The Seven Habits of a Happy Marriage
by P. Johannes Lechner csj
The Wedding Feast at Cana takes us into the mystery of the Sacrament of Marriage. We do not know the engaged couple by name, but we do know that Mary was there, as were Jesus and His disciples. This wedding turned out to involve a distressing and, for a wine-growing country, an unusual situation - namely that the wine ran out.
The advocacy of Mary is essential to the miracle, as is the work of the servants, who, although they did not have to obey Jesus, did so with blind trust. Jesus asks for six jugs to be filled with 100 liters of water each. Obviously, his instructions do not seem to solve the problem of the lack of wine.
Reason must have argued, “We need wine, not water!” but the servants obeyed anyway. At that time, the water jugs could have only been filled through strenuous work. A servant would have had to fill a 15 liter pail to the brim 40 times to get enough water. We can be sure that the servants would have had to work very hard to carry out Jesus’ instructions!
We do not know exactly when the transformation occurred, but the outcome was astounding: the reaction of the astonished chief tells us that the new wine was better that what had been served before.
The Wedding Feast at Cana is a parable that highlights the situation of mankind, especially in marriage. We often find ourselves caught between extremes: between lack and abundance, between weakness and glory, especially in regard to love.
The Gospel stresses the importance of the water jars. The Lord makes the water jars so important, because the miracle occurs through them, even though they are common objects. The miracle of wine at Cana is a transformation, not a creation out of nothingness, and Our Lord accomplishes it through the work of men. From this parable, I would like to draw out these seven good habits of a happy marriage.
1. Bring Joy to your Spouse
In a happy marriage, each spouse is a gift for one other, not a burden or a source of pain. That sounds relatively simple, but in practical daily life, it can be rather difficult. Ask yourself: “Is what I say and do a source of joy for my spouse?” We should try to embody the “amor benevolentiae”, the “love of kindness”. The mindfulness of the other is a key to their heart.
A young man came up with the following idea for his fiancée: when she was on the other side of the world for a month in Australia at World Youth Day, he subtly arranged that she would receive a letter and a present every day - everything from useful handkerchiefs and cough drops to bath slippers and sacred readings - every day a small gift.
Here one can let one’s fantasy and creativity run free. Mindfulness to persevere until death will achieve the full measure of love.
2. Maintain Pleasant Rituals and Traditions of Love and Friendship
Customs, rituals, and gestures of love strengthen a relationship, because gestures arouse feelings of love and seal the intentions. This starts with the way to be welcomed. If a husband comes home in the evening, first greets the dog, then turns on the computer and television, and finally greets his wife with, “What is there to eat today? I have to be fast, because I still have a meeting,” he is clearly not maintaining a deep friendship.
One couple developed a playful ritual of greeting one another by imitating the affection of their dog, which always greeted them with such obvious joy that it jumped on them. So they also began to “jump” to greet each other and express their joy at seeing one another-- much to the delight of their kids.
It is essential to create a world of symbols in which over and over again visible gestures remind us of our inner love. This includes rituals such as compliments, calling each other every day, remembering and celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, etc.
3. Speak Openly and Honestly With One Another
A happily married couple creates a safe space where they may be who they truly are; where they can, without fear, vocalize their feelings, their desires, their expectations, their problems, their frustrations, and everything that they have in their hearts. What a grace it is to be accepted in one’s weakness and frailty by the other!
A married couple once confided in me in what were the most beautiful and most difficult parts of their 25 years of marriage. The most beautiful: that through one another they each found themselves and became more themselves. The most difficult: finding the discipline not to use their knowledge of the other’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities to wound.
That response sums up marriage pretty well! The habit of good conversation also includes the promises you make and keep and strengthens trust. Kept promises convey the feeling, “I can count on your word. I can depend on you”.
4. Be Skillful in Difficult Matters and Smart In Communication
In certain cases, happily married couples find clever ways to discuss matters they may disagree about so that they can solve problems together. They create a balance in communication so that one speaks while the other listens, and after a certain amount of time they switch.
I know a married couple that places candles on their nightstands, so that when there is something that is difficult bring up, one spouse lights the candle of the other. This way, the other would know before going to bed that there was something to discuss, and could open the door to communication by asking about something that is difficult for his spouse to express. Nonviolent communication is a genuine, spiritual way to conversion.
5. Always Turn to the Other
To use a contemporary picture, one could say: always be online for each other and do not turn away from one another. Happy married couples always find new means to stay emotionally connected to each other. Get connected! This creates true intimacy.
Glances, gestures, and actions show that each spouse is keeping the other at the forefront of his mind. It is important to convey, “you are the number one priority in all things!” The desire to share daily activities follows naturally. Do things together that bring joy to you both: cook and eat with one another, share a glass of wine in the evening, go for a walk together, listen to music, philosophize, read Sacred Scripture…
That is how a couple stays close to one another. One good action leads to the next. By the same token, an omission or neglect causes another one. Freedom, which commits to the other in such mindful attention, joins into a covenant, and of that intrinsically consists conjugal love.
6. Let a Mutual Life be Inspired by a Joint Vision
Happily married couples enrich their relationship by having joint plans, sharing great projects with one another, and adapting themselves anew to the same objectives.
In his icon of the Trinity, Adrei Rublev portrays the Three Persons facing each other lovingly as in a deliberative conversation. The table talk of the Holy Trinity is the salvation of the world. The table talk of Christian married couples ought to be the salvation of the world too, with concrete actions flowing from that discussion. Together, the couple practices works of mercy: visiting the sick, helping a grieving family, or cooking for a mother after the birth of her first child.
When spouses share powerful experiences with one another, especially in service of the Kingdom of God, their connection to one another is also strengthened. We see this summed up in Titus: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2:11-14).
The Sunday and festival culture is an important free space, to make the grand visions ever new and concrete. With Mary I encourage you, “Do whatever He tells you to.” (Jn 2:5)!
7. Keep Up Mutual Prayer
Prayer connects people with God and with one another. Prayer opens us to an ever greater closeness God and reminds us that our earthly relationships do not provide ultimate fulfillment: happy couples know they are surrounded by transcendence, and that makes the limits of this world and their relationship endurable. The experience of the limits of love can then even be a stepping-stone to discover that love, which is infinite, that is always there, that always forgives, that bears all things, that is eternal.
The Book of Tobit shows us that Tobit and Sara pray with one another before they physically give each other to one another (Tob 8:1-9). It is a beautiful prayer of gratitude for one another, gratitude for God’s great idea to have been created man and woman.
Intimacy with God leads to a whole new intimacy with the heart of one’s spouse, which is in turn expressed in sexual surrender. That is the true connection between spirituality and sexuality in marriage. God is not the rival; rather, He is the source of joy and also the cause of fruitfulness. A couple that prays with one another stays unified with God and receives from Him all necessary grace.
These practical pieces of wisdom, these seven good habits, seem to be small things, so little and common, as valuable as water. But those who do these things, which are all within easy reach, are like the servants who followed the instructions of Jesus. They are making sure that their “wedding jars” constantly stay filled to the brim, and Jesus will in turn transform their “water” into delicious wine of His grace, His love, and His life in abundance.
“Wedding wars”, however, will remain spared. Sometimes, we are required to practice these habits to the point of exhaustion; we must be like the servants at the Wedding at Cana that always have to run again to the well and draw water. However, the taste of the new wine that Jesus provided made their labor worthwhile and gave them great happiness. So, I would like to call you all to “fill your jar; for the Lord is filling you with grace!