropriate number which applies to you and to your fiance/fiancee using this scale:
0 - Never | 1 - Very Little | 2 - Moderately Often | 3 - Very Often
What was your score here? ___
What was the score of fiance/fiancee? ___
When engaged people identify excessive selfishness in their loved one, we recommend that they ask him/her to work on this weakness by trying to grow in a number of virtues. These virtues include generosity, humility, sacrificial giving, faith and cheerful self-giving. The initial response to this discussion is often one of defensiveness. Many individuals with this response will try to project their conflict insisting that their loved one has this difficulty. Fortunately, most individuals are willing to look at themselves and to work on growing in virtues to overcome this personality conflict. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in an Age of Entitlement (2009) by Jean Twenge and C. Whittaker is an important book which describes the severity of this problem today. You don't want to miss or fail to address this weaknesses in yourself or in your future spouse.
The Marital Friendship and the Self-Giving Checklist
The marital friendship and marital happiness are dependent upon the ability of spouses to give themselves in a trusting manner to each other, to their children, to work, to the care of the home, to relatives and friends and, in Christian marriages, to God and to receive also. The self-giving checklist below helps couples evaluate the quality of their self-giving.
Please rate the self-giving in yourself and to your fiance/fiancee and by identifying the appropriate number on the following measure.
0 - Never | 1 - Very Little | 2 - Moderately Often | 3 - Very Often
Now, how do you think you and your future spouse do in regard to giving yourselves emotionally and verbally to
- the romantic aspect of your relationship
- the friendship.
If you identify major weaknesses in self-giving while engaged, it is important to be honest and to communicate issues of concern. The chapter on the emotionally distant spouse may now be helpful in understanding how conflicts in emotional self-giving in marriage can be addressed. In men the most common cause of a weakness in emotional self-giving is the result of modeling after a father with this conflict. In women the most common weakness in emotional self-giving in our experience is the result of a difficulty in trusting which is often due to betrayal experiences or to modeling after a mistrustful mother. The chapter on negative parental legacies also can be helpful in the resolution of these issues.
If one has modeled after an emotionally distant parent, this conflict is very difficult to resolve unless faith is incorporated into the healing process. Many Catholic men benefit from meditating upon St. Joseph as their other role model for cheerful self-giving and from praying to him that they can grow in this area. Much less common is conflict of a woman who has modeled after a distant mother. However, when this does occur, meditating upon Our Lady as another model for warm, self-giving is effective, as well as prayer to her.
Premarital discussion of pornography use
In view of the high prevalence of pornography use by single men and the severe harm caused early in marriages by pornography, premarital programs should attempt to uncover this major conflict that will interfere with marital self-giving. These men should be instructed in the severe harm caused to marriage by pornography and make a commitment to resolve this conflict and to avoid its use in married life. If the person is unwilling to address and resolve this conflict, a young woman should reconsider marriage and the Church should consider not allowing such a person to marry.
Engaged couples should be informed in the premarital programs about the origins of pornography use and the harm it causes to men, women and marriages.
The origins of the compulsive use of pornography include:
- Loneliness and sadness
- Marital conflicts with a controlling, angry, critical, selfish, emotionally distant or negative spouse
- Confidence weaknesses
- Excessive sense of responsibility with lack of balance in life
- Poor body image
- Social isolation
- Mistrust and anxiety in relationships
- Excessive anger
- Guilt and shame
- Lack of self-giving to others
- Difficulty in receiving love
- Disordered priorities
- Excessive sense of independence
- Boredom with contraceptive sex
- Lack of acceptance by peers, particularly in adolescents and in the adolescent stage of development
- Lack of sense of fulfillment
The damage to marital love includes:
- a belief that fantasy is better than authentic love
- growth in selfishness - the major enemy of marital love
- failure to understand and appreciate the beauty and sacredness of marital love
- lack of refinement in self-giving to the romantic aspect of marriage, to the marital friendship and to the intimate relationship
- Diminished communication with one's spouse with harm to the marital friendship
- Damage to the wife's ability to trust and then to to experience pleasure with her husband which upsets him
- severe sadness, anger, mistrust and insecurity in the victim spouse
- harm to marital intimacy
- disordered view of beauty, goodness and sexuality
- increased vulnerability to adultery
- increased risk for marital separation and divorce
- weakened spiritual life.
Damage to young men from pornography and compulsive masturbation includes:
- involvement in a fantasy world that undermines the ability to relate to young women in a healthy way
- interferes with the development of a healthy personality
- fosters the hook-up culture
- results in sexual obesity
- can lead to severe loneliness, depression, weak confidence and social anxiety
- damages male confidence
- leads to reclusiveness and to an escape from reality
- increases guilt,shame
- perpetuates lies and deceit
- harms faith that strengthens men
- weakens men thus preventing them from fulfilling their role as protectors and leaders and physical and spiritual fathers
- damages the relationship with the Lord
- loss of respect in women with increased tendency to control, dominate and overreact in anger
- harms the ability to understand and want to make a loving commitment in marriage
Warning signs of pornography include:
- neglect of the marital friendship
- neglect of the romantic aspect of the marriage
- loss of interest in the intimate relationship
- increased tendency to isolate
- increased irritability
- decrease in positive, loving communication
- increased viewing of pornography in the home.
Response to pornography use in the future spouse:
- describe the betrayal pain that is identical to that of infidelity of sadness, anger, fears and mistrust and insecurity/loss of confidence
- attempt to do so without excessive anger by first forgiving
- give correction and demand change
- insist that he know himself, work to overcome the conflict and meet with a third party as a couple
- challenge future spouse to be loyal to upcoming marital vows to be true to and to honor.
Another important step that needs to be taken is that of placing an internet monitoring program, such as
www.covenanteyes.com on the offending person's computer that will send a weekly report of the websites visited to the woman. Men are warned that if regular pornography use is found that the engagement will end.
Damage to spiritual life
The Catechism of the Catholic states, "Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants, since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials." Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2354
Bishop Paul Loverde's pastoral letter on pornography describes the spiritual damage caused by pornography, "This plague stalks the souls of men, women and children, ravages the bonds of marriage and victimizes the most innocent among us. It obscures and destroys people?s ability to see one another as unique and beautiful expressions of God?s creation, instead darkening their vision, causing them to view others as objects to be used and manipulated."
"Our natural vision in this world is the model for supernatural vision in the next. Once we have distorted or damaged that template, how will we understand that reality? Those who engage in such activity?deprive themselves of sanctifying grace, destroy the life of Christ in their souls, and prevent them from receiving Holy Communion until they have received absolution through the Sacrament of Penance .... The human person progressively builds or destroys his or her character by each and every moral choice." Paul S. Loverde, Bought with a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God, (2006), www.arlingtondiocese.org/documents/BoughtPrice_F.pdf.
Bishop Robert W. Finn, in a pastoral letter on the dangers of pornography wrote, “Pornography depends on the exploitation of other persons: frequently the desperate or poor or the innocent young.” He wrote, paraphrasing John Paul II, that "the problem with pornography is not that it reveals too much of the person (exposed in the image), but that it reveals too little of the person. The person in the image is reduced to their sexual organs and sexual faculties and is thereby de-personalized," Blessed Are The Pure In Heart: A Pastoral Letter on the Dignity of the Human Person and the Dangers of Pornography, February 21, 2007, www.diocese-kcsj.org/_docs/Pastoral-02-07.pdf.
Internet pornography healing
We have found this six point recovery plan to be effective. It includes:
- growth in virtues
- friendships/peer support
- protection of the home
- 12 step group for those with addictions
- spiritual plan
The addictions chapter on this website can provide assistance to those who struggle in this area. Also, we will soon post a pornography webinar that presents in depth this six point plan in addition to clinical information in the addiction chapter on this website.
Dr. Kleponis gave two conferences to all the priests in the Archdiocese of New York on pornography in June 2010. His subsequent Zenit interviews on the healing of pornography conflicts can be beneficial to those who are engaged
New educational material and approaches are needed in precana programs on the epidemic of pornography in order to protect the sacrament of marriage and Catholic families. .
Many people bring into their marriages varying degrees of loneliness and sadness from a parental relationship, most often from the father relationship. The identification of this weakness can be helpful because spousal love, while being very powerful, cannot go back in time and bring comfort to a wounded lonely child within the spouse. Unfortunately, many spouses make major mistakes by not identifying their loneliness from their family background and solely blaming their spouses for their unhappiness.
Listed below are the common causes of unhappiness and sadness which people bring into their marriages. Please identify any of the following issues, which might apply to you or to your fiancee.
* Unresolved sadness from the father relationship
* Unresolved sadness from the mother relationship
* History of serious parental conflicts
* Parental divorce or separation
* Hurts in significant relationships prior to marriage
* Unresolved sadness from sibling or peer rejection
* Negative parental legacies such as modeling after a depressed and anxious parent
* Lack of a close friendships
* Loneliness for a close sibling relationship
* Lack of balance in life
* Emotionally distant parent
* Controlling parent
* Critical, negative parent
* Angry parent
* Fear of trusting
* Selfish, materialistic parents
* Lack of a sense of purpose in life
* Unhappiness in one’s work
* Inability to discuss honestly stressful issues
* Anxious, worried parent
* Depressed, sad parent
* Preoccupation with financial worries
* Difficulty in letting go of burdens/worries
* Confidence too dependent on financial/career success or physical appearance
* Substance abuse
* Lack of virtues and self-giving
* Preoccupation with material possessions.
Do you think that either of you have brought a degree of sadness or loneliness into your marriage from your relationship with one of your parents or from a previous relationship?
The most common type of loneliness we see in our work is from the father relationship. The next most common type is from divorce pain in which the sadness is the result of growing up in a home in which the person was not comforted, strengthened and enriched by the flow of love of between a father and mother.
If you have identified wounds of sadness/loneliness in yourself or if your finance/fiancee has, a discussion of this issue should be helpful. Unresolved family of origin or friendship sadness cannot be resolved fully by a warm, loving marital relationship and create severe stress and confusion in a marriage. For example, some spouses with such wounds can blame their husbands or wives for the feeling of unhappiness, when, in fact, it arises from childhood and adolescence. The depressed/lonely spouse chapter on this site can be beneficial in understanding and in resolving the emotional wound of sadness.
Mistrust Checklist -
The ability to trust and to feel safe is the foundation for self-giving and for receiving love. If we do not feel safe and relaxed, we can withhold love, be unable to receive love, act angry in order to distance loved ones or try to control those we love. Uncovering and healing trust wounds, as well as protecting the ability to trust, are essential to romantic love, marital friendship and to betrothed love.
Significant numbers of people enter marriage with deep unconscious trust weaknesses because of trauma from parental conflicts, divorce, sibling or peer rejection and hurts in previous loving relationships. Often this trust wound is completely unconscious, but emerges under times of stress even during the tiem just prior to the marriage.
The checklist below is meant to increase an understanding of weaknesses in trustsing. Please rate the symptoms and the origins of mistrust in your life -
- Catastrophic thinking (something bad is going to happen)
- Rigid thinking-a lack of openness
- Excessive criticism of others (as an unconscious way to distance people)
- Negative thinking
- Hypochondriacal thinking (fear of serious illness)
- Paranoid thinking
- Excessive fantasy life
- Obsessional thoughts of controlling others
- View reasonable expectations of future spouse as control pressure
- Excessive worrying
- Difficulty concentrating
- Numerous controlling behaviors
- Doesn't listen
- Inability to show affection (fearful of being vulnerable)
- Difficulty praising others (fearful of allowing anyone to be close)
- Difficulty initiating affection
- Doesn't support loved one
- Inability to include others in making important decisions
- Overly controlling with money
- Flight from committed relationships by excessive work, hobbies, or other interests - including too many religious activities
- Inability to trust loved one with important life decisions
- Few close friends
- Compulsive eating
- Excessive drinking or drug usage
- Addiction to pornography (escape to fantasy world and selfishness)
- Difficulty giving to the loving friendship
- Fear of flying, elevators or bridges
- Tendency to isolate oneself
- Difficulty in receiving help or advice from others
- Difficulty in receiving love
- A need to have things his/her own way
- Withdrawal from others in front of TV, books, computer, etc.
- Overly strong dealing with others (caused by fear of being hurt)
- Poor team player
- Compulsive masturbation
- Attempt to isolate family from relatives
- Excessive financial fears
- Restlessness and hyperactivity (an absence of feeling safe)
- Aggressive behaviors
- Criticizes loved ones in front of others
- Tries to cut loved one off from family or friends
- Lack of responsibility for loved one.
- Regularly irritable or hostile (anger keeps others at distance)
- Overly anxious
- Panic attacks
- Overreacting emotionally to minor life events
- Rarely relaxed or peaceful
- Bad temper
- Overly upset when things don't go as planned
- Very lonely (fearful of being vulnerable and of receiving love)
- Fear of the future
- Emotional rigidity
- Lack of gentleness
- Easily fatigued
- Sleep disturbance
- Social anxiety
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Muscle spasms in different parts of the body
- Chronic fatigue
- Vulnerability to all major diseases if mistrust persists for years
- Severe headaches
- Muscle tension
- Light headedness
- Rapid heart beat
- Weak spiritual life
- Difficulty in listening
- Limited ability to pray
- Mistrust of the Holy Father and Magisterium
- Difficulty in meditating
- Withdrawal into religion (excess religiosity)
- Limited ability to receive God's love
Now please rate the possible origins of a trust weakness.
Origins of Mistrust at Different Life Stages
- Emotionally distant- unaffectionate parents
- Excessive time in day care
- Modeling after fearful, mistrustful or overly controlling parent
- Serious illness in a parent, sibling, or oneself
- Parental separation or divorce
- Alcoholic or narcissistic parent
- Loss of a parent, brother, sister, or close friend
- Legacy of mistrust and fear in the family
- Weak confidence
- Rejection by peers
- Victimization by the excessive anger of others
- Same causes as in childhood
- Poor body image
- Difficulty in playing sports
- Parental separation or divorce
- Post abortion trauma
- Treatment as a sexual object
- Same as in childhood and adolescence
- Repetition of the weakness of a mistrustful parent
- Betrayals in loving relationships
- Insensitive treatment by family members
- Controlling, angry or selfish behaviors from others in previous relationships
- Weak confidence
- Rejection by significant others
- Unjust treatment by bosses or co-workers
- Financial pressures
- Treatment as a sexual object
- Loss of job
- Loss of health
- Lack of faith
Origins of Trust Weakness Total:
The most common sources of mistrust we address in young adults arise from hurts with an insensitive parent, parental divorce and hurts in previous relationships. These rejection hurts must be resolved so that they don't interfere unconsciously with the maintenance of martial trust in the future. Fortunately, they can be healed through a process of forgiving others and building trust. These processes are described in the marital anger and the anxious spouse chapters at marital healing.com.
Mistrust from parental divorce
Dr. Judith Wallerstein's studies of the children of divorce, described in her books, Second Chances and The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, have demonstrated that the mistrust wound in young adults is difficult to resolve, particularly with parents who were very selfish. We have found that the fears of betrayal in Catholic young adults from divorced families can be healed by resolving anger with parents and then building trust. The role of spirituality here is as important as in the treatment of serious addictive disorders. We recommend a modification of the first two steps of AA. Here the person reflects on being powerless over fears of betrayal/marriage and anger and then turning them over to God. Also, they are helped by meditating each morning, "Lord help me to forgive those who have damaged my ability to trust and to feel safe in a trusting, loving marital relationship ."
Mistrust from a previous divorce
Engaged men and women whose first marriage ended in divorce with annulment have experienced severe emotional betrayal pain which is often unconscious, Perhaps the greatest damage from divorce, which by the way is referred to in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a plague because of its far reaching harm, is to the person’s ability to trust, that is, to maintain an ongoing safe feeling in a marital relationship. Trust is the essential foundation for self-giving in marriage. Unless the serious conflict with trust is addressed, it is very likely that mistrust will emerge in a second marriage and greatly harm that the marital friendship. Perhaps, the greatest damage is done by the compulsive need to control and by markedly limited self-giving in these persons as a result of their weakness in feeling safe.
In our clinical experience most engaged persons who were previously married lack both self-knowledge of their trust weakness and of how this conflict can be healed. We believe self-knowledge can increase by completing the mistrust and anger checklists in this chapter.
Post divorce mistrust can be resolved by uncovering anger with the ex and by committing to engage in the hard work of forgiving the former spouse. In addition we have found it helpful for the engaged person to meditate that he/she is powerless over their fears of being betrayed again and then turn them over to God. Also, meditating daily on first trusting God and then trusting one’s spouse assists in the healing of the serious trust wound. Finally, many individuals have found it helpful to meditate regularly, “Lord help me to feel safe with my spouse and heal my fears of being betrayed again."
The other engaged person must exercise patience as the future spouse works through the mistrust issues from the previous marriage and should not be afraid to point out mistrustful behaviors and to discuss healing of the loved one's pain. There can be a significant resistance to the idea that he or she even has such mistrust wound. Thus, the engaged person who was not divorced will have to bear a burden of that previous marital wound for a period of time. Engaged couples who are dealing with this type of mistrust stress can benefit from counseling with a mental health professional who is skilled in the psychotherapeutic uses of forgiveness,
The trusting engaged person can feel shocked, confused and at times angered when he or she encounters the mistrust wound and behaviors. The loved one's mistrust is experienced regularly as being foreign to him/her because the expectation was that the loved one would enjoy cheerful self-giving and a very close loving friendship. Subsequently, major adjustments are necessary to not only accommodate the mistrust but also to participate in the healing. Here the virtues of forgiveness, patience, hope and fortitude are essential. The forgiveness used is not only of the loved one, but also of the former spouse who caused the trust wound. Finally, the ongoing use of the mistrust and marital self-giving checklists can be beneficial in documenting the degree of progress.
Sudden Ending of Engagements
A number of individuals experience overwhelming anxiety as the date of the marriage approaches. At times this can lead to intense and paralyzing fears which can be so emotionally disabling that a person may decide to cancel the wedding. Such behavior can be the result of an unconscious profound weakness in trusting which can arise from various types of serious betrayal experiences with a parent, sibling, relative, or close friend. Fortunately, these conflicts can be resolved so that a person can be relaxed and cheerful in giving oneself completely in marriage. However, the decision to end the engagement can be appropriate because of the discovery of major conflicts in the relationship which are not being addressed.
Controlling tendencies and behaviors are another common source of conflict in the engagement period as well as in married life. A particularly sensitive issue can be the attempt to control the moral life of a loved one with an associated insistence on sexual intimacy. If there is a recognition of a strong tendency to control in your engaged relationship, it should be addressed. The controlling spouse chapter, which is the most frequently visited chapter on this site, can be helpful in understanding how to deal with these challenging people. In addition, since controlling behaviors often are acquired from modeling after a controlling parent, the chapter on parental legacies can also be beneficial.
Excessive anger is one the most common causes of conflict in loving relationships. Fortunately, when this unique and powerful emotion is uncovered and addressed, its negative influence can be reduced significantly and often resolved. When strong resentment occurs during the time of engagement, a major mistake can be the failure to address this conflict.
John Paul II in his first encyclical, The Redeemer of Man, wrote, "To be a sincere gift of themselves human persons must possess a full freedom which comes only from mastery of oneself." Mastering anger is essential to a happy, healthy marriage and family.
This checklist is meant to increase your understanding of the manifesation of anger in yourself and in your future spouse.
Please rate yourself on the checklist below -
Active Marital Anger
- Excessive quarreling or arguing
- Frequently frustrated
- Frequently annoyed
- Overly aggressive & antagonistic
- Excessively competitive
- Bullying of others
- Chronic violation of rules at work
- Excessive swearing
- Overly critical
- Tries to ruin someone's reputation
- Quits jobs regularly
- Verbally abusive
- Stealing and forgery
- Explosive anger
- Violent acts against people, property, or oneself
- Threats of violence
- Repeated drunkenness
- Excessive recklessness
- Fire setting
- Disregard for other's safety
Please also rate and then list the score of your future spouse - __.
Passive-Aggressive Marital Anger
- Always late/leaves early
- Deliberately sloppy
- Uncooperative attitude
- Acts forgetful
- Procrastinates - deliberately puts things off
- Twists the truth
- Refuses to do what is reasonably expected
- Door banging
- Deliberately slow
- Pretends not to hear or see
- Walks out on people
- Refuses to listen
- Rehashes the past
- Refuses to clean the home or oneself
- Acts sick or helpless
- Overly stubborn
- Withholds support
- Works markedly below one's ability
- Impulsive - failure to plan ahead
- Deliberately avoids or ignores someone
- Refuses to function as a responsible parent or spouse
- Distances others
- Always negative
- Refuses to praise or compliment
- Deliberately makes mistakes
- Silent treatment
- Won't communicate
- Absenteeism in work
- Refuses to be responsible
- Refuses to work regularly
- Enjoys seeing people become upset
- Refuses to eat
- Doesn't receive love
- Deliberately fails at work
- Refuses to take care of a serious health problem
- Withhold love from a spouse
- Failure to attend to the needs of the spouse or children
- Avoids intimacy
- Undermine childrens' trust/respect for spouse or other important relatives/friends
- Deliberately tries to be sick
- Always in victim role
- Failure to pay bills
- False accusations
- Neglect of the home
Please also rate and then list the score of your future spouse - ___.
The most common cause of excessive anger we have seen in engaged couples is selfishness. Unresolved anger from hurts in the father relationship is also commonly seen, particularly in men. Other causes of anger are a need to control, a lack of trust, disordered priorities, materialism, modeling after an angry parent, hurts in previous loving relationships and anxieties or weaknesses in confidence.
An engaged person should not be fearful of asking the person they love to work on resolving their selfish, angry or critical behaviors. The virtue of forgiveness is highly effective when used regularly prior to marriage in decreasing anger from the past and the present. The virtues of generosity, self-denial and faith can prevent overreactions in anger caused by selfishness.
Resolving Parental Anger
Due to the serious problem of misdirected anger in marriages, we believe that in the premarital programs the participants should be required to identify the parent who disappointed them the most and then work at forgiving that parent. Here the person thinks of himself/herself as a child or teenagers and imagines saying to this parent, "Dad/Mom I want to understand your childhood and pressures and try to forgive you." Although there is resistance to this past forgiveness exercise initially, it is a basic aspect of the process of decreasing marital anger. If the hurt is so strong that one is unable to do the work of forgiveness we recommend that they consider taking this anger into the sacrament of reconciliation or thinking that they want to turn it over to God until forgiveness is possible.
We believe that numerous marital conflicts could be prevented if past forgiveness exercises were part of the Church's precana programs. The chapter on marital anger may be helpful to you if you wish to learn more about resolving anger in loving relationships .
Asking for Forgiveness
Engaged and marital friendships often improve when one humbly requests forgiveness for hurts and insensitivities. Since most of us overreact emotionally at times, a request for forgiveness for controlling, selfish, angry or emotionally distant behaviors is completely reasonable and appropriate. When the person tries to understand and to forgive, anger diminishes, trust increases and with it increased emotional closeness. Also, the relationship memory is purified. The purification of the relationship memory by removing anger and guilt results in a diminished likelihood of overreacting in anger toward one's fiance/fiancee in the future. The request for forgiveness protects the loving friendship when used regularly. If you haven't tried it yet in your engagement, I suggest that you consider doing so...soon!
In this section we will address a number of issues which can help to protect a loving marital relationship. These include communication, growth in virtues, cohabitation, faith and love and contraception.
Again, a loving marital relationship is dependent upon the spouses having healthy personalities. In turn the way in which we can develop a healthy personality is by the commitment to face humbly our weaknesses and to make grow in virtues. Virtues can make both individuals and marriages strong. For example, the virtue of forgiveness can decrease anger; generosity can decrease selfishness and the need to control; trust can diminish anxiety and faith can decrease sadness and irritability.
The problem here is that most of us deny our weaknesses and need those we love to be honest with us about them.
A vital aspect of martial self-giving is that of communication with a spouse. Good marital communication is essential to maintaining and strengthening the marital friendship and love and to uncovering and reducing various types of stress. Dr. John Gottman, who is a renowned student of marital communication, has recommended that in order to have a healthy marriage there should be five positive comments for each negative comment.
Gary Chapman's, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to your Mate (1992) , is an outstanding book for engaged couples which can help them to understand the primary love language of each person. These love languages are:
- words of affirmation
- physical touch
- quality time
- receiving gifts
- acts of service.
The other very important language of love is that of sacrificial giving and loving. Engaged couples benefit from recognizing that they will be called in the vocation of marriage to deny themselves and to give themselves in a sacrificial manner and that they do not have to fear such giving, especially to children. The major obstacle to such Christ-like giving in marriage is selfishness, described by many as the major "enemy" of marital love.
The most common communication weakness we address in men is that of modeling after a father who did not communicate in a generous, cheerful and positive manner with his wife. The most common weakness we identify in women is that of communicating in a controlling manner which is experienced as being disrespectful.
The good news is that these acquired weaknesses can be overcome and the process is described in the parental legacies chapter.
As Pope Benedict has written in the Collaboration between Men and Women in the Church and in the World, that men have unique gifts which enable them to act calmly on behalf of the lives of loved ones. The special relational gifts and emotional sensitivity to others in women can assist men in growing in their communication skills .
Please rate yourself by choosing the appropriate option on the marital communication scale below.
Do you recognize how positive and loving communication strengthens and builds your loved one's happiness and helps with his/her stresses? Many couples from their experiences find truth in the proverb, "problems shared are halved." Those with strong faith also report that they are helped by asking the Lord to help them to communicate more effectively, particularly men who had emotionally distant fathers.
If the communication style in your relationship is more negative than positive, please don't hold back in commenting on this weakness and ask for more positive communication.
Virtues and the Marital Friendship
Growth in virtues strengthens the personality and helps with self-giving and receiving in marital friendship. Pope John Paul II wrote in his first encyclical, The Redeemer of Man, "To be sincere gift of themselves human persons must possess a full freedom which comes only from mastery of oneself." The virtues enable us to gain greater mastery over ourselves.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, an. 1803, states, "A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in a concrete way. The goal of the virtuous life is to become like God."
Please rate the frequency with which you see the following virtues in yourself using the scale below:
0 - Never | 1 - Very Little | 2 - Moderately Often | 3 - Very Often
Engaged couples should feel free to encourage one another to grow in virtues. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, "Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God's help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of good. The virtuous man is happy to practice them, n. 1810."
Please don't be discouraged if you identify a number of weaknesses in yourself or in your loved one. The conflicts which interfere with self-giving love can be identified and resolved. If you have found major issues within yourself and in your loved one, consider going to chapters on this site which describe in detail how such conflicts can diminish and how self-giving love can be strengthened. Faith can play a powerful role in the healing of emotional weaknesses and of personality weaknesses through growth in virtues.
Several studies have shown how a preoccupation with materialism leads to marital unhappiness and loneliness regardless of one's income.
A major study found that higher levels of spousal materialism are associated with increased perception of financial problems, which in turn are negatively associated with levels of marital satisfaction and happiness. Materialistic attitudes have a stronger impact on spouses perceptions of financial problems than do levels of couple income. (Dean, R., et al. (2007). Materialism, Perceived Financial Problems, and Marital Satisfaction. Family & Consumer Sciences Research J. 35 (3), 260-281.)
The results of nine experiments suggest that money brings about a self-sufficient orientation in which people prefer to be free of dependency and dependents. Reminders of money, relative to non money reminders, led to reduced requests for help and reduced helpfulness toward others. Participants primed with money preferred to play alone, work alone, and put more physical distance between themselves and others. (Vohs, K, et al. (2006). The psychological consequences of money. Science, 17 November 2006, Vol. 314, pp 1154-56).
How would you evaluate the degree of materialism in your finance/fiancee and in yourself?
The Benefits of Faith to Marriages and Families
Numerous psychological studies demonstrate that religious faith and the awareness of God's love are beneficial to marriages and families. The strength of the family is intertwined with the practice of religion. Married couples who go to church together are more likely to manifest higher levels of satisfaction in marriage and are less likely to be divorced. Also, church attendance is a important predictor of marital stability and happiness.
The more frequently a husband attended religious services, the happier their wives said they were with the level of affection and understanding that they received and amount of time that their husbands spent with them, W. Wilcox,W. B., 2004. Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p.186.
Psychological research studies in the chapters on this web site on depression, anxiety, anger, selfishness and addiction demonstrate the benefits of faith in dealing with these common emotional and personality conflicts. Faith helps couples deal more effectively with financial fears and family and work stresses by strengthening their ability to trust. Also, we have seen an active faith be a source of ongoing confidence in men who struggle to maintain confidence and trust due to a lack of affirmation in their father relationship. An awareness of God as another loving Father can be source of comfort and happiness for men in particular because most men have not been affirmed as much by the parent of the same sex as women have been.
Many Catholic women do struggle in their relationships with mothers who may be too controlling or critical and with their sisters. These conflicts can interfere with their spiritual relationship with Our Lady. This emotional wound can be healed by a process of understanding, forgiving and working with a spiritual director on a relationship with Our Lady.
Religious belief and practice contribute substantially to the formation of virtues and sound moral judgment which contribute to development of a healthy personality which is essential for a happy marriage. Also, regular religious practice can protect individuals against numerous life stresses and difficulties.
Many Catholic couples report that the sacrament of reconciliation is helpful in addressing vices and weaknesses, such as anger and selfishness, which interfere with cheerful marital self-giving, and in overcoming negative behaviors which are the result of modeling after controlling, angry or emotionally distant parent. Also, couples report that the Eucharist is an ongoing source of comforting love which strengthens them in their self-giving to their spouses, children and work.
In addition research studies demonstrate that ,the regular practice of religion is good for personal physical health: It increases longevity, improves one's chances of recovery from illness, and lessens the incidence of many severe diseases.
Pope Benedict described the beneficial relationship between human love and God's love. in his first encyclical, God is Love, He wrote, "This in turn led us to consider two fundamental words: eros, as a term to indicate 'worldly' love and agape, referring to love grounded in and shaped by faith. Yet eros and agape-ascending love and descending love-can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to 'be there for' the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34),” (God is Love, n. 7).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that,“Without his help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them ‘in the beginning,' " n. 1608. Our clinical experience with several thousand couples supports this view. We believe that the neglect of faith by Catholic couples has limited their ability to deal with many marital and family stresses and has contributed in a major way to divorce in Catholic marriages.
Finally, many Christian couples report that praying together on a regular basis and sharing scripture readings has helped strengthen their marriage by protecting them from excessive fears and worries and by giving them a stronger sense that God was loving and helping them.
Medical Risks with Oral Contraceptives
A new important important pamphlet on the serious health risks associated with oral contraceptives, Problems associated Hormonal Birth Control, which is authored by 4 physicians, is available at www.omsoul.com. These include abortion since oral contraceptives only prevent the release of the female egg in about 65-75% of cycles. For this reason, pregnancy, and subsequent chemical abortion, is possible on average every third cycle. A nation-wide survey indicated that 54% of the women who had an abortion were using birth control the month before. Also, if the pill is taken before a woman's first pregnancy, there is a 44% increased risk of breast cancer. The risk for cervical and liver cancer is also increased by the use of the pill. Its use is also associated with increased risk of myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke.
The use of oral contraceptives led to the sexual revolution with subsequent dramatic increases in premarital sex, sexually transmitted infections, cohabitation, out-of wedlock births, abortion, adultery, divorce, abortion, and out-of-wedlock births. single-parent families, poverty and associated social ills. They have contributed in a major way to the serious worldwide drop in population which is referred to as demographic winter, www.demographicwinter.com.
Several other related articles for couples on oral contraceptives are available at www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=18-01-038-f and www.catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0049.html. Also, power point presentations on the medical and sociological dangers of contraception are available at www.cathmedphila.org/resources/evidence_based_ethics.htm. These articles and power point presentations document the serious psychological, medical, sociological damage which has been caused by the use of oral contraceptives over the past 40 years.
Natural Family Planning
Natural family planning is as effective in the planning of children as contraceptives without the serious risks to the health and happiness of marriages, children, families, the culture and entire countries. When used for just and serious reasons NFP is medically and psychologically healthier method for family planning.
The major reasons why couples have difficulties with NFP are because of selfishness in one or both spouses associated with a strong sense of entitlement and a lack of self-denial. Many young spouses come from the new two child family and have been overly indulged most of their lives. They are often not prepared for the degree of self-denial which is necessary with NFP. Young couples should be warned about this issue and advised to complete the selfishness checklist in the evaluate your marital friendship chapter on this website. If the score is high, they should review in the selfish spouse chapter the virtues which can diminish selfishness in marriage. By the way, many popes have written that selfishness is the major enemy of marital love
The other emotional conflict which can interfere with NFP in young couples is that of an excessive need to control in relationships. Spouses who are controlling are not going to do well with NFP until they address this weakness in their personality. The major causes of this conflict are weaknesses in trusting and selfishness. The resolution of these conflicts is discussed in the controlling spouse chapter.
Another difficulty which can arise with NFP is seen in men who rely too much upon sexual intimacy to maintain their sense of male confidence. These man can become stressed when they are unable to be intimate. However, this temporary pain can lead to greater emotional freedom when they realize that they need to grow in a greater appreciation of their special God-given gifts as men, be grateful for them and not rely as much upon their wives for their sense of male confidence.
We encourage NFP in couples because we believe its use can help couples grow in the virtues which strengthen their personalities and their marriages. On the other hand the use of oral contraceptives often results in a sense of entitlement in men, in particular, and contributes to marital selfishness and conflict.
John Paul II & Contraception
Engaged Catholic couples often have difficulty understanding the fullness of the Church's teaching on sexual morality, particularly in regard to contraception. This is especially important given the growing body of psychological, medical and sociological evidence which demonstrates the damaging effects of contraception on individuals, marriages and families. For example, a clear relationship has been established between the contraceptive mentality and the divorce epidemic, described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a plague. The writings of John Paul II can assist engaged couples in understanding the Church's wisdom on contraception.
In John Paul II's outstanding apostolic exhortation on married and family love and life, Familiaris Consortio , he wrote, "Couples act as arbiters of the divine plan and they manipulate and degrade human sexuality - and with it themselves and their married partner- by altering its value of 'total' self-giving. The innate language (of the body) that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid through contraception by an objectively contradictory language, namely that of not giving oneself totally to one��s spouse. This leads not only to a positive refusal not to be open to life, but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality," The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, n.32.
He went on to write in Letter to Families (1994), "so-called 'safe sex', which is touted by the 'civilization of technology,' is actually, in the view of the overall requirements of the person, radically not safe, indeed it is extremely dangerous. It endangers both the person and the family. And what is this danger? It is the loss of the truth about one's own self and about the family, together with the risk of a loss of freedom and consequently of a loss of love itself," Letter to Families , n. 41.
Later in 2004 Pope John Paul II stated, "Every educational program, whether Christian or secular, must emphasize that true love is chaste love, and that chastity provides us with a founded hope for overcoming the forces threatening the institution of the marriage and the family and at the same time for freeing humanity from the devastation wrought by scourges such as HIV/AIDS and promiscuity; that is, using people as sexual objects."
John Paul II's writings are a great gift to engaged couples, as well as to Catholic families. We recommend in particular his Letter to Families and The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. Also, the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on marriage is helpful in understanding the many blessings and challenges in the sacrament of marriage.
We sincerely hope that this chapter informs, encourages and strengthens engaged Catholic couples as they prepare to receive the great sacrament of marriage and to begin a family.