ACTA Publications, Chicago, Ill., 2012; $6.95.
“You have the opportunity to make intimacy and fidelity the hallmark of your marriage. Take that opportunity,” Kathy and Steve Beirne exhort couples in “Catholic and Newly Married.”
That opportunity is linked with a challenge couples face in the early stages of marriage – the challenge to develop an intimate, faithful marriage, despite all that may stand in the way of doing so in a “consumer-oriented culture.”
The Beirnes’ book reflects their experience in Catholic marriage education and ministry. For the newly married, they edit and publish the “Foundations Newsletter for Married Couples.”
This book is all about challenges and opportunities. It outlines five challenges couples will experience as they begin to build their own marriage; it directly relates each challenge to an opportunity flowing from it.
Thus, each challenge, difficult as it may be to handle, is viewed in a positive light because it offers the opportunity for couples to grow in rewarding ways.
One challenge for a new wife and husband is to learn “to speak the same language,” despite their personality differences or tendencies to misunderstand each other’s words. This challenge offers the opportunity for couples to improve their communication skills.
It is an opportunity to take steps to assure that a couple’s conversations, even about sensitive matters, are salted through with kindness, respect, attention, love, affirmation and gratitude.
“No matter where you are on the communications scale – from poor to excellent – there is always an opportunity to improve,” the Beirnes advise readers.
Again, there is the often stressful challenge of getting along with in-laws. This challenge offers couples the opportunity to recognize that their in-laws may well become “marriage-enriching” resources of support and understanding over time.
It is through their in-laws, not incidentally, that a couple and their children frequently learn their family’s history and how they have been shaped by it.
There is, as well, the challenge of dealing with religious differences. It bears the opportunity to share a spiritual life in marriage. For most married people, the Beirnes say, the opportunity will be offered to “see God’s love and experience God’s forgiveness through their spouse.”
“Catholic and Newly Married” tells couples that marriage offers many opportunities they “may not be able to get anywhere else.” There is, for example, the opportunity for the spouses to know themselves more deeply. Why? Because marriage offers the “opportunity to receive feedback from someone you know has your best interest at heart.”
Marriage also offers the opportunity “to confide in another, knowing that you will be accepted as you are,” the Beirnes say. This acceptance does not reflect naivete on the part of a spouse, who indeed “knows your faults” but views you through “eyes of love.”
I am sure that many readers will appreciate the Beirnes’ perceptive, frank focus on the newly married couple’s challenge of learning to merge two different ways of “thinking about, handling and spending money.” To ignore “financial situations and differences” is to follow “a sure path to trouble,” they state.
Developing clarity about financial goals will play a big role in curbing “impulse spending” in a marriage, the authors hold.
What really stands out for me in this book, however, is its analysis of the challenge of intimacy. It is a misunderstanding for couples to think that “closeness” and “intimacy” are synonyms, the authors stress. After all, it is possible to be close to others without in any way being intimate with them.
Real intimacy entails openness and vulnerability, as well as risk. The risk factor is real enough in marriage, since “if you are rejected by your spouse, the hurt can be immense,” the Beirnes write.
They recount the story one mother told when her son and his wife were divorcing. He and his wife never became a couple, she felt. “They each had their own friends and their own way of doing things, but never seemed to come together as a real unit.”
Here the Beirnes’ advice to newly married couples is uncompromisingly clear: Don’t be that couple.
One beneficial opportunity related to the challenge of intimacy in marriage involves empathy – the ability on a spouse’s part to experience the other’s joy or pain and to understand profoundly “the meaning and purpose of his or her life.”
A husband and wife, the authors observe, are offered a great opportunity “to be empathetic with another human being.”