21 April 2009

The Nine Tasks of Marriage

The Boulevard, Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, Philippines

I spent last weekend in San Jose, Negros Oriental, near Dumaguete City, as part of a team giving a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend. The three WWME priests in the Diocese of Dumaguete were all tied up with parish activities. It was a seven-hour bus journey from Bacolod. We were somewhat delayed by road works approaching Dumaguete.

Before Easter Jackie Parkes featured this item. She got it from Robert Colquhoun’s blog, Love Undefiled. Although there’s no reference to the sacrament of matrimony there’s a lot of wisdom in what Judith Wallerstein, an American psychologist and researcher, writes. The very first point clearly reflects Gen 2:24: Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

This text is put into the mouth of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and is also quoted by St Paul. I believe it’s one that needs to be constantly reflected on by couples and by priests, so that a married couple will always see their spousal relationship as their basic vocation from God. It’s only within that relationship that God calls them to be parents.

St Catherine's Cathedral, Dumaguete City

The Nine Tasks of Marriage (Judith Wallerstein).

1. To be in a marriage is to be a guardian of the other person's solitude.When a couple marries they find that, although they may not be aware of them, there is a series of sequential psychological tasks to address together. Achieving these tasks helps the couple to deal with the inevitable major changes - accidental or developmental - that will occur and that have the potential for weakening or re-enforcing the relationship throughout the marriage.The nine tasks of marriage are:1. To detach emotionally from the families of childhood, commit to the relationship, and build new connections with the extended families.

2. To build togetherness through intimacy and to expand the sense of self to include the other, while each individual carves out an area of autonomy. Identification with the other provides the basis for bonding but within the new unity, there must be room for autonomy; otherwise there is no true equality.

3. To expand the circle to include children, taking on the roles of parenthood from infancy to adulthood, while maintaining the emotional richness of the marriage and keeping a balance between raising the children and nurturing the couple's relationship.

4. To confront the inevitable developmental challenges and the unpredictable adversities of life, including illness, death, and natural disasters, in ways that enhance the relationship despite stress and suffering. Every crisis carries within it the seeds of destruction as well as the possibility of renewed strength.

5. To make the relationship safe for expressing difference, anger and conflict, all of which are inevitable in any marriage. All marriages involve love and anger, connectedness and disruption. The task is to find ways to resolve the differences without exploiting each other, being violent, or giving away one's heart's desire.

6. To establish an imaginative and pleasurable sex life. Creating a sexual relationship that meets the needs and fantasies of both people requires time and love and sensitivity. The stresses of work and family life, changes in sexual desire over time, mean that this aspect of the marriage requires special protection in order to flourish.

7. To share laughter and humour and to keep interests outside the marriage alive in the relationship. A good marriage is alternately playful and serious, sometimes flirtatious, sometimes difficult and cranky, but always full of life.

8. To provide the emotional nurturance and encouragement that all adults need throughout their lives, love, sympathy, restoration of battered self-esteem, especially in today's isolating urban communities and high-pressure workplaces, is hugely important to the relationship.

9. To sustain the innermost core of the relationship by holding on to the early idealisations while realising one is growing older, remembering the images and fantasies of courtship and early marriage and maintaining that joyful glow over a lifetime.

From The Good Marriage by Judith Wallerstein.


Mitzi said...

Hi Father Sean :)

thanks for the reminders on the 9 tasks of marriage. We're learning number 6 especially since we are using NFP :) I realize there are really many more ways to love than what the world says.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

In an email from a friend in Cebu: 'Thanks for this. Very informative and enlightening.'

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thanks, Mitzi. I recently met a married woman who is one of 13 or 14 children, as I recall. Her parents went out on a date at least once a week all through their married life. When the woman I met was about 13 she saw very clearly that she wanted to be married and to be just like her parents.

I have friends in England who have been married for more than 50 years. They used to be a team couple in Worldwide Marriage Encounter. They told me that they have to work harder at their marriage now than when they were newly-weds. What shows is the lovely courtesy they show to one another and the gentle teasing that happens only when two people love each other.