“Marriage was ordained by God as a blessing to the human race. A certain wise man in the Scriptures, when enumerating which blessings are the most important, included ‘a wife and husband who live in harmony’ (The Wisdom of Sirach 25:1).”
-St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD)
Harmony is the pleasing arrangement of different parts. In music, harmony is “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect” (Oxford Dictionary). But the pleasing sound of a melodious harmony in music doesn’t appear by magic. It takes time, practice, dedication, perseverance, sacrifice, energy, and self-denial. If the student persists and endures all the obstacles that may appear along the way, the student will become a respected musician.
The same thing happens in marriage. Harmony won’t magically or automatically show up knocking at the front door. It must be invited to our home daily. Husbands and wives must work hard each day to produce a harmonious melody at home. Every day is a different song. From the wee hours of the morning when our eyes first open to the moment we lie down in bed, spouses are called to intentionally work -individually and as a team- to produce these “pleasing effects” in their marital bond. Each has an important role to play. Both must work equally hard to make their marriage succeed.
“How can we live in harmony? First, we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.”
-St. Thomas Aquinas
Harmony isn’t always present in our marriage. We often fail to play the correct parts to produce it. When we do attain it though, we observe a similar pattern that brought it about each time. Here are three action steps that have helped us in our journey towards marital harmony:
1.- Prayer. The best way spouses can begin their day is by placing themselves in the presence of God. Entrusting to the Lord their day will help them to be more conscious of their actions and words throughout the day. Prayer also opens our hearts and enables the Holy Spirit to stir up in us feelings of mutual respect and affection. Pope Francis said it beautifully: “Prayer always arouses feelings of brotherhood, breaks down barriers, crosses borders, creates invisible but real and effective bridges, opens horizons of hope.”
2.- Communication. Prayer alone won’t fix problems or create happy marriages. I wish it was that easy. Happy marriages are made of God’s grace and tons of daily human effort. Part of this human effort entails effectively communicating our feelings and opinions to one another. Sharing what’s on your mind might not be what your spouse wants to hear but if it’s robbing your peace, it’s probably best if you share it. We certainly don’t have to share everything that’s on our minds. For example: when you’re in the middle of an argument and “unholy” things come to mind, its best no to say those things out loud (sometimes we end up saying hurtful things; it’s part of human nature…so we apologize, make amends, and try harder next time). But if your spouse hurt your feelings by something they said or did, you should sit down and talk about it.
Most of the time, spouses don’t intend to hurt each other’s feelings; it could just be a big misunderstanding. The only way to find out is by openly talking about the issue. When starting a confrontational conversation, if you will, it’s best to start with “I feel this way…” or “I didn’t appreciate when you said that…” It’s not recommended to start with “you always make me feel…” or “you said this and that,” for this will most likely put your significant other on the defensive and will be less likely to listen to your concerns. Spouses should create an environment where they can express their feelings, thoughts, and opinions, free of prejudice, guilt, and shame. Here are some wise words from the Holy Father on communication between spouses:
“Dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life. Yet it can only be the fruit of a long and demanding apprenticeship. Men and women, young people and adults, communicate differently. They speak different languages and they act in different ways. Our way of asking and responding to questions, the tone we use, our timing and any number of other factors condition how well we communicate. We need to develop certain attitudes that express love and encourage authentic dialogue.
Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right. Instead of offering an opinion or advice, we need to be sure that we have heard everything the other person has to say. This means cultivating an interior silence that makes it possible to listen to the other person without mental or emotional distractions. Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space. Often the other spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledged their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their anger, their hopes and their dreams. How often we hear complaints like: “He does not listen to me.” “Even when you seem to, you are really doing something else.” “I talk to her and I feel like she can’t wait for me to finish.” “When I speak to her, she tries to change the subject, or she gives me curt responses to end the conversation”.
-Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 136-137
3.- Trust. Effective communication will likely result in mutual trust and vice-versa. Spouses should have the freedom to rely on one another during difficult times and share their hopes, dreams, and fears. Trusting that you will be there for your spouse after a hard day at work fills them with confidence and increases their self-esteem. Part of having mutual trust means believing in your spouse. Jealousy and suspicion will only harm the relationship. Trust is the right path to take.
Harmony isn’t always easy to experience at home (especially if you have a whole bunch of little kids running around like crazy!), but if we prayerfully and intentionally make an effort to lovingly and patiently listen to and fulfill our spouse’s needs (this needs to go both ways!), we may end up experiencing a sense of security and inner peace that will help us overcome the most stressful and difficult situations of married life.
“After the love that unites us to God, conjugal love is the ‘greatest form of friendship’.
It is a union possessing all the traits of a good friendship: concern for the good of the other, reciprocity, intimacy, warmth, stability and the resemblance born of a shared life.
Marriage joins to all this an indissoluble exclusivity expressed in the stable commitment to share and shape together the whole of life.”
-Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 123