“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
Like many of you, I have been quarantined in my house for the past ten days. I have set up my makeshift home office that moves throughout the day. My wife, on the other hand, is an ICU nurse: three to four days a week, she has been working in the very stressful environment that many of our medical professionals are experiencing. Over our four years of marriage, we have realized setting aside intentional time each day for one another is vital for our marriage. As we endure this pandemic, that intentional time has become even more necessary as we deal with the uncertainty, tension, worry, and fear building up over the day. One of the resources that my wife and I use to structure our time with each other is 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8.
Throughout our twelve-year relationship, 1st Corinthians has been something we have continually turned to in both times of joy and struggle. Whenever this passage is read at Mass or during a wedding, I always feel a significant poke in the arm when “love is not rude” is proclaimed. Besides that subtle reminder from my loving wife, this passage always directs us back to our common call to love and support one another, especially during challenging times like today. Every family has had to endure this pandemic differently. However, we all share a call to set aside time to support our spouse, reminding them that our love—when it is centered on Christ and directed towards each other—can endure all things.
Due to the stresses of family life, intentional time for prayer and each other are usually the first activities to go. While we dated across states, we made sure that our relationship included intentional time, eventually becoming a virtue of our relationship. When we married and began living under one roof, we assumed this time would happen automatically, but reality was the opposite. My wife’s schedule as a night nurse and mine as a pastoral associate meant our schedules were never in sync. We noticed our interactions becoming superficial, which caused us to easily become frustrated with each other and unaware of what the other was experiencing throughout their day. It took us almost six months to realize that even though we were living under the same roof, we had to be more intentional about our one-on-one time with one another.
Pope Francis emphasizes couples setting aside this intentional time in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of Love, “Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one another and gaze in each other’s eyes, to appreciate one another and to build a stronger relationship...” (24). For my wife and me, this passage reminds us of how important setting distractions like our phone or TV aside for even 5 minutes, looking each other in the eye, and being able to share the highs and lows of our days is for our marriage. Pope Francis provides every couple the reminder that the love that is shared between spouses is ever-growing and takes the work of both partners to refine it.
This meaningful time is more important during these weeks of quarantine, with the disease’s impact on the nation and our own family and friends, leading us to despair about the future. Too easily, we can let fear get the best of us, causing tempers to flare or directing emotions at our spouse or families. Like my wife and I when we first married, this intentional time will not automatically happen now that we are forced to be under the same roof. I would like to share some resources that my wife and I have personally found helpful throughout our relationship to support each other emotionally and spiritually. Hopefully, they will provide some structure to this time with your families, provide solace during these weeks, and become habits you will carry on after this pandemic passes.
- Highs and Lows: Share with your spouse one high and one low of your day. This might sound like a cheesy icebreaker, but when you are short for time, this is a great way to check-in with your spouse and acknowledge their day. This is even more crucial now in order to check in on how your spouse is handling the emotional strains of the epidemic. These conversations can also provide a doorway to an even more in-depth conversation.
- Appreciation and Apologies: Share with your spouse one thing you appreciate about them and one thing you are sorry for doing. True love for another person is displayed in the small daily sacrifices that one spouse does for another. Many times, those sacrifices can go unnoticed. By showing our appreciation, we can acknowledge the little moments of intimacy that take place every day. The inability to forgive can cause tensions to compound within a relationship, leading couples to feel disconnected from one another. As Pope Francis explains, “in our families when someone realizes that he or she did something wrong and is able to say ‘Sorry!’, our family experiences peace and joy’. Let us not be stingy about using these words, but keep repeating them, day after day.” By identifying the wrongs we have committed, we can rekindle joy and peace in our relationship.
- The Marriage Minute: The Marriage Minute is a free email newsletter from The Gottman Institute that will improve your marriage in 60 seconds or less. Over 40 years of research with thousands of couples has proven a simple fact: small things often can create significant changes over time. It is a resource of tools, articles, videos, exercises, and more, all founded on Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s four decades of research and clinical experience delivered straight to your inbox. Their goal is to teach you one thing each day that will deepen your friendship, allow you to use conflict as a catalyst for closeness, and enhance the romance in your marriage. This has been a significant resource for Tricia and I, providing us with conversation starters to begin our intentional conversations.
- Lectio Divina with Sunday's Gospel: Breaking open the upcoming Sunday’s gospel together is a great way to identify what God is revealing to you as a couple. Take turns reading aloud the passage. While your spouse reads, listen attentively and focus on “a phrase or word” that jumps out to you from the reading. Once you have both read the passage to each other, share the word or phrase that jumped out to you and why you feel it is important to you.
- Seven Day Virtual Marriage Retreats: One of the biggest challenges I hear when working with couples is that they would like to grow together spiritually, but their schedules will not allow them to attend a retreat together. For Your Marriage, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has developed multiple seven-day virtual retreats. Try to set aside 30mins each day with your spouse for seven days. You will read about the theme for the day, reflect on a real-life marriage scenario, and think about ways to strengthen your marriage. End each mini-retreat by praying a prayer for married couples. Even if you cannot do the whole retreat together, set some time to go over the reflection questions before you go to bed each night.
- Discuss Your Spouse's Love Language: Many couples show love in different ways, but ordinarily, it is not in the primary way that their spouse is seeking. When this happens, the love that is given from one spouse can go unnoticed by the receiver, which can cause the receiver to remain intimately unfulfilled. The giver, on the other hand, also walks away unfulfilled due to their effort not being acknowledged. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, helps couples identify their love languages. Click the link above to learn more about each love language and click here to take a quiz to find out your love language. Once you take the quiz, spend some time talking with your spouse about the results.
- Develop a Love Map with Your Spouse: John Gottman recommends that one of the best ways for couples to better understand each other is to have them create a love map. He defines a love map as “a road map one makes of one’s partner’s inner psychological world. Love maps are about the partner’s emotion of interest, about feeling known, and about feeling like one’s, partner is interested in continuing to know one.” By creating these love maps, it will help you develop greater personal insight into each other’s lives and worlds. You can find more information and how to develop your map by clicking the link above.
 Francis, Amoris Laetitia,133.
 Gottman, “The Natural Principles of Love,” 15.
Steven Serafin is the Associate Director for Catechesis in Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Newark, and a Doctor in Ministry Candidate studying at The Catholic University of America. He holds an MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame’s Echo program, and a BA in Theology and Religious Studies from Catholic University.