Roadblocks to Marital Friendship

by Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons

“Perfection demands maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called.”

– Pope John Paul II

“Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendor, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin.”

– John Paul II
Letter to Families, 1994

What does the late Holy Father have to tell us about marriage? Quite a lot, as it turns out. As head of the Church that supposedly has nothing to tell married couples in the modern world, John Paul II was one of the 20th century’s greatest marriage counselors on issues such as couple compatibility, spousal friendship, marital unity and sexual intimacy.

In our work with thousands of couples at the Center for Marital Healing, we draw from the field of positive psychology; that is, a discipline of psychology that seeks to foster growth in character strengths and virtues.

We also look to the philosophy and theology of John Paul II on marital love and the human person as presented in Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body. His writings express the deepest understanding of the human heart and soul, and the most basic elements of human happiness and togetherness.

Yet his ideas were quite simple, perhaps too simple for a world wedded to novelty and complexity. John Paul II describes the essence of marital love as:  self-giving and surrender.

Both marital happiness and personal fulfillment are dependent to a great extent upon a spouse developing a healthy adult personality open to giving himself completely and to receiving in kind.

Each of us brings into marriage special gifts. However, we also have a predominant emotional or character weakness, or multiple weaknesses, which can interfere with marital self-giving.

The good news is that if spouses work diligently on addressing their personality and emotional weaknesses, they can be overcome, particularly if there is a spiritual component to the healing process.

Below is a list of the major character and emotional weaknesses which can interfere with marital friendship.
 Conflicts in the Marital Friendship and Self-Giving
• Lack of self-knowledge
• Selfishness
• Controlling behaviors
• Excessive anger
• Sadness/loneliness
• Confidence conflicts
• Negative parental modeling
• Anxiety and mistrust
• Excessive sense of responsibility/worries
• Poor communication
• Disordered self-giving
• Lack of charity
• Character weaknesses
• Guilt
• Failure to correct
• Oral contraceptives
• Failure to understand the sacrament of marriage
• Neglect of spiritual life

Of course, everyone can find himself somewhere on this list. The good news is that our weaknesses need not determine our happiness.

Weaknesses can be overcome by working on virtues (strengths). Anyone who has overcome a bad habit such as smoking knows the value of positive thinking, reinforcement, and will power. The same applies to our personality weaknesses.

Our weaknesses are not the end of our personal story. We can always turn the page!

Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons is a Catholic psychiatrist in private practice outside of Philadelphia. Visit his Web site for more advice on how to build a happier marriage.