A Field Guide for Marriage: A Review of “Just Married”

By Tim Muldoon

Review of Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage, by Greg and Lisa Popcak

There is almost nothing in contemporary popular culture that is good for marriage. On the contrary, there are many significant obstacles or hurdles that a couple must learn to ignore if they are to make a marriage work, not the least of which is the very basic question of why to even bother getting married at all. One could argue that the fact that marriages continue today is due in large part to a kind of “cultural inertia,” of the sort that one sees in a train that keeps moving long after it has applied the brakes. In the past, there were strong incentives to get married, from religious and cultural convictions. Today, not so much.

What all this means is that young people today (and a number of older people, too) enter marriages with no strong sense of having been “cultured” in practices that serve married life. Basic practices like how to choose, nurture, and sustain friendships over a lifetime; how to manage conflict; how to handle money cooperatively; how to orient one’s sexual urges toward a good beyond oneself; how to nurture children and older parents; these and many others we leave newly married people to figure out on their own.

Greg and Lisa Popcak’s latest book provides a corrective to these gaps in our culturing of newly marrieds. At face value, it offers them a chance to reflect on the question “what have I come to assume about what married life is like?” allowing couples to address honestly their differences. Lacking shared culture, many newly marrieds will have imbibed different and often toxic cultural messages, and so it is up to them to discern a good way forward together if their friendship is truly to last a lifetime. Along the way, they will consider a radical proposition at the heart of the Catholic understanding of marriage: namely, that it is something God invites people to enter upon as a vocation, and through which they will discover joy.

That joy, of course, is most certainly not of the sort that involves nice feelings all the time. It is rather more like the joy one feels after having climbed a mountain, or run a marathon, or written a novel, or received a degree, or struggled through a hard time with a close friend. It is the fruit of working together toward something that is beautiful, and discovering along the way that the very process of working together is itself shot through with unexpected, challenging, and soul-changing grace.

This is in many ways a hands-on book. Buy it for your children, grandchildren, friends, cousins, nieces and nephews who are in serious relationships or in young marriages, and encourage them to talk with their spouses/fiancées/boy- or girlfriends about what they hope for out of a lifelong relationship. But this is also a book that will remind them that what they desire most in a marriage is love, real love, and that in searching for it honestly through the mediation of another human being is a way to discover the hand of God. Marriage can be hard, the way a mountain climb can be hard: but the payoff is very much worth the effort. Let the Popcak’s new book be a field guide so that the climbers might not get lost.

Tim Muldoon is a theologian who teaches at Boston College. He is the author of Longing to Love and, with Sue Muldoon, Six Sacred Rules for Families, and contributes frequently to Patheos.


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