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St. Valentine’s Day Messenger

A slim book that can make a big difference in marriages

Looking for original ideas this Valentine’s Day? Jennifer Roback Morse has a suggestion. President of the Ruth Institute, Morse and co-author Betsy Kerekes just published 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage (Ave Maria Press).

Morse has some good qualifications for writing the book: she and her husband, Rob, have been married for almost three decades and are the parents of two children. She founded the Ruth Institute as a marriage outreach to college students. Fathers for Good spoke with her recently.

Fathers for Good: What is the “state of the unions” of our marriages?

Jennifer Morse: Not in very good shape. Marriage has become something that has to do with adults and their feelings rather than something about children and their needs. It’s not any longer something that’s supposed to connect the generations to one another and build up the community; the government now is seeing marriage as something that the government puts a stamp of approval on a preexisting relationship, rather than something that is a covenant that protects the interest of children and the whole society. So there’s a lot of confusion out there that’s been largely generated by the government itself.

FFG: What is one of the most common problems married couples face?

Morse: I think we’re operating with what we might call the “soul-mate model.” You’re looking for the perfect person, the perfect soul-mate who’s going to make you happy 100% of the time. They’re going to meet all your needs; they’re going to be perfectly wonderful. And when they don’t, when that doesn’t perform as you had hoped or expected, you start to think, “Well, maybe I need a new partner.” So that soul-mate model is actually very destructive. We may view ourselves as God and say, “Well, I’m entitled, and I’m always right.” Or we see the other person as God, and it’s going to be perfectly compassionate, loving, always present, always powerful, always attending to all of our needs. And the fact is that you’re not God, your spouse isn’t God, and we need to let God be God.

FFG: What is the real joy in marriage, and how can couples find it?

Morse: I think the real joy of self-giving is something that is really underrated. When you’re a child, Christmas is exciting because you’re going to get presents. As you get a little bit older —and really not that much older — you start to take great pleasure in seeing other people open the presents that you got for them. That’s where you’re pleasure comes from — in seeing somebody else enjoy it. That’s something we’re really missing out on. We have a kind of whole cultural ideology where we’re supposed to be in it for ourselves, and if the marriage doesn’t satisfy us, we can return it to the store. Everybody’s disposable; everything’s disposable, but the reality is we take enormous satisfaction and pleasure in giving our self to others, and in that act of self-gift, that’s what people actually want, and that’s what makes people happy.

FFG: Tell me a bit about yourself and your own family. How long have you been married?

Morse: We’re coming up on 30 years of civil marriage this year, and we just celebrated 25 years of sacramental marriage. We’ve been at it for a while. I pretty much am a charter member of the Mary Magdalene Club, having done everything wrong, with the sexual revolution and everything. And it was only in coming back to the Church in 1988 that I came to see just how far gone a lot of that stuff really was, and that wasn’t making me happy. The messages of the culture don’t make people happy — let’s be in it for ourselves and have as much sex as we want and contracept until we’re absolutely certain we’re ready for babies. The Church’s message is actually much more humane and much more practical and sensible.

Learn more about 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage.