Like a Marriage Retreat in a Book: Reviewing For Better, For Worse, For God

… becoming one flesh means more than a physical union. Genesis says that God created man and woman to become one body. The Hebrew word for body or “flesh,” refers to the physical body for sure, but it encompasses much more. Body includes the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. We’re called to be united with our spouse physically, emotionally, and spiritually while retaining our unique individuality. God’s design for this partnership is that it nurtures our lives and in so doing gives life to the world.

Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus–John Gray and his publishers picked a great title for his bestselling book on marriage. It has become a popular shorthand way of saying that men and women are profoundly different. They are so different that it often seems they live on different planets.

In addition to the obvious anatomical differences, men and women are “wired” differently in their communication styles, emotional makeup, and sexual responses. You and your spouse differ as individuals. Your temperaments are different. You come into marriage with dissimilar expectations, desires, hopes and approaches to problem solving. And while you don’t really live on different planets, you come from different places. You were raised in different families. Your family of origin gave you ideas about marriage, child rearing, sex roles, and family values that are different from your spouse’s. Some marriage experts say that incompatibility was never a valid reaon for divorce becuase all couples are incompatible to some extent.

Creating an “us” in the face of these differences is a challenging dimension of the vocation of marriage. to become “one,” partners must understand the many ways in which they differ from each other and recognize how their differences can work in their favor in terms of their partnership. They also need to learn to manage these differences without hurting each other.

First, becoming an “us” is a realistic goal. The differences between men and women are great, but the desire to achieve unity is even greater. Men and women deeply desire each other; most men and women want to share their lives with a partner of the opposite sex. … If God created us this way, we can be assured that he gives us the grace to achieve the union we desire.

Second, the work of becoming an “us” is spiritual work, and it requires spiritual disciplines, as already mentioned. Each vocation has its distinctive challenges, and becoming one with a particular other person for life is the unique challenge of marriage; the spiritual disciplines of marriage are the tools we use to achieve it. The disciplines we practice within marriage may seem mundane, such as counting to ten before returning an angry response, or waiting patiently for a spouse who is slow, but they accomplish something remarkable. They allow us to live in communion with someone who feels, perceives, reacts, responds, and loves differently from us.

Living in communion is holy because the conjugal life both mirrors and provides the world with an experience of belonging and acceptance God desires with us. Like the “communion” we experience in the sacraments of the Eucharist, marriage can provide the opportunity to “be one in Christ,” the goal for all baptized believers.

Someone who has attended one of the Beyond Cana marriage enrichment retreats that Tom and I help to present may recognize many, if not all, of the principles above. Members of the presentation team definitely will. After working on these retreats for several years, I can tell you that I was blown away by For Better, for Worse, for God: Exploring the Holy Mystery of Marriage by Mary Jo Pedersen. She consistently took the concepts that Tom and I have learned and practiced in that retreat and expanded upon them in knowledgeable, practical, spiritual, and even humorous ways.

If I included all the pieces that I read aloud to Tom, only to hear him say, “Wow. That is so true. This author is really good!” then we’d be here all day. This is the book I will be buying for newly weds, friends who wish they could make it to a retreat, and for our girls when they are getting married. It can’t replace a retreat but it surely is a good supplement and a great grounding in reality for any married couple. Highest recommendations on this one.

About Julie Davis

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