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Valentine’s Day and Lent start on the same day this year. That’s ironic if sacrifice, rather than joy, defines your marriage.

Good marriages breed happy people. Bad marriages breed misery. One comedian claims that divorce is always good news because happy marriages don’t end in divorce. However, we can make changes to steer things in a better direction.

Some situations are beyond a person’s control, where separation is necessary, or a spouse has left. But for people seeking help overcoming challenges, here are suggestions from experts dedicated to improving marriages.

 

Make an Investment

Although every couple envisions everlasting love when they say, “I do,” life often gets in the way, according to Greg and Julie Alexander, founders of Alexander House, a nonprofit marriage ministry. “Julie and I recovered from the brink of divorce 19 years ago,” Greg explained. “After the Holy Spirit, led us out of the desert and redeemed our marriage, we felt God calling us to help others.”

Since then, they’ve helped over 3,000 other couples through counseling, marriage seminars and online marriage courses. Greg and Julie have now been married for 30 years now and have 7 children and 3 grandchildren.

 “Marriage is like a flower,” Julie explained. “It is either growing or it is dying. On a daily basis we have to do something to feed our marriage. If we don’t, it will not grow. “It is disheartening, according to her, that the majority of couples that seek their help, claim that other marriage counselors have discouraged them. “We always tell them that there is hope for every marriage when you invite God to be a part,” Julie said. Our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with each other as husband and wife are the two most important in our lives.”

 

God is Committed to You

When couples despair, Greg tells them: “God is committed to your marriage. This is just a wake-up call to invite Him to be a part of it. He has a plan and a purpose for your marriage, when you open your hearts to him.”

Every marriage has difficulties at one time or another, according to Greg, but God can help us overcome anything. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, -Philippians 4:13.

 “When we attempt to live on our own outside of God’s design we are supposed to experience difficulties,” Greg said. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that husband and wife cannot achieve the oneness that God intended without his help. Understanding how to live a marriage that will thrive is possible for every couple who participates with God in living the fullness of their sacramental marriage.”

 

Distance Grows

Barbara Lishko works full time as a lay Catholic marriage minister and has been married 35 years with five children and five grandchildren. In her article, Dear Struggling Marriages, she noted that a lack of good marriage prep or forgetting what was learned, is common. Add to that woundedness from family of origin or past experiences that include porn use, abortion and sexual history, and couples often experience struggles they never anticipated.

“What is most common is that they are not praying together, worshiping together or making their marriage relationship primary,” Lishko said. “The farther they get from one another, the less they can stand each other, and the distance grows.”

Counseling is a crap shoot, according to her, because many counselors, even some priests, declare the couple to be incompatible instead of giving them tools to fight for their marriage.

Lishko suggests:

  • Instead of relying on yourself, rely on God, who wants your marriage to thrive.
  • Turn to prayer for strength, guidance, growth in love and virtue, and for your spouse. 
  • Get professional help for addictions and turn to mediation for help to get back into the conversation with one another.
  • Retrouvaille is for couples facing difficult challenges to rebuild a loving relationship.

 

Positive Behaviors

Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons is the author of Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, and is a psychiatrist and the director of MaritalHealing.com.  He is also working on a new book with Ignatius Press on healing marriages. “The Lord's first miracle was for a marriage at Cana when he manifested his glory and love for marriage with Our Lady,” he said. “Try to trust them more with your marriage.”

Dr. Fitzgibbons often quotes Love and Responsibility, a book written by  Pope Saint John Paul II before he became pope, that highlights the central role of mercy in the marital relationship. “The strength of such a (mature) love emerges most clearly when the beloved stumbles, when his or her weaknesses or sins come into the open. One who truly loves does not then withdraw love, but loves all the more, loves in full consciousness of the other’s shortcomings and faults, and without in the least approving of them. For the person as such never loses his/her essential value. The emotion which attaches to the value of the person is loyal.”

He makes these suggestions:

  • In order to fight selfishness, the major enemy of marital love, try to think through the day, "We, not me!"
  • Avoid expressing anger in the marriage and in the home and instead, think forgive, forgive, forgive before you speak.
  • Think of forgiving the parent who disappointed you the most in order to prevent misdirecting this anger unconsciously at your spouse.
  • Reflect that it’s my responsibility to try to protect my spouse from loneliness.
  • Daily meditate upon trusting the Lord with your marriage and asking him to help you trust your spouse more.
  • Pray: Come, Holy Spirit.

 

Marriages Saved

Hearing about couples whose marriages were saved beyond anyone’s wildest expectations is inspiring and shows what that can look like. When I co-authored Amazing Grace for Married Couples, I was often in awe at the dramatic turnarounds in seemingly hopeless relationships.

Infidelities, addictions of all kinds and an emptiness that seemed unrecoverable were transformed into a love stronger than when they first began. Such stories of redemption truly celebrate marriage as a covenant of God’s love.

The marriage experts above have all seen such recoveries and it’s what keeps them going. They are in the business because they know renewal is possible and worth the effort. God can indeed raise the dead, marriage after marriage.