Q&A: Mid-Life Marriage Romance Struggles and When the Other Person Won’t Recognize Their Brokenness

Each month, I hold a live Question & Answer chat with Cor Members on our private Facebook group. It’s one of the many perks of being a member. The topics are wide-ranging and often deal with real-life challenges of learning, living and sharing St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB). I hope you find these discussions helpful.

QUESTION: Do you recommend a good book for a couple who is struggling with romance in their marriage . . . ages 54?

CW: “Struggling with romance” — I assume you mean the fire of their love has dimmed a bit? I think often times the trouble here is a lack of growth in true intimacy. Have you heard it said that intimacy means “in-to-me-see”? When spouses are on the journey of really “seeing into” each other, boredom is not a word they would ever use to describe the experience.

Here’s what I wrote in a recent blog post: “To the man I’ll say, your wife’s heart is like a deep ocean that holds unexplored mysteries. Your mission is to become a deep-sea diver. To the woman I’ll say, your husband’s heart is like a deep cave with unexplored caverns. Your mission is to become a spelunker (cave explorer). This is the key, I’ll say, to growing ever deeper in love and intimacy. As Saint Augustine said, the deepest desire of the human heart is to see another and to be seen by that other’s loving look. If spouses are to see and be seen, the husband must await his wife’s opening of the depths of her ocean before he goes swimming there, and the wife must await her husband’s opening of his caverns before she goes spelunking there.”

So the key, I’d say, to keeping the romance alive is an ever-deeper opening of one’s heart to one’s spouse. That, of course, can be scary. But we must take the risk of getting spiritually naked with one another. It’s relatively easy to be physically naked. Removing the spiritual fig leaves, the masks behind which we hide out of fear that we’re not lovable as we really are … that’s the hard part, and it takes a lifetime to get totally naked in this way before someone. It’s resting trustfully in the commitment of marriage itself — “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you” — that enables us, over time, to get more and more naked before one another.

The first effect of sin on the marital relationship, and the covenant they had with God, was hiding. The grace of the sacrament of marriage is meant to reverse that, so that “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself,” becomes “I was at peace because I trusted in your love, so I exposed myself.” It is embracing one another’s true spiritual nakedness that brings the deepest and most rewarding joys. When the marital embrace is truly an expression of that kind of nakedness, the heavens are opened up and you taste and glimpse things eternal.

How can we continually heal in a relationship without the other person communicating and welcoming a reconciliation? I struggle sometimes being able to connect if that person may not even recognize their own brokenness and work to improve. I judge quickly and get frustrated that they’re unable to recognize their brokenness. I want to be loving, but it can get so hard.

Yes, it is hard to continue the journey of healing when the other person in the relationship doesn’t seem interested or ready or willing. God bless my dear wife — she waited a long time (a good 10 years!) in our marriage for me to be ready to look at some of the painful stuff in my life that I wasn’t willing to look at for a long time. How did she do that? She grew in deep intimacy with Jesus, her true Bridegroom. And he taught her how to bring her pain and frustration toward me to him, turning it into intercessory prayer for me. I am utterly convinced that her willingness to learn how to pray for me in that way (not easy!) is what eventually opened me up to being willing to look at some very painful things in my life I didn’t want to look at. Soooooo, you must learn how to turn your pain into prayer

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For such a time as this have we been given Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. By taking us beyond the alternatives of prudish repression and damaging indulgence, the Theology of the Body opens the path to the redemption of sexuality and the real healing of our wounds. Learn more by watching my short film, The Cry of the HeartWatch the trailer below.

Watch the Short Film