4 Things I Learned About Relationships From a Pope


I pulled a cardboard package out of my mailbox, carried it into the house, and tore it open. Out of it, I lifted what I had waited for, for days: A copy of the book Love and Responsibility, written by St. John Paul II before he was pope.

I had heard of the book before I ordered it. “A must-read for Catholics, married or not,” friends of mine called it. So Isingle and minglingcurled up with it that night in 2009, expecting to pore over page after page, and pumped to be edified.

But what I read was over my head before I finished page one. I wanted to whisk through it like I would any other book, but this book would require commitment, and it would require time, because it would require thought. So, I shelved it. But then, I tried again.

And oh how happy I am that I did.

I owned the book for three years before I could comprehend what our former pope wrote. What I learned from him can sustain a relationship for a lifetime. Today, I’ll share a few of my favorite lessons:

Lesson 1: “Man’s capacity for love depends on his willingness consciously to seek a good together with others, and to subordinate himself to that good for the sake of others, or to others for the sake of that good,” wrote St. John Paul II. In other words: How ready I am to love depends on how ready I am to not be the most important person in my life. Lovereal love, that isrequires us to reject selfishness. It requires us to be ok with making sacrifices when having made sacrifices is of benefit to the person we love.

Lesson 2: “It is not enough to long for a person as a good for oneself; one must also, and above all, long for that person’s good,” wrote St. John Paul II. In other words: ‘I want you because you are good’ isn’t a sturdy enough foundation for a marriage. In dating, I have often been preoccupied by one goal: meet a good guy with whom I could discern marriage. But meeting a person who’s good for me is only part of what ought to precede a marriage. It’s ok to “want” a person because he or she is good; but for a foundation that can sustain a marriage, we must primarily want what is best for him or her.

Lesson 3: “Love … does not diminish and impoverish, but quite the contrary, enlarges and enriches the existence of the person,” wrote St. John Paul II. “The ‘lover’ goes outside the self to find a fuller existence in the other.” In other words: If it’s real love, we as a couple are objectively better together. Whether we’re objectively better together depends on whether we, as a couple, contribute something to the worldwhether in doing life together, we get holier and healthier. If we become worse people as a result of a partnership, what the partnership is rooted in isn’t love.

Lesson 4: “One … has a responsibility for one’s own love,” St. John Paul II wrote. “Is it mature and complete enough to justify the enormous trust of another person?” In other words: It’s my responsibility to be honest, both with myself and with a significant other, about the caliber of my love. While we date (and even while we’re engaged), it is important to assess ourselves against all the aforementioned lessons. Am I always willing in this relationship to make sacrifices for the good of my significant other? Do I want what’s best for him or her, or do I really just want him or her? Has my spiritual journey been enriched by this relationship, or has this relationship depleted my life of a spiritual journey? It’s in answers to these questions that we discover, as John Paul II wrote, whether what we have is “mature and complete enough to justify the trust of another person”and if it isn’t, we must find the courage to make changes or move on.



  1. Matthew-984416 September 21, 2014 Reply

    To second what James is saying, I think there is a big unmentioned corollary to lesson 2: if “one must also, and above all, long for that person’s good,” then one must also have the will to personally become an agent for that person’s good. Discerning marriage isn’t just about finding the right person, it extends to making an effort to deepen your own faith so it can have a positive role in others’ lives. Occasionally this idea comes up in a secular context, in articles with intentionality-laden titles like: “Become the sort of the person that the sort of person you want to marry would want to marry.”

  2. Nicole-748380 August 4, 2014 Reply

    Loved this. The four questions are amazing and true. Putting the other person first or being willing to do that for the greater good, this is not just about blind obedience to whims though. Also, not to objectify the person, which may be tricky to see in ourselves. Thirdly, people can feel drained by love sometimes-why do I suffer? One has to discern when this is time to go,if dating, or time to ask God for help to enlarge and enrich. lastly, one has to be ready in oneself. Although, I may want to be married, am I ready to care for a person so totally and be able to receive back and go through life together. Trust-so impossible without. Must trust ourselves first and then the other, because then through matrimony becomes more than the other.

  3. James-1082060 August 3, 2014 Reply

    Thank you for spending the time to read and put into simple language something written at a high level of understanding. They are simple ideas, but would appear difficult to practice. If I read you correctly, to love fully you need to put what is best for the other person at the forefront, even if what is best for them is not best for you or what you even wish for. The possibility exists that you would fore go love with someone entirely because you could see the damage you’d do to them. And since love occurs in a couple, both of you should have this idea. Wow, talk about setting the bar high. I agree with Joseph that there would definitely be fewer marriages, but those that followed this call would set examples worth remembering.

    Thinking about it a little more, these thoughts by Pope John Paul II can be applied to everyone in their dealings with others, not just the married. Love for my fellow man should also put them first, or at least not be self-centered. My actions and presence should make others better, and I should understand my limitations so that I don’t exceed what I’m capable of. In my clearer moments I think like this, but I must admit that on a day to day basis I’m lacking.

  4. Joan-529855 August 3, 2014 Reply

    Very well written and a wonderful interpretation of JPII Love and Responsibility. Would love to read more.

  5. Joseph-924851 August 3, 2014 Reply

    As George Hamilton’s Zorro would say, “Now THAT is a little more like it!” 🙂

    Terrific stuff, Arleen. If we all lived by this, there’d be fewer marriages, but those would be far more inspiring.

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