Most of us can remember our moms correcting our behavior, reminding us to pick up after ourselves, and, if we had siblings—teaching us to get along. I can hear my mom’s words as though it were yesterday: “I just want to make sure that someone can live with you some day.” At the time, I didn’t understand what she was implying. I only remember thinking: “No problem, Mr. Right will surely think I’m wonderful…just the way I am.”
For the past 30 years, my husband Don and I have helped to prepare over 25,000 couples for marriage in the Catholic Church. But, like my own mom, our most important efforts have been at home with our five sons and two daughters preparing them for whatever vocation God would call them to.
You see, marriage-building, vocation-building, it all begins at home.
It’s because so much of our attitudes (the way we think), our values (what’s important to us), and our behaviors (the way we act) are rooted in our childhood experiences. I like to call it, the stuff we learned when we didn’t even know we were learning. Some will be helpful, and some will not.
Sure, I learned a lot about getting along, but I also learned how to get my own way. I learned to protect my heart and found myself unwilling to trust too quickly. I learned that spending money made me happy and saving wasn’t fun. I thought Christmas had to be celebrated on Christmas Eve, and that “everyone” would get gifts from me on their birthdays. Why, then, was I surprised when my new husband didn’t like any of these? He, too, learned a lot growing up, about getting his way, about protecting his heart, and about how he thought money should be handled. His family wasn’t very religious, either, while mine was in Church every Sunday. Both our parents divorced after we married. And, he thought Christmas was only celebrated on Christmas Day.
Many of us have had positive upbringings, but there are many who come from broken homes or have painful pasts. Dealing with past hurts is an important step to become the person God wants you to be and the spouse “someone can live with some day.”
Relationships, marriages, they’re like a dance. If they are going to work, we need to know how to dance. And it’s not as important who taught us how to dance, as it is, how we dance. At times, it can look more like a boxing match, with winners and losers, than making sure we stay in step. We can all benefit from a few good lessons. We might even need to unlearn some steps that haven’t been so helpful.
We have a poem “The Art of Marriage” hanging in our home and it starts with “A good marriage must be created,” and ends with the lines: “It is not only marrying the right person. It is being the right partner.”
Maybe it is revising that list of “must haves” and “must dos” that we’ve created for a future spouse, (or for the spouse we’ve married, for that matter)? It’s not about the athletic build, or gourmet cooking abilities, it’s about how we respect the other person. It is how we get to know what’s important to them, and what makes them feel loved. It’s fine-tuning the skills of listening, showing understanding, and fighting fair. That perfects our ability to dance.
Relationships and marriage are designed to mature us, to make us good dancers, and—if we are not ready for the challenge—we best not say, “I do.”