How to share your faith with your spouse

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WASHINGTON - When couples get married they find they suddenly share almost everything, but at the top of that list should be faith, say marriage advisers.

Expressing faith together as a married couple improves trust, communication and each spouse's relationship with God, said Lauri Przybysz, coordinator of marriage and family life for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

"It is never too soon to practice" a deeper spirituality in one's marriage, she added. "At any time in a person's married life, you can take your relationship to a new level."

She urges couples to learn about one another's prayer devotions and to be open to differences in spirituality.

The challenge comes from the various ways individuals practice spirituality, she noted. While one spouse may have grown up praying the rosary, for instance, another may not have a strong tradition with that prayer.

Przybysz said when her husband asked her to pray the rosary before a long road trip it took her a while to get used to that request. Now, if he forgets to start the prayer, she will often ask, "Aren't we going to pray the rosary?"

Since prayer "is such an intimate thing," Przybysz said, couples may be shy or need some guidance to practice praying together. She suggested going on a retreat together or attending a talk at a parish or campus ministry. "The couple could practice looking into each other's eyes and saying out loud something they would normally say to God," she said.

In an online article on the U.S. bishops' website, foryourmarriage.org, Przybysz stressed that many couples - even when they are brought up in the same faith - still have different approaches to spirituality. She also noted that these practices equip them to overcome challenges and include God during tough times.

In the book, How to Pray with Your Spouse: Four Simple Steps, author Chris Stravitsch compares a couple's spirituality to the celebration of Mass and says couples should follow the four steps of the liturgy with one another.

He suggests that they set aside time to focus on each other and God while seeking forgiveness for hurting one another during the past week. They should learn about God together by reading Scripture or talking about pressing issues.

"Step three is to share your love," Stravitsch advises. "After discovering God together, you deepen your prayer and intimacy by sharing your love with each other," he wrote, reminding couples to do so with a thankful heart. He noted a simple kiss, resting in one another's arms or caring for a sick spouse are some ways of sharing love.

Finally, spouses should serve one another in the mundane tasks of daily life. Couples ought to remember that intimacy continues in cooking, cleaning, household chores, listening and working. "The fruit that will come from your prayer routine will bless your marriage, deepen your love for God and each other, and allow you to reflect the love relationship between Christ and his beloved spouse, the church," Stravitsch wrote.

Joann Heaney-Hunter, an associate professor of theology at St. John's University in New York, agreed. "In marriage, the couple's life, love and witness can make Christ visible to others," she wrote in the essay, "Marital Spirituality" on the bishops' marriage website.

She wrote that married couples have the opportunity to demonstrate total commitment to another person. "Couples create sacramental communities when they build a life of sharing with each other, with their families, with local communities, with the church."

A strong prayer life can nourish a couple's commitment to one another. The marriage website also offers many suggestions for improving the married relationship by taking turns choosing favorite Scripture passages to reflect upon each week, choosing a service project to do together or reading at least one book about healthy relationships.

Several book reviews about marriage and faith are also available on the website including:

- "Six Sacred Rules for Families" by Tim and Sue Muldoon, which suggests that "spirituality can be found 'right in the messy midst' of home life."

- "Good News for Married Lovers: A Spiritual Path for Marriage Renewal" by Jesuit Father Chuck Gallagher and Mary Angelee Seitz focuses on the gift each spouse can be for one another.

-"Spicing Up Married Life: Satisfying Couples' Hunger for True Love" by Father Leo Patalinghug includes recipes, discussion starters and prayers for married couples.

For Przybysz, the most important aspect for couples sharing their faith is to find a way to appreciate the other's spirituality. It often takes courage, humility and kindness to invite one's spouse to a deeper relationship with God, she said.

"Married people need to go gently" forward especially with a reluctant spouse. The invitation to grow in faith must not be a demand, but instead a charitable invitation, she added.

Then, the spouse who sees God in the other will see the true beauty that comes from a relationship with God. "A reluctant spouse might go just because they were invited," she said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015