By Pres. Kerry Pappas

“For there is no relationship between man and woman so close as that between man and wife, if they be joined together as they should be.” (St. John Chrysostom)

In the last newsletter I addressed some of the challenges and opportunities resulting from Covid. One of the opportunities we now have, with the pace of life being a bit slower, is to take a step back and attend to our marriage.

Statistics show that in recent years the divorce rate in the US has plateaued and even decreased.  However, filings for divorce have taken a sharp upward turn of about 30% in 2020, and marriage therapists are having difficulty keeping up with their increased client load.

Why are marriage difficulties amplified right now?  The simplest explanation? Couples are experiencing more relational strain as they navigate the challenges of Covid.  More significant, however–issues in marriage, previously masked and covered under more normal circumstances, are surfacing and resulting in more conflict. Clergy couples are not immune to what the general population is experiencing.

So, a typically financially stable clergy family may now face financial difficulties for the first time due to Covid.  Perhaps the husband has had to take a pay decrease due parish budget cuts and/or the wife working outside the home has lost her job.

Or another clergy couple with husband and wife living parallel lives under “normal” circumstances, with the husband working very long hours and little time at home, are suddenly in close quarters on a more regular basis, as both husband and wife are working from home.  Husband and wife come face to face more, and regular conflict ensues.  Perhaps one spouse withdraws, while the other wants to get to the bottom of the issues.

No matter how our marriage is normally characterized—growing and dynamic, stagnant but stable, or troubled and distressed—the pandemic affords us the opportunity to pause and be reminded that our spouse is our closest neighbor, and we are responsible to love him/her with the love of Jesus Christ.

What are some ways in which we can utilize this opportunity to more faithfully and deliberately attend to the relationship with our spouse?  The ideas below are not exhaustive; however, they do  represent some intentional practices for building a healthy, holy marriage.

  1. Take time to reflect on, name, and discuss the strength and growth areas in your marriage. Then together choose one strength and one growth area and discuss how each of you contributes to it.  For the strength area, consider how you will continue to cultivate it.  For the growth area, decide on how each of you will repent/change and allow Christ to begin to transform it to a strength. Crucial to this discussion is prayerfully looking inward and not pointing the finger at your spouse.  For example:  Perhaps you have difficulty navigating conflict.  One of you may process more in your head and silently, while the other prefers to process verbally, making it very difficult to work through conflict since your communication styles are so different.  How do you each move toward the other so that you both feel honored and respected as you work through issues?
  2. Commit to 15 minutes of meaningful conversation daily, where you interact “heart to heart.” In the words of William Doherty, author of Take Back Your Marriage and The Intentional Family, “If a married couple with children has 15 minutes of uninterrupted, non-logistical, non-problem-solving talk every day, I would put them in the top 5% of all couples.  It’s an extraordinary achievement.”  Think about this—an extraordinary achievement for husband and wife, in the most intimate of all human relationships, to spend 15 minutes in meaningful conversation daily?
  3. Pray together. In a presentation to about 70 priests and a few clergy wives several years ago, I asked for a show of hands from those who had some sort of rule of prayer as a couple.  Two hands were raised, though many said, something to the effect, “We pray together at worship services.”  For those with children in the home, you may have a rhythm of family prayer, which you consider to constitute your “couple” prayer life.  However, as faithful Christians being joined as we “should be,” a rhythm of prayer life together in the intimacy of our home is necessary for cultivating a marriage in Christ.  We can begin very small and simple with the Trisagion prayers at an appointed time weekly, then build on it.  If husband and wife are in different places in their personal prayer life, it is very important that neither impose his/her practice/s on the other, but rather, as a couple, mutually agree on how they will pray together.
  4. Play together–whatever that means for you as a couple. Playfulness is an important element of a healthy, whole marriage. Playfulness can include anything from exercising together, reading a book out loud to one another, playing board games, doing puzzles, turning on the “oldies” and dancing…
  5. Make requests of one another, not demands; and, avoid the use of “you” at the beginning of any sentence you speak to your spouse, as it is often indicative of finger pointing. Much better to begin with “I.”  I would love for you to….; or, I feel hurt/dismissed/disrespected when…

Yes, Covid has brought unimaginable challenges to our personal, marriage, family and parish life.  Yet, for those who believe, God works good in all things.  Let us take this opportunity of reduced commitments and responsibilities to grow and nurture the most intimate of our human relationships and grow in oneness.  Then will our marriage be a beacon of light for the “life of the world.”