Painting by Clarence F. Underwood, 1871-1929

by a Priest

On this feast day of the parents of St. Therese of Liseux, we remember how one very virtuous man met one very virtuous woman, and they married because they wanted a truly Catholic home.

They focused on a quieter and simpler life, making home into a place where charity was felt, nourishing their children in it.

Louis and Zelie Martin had one of those extraordinary marriages which so few have; namely, because they focused on what was important:  the time before marriage was not for any physical relationship, but on the discovery of whether the other person is deeply virtuous.

Making sure the good feeling inside did not get in the way of:  truly observing the other person’s reaction when he doesn’t get his way, how he deals with suffering, if he can live without falling into mortal sin, and having many meaningful conversations.

So once married and the decision permanent, Louis and Zelie focused on the primary purpose of marriage…the bringing of children into the world and educating them, especially in the life of virtue and goodness.

Then…the giving of attention to the secondary end of marriage, the mutual support of one another.

What the Church means as “mutual support” are those things which a spouse needs, whether physical affection, emotional support, relaxation, and friendship.

For the husband, it is generally the need for a physical relationship, and for her, it is the need for communication and feeling supported by her husband.

But spouses generally do not understand these main needs of the other when first married because neither can understand how such a need is so prevalent.

For her, then, even when children fill the home, married couples have to maintain having time together, for time together requires an effort in a busy family.

At the minimum, there should be at least one hour a week set apart, even prearranged, that a husband and wife talk together.

The husband uses this time to truly listen to her, to learn the complexities in her heart and mind, and to appreciate her heart and mind.

So to inspire husbands of this importance, we turn to the words of a husband, Dr. John Barger, who learned the value of such listening… elaborating a bit on the pamphlet he wrote. He says:

The first decade of my marriage were spent unwisely:  I was a tyrant, often domineering towards my wife and children, to the point that they feared me, and habitually resented me. I alienated my wife and children and lost their love.

Home was not a pleasant place to be – for them or for me, and my wife would have left me if it weren’t for the children. With 6 children already, a 7th was on the way.

But then, the unexpected occurred. The baby became detached from the placenta and my wife miscarried. I was there with her, and when my lifeless son was placed in my hands, I was faced with seeing the evil which is deeply rooted in this world, and afflicts even the most innocent. And I realized how many things were simply beyond my power.

I was forced to make a choice:  to either rage or hate life, or to acknowledge how powerless I was to undo the things I did not think fair. At the same time, I also realized that important things which had been in my power, I had neglected.

I had treated my wife and children so poorly for so long that I lacked being an influence upon them, even worse, they disrespected me.

So the choice was before me:  I could continue the same path and make their lives even worse by raging against my baby’s death, or I could make their lives better by learning to love them properly.

The choice was clear, and in an instant, with the grace of God, I chose the arduous, undramatic, discouraging path of trying to be good. And it was a daunting task!

During the next 4 years, many troubles arose:  sick children, my mother died, I lost my job, and my wife had three more miscarriages.

Yet, I discovered that as I suffered, endured, and strove every minute to repudiate my anger, resentment, jealously, lust, pride, and other vices; charity began to surface.

I began holding my tongue, I admitted my faults, and I apologized for them.

I quit defending myself when I was judged too harshly, and I learned it was more important to love than to be right.

I spoke less of my own labors and sorrows, and as the focus turned away from me, it turned more to my wife:  and I began to learn about the labors and sorrows of my wife.

I listening to my wife, really hearing her, and I was startled at how many and how deep were her wounds and her sorrows. And not just the ones I caused, but some from her own family, and others which all women feel:

Sorrows that arise from the particular physiological makeup of women,

Sorrows from her role as mother with its heavy responsibilities and dependency upon her husband.

Sorrows that arise from loving her husband and children intensely, but not being able to always keep harm away from them.

Sorrows that arise from how even the most chaste of women are regularly threatened by the lustful stares, remarks, and advances of men.

And sorrows that arise on how little respect society places on motherhood.

As I listened more and more to my wife, I realized how God made women more attentive, more tender, and more considerate. But this results is a greater intensity of suffering than most men ever realize, or could realize. And that she will generally not speak of these sorrows, unless the husband makes time to truly listen to her.

So I listened, not as I would towards another man and give solutions, but I let her explain how she was doing.

At times, I would ask probing questions to draw out what she was feeling, helping her articulate what was troubling her, and making sure I did not fall into my default setting of dismissing her troubles as insignificant.

As I came to better understand the sorrows which were piercing the heart of my wife, I realized that most women feel this way. Even Our Lady had her heart pierced many times.

God gave me this particular wife so I could be a comfort for her sorrows, sorrows which were woven in the very fabric of her daily existence, and I could alleviate some of the pains simply by listening to her disclosing her heart to me.

And as the years passed, I listened – patiently and attentively, I calmly sympathized with her, and wonderful effects occurred – including how she knew I understood her more clearly.

I learned that what she desires, and I should say, what she needs, is that I listen to her, spend time with her.

What seems insignificant in my masculine brain, to her, it is everything, and when I did listen, she was better able to bear her sorrows. I better fulfilled the role of being her support, her comfort, and she came to realize that I wanted to be in her presence.

It required great effort on my parts, years of learning to be gentle, offering support and encouragement, seeking to serve instead of being served.

Now for Dr. John Barger, it took 3 year of patience and listening about her deepest and most private aspects of life and soul, but after these 3 years, he said they came to know each other just as completely as two humans can know each other.

He saw how it greatly changed his wife:  she overcame her cynicism, his love dissipated her anger, softened her, she was more forgiving of his faults, and she became his sweet refuge.

In those 3 brief years, they went from the verge of separating to being best friends.

So..on one’s wedding day, spouses surrender the rights of the body to the other,

For the husband, his ears are no longer his, but hers.

And when she needs them to support and comfort, he should offer them, just as she gives herself to him in other ways to support and comfort him.

For husbands, then, make sure each week has an hour of conversation – perhaps 30 minutes on 2 separate occasions is better for some.

If you do, you strengthen your wife, and encourage her to also perform magnanimous things for you and the family, because she is lifted up by the love of her husband.

Source:  “Do you Love Me?”  John L. Barger.  Sophia Institute Press:  Manchester, NH, 1987.

In marriage, each seeks to understand the other person, to meet and respond to the call of the other at each given moment. For the man this demands a knowledge not only of what it is he has married — a woman — but of whom he has married: this very personal, unique woman. Thus, the husband must drop his easy assumptions and superficial estimates of “women” and truly seek to understand and love this particular woman. -Clayton Barbeau, Father of the Family (afflink)

Painting by Clarence F. Underwood, 1871-1929

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