Marriage conference emphasizes communication

MOUNT PLEASANT — A successful marriage begins in love but grows with respect, understanding, generosity, patience, and hard work.

Christ Our King Parish hosted a marriage conference Feb. 8 in celebration of “World Marriage Day” Feb. 9. The first conference of its kind at the church was a great success for the 90 people who attended, most with their spouses. Area professionals discussed money matters, intimacy, retirement and marriage after children.

The day was a dream come true for Sandra and Ed Robinson, who planned the day including a dinner/dance with four other couples.

“We have long hoped to be able to bring a support program to our parish,” said Mrs. Robinson, “in order to learn new things about keeping marriage alive and vibrant through all the stages of marital life.”

Louisa Storen, a marriage and family counselor, began the day with a brief keynote address. She discussed the 10 successful habits of marriage, which included staying tuned in to your spouse’s life and pursuing shared needs.

She also discussed four destructive habits: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Each of the six conference presenters, who were brought together by Storen, stressed the continual effort needed to keep a dynamic marriage strong.

Patricia Wilson, a certified public accountant and divorce planner, counsels couples going through divorce. But on this day, Storen said she challenged her to counsel couples seeking to stay together. In Wilson’s daily experience she works firsthand with the number one issue in divorce — money.

She said couples need to individually identify and share with one another their money beliefs and attitudes.

“The ways in which you think about money are controlling your money behaviors,” she said.

The first step is deciding what your shared values are and making a commitment to oneself and your spouse to uphold these goals.

“Nothing drives me crazier than when couples blame one another (for their financial situation),” said Wilson.

She said that while one partner typically takes the lead in managing finances, the other partner needs to be willingly involved in the process.

Couples don’t need highly developed math skills to be financially successful; most of the work is in the attitude.

Couples must be willing to compromise, which, said Wilson, “is about stretching, not breaking or giving in.”

She also said to hang on to hope and be patient.

“Work is doing something; discipline is doing it every day, and diligence is doing it well every day,” Wilson said.

Richard Dobson, Ph.D., presented “Growing Together in Retirement.” He discussed staying active in retirement and keeping up with hobbies. He suggested that couples not wait until retirement to take the vacation they’ve always dreamed of, due to life’s uncertainty. (A short time after he retired, his wife passed away.)

He talked about the importance of having a will and a living will and preparing for the death of a spouse, emotionally and materially.

Cora Ezzell, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Van Pelt, Ph.D., clinical psychologists, discussed marriage after children. They began by establishing that friendship is the cornerstone of marriage.

They said that the areas of marital conflict — fatigue, stress, household chores, in-laws, money and sex — become significantly magnified when a couple becomes parents.

In combating the conflicts, they said to maintain a focus on the marital relationship and the friendship that brought you together. To get started find 10 or 15 minutes a day to talk. In order to do this effectively, they said parents must let go of any guilt associated with spending time together rather than with the children.

The pair also offered some signs that your marriage needs outside help: when talking seems useless, when you start living parallel lives, feelings of loneliness, and thinking of divorce.

Sara Vale, Ph.D., presented a talk on “Increasing Intimacy in Marriage.” She, too, discussed the characteristics of a successful marriage, which includes a healthy intimate relationship. The best way to maintain intimacy is communication.

She suggested spouses make a wish list for one another and work on fulfilling one another’s needs. The list could include holding hands and hugging more frequently, increased thoughtfulness, or initiating intimacy.

She also said that intimacy comes in various forms incuding physical, sexual and spiritual. She suggested that praying together is one way of increasing intimacy that couples may not consider.

Vale also said that good communication happens when both spouses feel a sense of balance in their lives, in which each partner is sharing equally in marital responsibilities.

Jim and Marty Rebuck, longtime Pre-Cana presenters, discussed communication. They said that real communication only occurs when you tell your spouse how you feel.

Deacon Al Payne attended with his wife, Carol.

He said, “After 33 years of marriage you fall into a pattern of hearing and not listening, and I was reminded that I should be stopping what I’m doing and listening.”

Father Greg Wilson, parochial vicar at Christ Our King, discussed the Sacrament of Marriage. He said marriage isn’t a contract, which are frequently broken, but rather a covenant, a lasting agreement founded in the love of the Lord.

“Marriage must be a daily relationship,” Father Wilson said. “You can give without loving, but not love without giving.”