Read Time: 4 minutes

Talking about contraception is an important part of marriage preparation. Contraception in its various forms has become the status quo for sexual relationships outside of the Church. Some Catholic couples either don’t know or don’t agree with the Church’s teaching. Getting comfortable talking about contraception is vitally important for the moral and sexual health of the couples you work with.

So how do you have this conversation?

1. Know the Church’s teaching inside and out.

There’s no getting around it: the Church’s teaching on contraception runs contrary to what is accepted by modern culture and is often misunderstood.

If you aren’t sure why contraception is forbidden, read the teaching and prepare to discuss it. This doesn’t mean you need a graduate degree in theology before you start doing marriage prep.

Fortunately, the Catholic position is actually more intuitive than that, but you should know what you’re talking about and why the Church teaches what it does.

For many couples, you may be the first person who has ever shared the negative aspects of using contraception.

They will likely have questions and may even have objections.

You need to understand the principles behind the doctrine and be ready to explain why it is good for the couple’s marriage to avoid contraception.

Some good resources (for you and the couples) include the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, Catholic Answers, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

2. Be honest about the Church’s teaching.

Many couples have stories of priests or mentors giving them incorrect information about contraception and marriage. They may be upset when they find out they’ve been misled.

If that’s the case, tell the couple gently, but honestly, what the Church in her wisdom teaches about marriage and sexuality.

Don’t dance around the truth. Be clear about what is and isn’t allowed. Deliver the message with charity, but don’t leave the couple wondering what you actually mean. Then, you can work with them to figure out how to follow the Church’s teachings in their marriage.

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or afraid of the Catholic understanding of sexuality.

There are many good reasons to avoid contraception, from the potential health risks to the way it tends to violate the dignity of both spouses. If you know these reasons, you’ll be able to explain the Catholic position while truly understanding and believing it yourself, which is crucial.

3. Be patient with couples (and yourself).

For some couples, the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is strange and confusing. They may have a hard time understanding how a couple goes about having a happy, fulfilling marriage and sex life without birth control.

Obviously, you shouldn’t belittle or criticize them. Charity and gentleness are needed at all times.

Keep in mind that it’s not necessary for them to fully understand and agree with you right away.

Give them the truth clearly and kindly, then allow them time to think about what you said and discuss it privately. Suggest that they also pray about it. Conversion and understanding don’t have to happen immediately.

Let the Holy Spirit work, and don’t feel the need to “win” the discussion and answer every objection the first time you broach the subject. If a change of heart is needed, remember that it is God, not you, who will work that out.

4. Offer an alternative.

The thought of being married and having sex without contraception can be overwhelming for some couples. Visions of 20 children or 15-passenger vans may pop into their heads. The couple may fear the health risks that can be associated with pregnancy, especially if the wife has underlying health problems.

On a theoretical level, wives may believe the Church only values them for their ability to have babies.

Fortunately, the Church doesn’t simply forbid contraception and abandon couples to figure it out on their own. It offers an alternative approach: Natural Family Planning (NFP).

There are a lot of great resources available for couples who want to learn about NFP, including our own new course: NFP Life.

You’ll also want to know if NFP coaching is available locally, if your parish doesn’t have a program for that. Oftentimes, local nurses will be certified to teach the methods of NFP. If your parish does offer a program or class, have the information on hand and give it to the couple right away.

You’ll also want information on medical professionals who actually know how NFP works (learn more about Dr. Danielle Koestner here). As frustrating and tragic as it is, some OB/GYNs can be woefully untrained and uninformed about the scientific methods used in NFP.

You should understand the basics of NFP — and why it isn’t the “rhythm method” — so you can answer initial questions from the couple. Allow the details to be covered by the mentor or course.

The bottom line

NFP has tremendous benefits for the couple’s health and their marriage. Understanding these can be helpful when explaining why they should practice Natural Family Planning in their marriage.

Contraception and family planning may be a difficult topic for many couples, but if it’s done with charity and wisdom, such conversations can bear a lot of fruit.

Above all, remember that the Church has very good reasons to teach what it does, and these teachings are actually borne of science and theology, not just one or the other. When you meet with couples to talk about contraception and Natural Family Planning, you can be confident that you are sharing good news for both their physical and spiritual health.

Read Time: 2 minutes

Financial discussions can be difficult to have with your partner. Everyone has different philosophies about managing money. However, when couples get married, having healthy discussions about money can directly affect your relationship.

These tips can help guide you through difficult conversations about money.

Have an Open Mind

When discussing your finances, it’s important to keep an open mind. Everyone comes from varying financial backgrounds and may have had different experiences with money. These experiences contribute to a person’s financial outlook, and it can cause conflict when you and your partner don’t see eye to eye.

However, if you maintain an open mind during financial conversations, you may be able to work through disagreements quickly and with more effective solutions.

A great way to avoid confrontation is to spend time focusing on your partner’s strengths.

If the entire conversation is focused on their weaknesses, your partner may get defensive which could lead to arguments. Make sure you acknowledge the financial strengths of your partner so they feel supported throughout your discussion.

Create Realistic Goals

As with any important conversation with your partner, you should agree on a common goal.

Are you talking about setting up a budget, or do you want to save money to start a family? Whatever your goals are, be upfront and honest about them and try to keep the conversation on track.

Remember, when you’re setting up goals with your partner they need to be actionable and specific.

Realistic goals need to include dates and checkpoints, which makes it easier for individuals to hold themselves accountable.

Listen More, Talk Less

These conversations can get long and difficult, especially either or both of you do all the talking and no listening. Be in tune with what your partner is expressing, simply stating that you understand their point of view. This can go a long way.

Utilizing active listening techniques throughout your discussion will help de-escalate any disagreements you and your partner have. If you feel like you and your partner are struggling with healthy communication, you may want to consult your priest, a marriage counselor, and/or a mentor to help guide you.

Discuss All of Your Finances

This is the best opportunity to be transparent about any financial goals you’re working towards or concerns that you may have. This could include debt, credit score, loans, homeownership, or any other financial matters.

Being transparent about your financial status is the best way to establish an open line of communication about finances going forward. Thoroughly understanding your financial status can help you make educated decisions that impact your lives as a couple, such as moving in together for the first time, applying for a mortgage, or opening a joint bank account.

These larger financial decisions will be greatly impacted by your current financial status and should be discussed openly.

Additionally, you should also explain what you’re prioritizing financially.

That way, you both understand which goals you want to achieve first, and how they can best support your family. Make time in the conversation so both of you can clearly articulate the value of achieving goals. In doing that, you will both feel understood and supported.

It’s Hard, But Not Impossible

Discussing finances with your partner can be scary, especially if you’ve never openly discussed these topics before. However, by keeping an open mind, setting goals, and actively listening you’ll be well on your way to a stronger relationship and even better future conversations about money.

Read Time: 4 minutes

Having friendships with individuals and other couples is healthy for married couples.

We should all have a variety of people to engage with socially and consult for advice. Your best friend doesn’t have to be your partner’s best friend, but if your spouse can’t stand your BFF or vice versa, it’s going to create some tension.

So, how do you know if one of your friendships is negatively affecting your marriage?

1. Your Spouse Thinks Your Friend is Toxic

If your spouse has seriously negative feelings about one of your friends, you cannot ignore it. If the person who you’ve committed to as a lifelong intimate partner expresses this level of concern, failing to take their advice will damage your relationship.

Allow your partner to explain why they dislike your friend, and discuss options for handling the relationship.

As someone on the outside looking in, and someone with your best interest in mind, your spouse may be able to identify unhealthy behaviors that you’ve just accepted as part of the friendship. If you have a friend who frequently manipulates you, takes advantage of your kindness, or uses you as a dumping ground for their negative emotions, that likely won’t play well with your spouse.

Avoiding the conversation with your spouse or defending your friend’s bad behavior will lead to conflict in your marriage.

Especially if it becomes clear to your spouse that you are more loyal to your friend than you are to them. If you find yourself squabbling with your partner about a friendship, you’ll need to come to an agreement about how this friendship fits into your life. You will likely need to set boundaries with your friend, and let them know that you can no longer tolerate their destructive behavior.

If they can’t respect that, you may have to walk away.

2. Your Friend Doesn’t Approve of Your Marriage or Your Marital Culture

Adjusting to life as a married couple takes time. Even couples who’ve dated for years find life after the wedding is different than they imagined.

However, eventually, couples slip into routines and behaviors that uniquely mark their lives together and collectively make up their marital culture.

This culture is like any other with its own rituals, style of communication, foods, and distribution of roles among other things. Couples usually gravitate toward others who have similar cultures, describing the experience as “clicking” or “connecting”.

Having a friend who doesn’t approve of your marriage is kind of a deal breaker.

If your friend can’t support you in this major area of your life, their disapproval will become a source of constant conflict. If the issue is with your marital culture, there may be some room for compromise and acceptance. Communicate openly and determine what the issue is. If it’s something simple like public displays of affection that bother your friend, you may be able to take a break when they are around. More deeply held convictions that make up who you are as a couple may require some grace and understanding from your friend rather than an overhaul of your beliefs.

3. A Friend is Demanding a Level of Relationship Reserved for Your Spouse

A close friendship is a blessing and can be a safe place to process your feelings and talk about important things. However, friendship dynamics may change after marriage, and it’s natural to begin going to your spouse to talk about many of the things you used to communicate with your friends. You may even decide to share most things with your partner first and just recap with your friends.

Healthy friendships can handle this shift, even if it takes a period of adjustment. The line begins to grow blurry however, when a friend becomes jealous, resentful, or competitive of your spouse.

Good friends will be understanding of the changing dynamic of your relationship, even if they grieve the loss of your exclusive attention. Toxic friends will punish you for not meeting their relational demands, and they will try to make you feel guilty for being devoted to your spouse.

Removing Toxic Friendships from Your Life

If you’ve given your friends the benefit of goodwill, and talked through the changes brought on by your marriage, you should be able to step into a new and healthy era of friendship. Your connection with your spouse may even help your friendships become healthier as they offer perspective and help you communicate better with your friends.

But if you’ve clearly identified that your friendship is unhealthy and there are no signs it will improve, it may be time to move on.

Letting go of a friend is never easy, even if walking away from their destructive habits frees you from emotional pain. I’m not even sure you can un-love someone who you’ve cared about and invested in relationally. When friendships end, it is rarely mutual and positive, so you will have to trust your decision and be as respectful as possible.

Developing a Friendship With Your Spouse

Healthy marriages are marked by a strong friendship between partners. They have fun together, communicate openly, and want what’s best for each other. They aren’t greedy or possessive, and they support their partner having all kinds of friends. They love spending time together, but they also see the joy that outside friendships can bring to their partner and their relationship.

Partners who are good friends will also help you identify the people in your life who aren’t good friends.

They may do it verbally, or you may just start seeing the contrast between the way they care for you and the way an unhealthy friend tears you down. Either way, your marriage can provide a safe place to process outside relationships and a safe haven when you have to remove a toxic friend from your life.

Read Time: 4 minutes

Three Things I’ve Learned After 25 Years of Marriage: Part One

This may seem odd, but I don’t really like giving marital advice.

In order to give advice, you need to be thought of as someone who has attained a certain level of expertise on the subject at hand. In the area of marriage, even after 25+ years, I do not feel like an expert.

However, early on in our marriage my husband and I agreed that we would alway try to be learners, that we would try to grow individually and as a couple so we could have a strong and healthy relationship. We’ve kept that promise, and I’ve learned three important things along the way. Here is part one.

Nurturing Your Relationship Gets Harder When You Have Kids

It’s incredibly tempting to let your whole world revolve around your children when you become parents. Without even trying, kids are all-consuming with their physical, emotional, and educational needs.

This doesn’t stop as they become self-sufficient and the exhaustion of raising them transitions from worrying about feeding schedules and developmental milestones to their high school grades and dating choices.

Many parents shift, or even slowly drift, to expending all of their time and energy on their kids and neglecting their relationship with one another.

Date nights start being put off for school recitals and sporting events, conversations transition to detail swapping and scheduling logistics, and physical intimacy dwindles as couples deal with fatigue, fussy babies, and complicated bedtime routines.

Children Are Supposed to Leave the Nest, Spouses Are Not

One of the goals of parenting is to release self-sufficient adults into the world to make their own lives and create their own families. Couples who understand this realize they have to fight to nurture their marriage alongside raising their children.

They know that someday their children will leave their home, and they need something greater than co-parenting to keep them together.

My husband and I learned this lesson in a variety of ways over the years. We felt it as tension and anger that built up when we neglected each other. We saw it when we watched couples who made children their #1 priority struggle when their kids became adults. We realized it when we recognized that our kids, even when they were older, couldn’t handle our emotional needs in the way that we as partners could.

Understanding the Difference Between Your Identity and Your Roles

Because of the consuming nature of parenting, I sometimes found it difficult to separate my identity from the many roles I had as a wife and mother. I even introduced myself to new people by the roles I had:

“Hi, I’m Jessie, I’m Chris’s wife and a homeschooling mom of five.”

While those roles were wonderful and deeply satisfying parts of my life, they really weren’t who I was. They were wonderful gifts that allowed me to love and nurture people in an intimate way, but there was, and is, so much more to me.

Our identities, or who God uniquely created us to be, actually shape the way we perform our roles. We may grow and change, but the core of who we are remains quite steady. Understanding our identities can help us accept the changing demands of parenting, and it can help us have a healthier marriage.

Relieving Others of the Burden of Validating You

When our identities are rooted in the knowledge that God created us and gifted us with unique characteristics, we free ourselves and others from having to constantly validate us and make us feel important.

We love others more unconditionally, without a list of silent demands that can never fully be met.

This allows us to pour our attributes into parenting and being a spouse in healthier ways:

It allows us to create boundaries with our children because we can handle them being angry with us at times.

It allows us to let them become independent because we don’t need them to need us.

There are many more benefits, but these two alone are crucial to the health of your marriage.

Finding the Space to Focus on Your Marriage

There are a million ways to nurture your relationship as a couple while parenting, and it will be a constant flow of successes and failures, but making your marriage a priority is healthier for both couples and their children.

There are rhythms in life that provide natural places for rest, but couples with kids will always have to be intentional about spending time alone.

My husband and I used to joke that every time we went on a date, we ended up at the grocery store. Looking back, that’s not a negative thing at all.

Even taking the time to help each other with chores or routine tasks can be a bonding experience. In addition, couples have to figure out ways to be alone for small moments every day, and at least once a week for a couple of hours and once a year for an overnight retreat.

It’s About Progress, Not Perfection

If your marriage is growing, you’ll be able to see it. You’ll look back and see that you’ve grown closer, you understand each other more, and you’ve stopped having some of those petty arguments.

Your kids will see it too.

They will understand that their parents are a united front, there to offer love, support, and guidance as they navigate their way to independence.

It’s not always easy, but as your children become adults and move out, it’s incredibly gratifying to be left with your best friend. The partner you’ve shared so many memories with, worked through so many difficult moments with, and trusted with your most intimate thoughts and feelings. It also helps to have a wonderful friend who will still go to the grocery store with you.

Up Next:

Part Two: Your Sex Life Will Have Lots of Ups and Downs (Coming Soon!)

Read Time: 5 minutes

“They Said You’d Never Change”

I can clearly hear the voices in my head of multiple women saying:

“Don’t think you’re gonna change him, honey!”

“If he’s like that now, he’ll always be that way.”

“Once a [blank], always a [blank]. People don’t change!”

While these well-meaning and sometimes cautionary statements can be true, especially about destructive habits that naive partners are hoping will just disappear someday, they can also lead to a false belief that people never change.

Change is the Only Certainty in Life

My husband and I were married when I was 19 and he was 24. As I reflect on our 26+ years together, we have experienced many things that have permanently changed us. In some ways, we are still the same people that fell in love all those years ago, but in many other ways, we are completely different people.

Setting aside more complicated situations like substance abuse and mental illness, it’s naive to think that you and your partner won’t change much as you progress through life together. Change is a part of life, and it’s inevitable.

It’s actually unhealthy to avoid it, and trying to avoid it leads down its own path that ultimately, and ironically, changes us.

When my husband and I were going through premarital counseling with our priest, we talked about this natural phenomenon. Our priest asked us questions about how we would respond to future possible marital challenges.

Those questions helped us realize that the longer we stayed together, the more challenges we would face.

Additionally, we had to admit that circumstances could arise that had the power to change us into people we may not want to be. We realized then that the most important thing we could do was try to change together and head in the same direction, even if our paths weren’t exactly the same.

We recognized that we would each have our own personal take on life’s changes; but, if our core value to accept change as an opportunity for growth remained solid, we could change together and use those opportunities to grow stronger as a couple.

Change Can Lead to Growth

Since our marriage in 1996, we have experienced the death of many loved ones, the baby-through-adulthood stages of our five children, the onset of an autoimmune disease, periods of clinical depression and anxiety disorders, four housing moves and a major construction project, along with all the other ups and downs of world relations and the economy.

All of those major things, including all of the seemingly mundane “little things” in life, have changed us tremendously.

We’ve comforted, questioned, and cared for one another in our weaknesses and our failures. There have been arguments, tears, and broken-hearted apologies. There has been conflict, distance, and reconciliation. My husband and I have each had moments where we wondered who this person we were married to was becoming and if we were going to make it through these rough seasons intact.

So far, we’ve gone through the challenges together, and we’ve made it to the other side stronger.

How? For us, staying together and letting change grow us has been rooted in our beliefs or core values. In response to change, our actions have varied based on circumstances, but what we believe has stayed the same.

Here are some of the things we believed when we got married that have remained constant:

  • We believe in the sanctity of marriage: that we are accountable to God for the way we preserve and protect our relationship, and that He values our commitment to each other and will help us uphold it.
  • We believe that marital faithfulness is the key to building trust and security: we protect the exclusivity of our friendship and sexual relationship. We’re best friends, and we only have sex with each other.
  • We believe marriage can last a lifetime: we are committed to preserving and fighting for our relationship as long as we live.
  • We believe family is a priority: we don’t give up on family.
  • We believe communication is necessary: we don’t ignore issues or avoid confrontation. We talk about our feelings and concerns, and we listen to each other.
  • We get help when we’re stuck: we’re not afraid to ask for help when we can’t resolve our issues on our own.

Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes

In some ways, change gets a bad wrap. The negative stories we hear about people changing their minds about major areas of their lives or even their desire for their partner can make change seem like something to avoid. But the change that comes from gaining wisdom and understanding about ourselves and the world we live in is comforting in many ways.

As we navigate life together, confronting all of the wonderful and difficult circumstances that arise, we have the opportunity to learn new things, increase our capacities, and grow stronger emotionally.

When we do these things together, as partners in life and marriage, that growth is reflected in the quality of our relationship. We become better friends, more confident lovers, and more trusted confidants.

The change we can experience as we grow closer and learn more about each other can help us explore new areas of our relationship that weren’t available before. In some ways, as we change, we experience the newness in one another and have the opportunity to fall in love anew, discovering exciting new things about our partners that keep the relationship fresh and fun.

If we resist change, we actually resist expanding our ability to know each other and love each more.

This may be why some relationships stagnate and couples start looking for outside stimulation to pique their interest. Staying the same may seem comforting initially, but years and years of going through the same routines can shift to monotony and boredom if a couple resists change.

What if the Change is Negative?

When you’re walking through grief, postpartum depression, the loss of a job or other major life changes, personality, temperament, and attitudes can be affected temporarily or permanently. These circumstances can emotionally debilitate us and bring out the worst in us. Going through seasons like this is a normal part of marriage, but it can be unsettling and even heartbreaking to watch your partner suffer and struggle to be themselves.

These are the times to hold onto your core beliefs about marriage, and lean on God and others to help you navigate this season.

While our marriage relationship is exclusive in some ways, we should be part of a community of family, friends, and church members who provide a safe and supportive environment that acts as a protective net for us when we are struggling. Clergy and counselors are also valuable professionals who can help us navigate difficult seasons and work through problems.

Wise couples get help when they realize their struggles are beyond their current ability to easily solve or understand them. They value their relationship enough to be honest with themselves and others so they can move forward into healing.

Looking Forward to Change

Since change is inevitable, accepting it as a normal part of life can reduce the amount of shock you’ll experience when it happens. Reframing your relationship with change, and seeing it as a positive component of a healthy and thriving marriage, can help you look forward to the benefits it can offer.

As you head toward your 10th, 20th, and 50th wedding anniversary, you will become different people than the starry-eyed couple that stood at the altar all those years ago, but changing together can be a beautiful journey.

Read Time: 3 minutes

Moving in together is a big step in any relationship. You’ve just been married, and now you’re ready to take on your world together in a new home.

However, one of the biggest reasons couples fight at this stage, or any stage, is financial difficulties.

There are a few proactive actions you can take that’ll strengthen your relationship when it comes to finances and make the transition a little easier.

1. Have an Open and Honest Discussion

Having discussions about finances can be difficult for even the strongest of couples. During this discussion, you’ll want to evaluate the state of your individual finances and make some key decisions for your financial future. When entering into this important conversation, make sure to be respectful of others’ feelings and approaches to money, and be honest about the state of your finances when communicating to your partner.

Also, if you feel that the discussion has taken an unproductive turn, take a moment away from the conversation to relax, seek guidance, and remember this is the person you love. The important thing is to make sure you’re on the same page financially by the end of your conversation.

During these conversations, talk openly about your finances including student loans, credit card debt or other types of debt, savings goals, and retirement plans. This’ll help you understand your bigger financial picture as a married couple. Another decision you’ll need to come to by the end of this discussion is whether or not you want to combine your finances.

To some, marriage and living together means you should combine all aspects of your life, including finances.

However, there can be some advantages to keeping your finances separate, or having some things combined and others separate. It’s important to be understanding about your partner’s personal financial goals, and make sure to communicate about what you can work on together.

2. Decide to Rent or Own

The biggest decision you’ll make when moving in together is deciding where you’re going to live. In some situations, one partner will move into another partner’s current residence. Others prefer to start their life together in an entirely new home.

When beginning your search for your home, you’ll need to decide whether it’s best to rent or own.

After discussing your finances, you should have a pretty good understanding of how much you can afford to pay in rent. There’s often a preconceived notion that renting can save couples money, especially with recently raised interest rates. However, mortgage payments can be, at times, less of an expense.

Additionally, you’re working toward owning your home which is a financial asset as compared to paying rent, where the only benefit is having a living space. To see if owning is an option for you, you’ll need to figure out how much you can afford on a mortgage, which can be calculated by evaluating your credit score and your debt-to-income ratio. If you think owning is out of your budget, consider walking through this process first because it might be more within reach than you think.

3. Create Your Home’s Budget

Once you’ve decided if you’ll be renting or buying, you’ll want to create a budget for your home and your new family. When moving into a new place, there are always hidden costs that you’re not expecting initially. These costs include furniture, moving costs, appliances, and updates to your living space.

Even if you decided previously to keep your finances separate, this might be a good opportunity to open a joint account to pay for things such as the mortgage or rent, property taxes, utilities, and internet. This is a great way to ensure you’ve saved the correct amount of money each month collectively, and without needing to draw from your individual savings accounts to make these payments.

Once you have those expenses covered, you can start a simple budget for some of the other shared costs that you’ll incur monthly, such as streaming services, groceries, entertainment, pet costs, and home maintenance.

After living together in the home for 2 – 3 months, look at the money you’re spending in each category, and see where you can cut to increase savings. It might take some trial and error with your partner in these beginning months, but trust that with faith you and your partner will continue to grow.

Once you’re settled into your new home, you and your spouse can start enjoying your lives together. Remember to approach financial discussions with patience and to have financial health check-ups every now and again.

If you feel like you and your spouse are having disagreements about finances, or just experiencing difficult times, sometimes it can be best to see your priest, a financial counselor, and other marriage mentors in your life. Bumps in a marriage can happen, however with planning and understanding your life together can continue to grow through any obstacles.

Read Time: 7 minutes

​Congratulations! If you’re reading this you have successfully survived engagement, marriage preparation, wedding planning, and hopefully had the best day of your life with a lovely honeymoon to boot!

When my husband, Joshua, and I got married in June 2021, it was 4 weeks after we both graduated from college. I remember finishing finals, visiting my family in Dallas for a few weeks, then returning to Lubbock, TX for two weeks of setting up our new home and finishing wedding preparations.

Our wedding went off without a hitch and we had a wonderful week in the Ozark mountains. When we were up at our cabin the Arkansas woods, we both felt like years of university stress and months of wedding strain were lifted off our shoulders. It was by far the most blissful period of our lives.

But then we got home.

​Joshua and I had been together for 3 years and 7 months when we got married. We were best friends (and don’t worry, we still are!). We could spend every minute of every day together and never get bored of each other. We never cohabitated, but we spent plenty of time at each other’s residences while we dated through college.

We thought we knew how the other lived and that we wouldn’t find too many surprises. We had also, at the recommendation of our chaplain, conquered 10 weeks of premarital counseling in addition to completing The Marriage Group’s Pre-Cana course during engagement. To be honest, we realized marriage would be different on an intellectual and emotional level, but we apparently hadn’t fully grasped what marriage – our marriage – would look like on a practical level.

Now that we are a year into this, here are the 6 most important tips for newlyweds adjusting to the first weeks and months of marriage.

1. Allow Yourself to have High Standards

​Anyone who has lived with a roommate at any time in their life most likely may have suffered from not communicating their needs. I know I did all through college. I’m a very tidy person. I like the blankets folded and the pillows in place and the floor clear and the dishes washed and the trash emptied regularly. I never had a roommate who I was 100% happy with regarding their living habits. But, instead of just communicating my needs early on, I let my frustrations fester and build for months or even the entire school year. Why? Because this roommate was temporary. The dorm wasn’t my home.

Your spouse is not temporary, and your residence is your home.

​When Joshua and I moved in together post-honeymoon, we immediately told each other when we weren’t happy with a particular living habit.

  • I had a certain way I liked the dishwasher loaded and organized. I told him, and he did it!
  • He wanted me to communicate with him if I was going to be gone when he got home from work, and I did it!

It’s not like we had never washed dishes together or updated each other about our plans when we were dating. It’s that the little things mattered more as soon as we were married and living together in our home, not just dating or in a place we were staying for a year.

​So, allow yourself and your spouse to have high expectations, and communicate about them. This is the rest of your life we’re talking about. Don’t force yourself to settle for living less than you want to and silently build up frustration that will eventually boil over.

2. Learn How to Resolve Conflict

​You know how people say, “Don’t go to bed angry”? The idea behind it is to always resolve your conflict before the day ends.

From our experience, Joshua and I would disagree. What we learned in pre-marital counseling and what we find works in our marriage is building positivity within our conflicts. As St. Paul says in Ephesians 4:26, “Do not let the sun set on your anger” (not your conflict).

​This looks like being affectionate even and especially while you argue: holding hands while you talk or intermittently hugging and kissing when you feel the conversation making progress. This looks like setting boundaries with your spouse during heated arguments: letting them know if they’ve said something that hurt you, or that you need to take a break and calm down.

Above all, this still looks like conflict, yes, but also with the assurance that you and your spouse are both of good will toward the other.

You are not enemies or opponents. You are not trying to be right or make your spouse wrong. You are expressing your needs and desires and emotions. You are safe to give that to, and receive it from, your spouse.

​If you need sleep and let the conversation rest for a bit, get to a place where you feel safe with your spouse and then cuddle up for the night. Don’t make your mission: do not go to bed angry. Make your mission: go to bed secure.

3. Accept Influence from your Spouse

​While having high standards and communicating them to your partner, also allow yourself to adjust for your partner. When I first told Joshua I wanted the dishwasher loaded a certain way, I was so particular that I wanted him to load the forks on the right, the spoons in the middle, and the knives on the left. He tried to remember my particular order but struggled. The end result was he always loads the silverware into individual pockets (he keeps the forks together and the spoons together, etc.) but not necessarily from right to left. And guess what — I don’t care! I just wanted the dishwasher to be organized and slightly easier to unload.

​Psychology researchers have actually seen, from observing married couples, a direct correlation between accepting influence from your spouse and marital happiness.

If spouses are stubborn and refuse to hear their partner’s needs or desires and are unwilling to change up their own schedules or habits to accommodate the person they have vowed to spend the rest of their life with, it leads to nothing but trouble down the road.

  • If you’re the type of man to stay up until 3 AM playing video games and your wife would prefer you come to bed with her by midnight, you may want to consider rearranging your hobbies.
  • If you’re the type of woman to watch reality dating shows with your girlfriends when they air on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights and your husband would like you to pick just one of those three nights to continue your routine with, you may want to consider setting up some boundaries with your friends.

These things change when you get married, and that’s okay.

4. Make a Bill Calendar

​Review the section on Finances from your Pre-Cana course if you need to — because finances are a top source of stress for newlyweds. Every couple needs to work out the particulars of their spending expectations, habits, bank account and tax preferences, and any other details related to money on an individual and household level.

Joshua and I are a year into marriage and have our first kiddo, and we’ve had more than one conversation lately about how we want to handle finances and bills. We certainly don’t regret opening a joint account and completely sharing our money, but not everyone likes that idea. We don’t put “spending limits” on each other, but some people prefer to have that structure. It’s okay to not have all the answers right when you get married!

​But, if there is one piece of advice I think is safe to give across the board, it’s make a bill calendar. We have a full-month calendar in our kitchen with all our monthly bills: what they are, how much they cost, when they’re due, and how they need to be paid (auto or manual).

The reason I encourage this is because (1) it’s an easy way to organize your bills and not lose track of anything, and (2) it allows you and your spouse to have healthy communication regarding our finances every single month.

We sit down together every month, go through the bills, and put them on the calendar. We maintain open communication about our money. We both have full access to our joint account. Neither of us are ever blind-sided by where our money is going.

Every couple needs to evaluate their needs on an individual level, and every couple also needs to keep open and honest communication regarding their household finances.

5. Adjusting to Sex and NFP is Difficult and Awkward — and that’s Okay!

​Speaking of communicating with our spouse every month, let’s talk about Natural Family Planning for a minute. To go from abstinence to full intimacy is a physical adjustment. To go from sex being a mortal sin to a beautiful and holy unity can be a mental struggle. And, let’s face it, NFP can be a little scary.

All of a sudden you are engaging with your partner in a completely new way AND you could unexpectedly have a kid on the way? Whew.

​Practicing Natural Family Planning and saying no to contraception means putting a lot of trust in God and in your spouse. It requires regular communication about your desires and needs for having children and for intimacy. Adjusting to having sex also takes a lot of vulnerability and honesty about your needs and desires, too.

Also, adding sex into the equation changes your relationship.

Physically and hormonally bonding yourself to your spouse changes how you relate to each other in every other way (a good reason that abstinence before marriage makes sense).

​This will be expanded on in future content, but for now, know that it’s okay to struggle, to be scared even, and to need some time to make these adjustments. The good news is that frequent communication about this topic will help mitigate a lot of the awkwardness.

6. Give Yourself — and your Spouse — A Whole Lotta Grace

​Finally, marriage is hard!

Yes, you are still with the same person you’ve been with for X amount of time. But no, you are not in the same relationship. Marriage isn’t just dating but living together. Marriage is a full-on blending of not only your lives, but yourselves.

Marital intimacy binds people together in ways that change the relationship entirely: psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

It’s not going to be a seamless transition. You and your spouse will struggle individually and as a team with any number of challenges. Don’t worry — we will cover a lot of those topics as tome goes on. We’re right here with you as you navigate through these uncharted waters.

​You have a new, wonderful, lifelong vocation and commitment to someone you clearly love. Embrace everything: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. You’ve got your whole life together. Let us help you start figuring out how to live it fully.

Marriage is hard, yes, but it is also rewarding.

Read Time: 5 minutes

Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow Together

If you’re together for any length of time, walking through a season of grief with your partner is inevitable. Depending on the nature of your partner’s relationship with the deceased, the season could involve weeks, months, or years of working through the loss. In some ways, we are forever altered when someone we love dies, and time simply changes the way we grieve instead of eliminating it altogether.

Comfort vs. Correction

Every person expresses grief uniquely, and, unless you’re a psychologist or professional counselor, it’s difficult to gauge just what to do or say when your spouse is grieving. Thankfully, it’s more important for the person who is grieving to be able to express themselves verbally than it is for you to offer advice.

A helpful theory when considering what to say to your grieving spouse is the Ring Theory. It positions the person who is experiencing the loss at the center of concentric circles and demonstrates the idea that the grieving person gets to express themselves freely (or “dump out”) to everyone they are in a relationship with.

The circles grow larger as they move out from the person who experienced the loss, and represent how close a person is to the griever. The theory suggests that people recognize which circle they belong in and encourages them to direct their attention to comforting those in the circle just inside theirs.

For example, the circle just outside the griever is their immediate family, and the outermost circle is the general public.

As the person closest to your grieving spouse, you have a wonderful yet difficult opportunity to be a safe place for their broken heart. They should be able to express themselves freely with you, unloading all of their pain, fear, and shattered dreams. This difficult season can deepen your relationship, strengthen your faith, and expand your ability to be intimate and vulnerable with one another.

However, according to the Ring Theory, things could go in a different direction if you begin to offer advice, correction, or criticism to your partner for the way they grieve or process their feelings.

If you begin “dumping” on them instead of listening, you force them into a caretaking role.

It’s also unfair and even cruel to criticize someone for the way they grieve, the feelings they are expressing, and their level of despair. Even if you don’t understand why your partner is (or is not)  so sad; cries so much (or too little), or isn’t handling grief the way you do, they are not the person to share those concerns with. Finding your own outlet with a trusted friend or counselor will free you up to stick to comforting your spouse which is really what they need most from you.

Peace vs. Perfection

When my husband and I had been married for 10 years, I experienced the loss of my father to suicide. The moments and days that immediately followed my father’s death are a blur to me. We had five children aged 5 – 15 years-old, and our family’s grief was crushing.

It’s been 15 years since my dad died, and I have reflected many times on the ways my husband has cared for and comforted me in my ever-changing grieving process.

I’m not sure either of us could recount how many times he has held me while I cried, listened to me process my feelings, or seen a shadow fall over me when something triggers a memory.

My grief has been messy, imperfect, and confusing.

It has caused angry outbursts, crippling anxiety, and disconnected numbness. It has made me cling to my husband at times and coldly push him away at others.

Thankfully, he is a devoted partner who has been willing to walk alongside me in my search for peace. He’s given me the freedom and space to explore my grief at the graveside, the counseling office, and in solitude while also being steadfast in his commitment to being with me when I need him.

It was only in the last few years that my husband finally communicated to me how my dad’s death affected him, how he lost someone he loved and respected too. I was stunned that I never considered that my husband lost a father-in-law, his children’s grandpa, a buddy…a friend.

My grief had consumed my ability to see his pain, and he never demanded that I stop being so selfish and comfort him.

Sacrifice vs. Satisfaction

The example my husband demonstrates in the way he has cared for me in my grief prioritized my needs over his. I don’t know that he made an active choice to follow the example of Christ, but he did every time he sacrificed himself to care for me. He sacrificed his need to be validated, his need to be comforted, his need to express his opinions and feelings so that he could comfort me.

Instead of demanding that I satisfy his needs when I was so broken, he chose to take them to God in prayer and left them largely unsatisfied in the human realm until he was able to find healthy places to work them out.

As I reflect on the sacrifices my husband has made for me, I feel incredibly loved and protected. As I mentioned, grief is messy and imperfect, but as we have moved through it, our marriage has been strengthened and refined by our commitment to each other despite our pain.

That messy imperfection created something beautiful in our relationship, something that has nourished and sustained us through many other marital challenges.

Hope vs. Certainty

In the last 25 years of our marriage, we have been to many funerals, and we will likely experience many more. It never gets easier to grieve or to love someone who is grieving. Grief is scary and unpredictable. When you love someone, it’s terrifying to consider all you have to lose and how life can change courses in the blink of an eye.

However, it helps to understand that comforting someone in their grief is an act of sacrificial love, most clearly demonstrated by the love of Jesus Christ. We can trust that if we prioritize the needs of our grieving spouse, God will be faithful in meeting our needs. He promises that in the most popular scripture read at funerals:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.

Psalms 23:4

We walk through the valley whenever we confront death in this life, and it is a tremendous blessing to have a spouse that will walk alongside you when you’re grieving. We should all aim to be a partner who understands the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, one who can earnestly pray the words of St. Francis who said, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.”

Growing in our understanding of this kind of love can draw us closer to God and our grieving partners. It will never be easy to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but there is beautiful comfort in walking it with someone we love.

Read Time: 6 minutes

When looking for advice on handling marital conflict, sometimes the answer is in the simplest place. It may be a single line of scripture,

[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. – Ephesians 4:32

…or a question from your 4-year-old, “Mommy, why are you being mean to Daddy?”

Rarely are the everyday conflicts in relationships too complicated for a few simple principles that have been laid out in God’s word or in the prayers of the Church. Trouble comes when we don’t resolve these issues and instead pile them up and allow them to become resentments that fester for years.

The Prayer of St. Francis

One of the most beautiful prayers of the Church is the Prayer of St. Francis.

It’s a call to think outwardly about one’s effect on the world and a plea for God’s strength to put the needs of others above our own. St. Francis’s prayer can be applied to every interpersonal relationship we have along with one’s role as a neighbor, Church member, and global citizen. It is especially poignant for married couples.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…

When your marriage reaches a place of conflict, and it will, you will have to consciously decide whether you are going to ignore it or resolve it. The Prayer of St. Francis suggests that God can actually use you as a tool, an instrument, to repair it. Like a hammer on a shelf or a piano alone in the corner of a room, an instrument must receive action from outside itself in order to fulfill its purpose. That St. Francis chose to ask God to make him an instrument is significant, and its implication for us during times of conflict can bring a sigh of relief.

The first line of the prayer positions God in the action seat and the one praying as the implement of His will. If we are the instrument, then He is the one who does the hard work; we simply yield to His will. This takes the pressure off us to fix the problem by ourselves, and it reminds us that we have a Helper who will guide us toward His will for our relationships.

What is His will?

It’s described in detail in the following lines:

where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

Is it really that bad?

If you’re not currently experiencing marital or relational conflict, it may seem extreme to apply the words hatreddespair, and darkness to your relationship, but all those who have walked in a marriage for some time know how quickly emotions can shift and a loving relationship can get messy.

This section of the prayer can help us when we’re not feeling loving, when we’re not experiencing the giddy, warm, and lighthearted joy of our relationship with our partners. It reminds us that we need to sow, or actively work at, love…even when we don’t feel it.

It also helps us examine what the root of the conflict may be. Are we hurt by our partner? Are we having a hard time trusting them? Are we anxious about the relationship? Do we feel depressed, or are we discontent with our circumstances?  All of these questions are variations of injury, doubt, despair, darkness, and sadness, and all of them can be healed with forgiveness, faith, hope, light, and joy.

How do we do that?

Conflict resolution in relationships isn’t one-sided, and it takes action from both parties to move forward in a healthy relationship. It’s possible to cultivate this together and make it part of your relationship’s culture. It’s also incredibly likely that you will eventually face something that causes a conflict beyond your ability to resolve without outside help from a mentor, counselor, or clergy member. That’s simply a reality of life and not a sign that your relationship isn’t strong or good.

Working through conflict on a regular basis will help you identify the times when you do need outside help. You’ll develop a pattern of resolving issues when they arise, and you’ll build an understanding of yourselves as a couple along with your strengths and weaknesses in this area.

Forgiving one another, having faith in each other, being hopeful that you can get through things, shedding light on your problems instead of hiding them, and choosing joy are all active measures that St. Francis’s prayer indicates that God can help us apply to our conflicts. Meditating on each line of this prayer when we’re in conflict will position us to receive God’s grace in these areas.

How does God do that?

The ways God moves and changes us when we pray are still a mystery, but the next section of St. Francis’s prayer sheds some light on how He works in us:

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

There is an aspect of all humans that is totally focused on themselves as the primary and most significant part of every story. In conflicts, we will automatically see our own perspective as most important, our own hurt as the most significant. We will demand that others validate our perceptions and apologize in a way that connects with our sense of justice.

However, this section of the Prayer of St. Francis flips the script on our need to be seen and heard. It asks us to consider others as more in need than ourselves, as more deserving of consolation, understanding, and love, and it tells us that if we give to them first, and pardon them for their sins against us (which may actually feel like a part of our selfish nature is dying), that we will experience new life. All it requires is that we initiate the process and allow God to help us fulfill it.

Before we begin to bristle at the lack of fairness this may imply (I mean, why do we have to act first, and how do we know our partner is going to reciprocate?), we need to remember that as human beings we are both the offender and the offended, the one who injures and the one who is hurt. We are the one who misunderstands others, and we are the one who feels misunderstood. We are in conflict because we cause conflict. We are not innocent.

Missing this important aspect of your effect on the world around you will keep you isolated from others in a way that is detrimental to all of your relationships, especially in your marriage. If you cannot see your own need for grace and forgiveness, you will never be able to offer those gifts to others with any amount of authenticity. Knowing your own faults, and understanding God’s grace for you, will inspire you to pray for His grace for others.

What if it doesn’t work?

When you’ve reached a point while praying this prayer that you feel God has moved you to a place of peace, it’s natural to assume your partner will join in and everything will wonderfully resolve. Unfortunately, conflict resolution is hard work, and every conflict is different. You may solve a huge problem quickly in one month while a smaller one grates on your happiness for weeks. Just keep moving forward and persevere. Get outside help if you need it, but take heart, conflict and working through things on a regular basis is part of a healthy relationship.

Carrying the spiritual practices you have during hard times, such as praying the Prayer of St. Francis, into times of peace can preemptively ward off future conflicts. The Prayer of St. Francis keeps our humanity in the forefront, reminding us of our tendency to see ourselves first and foremost in every situation, and it shows us that we need God’s action in our lives to make us people of grace and peace.

Becoming an instrument of God’s peace in the world is a lifelong process, and it’s a worthy pursuit if we truly value the people He has put in our lives. Allowing Him to change us makes us better spouses, parents, friends, and neighbors, and it’s through those relationships that He will spread His love throughout the world.

Are we hurt by our partner? Are we having a hard time trusting them? Are we anxious about the relationship? Do we feel depressed, or are we discontent with our circumstances?

Let us pray…

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

A Prayer for Married Couples

Inspired by the Prayer of St. Francis
By Jessie Wiegand

Lord, help me embody your peace in my marriage;
When I feel numb, warm my heart to my partner.
When I feel wronged, help me reach out with forgiveness.
When anxiety consumes me, give me courage to face reality.
When I’m afraid we’ll never make it, show me that we can persevere.
When I am depressed, open my eyes to your truth.
When I am discontent, assure me that we have all we need.

King of the Universe,
Make my arms a refuge to my partner’s brokenness;
My ears, a haven to their worries and cares,
And my heart, a sanctuary for their hopes and dreams.

Remind me and assure me that
When I act first, You provide safety;
When I reach out, You extend grace.
And it’s when I fully surrender myself that You make me One with my partner.
Amen.

Read Time: < 1 minute

We won’t take up much of your time, but we wanted to share with you three fun things you can do with your spouse right now to really connect with each other (and two of them are free!).

  1. The Five Love Languages Quiz
    If you don’t do anything else on this list, please at least take the time to do this. If you have done it in the past, it’s always good to take this as a refresher (people sometimes do change over time!). It’s free, it’s easy to do and it will certainly help the two of you figure out how to fill each other’s love tanks!
  2. Date Night in a Box — Faith Option
    Add a faith option to your date night in a box subscription. Date night subscription boxes are already fun and engaging, so being able to connect with each other on a deeper level is always an added bonus!
  3. Dear Future Us Love Letters (Saves to your computer or device)
    Write each other a love letter as a time-stamp of what is happening in your relationship right now. Pack them away and set a reminder to open them up from each other in a year. This is such a great activity to do together — we can almost guarantee that you will both be pleasantly surprised at each other’s comments and notes! Feel free to make your own, OR you can download this template that we made for free (just for you!).

These are easy things you can do together as a couple to gain a refreshed sense of connectedness and romance. Who wouldn’t want that for their relationship?