7 ways to keep your marriage central (when you have toddlers)

You may remember Emily from her awesome NFP series called Life Abundantly: Real NFP Stories, where we shared our story. Today she’s sharing her ideas about how to keep your marriage a priority when your life is ruled by toddlers! Because we all know how hard it is to focus on your marriage with kids, especially the 3 and under crowd…

 

When I was about 10 years old, my parents got into an argument. I don’t remember what it was about, but for some reason it seemed serious to me—serious enough to make me think that my parents might get divorced. Just the thought alone made the world around me crumble. 

Looking back, the thought that my parents would leave each other is almost laughable.  Throughout their 36 years of marriage, they have always—always—made sure to put their relationship first, and invest the time and effort necessary to keep their marriage strong.

I learned something very important that day though. The greatest gift my parents gave me was indissolubility of their marriage. Because my parents made their marriage central, I knew even from a young age that it was the greatest gift I could give my own children. My parents taught me it would take work, and it would have to be the goal from the beginning.

 

Kids change everything

When my husband and I had our first child, our whole world turned on its head. Everything in our lives revolved around this baby—even our marriage. My husband and I realized early on that we needed to reclaim our marriage, and that at some point our children would learn to revolve around us. 

This is no easy task when our little narcissistic dictators are largely dependent on us for most things. But it’s important to take the time now to build habits that we can adapt as our kids grow up. 

A couple of caveats before we start: I have two children both under the age of 3, and my primary audience is parents with similar aged children. These are simple ideas that can evolve as your kids become more independent and their personalities develop. 

It’s also important to know that these are first and foremost ideas, nothing more. These aren’t fail-safes or guarantees. Try out one or two at a time, and see how it goes. And as you do, avoid using words like “always” and “never” with regard to what you’ll do to make your marriage central. Flexibility and adaptability are indispensable virtues in family life. 

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7 ways to keep your marriage a priority

1. Be the first ones you greet when you get home. 

Growing up, my parents had an interesting rule: when Dad got home, he and Mom had 30 minutes to themselves to recap their day. I loved this rule because it very easily keeps Mom and Dad’s relationship prioritized. 

I quickly realized it’s totally impractical with the under-3 crowd, so I came up with an adapted version. Dad is the first one Mom kisses when he comes in the door. Even if the kids run up to him to welcome him home, Mom still gets first dibs. 

2. Keep dinner time simple and about the two of you. 

Dinner can be a nightmare when your little ones’ taste buds change daily. It can be utterly exhausting to get everything ready and settle in at the table, only to find out that the same food that was gobbled up yesterday is now flung across the room in disgust. 

We adopted two rules to help keep dinner time chaos in check: 

  • Barring any dietary issues (i.e. allergies, weight gain/loss issues, or age restrictions on food), if the kids join you at dinner, they eat what you eat.
  • If you make them something separate or special, they eat before you. And if they don’t eat, that’s ok! Don’t make a big deal if they refuse. They won’t starve themselves, I promise. 

Dinner will ideally evolve into a wonderful time for family conversation and bonding. Break in the kids while they’re young: cook what you and your spouse will enjoy, and let the kids try it as they like. If the kids turn their noses up or if tantrums ensue, don’t sweat it. Just excuse them—to their room if necessary—and proceed with your meal. Bon appetit!

3. Sit next to each other in church.

 There is some wisdom to having your acrobats nestled in between two solid adults. But while it may keep them from being disruptive, it could also be sending a subtle message of who’s the boss. (Hint: it’s not who it should be.) 

When our daughter turned 2, she became an unholy terror in Mass. We made a plan to address the tantrums and communicate what was appropriate behavior while we were in God’s house (I forget how we have to teach kids literally everything). Once she understood the clear and consistent consequences, we implemented sitting next to each other. It shows her not only that Mom and Dad are central, but that the whole reason we’re all there is to re-center on Jesus, not to make our kid sit still. 

4. Talk to each other and be affectionate to each other in front of the kids.

 And I mean have a conversation with each other and let the kids be. No really. Kids can entertain themselves—even a 2-year old can reasonably be expected to play independently for 15-30 minutes, depending on the kid—though it may be a skill that needs to be taught first. Use that time to talk, hug, and give a random kiss or two. These are all important elements of maintaining a healthy marriage, as well as being a teaching opportunity for your kids.

Children need to see that conversations that Mom and Dad have are important, and that healthy communication is the backbone of a marriage (refer back to my anecdote in point 1). And if you think a 2-year old is too young to notice or care, just wait till they shout their first cuss word that they incidentally learned from you. 

5. Make time for date night. 

I know this one is so tough. One of the biggest impediments to going out is finding someone who can stay with your kids. Jen and Logan have a great download for planning date nights, complete with ideas for babysitting swaps, so I’m just going to tell you about a twist I have on that idea. 

While I don’t live near any family, I am blessed to have close friends who also have kids, and here’s what we do: Mom A babysits for Mom B’s kids, BUT Mom A doesn’t arrive till after Mom B’s kids are in bed. This means Mom A has a night to herself (at a different house), and Mom B has a worry-free date with the hubs. Then Mom A and B trade off. Pretty cool, right? It doesn’t cost a thing, and you both win every time. Pro tip: put the kids to bed a little early so you can have some extra time to get ready.

6. Discipline in unity. 

It’s paramount that your kids see you as a united front. If you don’t agree with how your spouse handled a certain situation, DO NOT confront it in the moment or in front of your kids at all. Bring it up once they’ve gone to bed, which little ones mercifully do fairly early. Talk about your child’s behavior, appropriate discipline, and the thought behind how you approach it. 

We typically model our own parenting on how we were parented, but even good things from your childhood may not make sense in your own family. It’s important to understand where you’re each coming from and think through what makes sense for your family. Children need to know that Mom and Dad are in it together, especially when it comes to the behavior that is expected from them. 

7. Have fun together as a family. 

What’s the common element of your favorite childhood memories? Having fun together as a family! We love music and dancing, so most evenings before and/or after dinner, we have a family dance party. It’s also a great way to diffuse the tension of a tantrum or let out some pent up energy on a rainy day. 

Find a few activities that you enjoy as a family and do them regularly. These don’t have to be elaborate! The simpler and more spontaneous, the better. 

 

It’s worth the effort

After all of that, you may still be wondering…why is it so important to make my marriage central right now

You’re teaching your children about marriage through your marriage, and you’re building the foundation of that education right now. Any builder will tell you if the foundation isn’t right, the whole project will be moot. Building a family takes time, patience, perseverance, a ton of humor, and most importantly, love. 

You aren’t going to get it right everyday, and that’s ok. Most building projects take double the time and double the budget, but it’s always worth it. It is never a bad idea to work on keeping your marriage a priority. I can promise your kids will thank you for it. 

 

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Emily is a south Louisiana native living outside DC with her husband Nick and two cherubs. After five years working in the political arena, she left to run her own rat race at home and was amazed at how well working with politicians prepared her for toddlers. Her background is in architecture and she finds the principles of building incredibly well-suited to the job of molding little humans and designing her blog. You can connect with her here: Total W(h)ine Blog | Instagram | Facebook

 

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You can make date night happen: how to overcome obstacles and make the most of every date

We love going on dates. We go through phases where we’re really good about making it happen regularly. But then there are phases where it’s realllllly hard to make a date happen. Schedules are crazy, budget is tight, kids get sick…you know how it goes.

Over the years, we’ve gotten really creative when it comes to date night and have learned so much when it comes to making the most of every date. We also can identify with many of the obstacles that keep couples from going on dates (babysitting and budget!).

So we decided to write a Date Night Guide for Married Couples. It’s not just a bunch of date night ideas, because you can find that anywhere! (Okay, we did include some ideas, but that’s just lagniappe.)

We really wanted to share our thoughts about what we do on every date, how to make date night happen despite all of the obstacles, and to encourage you to keep trying to make dates a priority.

If you’re still not sure if our date night guide is for you, ask yourself these questions… 

Do you desperately want alone time with your spouse but having trouble figuring out how to make it happen? 

Do you feel like whenever you do go on a date, you’re not connecting with each other the way you should?

Do you want to make the most of every date night, whether it happens once a week or once a year?

Do you wonder if it’s even worth the effort to go on dates?

If you answered yes to any of those, this guide is for you. Whether you’re struggling to go on dates or you’re actually pretty consistent with it, there’s something in this guide for everyone!

This 22-page Date Night Guide for Married Couples (in PDF form) will help you do several things: 

    • Identify obstacles to date night
    • Get suggestions on how to overcome those obstacles
    • Make the most of your date night, regardless of how often it happens (this is our favorite part of the guide!)
    • Connect spiritually and emotionally
    • Consider other factors, like each other’s personalities, when it comes to planning dates
    • Brainstorm ways to connect when leaving the house isn’t feasible
    • Include your faith into every date night
    • Much more!

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We are both passionate about the importance of going on dates and know that they have contributed to both the emotional and spiritual growth of our marriage. It is our prayer that this guide does the same for your marriage!

$2.99

 

Our digital products are our main (and usually only) source of income for this ministry. So we appreciate your support! Check out our shop page to see other other products. 

Date night guide

Somewhere Beyond the Sea: My Vocation to Military Marriage

Every marriage is different, and we often want to share about topics we either have limited or no experience with. So that’s when guest posts come in! We’re excited to share this post from Victoria. She writes beautifully about military marriage and how to keep your marriage a priority when you’re far apart from your spouse.

 

Swing-Dancing Navy Man

I’m such a sucker for the old crooners. Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Bing Crosby. I love sifting through records at the thrift store looking for members of the Rat Pack. The songs are so powerful and soulful, and the simple lyrics make for energetic sing-along sessions with my hairbrush as a microphone.

But I’m especially a sucker for dancing. I’m obsessed. Swing dancing in particular. Twisting and turning and flinging each other around – it’s a controlled manic chaos, and when you get it right, to just the right song, it’s magic.

My obsession is to the point that when I started dating a cadet at the military academy next door to my liberal arts college, I told him that if he wasn’t up for learning how to swing dance, we probably weren’t going to make it very far.

Needless to say, he was a quick study. That may be why, six years later, I’m married to a swing-dancing Navy man.

 

Somewhere Beyond the Sea

As I sat down to write this, I put my Bobby Darin vinyl on the record player. His “Beyond the Sea” is a favorite of mine; even before I married a Navy man I would study while it was playing through my ear buds.

Somewhere beyond the sea

Somewhere waitin’ for me

My lover stands on golden sands

And watches the ships that go sailin’

It’s beautiful to consider a man traveling around the world, and the lover sitting on the shore waiting for him to come home. The loyal wife standing on the sands, waiting and longing. And I’m here to tell you – there are things this song captures perfectly about a man who goes away “sailin’” (in our case it sounds less pleasant – deployment). I do wait for him to come home. My heart longs for him to be back with me. I stand firm in my loyalty to him, even when he’s away. But standing around doing nothing on golden sands? Let me tell you. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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The Work of Marriage

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good beach day. A very human, very lazy part of me would love to just hang out on golden sands while my husband is underway. Watch the boats go sailing by…with a book in one hand and a margarita in the other…man, that sounds nice.

But my vocation to marriage doesn’t disappear when my husband’s gone. If anything, that’s when the work of the vocation gets really intense.

If you’ve found your way to this blog post, I probably don’t need to be the person who breaks the news to you that marriage is hard work. If you didn’t know, well, belated spoiler alert. Sorry. What I really want to emphasize is that, regardless of who you are or what your circumstances are, marriage is hard work. It’d be neat if it were all just swing dancing and beach days, but it’s not.

When we accept our vocation to marriage, we are accepting God’s call to sacrifice and commitment. The military life brings with it a unique set of sacrifices and challenges to that commitment (I’m looking at you, deployments and constant moving). It requires specific forms of intentionality and hard work. 

 

Tips for when Your Spouse is “Beyond the Sea”

Here are some things I’ve learned and picked up from our experience with the military. Some of these are from my direct experience, some of them are advice from others. We have been blessed in the sense that my husband has not yet done a long underway. He has done several periods of a few months away, along with many overnight and weekend long shifts, and that’s where my experience comes from. I also have lots of dear friends and family in the military who have shared their first-hand experience of deployments.

 

Your Vocation Comes First

This is something we say but is sometimes hard to live. The world tugs at us for our attention, but we need to let our vocation stand at the center. Since my husband is gone so often, I need to prioritize him in the time that he is available. 

This can mean dropping everything when he’s finally free for a phone call. It means canceling plans when he comes home a day early. For me specifically, it meant switching jobs so that my hours weren’t occupying that precious time when he was home from work.

 

Pray, Pray, Pray

Prayer is my strength!  When he’s gone, I lean on God so heavily through prayer. When I’m missing him or feeling lonely, I cry out for God’s grace. Deployments and underways are powerful reminders that the strength of my marriage comes from God and my relationship with Him through prayer.

Also, deployments are a reminder of how important prayer is to strengthen a vocation. Sometimes there’s absolutely nothing I can do for my spouse but to pray for him. I just want to love him, to serve him, to sacrifice for him, but there’s nothing I can do. In those moments, I pray.

 

Humility is Key

Marriage is tough. Deployments and underways are tough. I don’t always get it all right all of the time. My pride wants me to be able to be perfect all the time. Out of pride, I feel like I should be able to shoulder the burden of keeping things together at home while not falling apart because I miss him too much. But I just can’t keep that up all the time.

The Spirit teaches me in these moments the crucial importance of humility. I will fail, but that’s because I’m human (surprise surprise). I need God, and I long for my husband in my life. That’s how I was designed. In the moments when I’m less-than-perfect, I ask God for the gift of patience as I struggle through that time.

 

Plan Ahead

Intentionality and mindfulness is the key to a good period of separation. I’ve heard so many good ideas for this: writing letters to each other to be opened when you’re apart, leaving secret notes to be found, leaving gifts behind to be opened at certain dates, having plans for when things get overwhelming, creating a support network, praying together beforehand.

A wonderful spiritual mother of mine recommended that both spouses keep a loose schedule. For example: wake up, eat meals, and go to bed around a certain time. Say prayer at a specific time of day, like the Divine Mercy at three o’clock. If you do this, then even when you’re far apart, you can look at the clock and know what your spouse is doing. With prior planning, you can maintain connection and involvement in your spouse’s life even when you’re apart.

 

Be Patient When He/She Comes Back

This may be shocking, but sometimes the hardest part is when he comes back. Sure, when they’re first getting off the ship, there’s excitement and giddiness and joy. But when the initial happiness wears off, it can be really trying. When he was away, I established my own pace of life, living on my own. My own habits, my own routines, my own decisions.

However, with him back, I need to accommodate his life into my life all over again. Truly, it’s the bread and butter of marriage, learning how to love each other in those small, trying moments. It takes a little bit of time to adjust back to that mindset after he gets back from a few months away – and probably a whole lifetime to master.

 

“I know beyond a doubt”

As I’m re-listening to “Beyond the Sea,” I’m really struck by the following lines:

I know beyond a doubt

My heart will lead me there soon

We’ll meet beyond the shore

We’ll kiss just as before

I love the certainty expressed in these lines. Although deployments and underways are difficult, our marriage is rooted in faith and reliance on God’s grace. We know beyond a doubt that God calls us to live out this marriage. He gives us the grace to keep going in good times and bad. 

Our marriage is rooted in certainty and is the foundation of our joy. And that makes it all the sweeter when we “kiss just as before.”

 

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Victoria is a Navy wife who left her beloved Shenandoah Valley for wherever her husband’s chain of command might send him (currently beautiful, hot South Carolina!). Between the Navy and her newborn baby girl, this organized, plan-oriented girl is working to discover joy when the Holy Spirit throws her plans out the window. She’s an Ink Slinger for CatholicSistas, and also writes for the blog Housewife // Savagelife, which presents the eye-opening dialogue between herself and a prison inmate. You can read it here or on Facebook and Instagram: @housewifesavagelife.

Bear the Whole Fruit Tray: Infertile, Still Fruitful

We have been so inspired by our dear friend, Mary, throughout her journey of infertility – and she is one of the reasons why we pray often for couples struggling with infertility. She’s sharing an important message about being fruitful in marriage, and we can’t wait for you to read it!

 

My husband and I love fruit. He even likes fruit for dessert. I would hardly classify a bowl of strawberries “dessert,” but pour some sugar, chocolate, and whipped cream on it and you’ve got yourself a sweet treat! The thing we get made fun of for the most is our love for pineapples. We’ll eat them fresh off the tree, sprinkled all over our pizza, or even grilled up and tossed on our hamburgers! Weird? Maybe. But yum? Yes. There is no shortage of fruit in the Bruno house, but some may not agree…

Chris and I officially met in 2010 and married in 2013. Growing up, we both naturally desired to be parents one day. It’s funny how we don’t typically classify having kids as a “dream” because most of us just expect to start popping them out when we’re ready. We were no exception. 

Our dating was characterized by both joy and pain due to my newly diagnosed chronic disease – endometriosis – and subsequent surgeries. But this only increased our growth in love and holiness. Chris truly became my knight as he flew with me across states for medical procedures and cared for me even before he put a ring on it. And two days before my third surgery, he did. 

Then Genesis 2:24 puts it best…

“Leave your father and mother and be united to your wife.” The author of the Bible said (in so many words), “Become one flesh.” He said…

So we did. And it has been bumpy but beautiful. I’m not trying to be cliché. Every marriage has struggles, and ours have made our marriage stronger and sweeter. We are just finishing up preparing our third engaged couple for marriage, and my favorite piece of advice to give each couple is to not be afraid of the potential hard stuff- you know, the sickness part of the “in sickness and health” vow. This is when you get the opportunity to choose love for your spouse and to fully live out your vocation the way it was intended. Suffering helps us to grow in unity more than anything else when we make a gift of it.

We learned that lesson quickly as we began to realize that we may not be able to get pregnant and my physical pain was slowly getting worse.

“Be fruitful.” He said. “Multiply.” He said.

But we couldn’t. Is He sure He wrote that correctly?

These words would mentally and emotionally beat me up over the years. God has designed for us this beautiful vocation of marriage where He invites us to become one flesh and experience a little piece of heaven on earth. But He doesn’t stop there. He allows us mere humans to be co-creators of new life with Him – to be present as He drops a fresh little soul into a fresh little human embryo. To bear fruit. It really is amazing.

Its amazingness is one of the reasons why infertility is so hard. Man, I just wish my body could do all those special little things that make conception and implantation possible! But it doesn’t. So those “fruitful” and “multiply” words made me feel insignificant – not because we weren’t actually being very fruitful, but because we couldn’t see it.

CCC 1654: “Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.”

I eventually learned that being fruitful doesn’t just mean biological children. It’s far from it! Consider how fruitful priests and nuns are. It took awhile for me to get there because the focus for me (especially in Catholic circles) has always felt directed towards being open to life in the context of pregnancy, children, schooling, more pregnancy, more children, and then schooling again. These are beautiful events and desires, but when one cannot take part in those activities and conversations, it’s easy to feel insignificant.

Y’all, we are more than our ability to have and raise children. We are also more than our inability to do these things.

I know what some of you are thinking right now: “Ahh Mary, hold the phone -I’m pretty sure it is most important for me to bear children…” or something like that. I don’t know exactly the right answer, but I am challenging that idea. What does that say about me who cannot bear children? That God has preserved someone like me from doing something so important through no fault of our own? That I am not as important? That the fruits of my marriage will never be as good? I’m just not sure He works like that. So I’m simply encouraging us to look at it differently. 

Yes, bearing children is important. We need to populate the world. But that’s going to happen as many people continue to become parents. The focus should not necessarily be on the next child, but on this: “What is God calling us to do today?” Sometimes it will be to have another child, but sometimes it won’t. It can be just as selfish to desire another child as it can be to decide to be done growing your family.

“Open to life” requires more than just not using birth control. What are the gifts God has given you to sprinkle into the world as an individual? As a couple? Are you and your spouse achieving pregnancy on purpose because you have discerned that God said it is time or by “accident” (excluding hyper-fertility situations) because you’re not using NFP correctly? Are you open to the fact that God may be calling you to have more children? God has gifted us with the knowledge to effectively avoid pregnancy and intentionally achieve pregnancy in a couple with normal fertility. Do we appreciate that gift and respect His timing? 

Discover all of your gifts

Because of my infertility, I was forced to pursue desires and open gifts I didn’t know I had. Now I wonder if I would have reached this potential if I had been able to bear children. Not because those gifts didn’t exist, but because no one was encouraging me to look for them! My own beautiful and wonderful Church wasn’t even challenging and affirming me in that way. Would I have the same fighting spirit and foster the same desire to help other women and couples?

I learned that I am a good speaker and motivator. I started a ministry to empower women to know their bodies and get them the right help. I am becoming a Creighton Model Practitioner. I learned I can write blogs and rap lyrics that I’ve written myself. We were trained in marriage preparation. We adopted our daughter. I became a founding member of The Wise Fools media group. I give advice. I make people laugh. I volunteer. I cook for friends…and strangers if needed. There is a lot more I have to learn and a lot more I have to give. 

Fertile or not, God has given us each unique gifts and abilities to share with the world. This is not just a story about bearing fruits of your life and marriage, but how beauty is born from suffering and difficult situations. Imagine what fruit can grow during the days you are abstaining!

Bear the whole fruit tray

Ironically, we celebrated our daughter’s second birthday party one year ago with a “Two-tti fruitie” theme because she loves fruit so much. We literally rejoiced in the life of one of the fruits of our marriage with a fruit-themed party. What a corny sentence, but how appropriate? Just like our favorite fruit trays, the fruits of our lives and marriages come in an intricate and beautiful variety of ways, shapes, flavors, colors, and sizes. 

As much as I would love to sit on the couch with a fork and a fresh watermelon, it is good for me to discover and pursue other fruits. After all, who do we think invented all those delicious combinations? Bear the whole fruit tray and add some whipped cream to our Creator’s own bowl of fruity goodness.

 

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Mary Bruno is a former Physical Therapist Assistant of 6 years who “retired” the day she and her husband welcomed their adopted daughter into the world three years ago. Her long-time struggle with pain and infertility inspired her to start a ministry – “Taking Back the Terms” – nearly 4 years ago to make use of her suffering by helping other women to find better women’s health solutions that treat the whole woman more effectively. She is passionate about her Catholic faith and hopes that her ministries will help shed a light of love and understanding on authentic faith and women’s health. Presently, Mary is training to become a Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner and is thrilled to connect women of all ages to this system that truly helps us appreciate our gift of fertility. She is also a founding member of Wise Fools Media Group where she podcasts. Find her @takingbacktheterms on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, and read her blog here.

10 Lessons from 10 Years of Marriage

We’re celebrating 10 years of marriage this month! We can hardly believe it’s been a decade since we walked down the aisle and committed ourselves to each other for the rest of our lives.

To celebrate, we’re giving away some resources to one lucky reader. Find the details in the bottom of this post! (Edited 6/15/19 to add: giveaway is now closed!)

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June 12, 2009

Since it’s been quite the adventure since our wedding day, we’ve learned quite a few things…and we’re still learning. Here are 10 lessons we’ve learned in 10 years of marriage (but honestly, we could put a lot more!):

  1. Always, always have fun together. Seriously. Being silly and laughing together is what has gotten us through some difficult times.
  2. You can’t change your spouse – you can only change yourself. Trying to change each other will only lead to frustration. But if we try to change ourselves first? That’s when growth happens. Ask us how we know…
  3. Take time away, regularly, with just the two of you. Date nights, retreats, you name it. One day your kids will be out of the house and you’ll be retired, and it’ll be just the two of you! So do everything you can to foster your relationship together.
  4. Just like most jobs require continuing education, so does your marriage. Read marriage books, attend marriage enrichment nights, read blog posts about marriage. There are so many awesome resources out there that can help you and your spouse grow closer together. (See our giveaway at the end of the post for some resources you can win!)
  5. Things are never as bad as they seem. Why yes, when you can’t stop fighting with each other, your kids are climbing the walls, and everything in your house seems to be breaking and in need of repair…life feels pretty overwhelming. But God works through all of that!
  6. A marriage consists of a husband, a wife, and God – and no one else. It’s important to set boundaries with other relationships, especially if they’re causing issues in your marriage.
  7. Everything comes down to communication. Share everything with each other, and don’t expect to be able to read each other’s minds.
  8. Prayer first, marriage second, and everything else will follow. We can’t do anything without God! If we put him first, our spouse second, then we will have the grace to do everything else.
  9. Every marriage is different…so don’t compare! Just because it’s more common for the women to cook and the men to handle finances, doesn’t mean you have to do the same in your marriage. Do whatever works best for your marriage! And forget the stereotypes.
  10. Small acts of love make a big difference. Fixing a cup of coffee for your spouse, texting a sweet message while one of you is at work, or letting your spouse sleep in while you handle breakfast with your kiddos. These small gestures really do help a marriage thrive, so remember to do them often!

What lesson would you add to our list?


Now for the giveaway! All of the following is provided by us and will go to one lucky winner:

  • Our Joy-filled Marriage: Couple’s Journal
  • Intimate Graces: How Practicing the Works of Mercy Brings Out the Best in Marriage by Teresa Tomeo and Dominick Pastore
  • Amazing Grace for Married Couples: 12 Life-Changing Stories of Renewed Love by Jeff Cavins, Matthew Pinto, and Patti Armstrong
  • The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman

There are several ways to enter via the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck! (US residents only, please!)

Edited 6/15/19 to add: giveaway now closed!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Natural Family Planning: A Man’s Perspective

We have our first guest post! Fellow Catholics Online member, Tim Lucchesi, of Chaste Love was gracious enough to share his thoughts about Natural Family Planning. It’s not too often you hear a man’s perspective, and we love what he has to say on the topic…

 

Natural Family Planning: A Man’s Perspective

Approximately four years ago, I attended Holy Mass with my girlfriend, took her on a brief walk through a park, got down on one knee and asked her to be my bride. She nodded and quickly said, “uh yeah!” And after the whirlwind of excitement, the chaos began!

We had to find a date that worked for both her parish and our busy schedules, we had to create an invite list, a back up invite list, and a registry. We had to discuss fonts and budgets and of course create a Pinterest-inspired announcement for social media.

And we had to learn about Natural Family Planning.

 

The journey begins

Like most people, I knew very little about Natural Family Planning prior to getting engaged. Both my experience as a youth minister and my personal commitment to the virtue of chastity had helped me know a little bit, but not enough.

On the other hand, my bride-to-be had nearly eight years of experience in learning the Creighton Model method while charting her cycle. Plus, she had nearly as many years as a high-risk obstetric nurse. Not to mention the fact that her mother had been an NFP instructor for nearly 30 years.

We went to our required engagement retreat and heard a wonderful couple share their personal witness of having used NFP in their marriage. We sat there as couples around us moaned and mumbled impolite things about the Church’s teaching. Then we attended a slightly awkward “intro session” to learn about the method we had chosen.

It quickly became clear to me that Natural Family Planning was very much centered on the woman and her reproductive system. So as an engaged man, and now as a husband and father, I was left asking a question, “Where do I fit in?”

 

Common concerns about NFP

Many people have concerns about using NFP for family planning. The birth-control pill just seems so simple. But putting aside all the moral and relationship-based reasons to not use contraception, the pill is poison. I will not put my wife’s mental and physical health at risk so I can have a feeling of control over my fertility. She deserves better! All women deserve better.

Perhaps the most common, and yet often unspoken reason why people decide not to use NFP is because of the fear of failure. This failure could be user error or method ineffectiveness, but regardless the fear remains. And if avoiding pregnancy is your goal, you can be just as successful at avoiding pregnancy by using NFP as you would by using contraception. But with NFP, you avoid all the risky side effects.

Many people want to achieve a pregnancy only at the precise time of their choosing. And I completely understand that instinct! Pregnancy can be difficult! And raising children, while rewarding, is the most difficult task I will ever undertake. But using contraception leads to a false sense of control and certainty. And when contraception fails, that sense of control is shattered, leading to higher stress in an already challenging situation. A key part of using NFP is remaining open to life. So no matter what happens, you are better prepared to receive new life. Even in the most unexpected of times.

 

NFP and charting…not the same thing

Looking back over the years, I realize that I was wrong about something that is key to successfully using NFP. Charting a woman’s cycle is primarily about the woman’s health and fertility. But Natural Family Planning is about the husband, the wife, the children, and God. It’s about bonding with my bride; spiritually, physically, intellectually, communicatively, and emotionally (aka SPICE).

NFP assists me in loving my wife. More importantly, NFP allows God to love my wife through me. And simply put, the more I can love my wife, the better I can love our children.

As a man, I am not called to love part of my wife, but every aspect of her very being. It’s my duty to share my whole self with my bride. And I desire to share my good days, my bad days, my hopes, my fears, my joys, and even my fertility. Anything less would be selfish. Anything less would not be selfless love.

 

The gift of fertility, NFP, and the Church’s teachings

I desire to do God’s will. And it isn’t easy. But NFP is a tool that helps me to do so. With my whole heart, I believe that God desires us to have children. And I believe that God won’t give us more children than we can handle.

I refuse to see fertility as a burden. By giving me reproductive abilities and blessing me with children, God has shared with my bride and me the very essence and power of His love and creation. A power, with which, God created all the planets in all the galaxies throughout the universe. But even more significantly, God has trusted us with the spiritual growth and guidance of unique souls.

So with that in mind, I am immensely thankful for the gift of my fertility, the Church’s teachings on sexuality, and for the science behind Natural Family Planning. All of these have made me a better husband, a better father, and a better man.

 

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Tim Lucchesi is Director of Chaste Love Ministry. But more importantly, he is a beloved son of God, a husband to an amazing woman and the father of two children: the most beautiful little girl and his precious baby son. Tim loves cheesecake and sees every superhero movie that he can. After six years in parish and regional youth ministry, Tim felt called to create Chaste Love, because everyone deserves healthy relationships. Check out his work at chastelove.org or @thechastelove on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

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If you want to hear some of our thoughts about NFP, check out our video:

 

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The enemy wants to destroy your marriage

We recently went on our 4th marriage retreat! As always, it was the perfect time to reconnect and reevaluate our marriage, our family life, and our prayer life together. By now, we’ve realized that the enemy likes to attack us in the days and weeks after we return from a marriage retreat. Last year, when we got in a huge fight on the way home! Thankfully, God made sure to remind us early on in this retreat that the enemy can be sneaky…

Throughout the weekend, there are several periods of “couple reflection time” – we spend about an hour or so with just the two of us, praying together, answering reflection questions, and talking about how life is going and what we can do to improve.

During the very first couple reflection time of the weekend, we were sitting on a bench in front of a pond, filled with fish and turtles. The weather was beautiful, so we were enjoying the outdoors while having a great conversation – bringing up struggles in our marriage and how to grow together. That short time together was so fruitful, and we were feeling pretty good about it while excited about the rest of the weekend. We knew God was with us and could feel the Holy Spirit moving!

As we closed that time together in prayer, we both opened our eyes at the same time and realized there was a snake in the water, swimming across right in front of us. From then on, we were both distracted in our prayer and couldn’t take our eyes off the snake. (With good reason – snakes are the worst!)

Afterwards, we couldn’t help but think of what a great metaphor that was in married life (and life in general). There are times where we are doing really well in our relationship with God and with each other, and that’s exactly when the enemy is going to try to distract us. A lot of times we won’t even realize our focus is being drawn away from what’s important.

We all know that the enemy is going to attack us when we’re weak, but we tend to forget that he can be sneaky and distract us when we’re strong too.

That’s why it’s important to come together on a regular basis, to share our hearts with each other. We need to make sure we’re keeping our focus on God and not being drawn away by the enemy.

A marriage retreat is a great time for us to do that – and why we try to go on one every year – but sometimes life circumstances don’t allow for us to go away for a weekend. That’s okay, though! We can still set aside time together – whether it’s a few hours one day, or an overnight date, or any other scenario – where we reevaluate all areas of life and where we have intentional conversation together.

“To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. Without his help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them ‘in the beginning.’”  -The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1608

Here’s our video after our last marriage retreat, where we share our takeaway and why we go on retreats often:

And here’s the video we did after our retreat last year, when we got in a fight on the way home:

 

Intentional conversation between spouses

It’s easy to forget that we should constantly be learning about our spouse. Even though we became friends in high school (15 years ago!!) and have been married for almost 10 years, there’s still a lot we don’t know about each other. And we actually talk to each other a lot!

Last year, we decided to each pick 10 questions to ask each other (scroll to the bottom of the post to see that video). And it was really interesting to see how much we learned from each other just in those few minutes. The crazy thing is, we didn’t even talk about spiritual matters! Most of the questions were kind of silly, like, “Whom would you most want as a dinner guest?”

It’s important to talk about the hard stuff too, though. Husband and wife are meant to be “one flesh” – not only in the physical sense, but emotionally and spiritually too. So that means praying together and sharing everything with each other.

Although we do talk a lot and share a lot with each other, we realized that we don’t set time aside specifically to talk without distractions (kids, TV, phones, etc.) – except for marriage retreats and the occasional date night. Conversation usually just happens whenever and often we get frustrated at the distractions that pop up (or when one of us decides to bring up a tough subject right before bed when the other is ready to sleep…oops). So one thing we are doing is prioritizing distraction-free conversation. Once or twice a month, we will put it on the calendar, maybe pick a special snack or drink to share, and talk about our hopes, dreams, and struggles with each other.

That being said, we also want to be more intentional about our conversation daily and weekly too. We decided not to watch TV at all last week and realized doing so opens up enough time to just sit and talk with each other, which is so important to do on a regular basis.

In case you need some ideas on what to talk about, here are a few to get you started!

 

Questions to ask each other daily:

-What was the highlight of your day today?

-Did you spend time in prayer today?

-How can I pray for you?

-What is one thing I can do to help you today?

 

Questions to ask each other weekly:

-Which compliment/gesture/act of kindness did I say/do for you this week that you appreciated the most?

-Did I do anything to hurt you this week? How could I have handled it differently?

-Are you struggling with anything right now? How can I support you in that?

 

Questions to ask each other monthly:

-How are our priorities right now? Are we putting prayer first and our marriage second?

-How is our family life? Do we need to make any changes?

-Which spending area do we need to cut back on?

-What goal can we set for the upcoming month?

 

You can also google “conversation starters” and find so many different questions to ask each other. Make it a monthly occurrence at least. Or you can download our list of conversation starters by clicking here or the image below!

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Do you set aside time to talk periodically? What does that look like for you and your spouse?

What Catholic couples can do during Lent

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If you watched our latest video (see bottom of this post), you’ll know that we proposed a challenge for your marriage this Lent: pick one thing to do together throughout Lent.

We also shared a couple of ideas that we were thinking about doing together, but we wanted to make an extensive list of ideas for you! It’s easy to go overboard and pick several things to do. But just pick one or two!

We’ve really come to see the power of doing one small thing together and how that can lead us to holiness. While giving up sweets or alcohol or something like that isn’t a bad thing, just make sure you’re picking something that will have a positive impact on your marriage and spiritual life together.

And remember, it’s not supposed to be easy! When you’re deciding on what to do, it’s also good to remember the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. So while we’re encouraging you to pick only one thing to do together, you should still focus on all three pillars throughout Lent.

Ready for some ideas for what you can do during Lent with your spouse? In no particular order, here we go!

  1. Pray together everyday, if you’re not already doing so. [It might be good to also read Praying For (and With) Your Spouse by the Popcaks.]
  2. Read Scripture daily. Maybe a Psalm a day or a chapter from one of the Gospels.
  3. Read Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage by the Angels. We did this during Lent last year since it’s 6 weeks long. It only takes 5 minutes a day!
  4. Do the enrichment program Beloved: Mystery & Meaning of Marriage. If your church parish has a subscription to Formed.org, you could do Beloved for free! There are 6 sessions, so you can do one each week in Lent.
  5. Sign up for the Pray More Retreat. It’s a self-paced online retreat with talks, videos, and study guides. The topics look so good and would be great conversation starters!
  6. Wake up earlier to connect and pray together.
  7. Go on a marriage retreat.
  8. Take Natural Family Planning classes, if you haven’t done so yet (or have been putting it off!).
  9. Don’t watch TV. But be sure to replace that TV time with something better!
  10. Pray a daily Rosary.
  11. Go to daily Mass during the week (in addition to meeting your Sunday obligation).
  12. Donate extra money to your church or favorite charity.
  13. Volunteer at your church and in your community.
  14. Read Three Secrets to Holiness in Marriage: A 33-Day Self-Guided Retreat for Catholic Couples by the DeMattes. (Disclaimer: We haven’t read this yet but plan to at some point this year! It has great reviews on Amazon.)
  15. Commit to not spending any money (other than necessities and usual bills) during Lent. Have a “no spend Lent”, if you will.
  16. Pray a Divine Mercy chaplet every day.
  17. Invite someone over for dinner each week. Maybe it’s time to work on hospitality!
  18. Pick a day each week to do hardcore fasting, like what’s done on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting together makes for some good accountability.
  19. Go to bed earlier. Make sure to pray together first!
  20. Commit to not having your phones by you when you’re spending time together at home. Enjoy each other’s company!
  21. Pick a person or family each week to bless in some way. Bring them a meal, offer to babysit, whatever you think might help them. (And don’t expect anything in return!)
  22. Pray an hour from the Liturgy of the Hours each day. This can be done with an app like iBreviary or Laudate, but I’m a big fan of the one-volume Christian Prayer. (And if you want to learn more about the Liturgy of the Hours, I recommend reading The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours by Daria Sockey.)
  23. Make a weekly visit to an Adoration chapel.

What ideas would you add to the list??


Here’s the video about our challenge for marriages during Lent:

 

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What you can do during National Marriage Week

Every year,  February 7-14 is recognized as National Marriage Week. It really is the perfect time to celebrate the gift of married life and to show appreciation for our spouse. It’s also a great idea to do a little extra something when it comes to nurturing your relationship together. And in case you wanted some ideas on exactly what you can do during National Marriage Week, we have some ideas…

1. Pray for all marriages.

This includes your own! We need strong and faithful marriages more than ever, and since prayer is so powerful, we need to make sure we’re praying for all marriages.

2. Show love and appreciation for your spouse.

How you do this can vary widely, but we always look to each other’s love languages for inspiration.

3. Plan a date night.

Even if you think date nights aren’t necessary in a marriage, it’s still good to get out together every once and awhile! Date night doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to be intentional quality time for just you and your spouse.

4. Read a marriage book together.

I shared my favorite books from last year in this post (including two we read together), but there are so many more to choose from! Reading together provides the perfect opportunity to have some great conversation.

5. Choose an enrichment program to go through together.

Just like certain professions require continuing education, we should be doing the same with our marriage! There’s an extensive list of enrichment programs at the USCCB’s website, For Your Marriage, here. We can personally vouch for how amazing United in Love is, which we did last year through our church parish. It was so fruitful!

6. Book a marriage retreat for the upcoming year.

(Here are 10 reasons why you should go on a marriage retreat.) Or you can do a 7-day online retreat! There are 5 to choose from here.

7. Listen to a marriage talk.

Dr. Brant Pitre has some great ones (like this one and this one), and there are plenty others one to be found on Formed.org by Venerable Fulton Sheen, Dr. Scott Hahn, and Jason Evert…just to name a few.

8. Do a 7-day photo challenge.

My friends at HailMarry thought of a fun challenge to do on Instagram and Facebook. Post a different picture of you and your spouse based on the idea they give you!

Do you have any other ideas?? Share them with us!

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