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Hints for Happy Marriages

4/17/2006 - 5:00 AM PST

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Interview With Father Michael Ryan, Philosophy Dean

ROME, APRIL 17, 2006 (Zenit) - Within a happy marriage the positive comments should outnumber the negative about 5 to 1, says an experienced marriage counselor.

Legionary Father Michael Ryan, who is also dean of philosophy at the Regina Apostolorum university in Rome, spells out other points of advice in his book, "The Last Straw: Ways to Overcome the Stumbling Blocks in Communication Towards a Stronger and Happier Marriage" (Circle Press).

In this interview with us, Father Ryan touched on some of the advice he gives married couples.

Q: In your book you say that many marriages break up because of misunderstandings and comparatively small things which could have been avoided. What are these things and what should be done in order to resolve them in time?

Father Ryan: Marriages break up when there is hurting going on in the relationship. It is very difficult to persevere in the company of somebody who is sour and unpleasant.

In a nutshell I would say that we must avoid in every way possible hurting others with words or actions. Second, we must foster the atmosphere in which one can express to the other what is hurting. And, finally, we must accept the fact that we can hurt others even when we don't intend to do so.

As a general rule we must monitor frequently our relationship in order to cure as soon as possible any problem that may arise, even in spite of our good will. Each person is different and the sensitivity of each person is different.

Therefore, there is no set list of things that can cause problems to a marriage. Each man and women must become aware of what hurts a spouse.

The dangerous aspect of all this consists in the fact that we can hurt others without us realizing that we are doing so. This leads to the accumulation of pain which then can easily spill over.

Q: How can married persons cultivate a form of dialogue necessary for addressing problems or disagreements in an open but delicate way? When is the right time to speak about difficulties? How can you say the truth without hurting another?

Father Ryan: First, we should not be "complaining" all the time about everything. It is important to reserve our complaints for really important issues or for issues that have hurt us in a special way.

Remember that the proportion between positive and negative moments in marriage must be always about 5 to 1. For each negative moment, for each criticism I allow myself to issue, there should be another five positive inputs. Our toleration for negativity is very short.

Then, when I must address a negative subject I should always begin stating my love for the other person. This is like stretching a safety net below us before we begin our delicate act of complaining, opening a bleeding issue.

With this I am saying that however we may get engaged in a discussion, there must be no doubt about our love for each other. That will not be touched.

Third, we should treat one subject at a time. Sometimes when we get angry we spit out many issues and this only confuses the whole relationship. One critical issue at a time!

Finally, try not to get personal in the sense of accusations. Try to use what is called the "I messages." Instead of saying that "you are a horrible person," say, "I feel that you are a horrible person."

The difference might seem small, but the second way is much better because you are stating what you feel and not hammering the other on the head directly.

Q: Love and pain go together. The more one loves, the more one gets hurt if the loved one doesn't seem to react in the expected way. How can love prevail over pain? How can each other's understanding become more sensitive? How can one stop being selfish and egoistic?

Father Ryan: This is certainly the greatest challenge for love. I don't think it is always a question of being selfish or egoistic.

It is a fact that we can love others when we feel that we too are loved. Even with God this is the way and this is what St. John says to us in his Letter: It is God that loves us first.

Q: But how do we get beyond this vicious circle, when love in the other is lacking?

Father Ryan: If we were only instinct, then there would be no way out. But we are also intellect and we can understand what the good of the other person means and we can love that good for him or for her.

But we will be able to overcome our own pain more fully if we get inspiration for love from above, from the source of love. This reminds us of what John Paul II says in his "Letter to Families": If we want to love, we must be united to the source of Love, with the big "L."

Q: How can the deep feelings for each other felt in the beginnings keep growing instead of dying down? ...

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