Like most people, our optimistic resolutions for the New Year tend to fizzle out before the end of January. Thankfully, Lent gives us another, and a better, chance of success.
Here are three ways to give our marriages a Lenten make-over based on three traditional practices – fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
1: Fast… from criticism
We might not get fat from criticism, but take our word for it, a steady diet of the stuff is just as bad for our health and it is toxic for our relationships.
Habitual criticisers often think they have a moral obligation to shape up their spouse (and their kids, and everyone else in their life). It’s surely one of the fastest ways to sour a friendship and poison a marriage. No one likes living with a chronic critic.
Fasting from criticism isn’t just good for our marriage, it’s also good for us as individuals. Believe it or not, it’s actually liberating! When we surrender our “right” (or more often our need) to criticise, we stop looking for someone to blame.
The impulse to criticise and blame takes both of us down the negativity vortex: our criticised spouse feels awful, and after a fleeting sense of self-righteous satisfaction, we feel like a jerk…mostly because we actually are being a jerk!
If we take criticism out of our life, when things go wrong we’re more likely to approach it coolly and less likely to get uptight about who’s at fault. We can calmly look for solutions, resiliently shrug off mishaps, and find the blessing in the mess. We become more relaxed and enjoy life more …and so does our spouse!
2: Pray… for our spouse daily
Prayer has always been a fundamental part of Lenten practice. Most people opt for traditional expressions like the Rosary, Daily Mass, Stations of the Cross or, more recently, The Divine Mercy chaplet.
We love all of these traditions, but if we’re looking for something that will more directly impact our marriage, the simple practice of praying daily for our spouse is a winner.
We can renew our wedding vows, pray for the other’s intentions, or pray blessing and protection over our spouse as they go about their day.
Importantly, we can pray to be a better spouse, that God might transform us into a more effective messenger of his love. A tip: resist the temptation to pray for a new, reformed spouse!
The trick to success is to make it simple and make it daily. A short 30 second, heartfelt prayer every day is more practical than that intended, but never quite managed, prolonged ‘grand gesture’.
3: Give… without expecting a return
Almsgiving is the third Lenten obligation. When we donate to a charity, we don’t expect to benefit – it’s a gift, not a trade.
Similarly, our wedding vows call us to approach our marriage in the spirit of self-giving service. Yet for many of us, there is an unspoken expectation of repayment, of ‘quid pro quo’, when we give to our spouse – at the very least, we expect gratitude!
As a spiritual discipline this Lent, once a week give something to your spouse without expectation of pay back or acknowledgement. Do it graciously, in secret if possible.
The point is not so much about our spouse feeling loved by our act, but about the spiritual discipline of giving without expectation. It’s about detaching from our need for appreciation.
So, there it is: three ways to do Lent with a marriage twist! And by the way, none of these practices require the participation of our spouse – these Lenten tasks can be done by any husband or wife as our own private initiative.
Francine & Byron Pirola are the co-founders of SmartLoving and the Directors of the Marriage Resource Centre in Sydney.
With thanks to the Marriage Resource Centre.