Husband & Wife Articles


Marriage of Opposites

5 ‘harmonious habits’ to make a relationship click

By Mary Rice Hasson

“I think we’re finally getting the hang of this,” my husband said.

I agreed.

Mary Rice Hasson

After 27 years, we’re getting the hang of “marriage.” Or, more precisely, the part of marriage where we learn to value the other’s strengths and overlook weaknesses. Not always easy in a marriage of opposites.

My husband, Seamus, and I got engaged six months after we met. My mother-in-law — a truly lovable woman – asked me gently then, “Are you a morning person or a night person? It’s a bit easier if you’re the same.”

We’re not the same.

Mary Rice Hasson and Family

Mary Rice Hasson and her husband, Seamus, are shown at Notre Dame graduation of Jim, a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Army. Other children are, from left: Brigid, P.J., Mary, John Paul and Patrick. Missing from photo is eldest son Mike.

Seamus is an only child, parented lovingly but permissively. By high school, his inner rhythm dictated when he ate, slept, and studied. Schedules? Nah. The results were successful, the style unorthodox. His creativity, boldness, and ingenuity flourished, driven by spontaneity and intellectual curiosity. By the time we met in law school, Seamus was a confirmed night owl.

I, on the other hand, generally bounded out of bed in the morning, with smiles, energy, and plans-a-plenty. My cheerfulness wasn’t virtue, really — mostly temperament and force of habit.

As the second oldest in a family of ten kids, I woke up every morning at the flip of a light switch and the sound of my Dad’s voice, waking us with an inspirational verse learned from his own father: “Arise, arise, a new day has dawned in which to excel.” My inner key would turn, motor revving for the day ahead. (I also had a practical reason for leaping out of bed: first person to the shower was sure to get hot water.)

Only after we married did I discover that there are few things more annoying to a slow-awakening, night person than a smiling, morning person bubbling over with plans for the day. And there are few things more frustrating to a morning-energy person than to wait. And wait. And wait before even having a conversation about the day ahead, much less actually getting a start on it!

We discovered other differences beyond the morning-night divide. And as the honeymoon pictures gathered dust, we found ourselves struggling with new, more authentic mental snapshots of each other. 

Thankfully we had – and still have – the fundamentals of a good marriage: shared faith, values, and vision. And we love each other.

But we learned that the daily rhythms of married life flow from general attitudes and everyday decisions more than from abstract agreements about fundamentals.

Creating harmony has taken hard work — and clear-eyed accommodations of our different temperaments, habits, and upbringings. Over time, the discordant notes and stubborn, off-key solos have gradually given way to our own distinctive sound. Imperfect, it’s melodious — sometimes even beautiful.

What makes the difference in our marriage? Five harmonious habits of heart.

First, embrace harmony. Don’t drown each other out or badger the other to sing your notes. A duet is a delicate mix — separate voices rising and falling, coming together in beautiful melody. Both voices are essential and deserve respect. So too in your marriage.

Sing on key (and stop checking to see if your spouse is singing on key — see below). Perfect your strengths and shore up your weaknesses. Harmony demands exquisite timing and practice — it takes work and a desire for perfection. Marital harmony similarly depends on the daily practice of forbearance and the conscious determination to love better. Only you can work on you. Don’t quit.

Sing, don’t critique. It’s impossible to sing while criticizing another’s voice. If your spouse’s faults preoccupy you, seek grace, forgiveness, and humility through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Focus instead on how your spouse’s gifts have blessed you or your children.

Sing the song that God has written for your marriage. Love your spouse “as is,”not just accepting each other’s differences, but valuing them as God’s gifts for your marriage and family life. Our family flourishes when Seamus and I not only respect each other’s gifts but also rely on them. (E.g., my sense of order and discipline gets the kids to bed and the bills paid; Seamus’ creativity generates shared experiences that become wonderful family memories.)

Finally, remember that a great marriage happens not because we arrive at harmonious love, but because we commit, out of love, to keep trying. As Seamus said, we’re “finally getting the hang of this,” but love means we’ll always be working on it.

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

Mary Rice Hasson blogs at Words from Cana