Want to know the secrets of those who have stayed married 10 years and then some? I’m thrilled to announce a new series featuring relationship advice from couples who have been there, done that! How to Stay Married 10 Years and Then Some is the brainchild of my awesome husband, Manuel P. Santos, M.D., who has counseled many couples in his therapy practice. Anyone married 10 years or more can be a guest poster, so please volunteer — I’m talking to you, Catholic moms and dads! All you have to do is send me a family pic and the answers to six questions. Read on for Manny’s and my answers and for some of our most cherished stories.
1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?
Manny & Karee: We’ve been married 14 years and have 6 kids: Lelia, age 13; Miguel, age 11; Maria, age 9; Marguerite, age 7; Cecilia, age 5; and Elisa-Maria, age 3. Yes, we know that’s a lot of girls.
2. Name 3 things that have helped you to stay married this long.
Manny: “Not staying married” was never really an option in my mind. So I would say that the first thing that has helped me stay married is a proper understanding of what marriage is — a promise of forever. The second thing that has helped me stay married is that I meant what I said on my wedding day. The wedding vows I spoke were not flowery or cute, but rather simple and direct. They were spoken before God Almighty for all to hear, a promise that no force on earth could sever, save death. The third thing that has helped me stay married, and not just stay married but stay happily married, is a piece of advice a neighbor once gave me. Tony Imbarrato, who lived together with his wife Vicky next door to my parents, told me that marriage was like a delicate flower, responsive to love and care yet capable of wilting away if neglected or mistreated. That inspires me to nurture my marriage.
Karee: First, focusing on the positive things about my husband, my marriage, and my family. Focusing on the negative things doesn’t make anyone happy, including me! Second, trusting that God has a purpose for our marriage and for our family. Manny told me when he proposed that there would come a time when he would let me down, not intentionally, but because he was human and he would fail. (The flip-side of that coin is that I would fail him, too, of course.) Only God never fails, and he will always bind up the little hurts we give each other. Third, allowing myself to become dependent on my husband. Total independence makes it too easy to walk out the door.
3. What role has your faith played in your marriage?
Manny: Safe to say that without my faith, I wouldn’t have seen a need to get married at all, at least not in the Catholic Church. Other churches have prettier buildings and better music. (Editor’s Note: We got married in the beautiful Manhattan Church of the Holy Innocents, and our wedding Mass incorporated two choirs, two professional vocal soloists, an organist, two trumpet players, a flautist, and an original piece of music commissioned specially for the occasion. I defy anyone other than European royalty to produce proof of better music at a wedding ceremony.)
Karee: Faith has been a bedrock of our marriage. By putting God first, we avoid the potential power struggle over whose wishes and needs are more important. God’s plans are the most important and they’re better than anything we could imagine or dream of on our own.
4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?
Manny: I would ask them why. Why get married? If you don’t have a clear reason, you’re not ready to get married. Physical attraction is a good start but most assuredly not enough. If there’s also a compelling socio-economic reason, such as saving money, again, I would say it’s not enough. If it’s to please others, their pleasure (and yours) will be short lived. In my mind there’s only one reason, in the end, to get married. You want to be with this person for the rest of your life, through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, ‘til death do you part. Looks fade, fortunes come and go, and pleasing others is rarely a good reason to make a life-long commitment.
Karee: When Manny and I were dating, he was very clear that the purpose of dating was to find out if we wanted to marry each other. No one had ever been so blunt about their intentions towards me, and it gave us an important incentive to keep trying to iron out our differences. So, be intentional. Date with a view towards marriage and don’t be shy about discussing it openly.
5. What advice would you give newlyweds?
Manny: There’s something special, almost magical, about this time of life. In fact, for the first few years of marriage, you should feel free to consider yourselves newlyweds. Hold hands, giggle together, exchange glances when no one is looking, make time together a priority because it ought to be. And after the newlywed period ends, and of course it will, then make an effort to continue some of the things you loved doing when you were newlyweds. It will make a huge difference.
Karee: The best newlywed advice I ever got was from a priest in the confessional. He said to be patient, patient with my husband and patient with myself. There will be a lot of time to get used to one another and the changes that happen along with getting married. The changes can be exhilarating, but also a little nerve-wracking.
6. What advice would you give new parents or couples who are trying to have children?
Manny: Children are a blessing, and if received as such the joy and the laughs (kids are funny) will far outweigh the hard work and suffering that inevitably accompany parenthood.
Karee: My parents told us when I first got pregnant that raising children would be the hardest thing we ever did in our lives. We smiled dreamily and said, “We know.” We had no freaking clue. Dads, your wife is about to become a superhero — appreciate it and respect it. Moms, remember that no matter how steep your learning curve is, your husband’s will be steeper — be understanding. Couples who are aching to become moms and dads, pray that the time of waiting prepares you to be grace-filled parents. Trust me when I say you’ll need all the grace you can get.
Copyright 2014 Karee Santos