Updated: Feb 20, 2019
In our family, we have four very intense children, two adopted with trauma histories, one with secondary trauma, one with a missing corpus callosum (the central part of the brain that allows communication between the left and right hemispheres), Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and many other issues (due to cocaine exposure in the womb and a very premature birth at 25 weeks). Not one of our children is quiet, docile, or happily compliant. We have also lost two adopted children, four children through miscarriage, and one because of a placental abruption during childbirth. All this to say, we have some very real challenges in our parenting on a daily basis and have dealt with a lot of loss and grieving.
Both in times of deep grief and anxiety and in the daily beat down of parenting, I often think about how these difficult experiences could tear apart a relationship; many marriages have fallen apart in the face of caring for a disabled child, coping with the death and loss of children, or even over disagreements in parenting approaches. It is in those times that I see magnified the gift that is our marriage. I may have a lot to deal with, but I have the most amazing, self-sacrificing, noble husband who is dealing with it right along beside me (as well as dealing with my anxiety and mistakes on top of it).
I do have the advantage of an incredible husband, but I don’t think anyone just waltzes into a happy marriage. I think we are responsible for the nurturing and maintaining of any relationship we want to keep. On the front of our wedding program, we had a Dostoevsky quote that I think of often: “active love is labor and fortitude.” We choose to love, despite how we feel at any given moment. What a concept - especially in today's feelings-driven climate.
As we approach the feast of St. Valentine, our society commercializes the desire for romantic feelings; St. Valentine himself, however, beautifully demonstrated real, active love, even in the face of persecution - healing the jailer's blind daughter, defending the sacrament of marriage, sending encouraging notes to imprisoned Christians. Don't misunderstand me - I am a big fan of celebrating this holiday. I like chocolate and flowers and special dates, the giving & planning of which require the labor of active love. And I am not opposed to romance and feelings, as long as their transiency is kept in mind and their importance in perspective.
With that in mind, I would like to share some ideas beyond celebrating Valentine’s Day that have strengthened our marriage over the past 15 years...
It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but pray together every day.
Go to liturgy as a family every week, even if it is really difficult.
Sit down to dinner every night possible & celebrate the feasts and fasts of the Church
Communicate!! Attend an Imago/Safe Conversations workshop – you will acquire a fabulous, life-changing set of communication tools that will improve your relationship, whatever state it is in. You will learn to appreciate the sacred space between you and you’ll witness the miracle that occurs when you are both truly heard. When we are heard, we are known more deeply, so loved more deeply. http://imagorelationships.org/pub/find-a-workshop/getting-the-love-you-want-couples-weekend-workshop/
Do whatever you have to to arrange a weekly date night & don’t miss it, even if you are exhausted or angry.
Go away just the two of you at least once a year, even if only for a night.
Laugh together as much as possible.
Words are so powerful - say I love you every day, & never shame one another, even if you are exhausted or angry.
If you have adopted or are a foster parent (or are considering either), find a support group. I am fairly certain that our family would not all still be together without ours - visit their website for amazing resources & come to the conference every October! http://tapestryministry.org/
I hope that you all have a beautiful St. Valentine’s Day actively loving one another in labor & fortitude!
For St. Valentine's history, prayers, and celebration ideas, click here
Go to the members tab and join the Akathist community to get this lovely free printable PDF with St. Valentine prayers, recipes, and icon!