It was another Saturday night in our house: The kids were asleep, the dog had been fed, the dishes were done. Finally, it was just us. Turning to my husband, I asked like I normally did, “Want to watch something?” He grabbed the remote, I grabbed us each a glass of wine, and we scrolled through our movie choices. Tired from a day of wrangling kids, we spent half the time staring zombie-like at the film and the other half absorbed in our own chores: some last minute work emails and folding laundry. Physically, we were together on the couch, but emotionally and mentally, we were miles away. We were stuck in a robot-like ritual. This needed to change.
The next Sunday, in our parish bulletin, an ad for a marriage enrichment night appeared. Normally, my eyes would have skimmed right over the notice. After all, our marriage wasn’t in jeopardy. We were trudging through life just like everyone else, right? Weren’t church marriage seminars for curmudgeonly couples who had nothing better to do on a Friday night? Then, I realized we had nothing better to do on a Friday night. Plus, my husband pointed out, it was cheaper than a movie date and included dessert and coffee. We signed up.
I’d like to say that going to that seminar offered us the magic elixir to a perfect marriage and roused us back into the honeymoon phase, but that would be misleading. What it did offer us, aside from a kid-free night and a plate of cookies, was a starting place. By attending the seminar we confirmed to ourselves and each other that both our marriage and our faith were important and intertwined. It reminded us about the vows we took and the sacrament we received. Our “we,” we were reminded, was not “just us.” Our marriage was a covenant — with one another and with God — making us part of something bigger.
In preparing for marriage, we had done a lot of goal setting and planning. Now, several years and two children into this commitment, our daily discussion of goals seldom went beyond planning what we would like to eat. The next week, instead of turning on the television, we turned to a sheet of paper and each wrote where we would like our family to be in the next one, five, and 10 years. Some of these ideas, like our desire to travel more and potentially homeschool our kids, had been mere musings we mentioned in passing. Now, written down and shared, they seemed more real. This led us to our next step, which was an in-depth discussion about how to make these ideas happen. Instead of watching others’ lives unfold on the screen, we were planning our own.
A couple Sundays later, my sister unexpectedly stopped by our house as we were getting ready for church. “Leave the kids with me,” she said. My husband and I looked at each other. Just us? While we consider celebrating Mass an important family experience, our children (1 and 3) often demand our attention and care during the service. This unexpected “date” allowed us to concentrate on the Mass and celebrate it together. And the brunch we ate after involved meaningful conversation…and no juice spills or temper tantrums. Although we intend to continue to attend Mass as a family, it was another important reminder about the commitment we made to each other and God in this sacrament of marriage.
Our lives are still hectic and exhausting. The laundry will never, ever be done. And we still enjoy watching television after the kids go to bed. But we’ve realized that the quality of time we spend together is just as, and sometimes even more, important than the quantity. By being purposeful and thoughtful with our time together, we’ve recognized that our marriage is more than “just us.”